Recovery Doesn’t Take a Sick Day

“You have survived 100% of your bad days. You will survive the next one, too. Baby steps.”

Well, it’s flu season and guess who caught it? Last Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat, coughing, runny nose, and everything in between. I tried to go to class, but I could tell that I needed to be in bed. So, that’s what I did. I wanted to crawl into bed and stay there for the entire day. But, I knew I couldn’t do that. Because recovery.

When anyone catches a cold or any kind of virus, you lose your appetite. You survive on crackers and juice. Then after a few days, you get your appetite back and everything is back to normal. Things aren’t that easy when you have an eating disorder.

ED already causes me to have a pretty limited appetite. I don’t feel hunger and fullness like I should. And I probably won’t for a long time. They’re becoming stronger, but it could take up to a year for hunger and fullness cues to be reliable. Nothing ever sounds particularly “good.” Sometimes I can get excited about my most favorite foods, but nothing else sounds more or less appetizing. So catching a cold made those pre-existing symptoms even stronger.

Luckily the worst of the cold only lasted about 3 days. In those 3 days, I did the best I could. I made sure to get out of bed for meals. I didn’t meet 100% of my meal plan, I wasn’t even that close. But I did the best I could.

After resting and lots of cold medicine, I started to feel better (Shoutout to my roommate for taking care of me). But I noticed that ED voice was getting louder. It kind of took me by surprise. I hadn’t heard the voice being that loud in a while. I didn’t really know why it was all of a sudden so present. I was pretty much over the cold, so my appetite should be back, right?

I talked to my dietician and my therapist and both said that any kind of sickness is so hard to manage in recovery. Any time the meal plan isn’t met, no matter the reason, it makes room for ED Voice to be louder, which puts you at that much more of a risk for relapse.

Tuesday was a hard day. I cried in the cafeteria because I was overwhelmed.
Wednesday was a hard day. I stared at my dinner for 45 minutes before I could take a bite.
Today is a new day.

Yeah, ED Voice is really loud right now. But thanks to my support team (friends, professors, treatment team) I was reminded that I have fought it when it was louder. My dietician and therapist helped me come up with some tips for dealing with sickness in recovery.
1 – Find foods that seem a little easier. Food doesn’t usually sound good when you’re sick, and it’s going to be even worse with an eating disorder. So, instead of looking for food that is appetizing, find foods that seem easier or safer. Think of something you know you can eat. And if you eat that same thing 3 meals in a row, that’s fine. Do your best to stay on an eating schedule.
2 – Give yourself grace. I’ll be honest, I have not been very good at this one lately. By the end of the day, I think about all the food I missed today and how I should’ve eaten more. But that kind of thinking is not productive. My dietician always tells me “One snack at a time, one meal at a time. Then put it behind you, it’s done.” My meal plan has me eating 6 times a day. That means I have 6 different chances to get it right. If I miss a snack, ok. Move on. Focus on doing the next right thing.
3 – ED Voice is a liar. Don’t listen to it. ED Voice will use sickness as an excuse for missing meals and snacks. “Oh, you’re sick you don’t have to worry about eating, just rest.” Resting is good, but you have to eat.
“Nothing tastes good, so what’s the point in eating.” Even if it doesn’t taste good, you have to eat.
“You’ve fallen behind already, you’ll never catch up.” Progress over perfection.
Take everything ED Voice is telling you and attack it with facts.
4 – Ask for help. Every time you challenge ED Voice, it gets quieter. That’s hard to remember in the moment. When I’m staring at the plate in front of me, I’m not thinking “Don’t worry, it will get easier!” I’m thinking, “Wow, this is impossible.” That’s why having support is so important. Whether it’s a text of encouragement from your treatment team, a friend to sit with during a meal or snack, or reassurance from a professor, find the support you need.

The good news is it’s pretty easy to fight off a cold. You can take one or two sick days and then you’ll be feeling better! The coughing will cease, the nose will stop running, and the throat won’t hurt anymore. ED Voice isn’t quite that easy.

You can’t take sick days from recovery.

It’s hard, I know. I’m proud of you. God loves you. You got this.

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