This letter was a question posed to Adventure Some Women’s columnist, Natalie, of Ask Natalie. Eating disorders and other mental health issues are of a sensitive subject and this inquirer’s letter is such an honest cry for advice that I felt it should be shared to let others know that they’re not alone. There is help available and at the end of Natalie’s response, you’ll find contact information for organizations that are able to aid in an individual’s situation.
Thank you for reading and please leave any comments or responses.
I am a couple years in recovery from eating disorders and part of my recovery was getting outside and becoming really into nature and outdoorsy activities. It made me feel connected to things instead of disconnected and lonely and it was really good for me to trust in my body and see how it was able to take me to beautiful places and do things I never did before like climb rocks and summit a few peaks. In the past few months I noticed I just feel bad when I try to get outdoors and I feel a lot like I am not good enough at the activities I’m doing (like kayaking or backpacking or climbing). I injured my ankle a while back really bad and it kept me cooped up at home and not getting out much and I started to feel really disgusting and sad at myself. I keep having eating disorder thoughts now and I didn’t for a long time so I’m starting to get worried about it. Yesterday I was [considering a specific type of disordered eating behavior]. I don’t know what to do because I don’t want to stop going outdoors but this makes me feel real bad, plus I know these thoughts are not helpful for me and I don’t know how to stop them again. I was doing so good and now I’m not doing so good anymore and I feel like maybe I’m messed up. I know this is a learning experience but it really sucks and I’m nervous. Thanks for your help.
Learning About Myself
I need to tell you in very clear, explicit terms:
You are astonishingly beautiful.
I’ve never seen you and I don’t need to. You poured your fear, insecurities, and worry into a letter to a stranger, which is a fully brave act, and it takes a beautiful soul to do that. Braver yet, you pointed a bright spotlight on a predator who lives in your head, who wants to remain secret and unseen because she’s more likely to succeed that way. You heard her, you flipped the light switch, and you said, “Not today, you skeeze. Not today.”
That voice will always want you to feel lesser than. That voice will tell you, in fact, that feeling less-than is your strength, and that somehow you are more victorious the smaller and more “disciplined” and less authentic you become. But you weren’t made to be invisible, LAM, and your authenticity is who you are, at your core. Edie or Ana or whatever you’d like to call her is not you – she is everything that works to make you less than yourself. Discipline, in fact, is continuing to slam the door against her, even when she is so alluring, even when she feels like your only comfort in a world that is messy and confusing and terrifying.
Brass tacks: You are aware of what’s happening, LAM. Are you still in touch with your therapist(s)? If not, I strongly suggest giving them a ring. Do you still have a group of recovering people that you chat with from time to time, or some other support clique? Hit them up. You’ve been there for them, they’ve been there for themselves, and they can now be here for you.
I hope you consider following NEDA and/or other pro-recovery orgs on social media. I hope you consider affirming yourself all over the damn place, because it worked for you before, and unlike The Jerk Voice ™, it is honest feedback. I hope you call your supports and your treatment team – I am not giving a knee-jerk suggestion of a six month inpatient stay, unless that’s what you want and need. I am suggesting getting an objective and warm eye on you that will hold your hand and kick your ass a little into doing what you already know needs to be done. I suggest working with them to review relapse risks and look bravely in the face of what’s going on in your life, what’s kicking all this up now (sounds like the injury might have been a catalyst, yeah?). I suggest going back over the skills you have that have reinforced your strength thus far, and maybe adding some newbies.
You know what needs to happen; you already know. You’ve done this before. You know how to do it, and you can. This is a tune-up, not a reworking. You have the capability; ignore the voice that wants you to believe otherwise.
You are a thoroughly strong human. You are in the world and the world accepts you in it. You are the only you there is, just as you are today, and that is a sign of your utter perfection right now. As is. Today.
I want to follow up with some information and resources, for LAM and for others like her. An advice column is in no way a substitute for medical advice, and I have to make clear, eating disorders are the most lethal category of mental health disorder (1). In fact, every 62 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder (2). These illnesses are deadly. Period.
There are a number of eating disorder relapse warning signs, and our friend LAM is perceptive to notice a few within herself. Some red flags include anxiety about loss of control and overcompensating with perfectionism; frequent thoughts of food, weight or body shape, or restricting food intake; and feeling hopeless or at a loss on how to release your stress. When a person in recovery from ED notices some of these signs, the best advice is to quickly seek professional help. It’s important to also make sure any other mental health disorders – like generalized anxiety, PTSD, or major depression – also get treated; show some self-love and compassion on the regular, which can include coping skills like getting outdoors and communing with nature; step up your regular mindful and healthy eating game; and revisit that ol’ relapse prevention plan you might have drawn up when you first entered recovery. If you don’t have a relapse prevention strategy, now would be the time to dive deep into one.
To be clear: Experiencing some of these warning signs does not mean a slip, lapse, or relapse is imminent. Furthermore, experiencing a slip, lapse, or relapse in disordered eating behaviors does not mean someone has failed, is destined to to be stuck forever in an eating disorder, or was wrong to consider recovery in the first place. It is an opportunity to become stronger and learn more. It is a new chance at being even truer to oneself and more at peace in one’s body.
There is help.
In the United States, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) offers a phone helpline at 800-931-2237, a live chat, and crisis text support by texting “NEDA” to 741741. They also offer a screening tool if you are concerned about your eating behavior, and a treatment finder if you want help finding a qualified professional.
In other regions where I know we have readers, similar services are available –
For those seeking help in another part of the world, the Eating Disorder Hope website has a treatment finder and links to various resources worldwide.
To connect this to the outdoors, I find it encouraging to see a number of organizations, projects, and big-hearted individuals who have focused on self-acceptance, healing, and nature. One noteworthy community is the Outdoor Journal Tour, founders of the #WeHiketoHeal movement. The women in this community are beautiful souls who highlight how we can come into ourselves by going outside. A quick breeze through Instagram reveals talented outdoorswomen like Dora la Explorer and pages like Fat Girls Hiking, who demonstrate body positivity and self-empowerment.
Each of you reading this is worthy of love, particularly from yourselves. I wish you loads of it.
1. Smink, F. E., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: Incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current Psychiatry Reports,14(4), 406-414.
2. Eating Disorders Coalition. (2016). Facts About Eating Disorders: What The Research Shows.