How to Hold onto Hope in Eating Disorder Recovery
I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately. It seems that every way we look there is a new concern to disrupt our peace: war, racism, fat phobia, rights being stripped away for marginalized groups, natural disasters. Then on top of that we have individual concerns that may cause us to despair: sick and dying loved ones, long standing illness, waiting for deliverance, waiting for healing, you name it!
In my work with eating disorder patients, I find that it can be challenging to hold onto hope in the recovery process, especially for those with long battles with their eating disorder.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
I think that this is in large part because of the transformative process that one must go through to recover from their eating disorder. It’s very hard work and takes time and having to wait on something is REALLY hard. We remember what we hope for, but look around at our circumstances and we are disheartened because they don’t match up.
It can leave a person questioning.
Maybe this is something you have experienced in navigating your own recovery. Maybe this even describes your current state of mind! Holding onto hope during recovery is hard but is an important part of the process.
What does someone hope for in recovery?
Hope is a “feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” This can be tricky because as a clinician I often hear my clients say that they feel conflicted about getting better. Below are some examples of what clients have shared with me in the past as their hopes for recovery:
I hope to get my parents off my back and have more choice around food.
I hope to have more brain space for things I enjoy.
I hope to stop a certain eating disorder behavior (restricting, bingeing, purging, etc).
I hope to be at peace with food.
I hope to recover from my eating disorder.
The hopes that a person has for their recovery are varied. This is in part due to the fact that eating disorder recovery hasn’t been consistently and objectively defined, but most practitioners agree that physical recovery is the foundation for eating disorder recovery while psychological recovery allows for a more sustainable, long-lasting recovery.
Physical recovery includes: weight restoration (as needed), healing medical complications, and restoration of normal hormonal function
Psychological recovery includes: addressing underlying mental health conditions (anxiety, depression, trauma, OCD, etc), enhancing effective coping strategies, and improving function at school/work and in relationships
Because the recovery process requires healing on multiple planes, this process can be long and tiresome.
So how do I hold onto hope in my recovery?
Holding onto hope for long periods of time can be trying. These are some tips to help you hold onto hope for the long haul.
Holding onto hope is easier when there are many people to lighten the load. God gave us a spiritual community to encourage each other and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Likewise, eating disorder recovery often takes a village.
We can hold hope when we remember who our hope is in. When we hope in the LORD, He will renew our strength and allow us to endure without growing weary (Isaiah 40:31). God will give us resources and lifelines in the form of people, scripture, spiritual direction, or any other creative way to help us endure our circumstance just as he sent Isaiah to the Israelites in Babylon to give them a hope.
We can remember the faithfulness of God. When things feel dark for me, I have found it helpful to reflect on previously answered prayers. God’s faithfulness has been there in the past as demonstrated in the Old Testament, the New Testament, in the lives of my parents, relatives and friends, and even in my own recent history – his faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 119:90) and exists even in this moment.
We can focus on the eternal. We know that our struggles on earth are not futile. We know that our temporary troubles are transforming us to become more mature Christians, which prepares us for eternal glory. Therefore, we fix our eyes on what is unseen and eternal versus what we see right now and we know to be temporary (2 Corinthians 4:17).
We can remember that we are not forgotten – God sees us all. This is the affirmation I have to repeat to myself in times of great distress. It is helpful for me to meditate on the biblical truth expressed in Psalm 9:18, But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will not perish. I can cry out to the LORD and He will not forget me, even if He seems quiet for an extended period of time.
Eating disorder recovery is a long process. Holding onto hope can be challenging to do all on your own. Asking for help from God and from your support network can help you endure the recovery process.