A somewhat corny phrase has popped into my mind recently about recovery. On the surface, it appears that the cure or the opposite of an eating disorder is eating regularly and maintaining health, yet a more true statement in my experience is that the opposite of an eating disorder is love.
These illnesses promise a utopia of sorts when someone fully dives into them. The rules and strict guidelines of an eating disorder provide a powerful feeling of safety and comfort, something coveted by most people suffering with them. The uncertain and unmanageable aspects of life, both external circumstances and internal thoughts and feelings, become irrelevant compared to the reliability and consistency of the eating disorder.
The reality of these rules is a life of isolation. There is no room for friendships, relationships or, most importantly, love when the eating disorder blocks any path towards meaningful connection. Real love and caring are fraught with land mines: vulnerability, feeling misunderstood and being hurt. The eating disorder causes suffering but with no surprises, and the benefits are clear.
It may be obvious that the love from an eating disorder is lonely and hollow. An eating disorder cannot replace the true connection from another person but merely distract the sufferer from her pain.
Recovery involves engaging with people directly, not from behind the veil of an illness but in a true and genuine way. A sensitive and emotional person will struggle at first with the raw vulnerability that comes with opening up to others and caring about building relationships. However, even a few positive steps in a friendship are often enough to remind the person of what she has been missing.
Through this experience of love, recovery can take significant steps forward. The thoughts and behaviors of an eating disorder may be ingrained, but the pull of true connection serves as enough of a carrot to take the meaning and power away from the benefits of an eating disorder and make the struggle of recovery worth it.