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I think that it is so fantastic that you are doing this now, at 23. I am 10 years older than you and I have wasted so much time starving and overexercising, to the point that I kind of missed out on all the good things life was trying to throw at me.
I am a member here and at Youreatopia and have been on various other forums related to ED recovery. In the ‘real world’ I have also met a lot of people in various attempts at recovery-I mean, literally over a hundred women (I’ve met men too on the internet-more than I would have ever expected-but the relationships I’ve formed in various treatment programs have strictly been with women because they have all been women-only programs). I can tell you based on what I’ve seen physically in the ‘real world’ women is that those who were purgers had the hardest time with the swelling and huge weight swings, followed by the over-exercisers. It sounds like you get to be in both clubs.
I have a very close friend who I’ve known since the beginning of my own struggle. She had a 25-year battle with bulimia and had been a marathon runner throughout that time (I don’t know how she survived; the body is amazingly resilient despite our best efforts to destroy it). She finally got to a place where she ate freely and rested, beginning about 5 years ago. She was just fed up and decided on her own to take an approach that turned out to be very similar to what Matt is suggesting here (along with lots and lots of therapy!). I would say that in the last year and a half or so she has been stable. So the first 3-4 years she was kind of all over the place. Now, don’t let that discourage you-she will 100% tell you it was well worth it to stick it out. Also, she had lived for a quarter century with these behaviors so her healing time should be considered in light of the duration of her illness. She just allowed herself to maintain a vast wardrobe that spanned multiple closets, so she could adjust as needed. Now, she is larger than I ever knew her to be before, but it appears to be her healthy weight. Her ED self would have been horrified, but people who know her (including husband) think she looks fantastic. She is probably at the top end of the “healthy” BMI range but BMI is horseshit anyway.
I knew another girl who was closer to my age, and who I no longer talk much to but frequently see in town. She had been sick just for a few years before being forced into treatment. She is very proactive in the recovery community here so her progress is pretty visible. She ran marathons also and was very good at it even whilst she was extremely sick in her behaviors. She was running very, very high mileage when I was in treatment with her. They had her cease exercise completely and she swelled up immediately, and even before she increased her caloric intake to the recommended amount. As I said I see her in town and do talk to her from time to time. I know she took a solid 2 years off of running and is back to it now but much less rigid about it all, and she looks great and tells me she is eating freely and loving her life and no longer obsessing about food.
Personally I’ve gone through hard core restriction, hard core exercise abuse, both at the same time, and every other iteration, and right now i am really trying to embrace this whole approach, take it easy, and eat what I want. And I haven’t had much edema or water retention but I do get insanely bloated. I’m only maybe a couple months in though. I do want to go back to running but I doubt I’ll be anywhere near healthy enough until I’ve been in this for a good solid while. I have no idea what a good solid while is. But I suspect I’ll know I’m ready when I (1) have periods regularly and consistently, (2) am at a weight where I look at least somewhat like the other women in my family-those that don’t have raging eating disorders anyway (I don’t weigh myself anymore-highly recommend ditching the scale), (3) am eating freely according to what I crave and not some arbitrary rules, and (4) have been experiencing 1-3 without much fluctuations, water retention exhaustion, et cetera. I think this is a very individualized process but I would suggest not worrying too much about the when. Just know that you’ll get there if you are eating enough that you aren’t thinking much about food and aren’t denying yourself what you want. I also think you need to NOT know what your weight is so that you don’t try to use the number as a way of gauging whether you’re “doing it right.” External control is the enemy. I need to let my body call the shots, just like it does in letting me know it’s time to breathe, or to pee. I don’t tell my body to inhale twice per every 5 minutes, or to pee exactly 16 ounces every 4 hours and 15 minutes, so why in the hell would I tell my body that it should run on 1,700 calories per day? Ain’t my job. It’s up to biology. I do not dictate biology.