When I first started struggling with food and body image at eight years old, I was convinced it would be a lifelong struggle. My days were spent getting on and off a scale more times than anyone could imagine and counting out my cornflakes before I’d even think of eating them. I felt that I was destined to be bound by my eating disorder forever.
However, at 22 years old, I am fully recovered from anorexia. There is some controversy in the mental health world about whether full recovery from an eating disorder is possible, and I wholeheartedly believe it is (in fact, I’m living proof). Eating disorder expert Carolyn Costin says,
“Being recovered to me is when the person can accept his or her natural body size and shape and no longer has a self-destructive or unnatural relationship with food or exercise. When you are recovered, food and weight take a proper perspective in your life and what you weigh is not more important than who you are; in fact, actual numbers are of little or no importance at all. When recovered, you will not compromise your health or betray your soul to look a certain way, wear a certain size or reach a certain number on a scale. When recovered, you do not use eating disorder behaviors to deal with, distract from, or cope with other problems.”
My eating disorder truly is a thing of the past. While I still struggle with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD, and my battle with anorexia has certainly informed the woman I’ve become, I no longer experience eating disorder thoughts or even the slightest urge to use eating disorder behavior. I’ve learned that my life will never be perfect, and I’ve gained the ability to cope effectively, even in extremely difficult circumstances.
Mental health advocacy has been one of the biggest catalysts in my recovery. Through discovering mental health advocacy, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. I’ve found an immense sense of purpose, and I’ve connected with countless individuals who have also found true full recovery from their eating disorders. My commitment to this advocacy, coupled with my dedication to my professional treatment and my determination to find a life beyond my eating disorder truly led me to full recovery.
Long gone are the days of 10-year-old Colleen measuring her Rice Krispies, 16-year-old Colleen compulsively exercising after hours of dance rehearsals, and 19-year-old Colleen relapsing after seeing the number on the scale change. Now my days are filled with truly experiencing all emotions, appreciating my body regardless of any numbers, eating the foods my body, mind, and taste buds want, and pursuing my dream of becoming an eating disorder therapist.
While I can’t promise you will find full recovery, I can tell you that it is possible. I encourage you to seek professional treatment and start your own advocacy journey, whether it be through volunteering for organizations like Project HEAL, Mental Health America, and NEDA, or through getting more vulnerable about your struggles on social media—it might just change your life
Colleen M. Werner is a mental health advocate, public speaker, eating disorder recovery coach, and eating disorder therapist-in-training. Her personal experiences with anorexia nervosa, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and trauma led her to want to turn her struggles around to both inspire and help others in similar situations. Her work has been published by HuffPost, The Mighty, Channel Kindness, the National Eating Disorders Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, Project HEAL, and HerCampus. Her debut book, Brave Girl Healing, will be published by Eliezer Tristan Publishing in early 2019. Learn more about Colleen at www.colleenmwerner.com and find her on social media as @colleenmwerner.