Anorexia nostalgia is something a lot of recovering patients go through, but are almost always silent about. For a good reason: looking back at the eating disorder and feeling a longing for it isn’t exactly the kind of news you want to tell family and friends. It’s shameful. It’s a step backwards. But the truth is, this is normal. Recovery always has highs and lows. What’s important is how you respond to the peaks and pits. That said, here are some helpful thought patterns and action points you can consider when anorexia nostalgia hits:
Pinpoint the negatives in your thinking.
There’s a specific reason you’re longing for that time you were ill. To some, they feel like they want to gain ‘control’ again over their bodies, which the eating disorder allowed them to do. For others, they crave the attention they constantly got before when they were able to shed a few inches off the waist. They felt validated and special. But, as much as these thoughts look encouraging, in truth, you know they’re very deceptive. It’s a false kind of control when you think obsessively of calories and meals. It’s also a flawed kind of thinking when you believe that only by being sickly thin can you gain the approval of people around you.
In other words, when you idealize your eating disorder, pull out the shreds of lies in that thinking. From there, focus on what’s true. This is the core of psychotherapy sessions and treatment programs for anorexia nervosa: capturing and managing negative thoughts.
Watch out for triggers.
In most instances, nostalgia is prompted. Maybe Facebook showed an old photo of you. Perhaps you happened to drive by a street you frequented running at before when you all you thought about was exercise and weight, or you probably just grew bored that you thought of that time. These triggers aren’t inherently bad. They won’t necessarily drive you to starvation episodes yet again, but they could. That possibility is what you need to watch out for.
You need to have a game plan when you encounter these triggers. Some find it helpful to call up their therapist. Others are able to manage the urges with meditation. Still, there are some who just need a no-judgment talk with a loved one or a friend. The bottom line, prepare for triggers. If there’s a way to avoid them altogether, better. Don’t put yourself in tricky places and situations.
Look back at your victories.
Instead of reflecting back at those times your body was stick thin, go back to that time when you were slowly being restored to normal health. When you finally agreed to go to the treatment center. When you were taught coping strategies. When you started eating again in a social setting. Reminisce in these small wins, so you can defeat that one potential loss you could suffer when you give in to the nostalgic thoughts. If you can write them down, go ahead. This will make your victories more real and not just abstractions in your head. Hopefully, with these win reminders, you can draw strength to overcome urges.
Again, it’s normal to long for that time you were indulging in eating disorder thoughts. But that doesn’t mean you should dwell in it. Take note of these strategies to overcome that sad, painful longing.