By Michelle Pickens
Healthy young woman enjoying sunset, finding balance Anorexia and Crohn's

I have been living my life in recovery from anorexia for almost 9 years now. The summer after high school I was checked into a rehab program that turned my life upside down in the best way possible. After that summer, I went off to college and continued my recovery offsite, meeting with different therapists, attending recovery groups, and actively practicing the great things I had learned during that enlightening summer. For the next few years I felt I was truly recovered. I was able to have a life again. I also had the metabolism of a seemingly healthy 19-year-old.

How Crohn’s Affected My Eating Disorder Recovery

Our lifestyles change, our bodies change, and this can cause an eating disorder you thought you had shaken for good to inch back into your life. For me it was my Crohn’s disease that sent my body image and self-worth into a downward spiral that made staying strong in my recovery extremely hard.

My body changed a lot when my Crohn’s got bad. A lot of people lose weight when they have IBD but for some reason, I was having the opposite effect. I gained weight from steroids. I gained weight from the first biologic I went on. I gained weight from my current biologic. Eating disorders (EDs) are often about control and I realized I was completely out of control of what my body was doing. It was going rogue on me in a way I had never experienced.

I don’t have a fool proof remedy for tackling ED recovery and Crohn’s. In fact, I battle these things every day. I beat myself up emotionally for not being able to control my body and I put myself down to the point where I can’t leave my bed somedays. Those days are rare because thankfully I do have my toolbox of coping mechanisms, but they still happen.

Even though I have technically been in recovery for almost 9 years, recovery is something that is a constant struggle. Your eating disorder is always creeping in the back of your mind waiting for when it senses some weakness.

The Challenges of ED Recovery When You Also Have Crohn’s

I have done a lot of soul searching and have tried to find out how to fuse together healthy ways of dealing with Crohn’s and dealing with ED recovery. Unfortunately, I have realized that these two have very conflicting action plans. Here are a few examples:

• In ED recovery you are supposed to remove the focus of your life from food. When you have Crohn’s your life often revolves obsessively around food. What can I eat? What is going to make me sick? How do I plan my next meal?
• In ED recovery you are told that there are no “good foods” and “bad foods.” Well, for me there are good and bad foods. If I eat certain things (even food groups), I get very sick. So you’re telling me these aren’t bad? Maybe not bad for everyone but bad for me they pose a problem.
• In ED recovery you are encouraged not to weigh yourself, at least not often. Numbers don’t matter. When you have Crohn’s you get weighed at the doctor’s office every time. They record it, track it, and analyze it. Literally my worst nightmare.

Recovery needs some tweaking when it comes to adding Crohn’s disease into it. There is no, forgive this phrase, but “one size fits all” approach to this kind of stuff.

I have watched my body change over these past couple of years since my Crohn’s has been really bad. I have watched it shrink and grow and bloat to the point of looking 9 months pregnant. And I’m slowly accepting there really is nothing I can do about it. I’ve had to redefine healthy to a standard of what that means for me personally. I’m trying to get down this balancing act and it is actually really freaking hard!

Living in ED Recovery, Reaching for Crohn’s Remission

I’ve found two strategies to help to support my mental health on both the Crohn’s and ED aspect. I’ve been trying to engage in consistent positive self-talk and I try to stop comparing myself to others. I’m trying to see the beauty in the lack of control I have. I’m trying to see the beauty in this journey that recovery and chasing remission have challenged me with. Sharing my story has been freeing and has allowed me to connect with so many other women (and men!) who have shared both of these struggles either separately or at the same time.

Just like Crohn’s, having an eating disorder is a lifelong struggle. There will be periods of time (you hope) that you forget you are sick, and periods of time where you are at the height of your struggle. Living in recovery while fighting for remission is a serious test of mental strength. My biggest piece of advice is to use your support systems to lean on, connect with a community of people who are experiencing similar things so you don’t feel so crazy, and try to, as much as possible, embrace the ebbs and flows of this journey.