Since I’m in my thirties I remember a time when we didn’t have the internet. These were the days when Google didn’t exist. We received information from people around us, teachers, doctors, articles, television and the library. Even when Google did take off, it took a while for society to make the change. Now-a-days we can look up anything. Literally ANYTHING, within a few seconds. The amount of information at our fingertips is so crazy its almost overwhelming to think about.
I have found that when it comes to recovering from an Eating Disorder, Google has been both an incredible blessing as well as a huge curse. I’ve learned that it must be used VERY carefully and if not it can bring anxiety, stress and problems. I’ve found that within seconds I can go from peace to anxiety with one click of a button. You know what I mean… you feel a pain in your back, so you google, “What causes pain in lower back?” Web MD pops up and before you know it you think you have a kidney disease, slipped disk, osteoporosis and might die in the next two days if not diagnosed correctly.....It’s a slippery slope.
There are also so many opinions out there that it can be confusing! If you Google, “Is sugar bad for you?” all of a sudden you have 38 articles and blogs all pushing their own agenda. One article talks about how it’s ok to eat sugar and another says its a death wish. Literally one article said, “The negative effects of sugar,” and the next one below it said, “Advantages of eating sugar!” So what the heck? Is it good or bad?! No wonder as a society we are so messed up!
When I first entered treatment I googled everything. I mean EVERYTHING. How long will recovery take? Will I gain weight? What is overshoot? How many calories does a normal person eat? Do I need inpatient? Should I be sedentary? Should I take antidepressants? Is fat good for you? How long will this last? How long will that last? When will my weight go back down? Why does my belly look so big? Why is there more fat in this area then over there? Why do I always feel like I’m going to throw up? Can you recover without gaining weight? A-typical anorexic recovery story.…What is exercise bulimia....I can go on for days. If I thought it, I googled it. If I worried about it, I googled it. If my doctor didn’t answer me the way I wanted, I googled for a better and more satisfying one. I felt very frantic for answers, alone, lost and reaching for anything to make me feel O.K.
Here’s the problem, not everything we read on the internet is the ultimate truth. Especially when it comes to recovering from an eating disorder. For example, I read so many blogs and articles about woman recovering from anorexia. Their bodies overshot their normal set point and then went back down within six months of solid eating. Sounds great, except once I read that I thought that my body would do the same! I thought, great, I’ll eat good for six months and then my body will go back down. I began to have unrealistic expectations of my body and recovery because I read about someone else's recovery and applied it to myself. I wanted so badly to believe that I would be like them, that I failed to consider that maybe I suffered longer from starvation. Maybe my body has different damage. Maybe it might take my body longer to heal. I believed what I wanted to, not what was real. This is very dangerous in recovery because when I created these unrealistic expectations, based on something I read on the internet, I was DISTRAUGHT when they didn’t come to fruition.
Reading things on the internet can also be extremely triggering. There were times that I was confident in what I was doing and then all of a sudden I read some article saying the opposite and then I started to question my own treatment plan. For example, I would be feeling really good and sure that my recovery is going as it should, and then I click on an article and half way through it starts talking about how when you have stopped gaining weight, that is your set point. All of a sudden I'm reeling and upset because my weight has stopped but I am WAY over what I considered to be a normal set point for me. I never read things as if they were opinions or generalizations. I read them as if they were the Holy Grail of information about what my recovery would and should look like. If it happened to them, then it MUST happen to me. If my recovery seemed even the slightest bit different then the current article I was reading, I would become anxious and stressed out that something was wrong with me and I was stuck this way. If I read that someone overshot their weight and it never went back down I would suddenly be frantic and scared that I too will never have my body back.
I think when you are in a situation like mine, you will grasp on to ANYTHING for an answer. GOOD treatment teams will not have all the answers. I repeat...a good treatment team should guide you to good nutrition and a healthy mind, not a particular weight in a certain amount of time. The reason why is because recovery is different for everyone. The damage that is done to the body during an Eating Disorder is extensive. The body will heal however it dang well pleases and no doctor, dietician or therapist can know how long that will take. (I can’t tell you how much I hate that fact…I’m actually surprised my dietician hasn’t strangled me yet because of how many times I ask when my body will be done…)
Recovery is scary. It makes you feel completely out of control and while there is some general understanding of what is happening, it is kind of like journeying through the unknown. Googling all the time, I believe, gave me some semblance of the known, and since I SO badly wanted to know how the story ends I quickly grasped onto things that I had no business grasping onto to begin with. I gave myself timelines based on others experiences. I created expectations based on studies done 50 years ago. I put my hope in something I read instead of my doctors, treatment team, God and myself. The journey that is recovery is full of twists and turns. No two people are the same. No two bodies are the same. Therefore no two recovery journeys will be the same. For a very long time I didn’t understand this, so I lived in a constant state of anxiety because I was comparing my recovery to every article I read and the recovery of hundreds of others on the internet. I was dying for answers so it was easy to believe everything I read, but when I accepted my own journey, I realized how stupid it was to compare my recovery to a 16 year old girls on the internet. I didn’t find peace in my recovery process until I stopped comparing and started accepting that my journey was my own.
Now, I’m not saying that Google is ALL bad. Recovery is such an isolating process that finding anyone that can relate is like finding a gold mine. The information I’ve stumbled upon is sometimes so incredibly helpful that I gain energy and inspiration to make it through another week of recovery. I’ve read blogs that are so relatable I feel less isolated and lonely. I might read an article, from a reputable source, about what is happening to my body scientifically and because of this new found understanding of what is happening I feel more at ease about the weight gain and healing process. I’ve stumbled upon forums where people encourage each other through recovery, and random articles that support my new desire to eat intuitively and never diet again.
DOESGoogle have it’s blessings! I think it’s just all in how you decide to Google that matters. Are you looking to compare or to cope? Are you looking for information or a timeline? If you read a timeline do you immediately apply it to yourself or recognize your journey is your own? When I finally decided that my recovery was going to look how my recovery was going to look, I stopped comparing ever step of my journey to someone else’s. I stopped looking for answers for every little thing that came up and started to accept that it is my body recovering. I took the things that helped me cope and threw away the things that made me compare. I’ve learned to consider the source and strain it through my own goals of recovery. I concentrated on the healing of my own body and googled things that helped me to understand it more. I learned that when I read something I can actually sit back, question it and decide if it is for me or if it is something that does not apply to me. I learned to say, well, your body went back to normal in six months, mine will go back when it’s ready. I can SO quickly get caught up in an anxious mindset if I spend too much time on Google. I know now that it’s best for me to sit back, trust the process and heal at my own pace. I take whats helpful and leave whats harmful.
My advice to anyone that is starting out treatment and looking for answers by Google search is to BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU GOOGLE. Your recovery is your own, so if any article gives you a timeline, ignore it. If it gives you a specific BMI, call it B.S. If you feel anxiety every time you walk away from your computer, STOP GOOGLING. If you feel yourself creating expectations based on others recovery, stop reading recovery stories. Lean into your own recovery and your own healing process. Talk to your doctors and treatment team. They know YOU. Find articles and studies and people that can relate to you on an emotional level because the physical will always be different. I am in a support group with seven different woman and not one of us have the same body, same recovery or same weight, however we ALL relate to the isolation, the insecurity and the mental pain. Sure, some of us have had similar things happen, but they are all at different times, lengths and intensity. Some people recover in two years and some people in twenty. Some people overshoot and some people don’t. Some people get the “pregnant belly” and others have literally no idea what you are talking about. If you find that Google is becoming a curse, then its time to sign off. Don’t allow ANYTHING to create more anxiety or stress for you as you recover.
I believe that while I have learned a LOT about recovering from an Eating Disorder through the internet, I also have had many many months of unnecessary stress because of it as well. What I now know is, my body is going to do what my body is going to do, no matter what I read on the internet and I have more peace when I Google less.
- Sara -