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Erin Tharp: Set Point

“Erin you have hit your set point and maintained for 8 weeks, so you are now free to go.” Something that consumed you for so long is suddenly gone. The part of you that was always around, a voice in your head that never left, and a person to lean on during tough times, poof, he’s gone.

Nobody prepares you for the all-encompassing, unconditional love you have for your eating disorder. Ed was not just my “eating disorder”, Ed was my deepest companion, he knew all my secrets, I could never hide from him, and during the hardest times in my life, he was always there to help me gain my power back, no questions asked. How am I supposed to go from being around the most important person in my life 24 hours a day, to never seeing him again? Grieving Ed can only be understood by someone who has gone through it, but it truly feels as if you are grieving a breakup. The worst part is, you broke up with him. And every day, you must make the conscious decision to not allow Ed to win you back.

When I think back to my eating disorder, I don’t think about the weekly EKGs, the daily phone calls to my mom sobbing as I stare in the mirror, or the hourly thoughts about how much longer I can make it without food. I think about the confidence I convinced myself that I had back then. The amazing way I could wear a bikini and sit down and see no rolls. The way I could lean to my side shirtless and count every rib in the mirror. I don’t think about how I would have to sit in front of the heater after water polo practice because I was so cold, but instead my mind warped that information to the proudness I would feel as I put on a down jacket over my thermal pajamas in April as the sun is shining and it is 75 degrees in Los Angeles. The mind can do amazing things, and one of those being the glorification of traumatizing and horrific times in your life. Why is my mind romanticizing my eating disorder? Why do I still only think about the amazing confidence that I can assure you I did not have? Why do I wish that I was back in the trenches fighting the recovery process all over again?

Something else that nobody tells you about recovery is the immense shame you feel about beating your eating disorder. You get lied to and convinced you will feel pride and strength, but, the reality is, the only feelings I felt were weakness, guilt, and a loss of control. I had let down the most important person to me, Ed. I had let him down and wasn’t strong enough to continue fighting for him. He was the one person that was always there for me, and I couldn’t be there for him anymore.

Trust me, it is not easy to make these statements. I am ashamed to say that I wish I looked like I did back then, but this is also by no means me relapsing. I am proud of myself and my recovery, but I also think that it is important to state that once you hit your set point weight, you are by no means recovered. This month, February 2023, marks a year and a half from when I hit a set point. I had finally done it, I escaped the mundane routine of weekly nurses, therapy, and nutritionist meetings, I was finally free. But little did I know, quite the opposite was true. I was now in this new body that I did not know how to navigate, while also grieving my breakup. Ed was out of my life, and now I was just this unfamiliar human that I didn’t recognize anymore. I was finally out of my eating disorder enough to understand the difference in how I looked from 2020 to how I look now at setpoint in 2023, and that only made it harder to accept the new person I had become.

Nobody speaks about the extreme pain that is felt when your first set of clothes post set weight don’t fit. How did this happen? What did I do wrong? Why am I so out of control? These were just a few of the thousands of questions I continue to ask myself when my clothes don’t fit. Weight gain is one of the hardest things about recovery and the worst part is, your best friend Ed, is no longer there to support you through that time and make you feel in control. You want him to come back with almost every ounce of your being, but that last little bit must stay strong enough to not allow it. In the past year and a half, I have bought 3 new sets of clothes for the amount my body has fluctuated in weight. Sometimes I go up, and sometimes I go down. But that is the beauty of things, bodies change. They fluctuate. It doesn’t feel like it at the moment, I completely understand, but the fact of the matter is, my eating doesn’t change much anymore, but my body still does. I do not make this statement to invalidate the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and helplessness, and I too will sit crying in the Nordstrom dressing room unfamiliar with the body staring back at me, but over the course of the many trips I have taken to the Fashion Island mall, I have come to understand that bodies all look different at different phases of the day, the week, the year, and life. And that is perfectly okay. With changes in body, come changes in clothes, and no woman can say that finding clothes that fit you and make you feel beautiful is not fun.

The feeling of shame and uncomfortability in my new body was also tied to the fact that I no longer looked like I had an “eating disorder”. I did not look like a small, feeble, skinny girl anymore. My rolls had come back, my hair was thick, my face was round, and my eyes didn’t bulge and look too big for my head. With this new body though, I felt like I constantly had to prove to everyone that I had an eating disorder. My vulnerability when I spoke about my past was not coming from a place of seeking attention, but from a place of sadness and pride for my battle. When I go out to restaurants, I constantly have to ask myself, “is this something a girl with an eating disorder would eat?” not wanting my friends or acquaintances to think that I was lying about struggling with an eating disorder and just wanted attention. Was I eating too much food? Does it look like I’m eating too little? These are constant thoughts that rush through my brain, always worried if I’m “playing the part” of a recovered anorexic well enough.

When you find yourself allowing your body to eat a handful of nuts when you’re hungry, or accepting a slice of cake every once in a while when it's offered, it becomes increasingly clear that Ed may not be around anymore and with that comes sadness and loss. You wonder how you let him go and miss the sense of companionship he gave you. He was your best friend and just as when important people die or leave your life, you don’t remember the arguments or negative qualities. You remember the joyful memories the two of you shared and the amazing traits of the person. I am still grieving Ed, as he was my best friend. But, I am also learning to live independently, not needing him as a crutch to use during hard times.

Once you hit your set point, it does not mean you have recovered from your eating disorder or that Ed is not around anymore. He still speaks, his voice is just softer and holds less power. It is important to understand that even though you are not in a body that is on the verge of hospitalization anymore, it by no means shows that you have fully recovered from your battle with your best friend, Ed. The battle now is harder because your support system has lessened, you don’t know how to navigate the new body you have been thrown into, and the outside world has no idea what you’re going through, making you feel more alone than ever.

The true work begins when you realize that now the battle is all internal. Every person struggling must realize that they have been given the gift of this body and now they must learn how to love it. They must also realize that their “best friend” is also their worst enemy and thus, he must be let go of. Ed has a way of making us feel supported when we are alone, but he also makes us feel like we need him in times of struggle. The reality is, we must learn that the only person we need is ourselves. We can lift ourselves up in times of struggle and love ourselves in the body we have because each body may be different, but deserves the same love and respect. Our battle with Ed does not stop when the papers are signed and we are freed to go, but a new battle has begun, one that we can safely beat and learn to love ourselves all over again in the body that we were born to have. The silent battle that you go through once you look “normal” does not make it any easier to love yourself or let Ed go just because you have hit your weight. It is an internal battle that you will continue to fight for a long time, but you will be a stronger person because of it.

With every break up there is a grieving process, and it is the same in this case. I chose to break up with Ed, and I am still grieving, but I have also learned that I am stronger now. I learned a lot from that friendship, and will be a better version of myself in the future. I love my body for everything it does for me. The power it gives me in sport. The strength I feel in the weight room. The beauty I see in myself and those around me. The body is just a vessel that allows us to do the amazing things we do in life. We must love our bodies the way we love our minds. We are all individuals with different aspirations and goals, and thus it only makes sense that each and every one of our bodies looks different as well. With none being more beautiful than another.



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