You are NOT your Eating Disorder…

You are not “anorexic, or insert ED

It’s never been you.

You have experienced anorexia/ bulimia, BED

It has been with you.

I recently shared a post on instagram after hearing a person with an eating disorder referred to as their disorder. “They’re bulimic”

It infuriated me. I wanted to remind that individual “they are not their eating disorder” It’s hard enough for the person to seperate themselves from this idea without it being fuelled externally. It continues the shame and stigma attached to these complex disorders.

I see this identity as the sufferer playing underdog to their eating disorder, but that does not mean they are that disorder. Most times the underdog prevails eventually.

This notion was something really important for me to hear when I first started the recovery process. From day one my therapist repeated this mantra, that I was not my eating disorder. Even when I didn’t see it or believe it.

We often attach our identities to the the eating disorder, because we have lost touch with who we truly are. That does not make the identity true or real.

Still not convinced? Picture this. You would not call a person suffering from cancer, “cancer”. The principle is the same for us experiencing an eating disorder. A person is not “cancer” anymore than a person is “anorexia, bulimia or Binge eating disorder” You have an eating disorder, it is not you.

When we embark on recovery, there maybe times where it is easier for the person to hold on to that identity whilst discovering who they are without that disorder. REGARDLESS, It is still helpful to be reminded that they are not their disorder. The disorder is acting as their safety blanket. Of course, early in recovery you will return to the safety of that blanket. But it’s a blanket, it is not part of you. Eventually you don’t need the warmth the blanket offers.

During recovery I think it’s important to explore who you want to become? Who is that identity?

Picturing who I want to be, what I want my life to look like helps me stay in recovery from anorexia. It helped me to see myself separately to the disorder I was fighting. Our values are completely incongruous. I don’t have all the answers and I’m still learning. That’s recovery and growth.

When we are amidst the throws of an eating disorder, for most of us our world becomes very small. There’s very little room for anything beyond- food, exercise and concerns with these. It’s all consuming and incredibly isolating. But- it’s not really what most people want from life.

Eating disorders restrict EVERYTHING.

Who wants to be 80 years old and look back on their life, and all it’s filled with is fear and anxiety over eating, body image, exercise. None of it matters. If we are lucky to reach an old age I want to look back on what my life was filled with, not an eating disorder. It is never too late to make this change. I don’t care if you have been the underdog to your eating disorder for 50 years, there is always hope you can recover.

My journal has been my haven for my recovery but also exploring who this recovered person is, what her goals, aspirations, values and worth are.

I promise you, my recovered self is not fixated on dietary restraint, exercise or control over shape. My recovered self is loud, doesn’t care for other people’s judgements, grateful for the process of getting from A-B and not just being at B.

That brings me onto my next point. G. R. A. T. I. T. U. D. E…

It is easy when we are having a tough time to focus on the negatives. But one thing I have learnt from recovery is there is always something to be grateful for. Even in the darkest of times when you don’t feel there is anything to be grateful about. There will be. Start small on those days. Gratitude, has really helped me ground myself and shift from the “all or nothing” thinking we so often experience with eating disorders. Black and white thinking is a prominent trait we share. I promise you, if you give gratitude practice a go, it’s very hard to stay in a negative space. I make it a daily practice now. I get it, you think I’m full of crap. I thought the person who suggested it to me was too. I thought it was hippy bull crap and I’d be making daisy chains. No.

Try this…

Everyday for a week, think of at least 2 things you are grateful for. It can be as big as you want or small as you want. Aim to build up to more than 2. Some days this will feel harder than others. It’s these days you need to find things. The way you see yourself and the world around you will improve.

You will discover your life beyond they eating disorder even if you don’t see it now.

But for those who need to hear it again… “You are not your eating disorder”

3 thoughts on “You are NOT your Eating Disorder…

  1. I find the debate around person-first language interesting, not just in the context of eating disorders, but also other mental illnesses, autism, deafness, blindness, etc.

    I completely agree that none of us are our disorder, in terms of that defining who we are. But there are a lot of adjectives we use to describe ourselves that aren’t all-encompassing, e.g. I am female, I am tall, I am brown-eyed, I am Canadian. If I were to say those things about myself, or about someone else for that matter, no one is likely to think that by using those adjectives, I’m attempting to define the whole person by that one thing.

    The cancer example is very commonly mentioned, but grammatically, “I am cancer” doesn’t make sense, because it’s not an adjective; it would be the equivalent of “she is bulimia” rather than “she is bulimic”. However, people might say “I am diabetic”, “I am epileptic”, or “I am asthmatic.”

    I don’t think there’s any right or wrong with all of this, and if something helps someone conceptualize their illness as not defining who they are then that’s great, but if people are choosing not to use person-first language, that doesn’t automatically reflect stigmatized attitudes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for these, very interesting points. Completely agree. For some reason first person adjectives carry different connotations to mental health than non mental health related. I feel they are open to more stigma. You are right we do say “diabetic” etc but the people using this term generally do not infer certain biases, this is not the same on many occasions for mental health issues. I’m not saying it is always stigmatizing but it is too often.

      Eating disorders are an area where often we do attach our identity to the disorder, which can be difficult to break free from. When it is validated externally it makes it even more difficult for the individual to see themselves separately. And so I think it can be helpful to conceptualize this in recovery.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh absolutely, there’s value in separating self from illness.

        Language is such a funny thing, and I think there are a lot of nuances about what gets attached to what. There was one study that found that “mentally ill” had more stigma attached to it than “person with mental illness.” That seems to point to person-first language being better, but I doubt that’s the issue. “Person with mental illness” sounds like they might have been sick before, but not now. “Mentally ill” sounds like they’re sick now, which activates all that icky stigma. So yeah, multiple layers to these things.

        Liked by 1 person

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