“You are not your eating disorder.”
If you’re in eating disorder treatment, you’ve likely heard this phrase at least a few times. It’s repeated often by those in recovery. Your disorder does not define you. You are more than your condition. You can build a life apart from your eating disorder.
But how? It’s a lot easier said than done when you’re active in your eating disorder or early in your recovery. Can you imagine a life that doesn’t center around the foods you eat or don’t eat? The idea of building an identity separate from your eating disorder seems like an impossible feat.
Who are you?
If you’ve battled your eating disorder for a long time, you may not know how to answer this question. You might be able to think back to a time before your mind wasn’t consumed by food, exercise, and weight. Or maybe your eating disorder began during your adolescence and you can’t remember who you are without your condition.
But you can build an identity that doesn’t center around your symptoms. You can build a life that is more than your eating disorder. Your world doesn’t have to revolve around food or the scale or the mirror. Eating disorder recovery makes this possible.
When Diagnosis Becomes Identity
Adopting your diagnosis as an identity is not something that’s limited to eating disorders. People with all different kinds of illnesses use their conditions as a label for themselves. From depression to anxiety to chronic illness, many people build their identity around the conditions they struggle with.
It’s an understandable phenomenon when you have a condition that consumes your attention. Eating disordersusually bring people to a point where all they can think about is their weight and using their food intake to control it. It severely affects the way you navigate both your personal and professional life and often limits your ability to function every day.
When your diagnosis interferes with your family, friends, work, education, and general responsibilities, it’s difficult not to let it define you. Even if few or no people know about your condition it becomes the driving force in your daily life. Over time it may feel like you’ve lost yourself to your eating disorder and you can’t separate yourself from it.
Adolescents also struggle with separating their diagnosis from their identity when these conditions develop in their early teenage years. As they’re forming their sense of self, they’re also engaging in disordered eating behaviors. This may lead to the false idea that their eating disorder is part of their identity, creating a problem that lasts well into adulthood.
Eating Disorders Dictate Your Behavior
It’s difficult to separate who you are from your eating disorder because it often dictates your actions. Instead of living life free from the chains of disordered eating, those chains often determine what you do with your days, weeks, and months.
Your eating disorder decides whether you go out with your friends or spend time at a family barbecue, or whether you go to the gym and then head home for the “safe” foods stored there. It’s easier to stick with your routinebecause at least it’s predictable and you know what to expect.
Your thoughts were once completely consumed by how to avoid food and how to keep people from realizing what was going on. When you spend so much time building your life to accommodate your eating disorder, it’s hard to know who you are without those behaviors.
Building Your Identity Outside Your Disorder
If you aren’t your eating disorder then who are you? The beautiful thing about eating disorder recovery is the freedom it returns to you. It’s a long road to recovery but you’re allowed to discover who you really are. You get to build an identity outside of your disorder that’s free from food obsession, weight concerns, and compulsive exercise.
There is so much more to you than your eating disorder. Your story involves more than the disordered eating behaviors that crept into your life. Overcoming your eating disorder means you are a survivor and able to explore the world that’s now open to you. You can decide what you like to do, where you like to go, and who you like to spend time with.
Ask yourself the question: who are you without your eating disorder?
If you could do anything, go anywhere, or meet anyone, what would your life look like? Once you’re in recovery, you have the opportunity to answer all these questions and more. It might feel paralyzing to consider the vast world that’s open to you but it’s also full of possibilities.
How do you feel considering the view up ahead? Are you nervous? Curious? Ready to heal? Feeling hopeful? Do you feel a mix of emotions that’s difficult to describe? That’s okay – you get to experience all these things and more. Once you overcome your disorder through treatment, everything opens up to you.
Finding Help at Shoreline
Shoreline Center for Eating Disorder Treatment understands the difficulties of overcoming an eating disorder. Your symptoms are only part of the problem; the underlying condition runs much deeper. We work with you to uncover the story within and work through the things that hold you back from recovery. To learn more about the programs we offer, get in touch with us today. We’re ready and waiting to help you!