Finding Meaning Outside the Identity of an Eating Disorder

Woman looking at her flection to find identity

Many people feel hesitant to recover since their identities are so wrapped up in their eating disorder. This is often twofold, relating to both internal and external senses of identity.

This hesitancy can be difficult to shake, but it is essential for long-term recovery. Though your identity in the past might have been in your eating disorder, this does not need to be your future.

Self-Image & Eating Disorders

An individual’s sense of self, or how they perceive themselves, can get very warped when trapped in an eating disorder. You can lose track of who you really are, since all of your thoughts are filtered through your illness. The line blurs, and your eating disorder voice becomes the only one you can hear.

This can be dangerous in many ways, but primarily in the sense that it can keep people from wanting to recover. It manipulates people struggling with eating disorders into thinking that they are lost without their disorder, when truly it is the other way around.

Even if you do not remember who you were before your eating disorder, you can find your authentic self in recovery. Of course, self-discovery is an ongoing process that takes time, but it is never too late to start.

The most important thing to remember is that your eating disorder does not define you.

How Others Perceive You

Many people struggling with an eating disorder have kept it secret for months, years, or decades. Even their family and close friends might not know the depth of their disorder.

Others have struggled more openly, and might have been in and out of the hospital, missing months of school or having to take a leave of absence at work. Their families and peers might treat them differently because of this.Woman in the mirror

Finally, weight can also be attached to identity for those with eating disorders. If someone has always been “the skinny girl” or “the buff guy,” it can add another layer to the fear of gaining or losing weight in recovery. It leads to questioning how others will perceive you, and how you will be judged.

In most cases, no one can judge you more harshly than you judge yourself when you have an eating disorder. Break out from behind the false comfort of your weight-based label or the role you play in your family or friend circle, if it relates to your eating disorder. You are so much more than your body type or mental health issues.

Finding Your True Identity

It can feel terrifying to shed your eating disorder identity. Whether this is relating to self-image, how others perceive you, or both, abandoning the idea of who you are with your eating disorder might feel impossible.

Fight these feelings and acknowledge that you are not your eating disorder. This is the first step. Thinking that your disorder defines you is just another disordered thought.

Finding your true identity is an ongoing process. Though it can be scary at times, it can also be fun! Developing or relearning your passions, dislikes, skills, and priorities while in recovery can be empowering and guide you on your journey. The same is true of repurposing your energy and skills into something meaningful or productive.

If you are going through this transition now, start by trying new things. This can get you out of your comfort zone and allow you to embrace life without your eating disorder. Trying new hobbies, reading different kinds of books, even experimenting with new personal styles can be an adventure in recovery as you gain a new sense of self.

Woman on beachGive Yourself Time

Early in recovery, it might take all of your energy to just stick to your meal plan and try not to spontaneously combust. This is perfectly normal.

Give yourself time to adjust to the recovery process and learn who you are without your disorder. Try not to pressure yourself to change, as this can lead to inauthenticity and even more self-doubt. Let it happen organically and, when you are ready, start experimenting with new things and establishing boundaries for yourself.

Your eating disorder voice might still nag at you from time to time, but remember that even the worst day in recovery is better than the best day in your eating disorder.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How has your sense of identity changed while in eating disorder recovery?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 16, 2016
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