Finding Peace Through Grief While in Eating Disorder Recovery

Woman Dealing With a negative body image

Periods of grief can make someone in recovery particularly vulnerable to relapse. Experiencing a loss takes what was once predictable and manageable, and turns it into chaos. Whether it be losing a loved one, a job, a relationship, or a pet, losing something or someone that took up valuable space in your life is devastating.

Eating disorders often arise out of grief or hardship, creating perceived control at a time when the individual may feel they have anything but. Researchers have found that eating disorders serve numerous purposes for an individual, one of the most common being “coping mechanisms for underlying emotional and psychological issues [1].”

One researcher details that eating disorders can provide the following coping functions: “self-soothing, discharge of emotions, self-cleansing, self-punishment, avoidance of feelings (numbing), providing structure or routine, and serving as an identity [1].”

Coping with Loss in Healthy Ways

Before one can determine how to cope with their emotions, they have to allow themselves to feel them. So often, eating disorders are used to avoid the pain and despair of life situations that are too difficult to face head-on. One of the most difficult things to do is to allow oneself to feel sorrow.

It is important to remember that every emotion has value. Even unpleasant emotions must be felt and processed. It is through experiencing and understanding these negative feelings that we can move toward appreciation of positive ones, such as gratitude for the time you had with your loved one and happiness for the memories you shared.

With eating disorders so strongly evidenced as an unhealthy method of coping, it is logical that one of the best ways to find peace when one is grieving in recovery is to tap into more positive coping tools.

Hopefully, recovery itself will have led to the individual finding some tools that work for them. If not, some simple and effective coping mechanisms are meditation, journaling, finding a creative outlet, repeating positive affirmations, and finding an empowering hobby.

Support from Your Treatment Team and Loved Ones

Friend Providing SupportOne coping mechanism that deserves its own emphasis is a simple one – talking. The more one ruminates on a negative emotion, the more power it has over them. Therefore, sitting on feelings of despair, sadness, loneliness, and guilt while grieving a loss can increase the strength of the negative feelings and the desperation one has to turn back to disordered eating behaviors.

It is important that grieving individuals process their loss with their recovery team and their social and familial support, taking what is growing stronger in the darkness and bringing it to the light. Talking about negative emotions takes courage but will ultimately lead to healthier processing of those emotions and, eventually, healing.

It is an unfortunate truth that there will be many times of loss and grief in one’s life. Pushing through recovery using positive coping strategies will help you overcome your current loss and prepare you to cope healthfully in the future.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth. As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1]: Wagener, A. M., Much, K. (2010). Eating disorders as coping mechanisms. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 24:3, 203-212.

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.

Published May 22, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
May 22, 2017.
Published on

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