Who Am I Without My Eating Disorder?

August 8, 2019 Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

There have been countless moments during my time in both outpatient therapy and inpatient treatment when a certain fear held me back from embracing true recovery—the question, "Who am I without my eating disorder?" I knew the illness had starved my body, wrecked my relationships, consumed my mind, and seduced me into harmful decisions, but I clung to it still as my one source of identity. I was terrified of losing the behaviors that I assumed—inaccurately—made me both special and unique.

The voice of my eating disorder was loud and persuasive too: "You are capable of working out for hours even if you're exhausted. You are disciplined enough to eat the bare minimum of calories. These are your talents, and you are superior because of them. Otherwise, you're just an ordinary human with nothing else to offer."

I listened to that inner monologue and I absorbed the lies. My eating disorder and I became so ingratiated that I couldn't envision another kind of life. I have since learned this is a common battle for those who suffer from an eating disorder. The ache to be healed thwarted by the fear of a lost identity can leave a person feeling stuck, cornered, isolated, and unable to break free. So I want to explore this question, "Who am I without my eating disorder?" and share the revelations that came once I mustered the courage to find out.  

What I Learned When I Released My Eating Disorder Identity.

When I dared to venture outside the narrow, restrictive parameters of my eating disorder, I began to realize there was more to me than just a body shrunk down in the name of perfection. I had worth as an individual—not because of the miles I ran, the size of clothing I wore, the lunches I skipped, or the pounds I burned off. My flaws and eccentricities felt suddenly more exposed, but I was valuable nonetheless. I had wasted years fixated on the uncertainty, "Who am I without my eating disorder? If I choose to move beyond it, will I accept the person who emerges on the other side? Will others accept her too?"

I agonized over this question for a decade, but when I stopped allowing an illness to define me, the multi-faceted human I became was a messy, radiant, weird, passionate, quirky, lovable surprise. Here's what I learned about myself in the absence of my eating disorder:

  1. I am a poet and a wordsmith. I make sense of this world through the lens of writing. 
  2. I feel most alive when I am outdoors. I need to touch the earth and feel the wind in my hair.
  3. I am a fierce believer in justice. I champion the underdog and create safety for people.  
  4. I have a deep and tender heart. I am scared to be vulnerable, but I love with intensity.
  5. I am not perfect whatsoever. I lack coordination. I sing off-key. I can be stubborn, erratic, and temperamental. I insert my opinions when they're unwanted. But I offer grace to those unpolished areas, and I have decided that "perfect" is boring anyway.     

How I Moved Past My Eating Disorder Identity

If you want to experience a real, authentic identity apart from your eating disorder, allow me to honor and affirm that courage. It takes a brave, resilient person to renounce unhealthy—but familiar—patterns of behavior and step into the wild unknown. So as you confront the question, "Who am I without my eating disorder?" be kind and patient with yourself because the answer does not materialize overnight. This will be a continual process, but here are some guideposts to direct you on the journey:  

  1. Be curious about your idiosyncrasies—don't judge and repress them. 
  2. Look for the beauty, excitement, and gratitude in each small moment.
  3. Tune into what your heart needs in order to feel nurtured and cared for.
  4. Be mindful toward your body—offer it nourishment and gentle movement.
  5. Learn a new hobby or return to an interest you loved before the eating disorder. 
  6. Make an effort to connect with people and heal any strained relationships.  
  7. Drop the tough, walled-off, distant facade—be honest with yourself and others.  

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2019, August 8). Who Am I Without My Eating Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

Connect with Mary-Elizabeth on Facebook, Instagram and her personal blog.

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