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Identity

When I revert back into an anorexic mindset, it becomes all about earning my worth. Even if I resist the urge to act out in eating disorder behaviors, I can still be susceptible to the anorexic mindset, which tells me I need to strive past my own limitations and prove that I am strong, capable, resilient, and valuable. I have a difficult time believing that my self-worth is inherent, so I force myself to achieve it—even if that means I hustle to the edge of burnout with no room to pause, breathe, and rest. An anorexic mindset is all about earning my worth, but I will be honest: This performance-based mentality creates a miserable existence at times.
Confession: I don't want to make eating disorder (ED) recovery resolutions this year. In the past, I have dutifully written an exhaustive list of all the milestones I intend to reach in my healing journey, but as 2024 rounds the corner, this ritual suddenly feels more like pressure than motivation. I am a firm believer that recovery is not about ticking off certain boxes or following an arbitrary schedule. I set goals for myself, but I have learned to release expectations as to when I might achieve them. Maybe I'll form a healthier relationship with my own body as soon as tomorrow—or maybe it will take me a lifetime. Either way, I am done trying to force specific outcomes, so I don't want to make ED recovery resolutions this year.
As uncomfortable as this feels to admit, my version of self-love is conditional. Memes and mantras extolling the virtues of radical self-love are splashed across my Instagram feed, but I can't seem to take in the message. I have no idea how to accept and affirm myself, no matter the circumstances. I measure my value in terms of factors like outward appearance, work achievements, fitness performance, and societal contributions. I know it's not right, but my version of self-love is purely conditional. Maybe I should get to the root of this issue in 2024.
I realize now that I need to accept a lack of control in my eating disorder recovery. My battle with anorexia was never just about caloric restriction or exercise compulsion. Those behaviors were surface-level indicators of a more complex issue underneath. The main fear that drove my illness had nothing to do with food itself—on the contrary, I longed for nourishment and sustenance. My source of terror was a loss of control.
My eating disorder lessons actually make me feel grateful. Gratitude is a recurring theme that defines the entire holiday season. In fact, this value is thrown around so often in the frenetic build-up to each new year that it's easy to overlook just how powerful gratitude is. When I strip away all those cliché axioms and intentionally reflect on what it means to be thankful, I'm humbled by the sheer amount of blessings in my life. But then, as I lean deeper into self-reflection, I feel a curious swell of gratitude in an area I would normally least expect. This year, I am grateful for the lessons of my eating disorder.
Here's an inside look at the first line of my latest journal entry: "I am an eating disorder survivor. I am not an eating disorder savior." In other words, I have no power to rescue anyone else from a harmful relationship with food, exercise, or body image. No matter how desperately I want to be of help and service, I cannot force another person to embrace their healing journey. I can cheer them on toward recovery, but I will never be able to control their actions or decisions. Nor should I even attempt to hijack that responsibility in the first place. It doesn't belong to me. But if I already know that I am not an eating disorder savior, why do I still need a reminder? The short answer is that I always think I can manage this self-proclaimed role—until I can't.
Over the past week, I have been reflecting on the acute but nuanced complexity of living in a woman's body. (That is, anyone who identifies as a woman, including those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus [LGBTQ+] community.) This isn't a new revelation, of course. I've written about how sexism fuels eating disorder behaviors and my own experiences to corroborate that. But I often shove any potential threat of bodily harm, control, or objectification to the margins of my subconscious in order to function as a human. Most women I know default to this coping mechanism as well. However, thanks to a recent global controversy, I (and countless others) am once again forced to reckon with the complexity of living in a woman's body.
This week, I received a text from a longtime friend that sent me into an emotional tailspin. As a result, all motivation to care for myself evaporated into thin air. This news she shared was heavy to process, obviously, because I don't want to see her suffer, but also because I have firsthand experience with the issue she is facing.
I have an eating disorder voice that needs to be turned off. I first began the work to heal from an eating disorder in 2010, and it's been a passion of mine ever since. But despite all those years of hard-fought experience in the eating disorder recovery trenches, I am still learning how to turn off the eating disorder voice in my head. This voice was a staunch, relentless companion for most of my adolescence. At times, I could not even separate my own inner voice from the eating disorder beliefs, anxieties, and compulsions always shouting at me.
In a previous article, I wrote about feeling anxious about starting my first session with a personal trainer. But now that I am two months into the program, I have to admit there are many clear benefits to working with a certified professional who knows much more about fitness and nutrition than I do. It has been a challenge, but under her instruction, I am slowly learning how to create a balanced relationship with exercise. I can even see myself building stamina, resilience, strength, and athleticism. Here are some of the lessons from personal training that also help me out in ED recovery.