Disentangling from the Eating Disorder Identity
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Isadora G. (she/her) is a recent graduate of the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she studied psychology and sociology. During her senior year, she worked at an all-female residential mental health facility, which solidified her passion for working in mental health care. She is a recovery peer mentor for ANAD and has been in eating disorder recovery for over three years.
I recall the moment I was diagnosed with my eating disorder. Although it was distressing to come to terms with the reality of my disorder, I finally felt validated and at ease knowing there was a term to describe my internal experience. I knew that if I could put a name to my struggle, perhaps I could start working toward a life of freedom from the obsession of weight and food.
But the grip of my eating disorder was tenacious: it clung to all my worst thoughts, it fell asleep with me at night, and it was often my first thought in the morning. My day-to-day experience was consumed by eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, leaving me to feel isolated and lacking in all other areas of my life. I believed that my eating disorder defined me.
In the depths of my disorder, I felt that my only identifying label was the very thing I disliked most about myself. I only saw myself through the lens of the eating disorder—through that lens, I existed solely as a sick person, with no other redeemable or memorable qualities. I was sick, malnourished, and bound to anorexia. It was as if the ME prior to the eating disorder never existed.
I came to understand that disentangling myself from the eating disorder identity would require me to get in touch with my passions and values: two things the eating disorder had sabotaged. But this was no easy feat. It required months in residential and inpatient facilities, eating food when I didn’t want to, learning to nurture the little girl that wanted to take up space but felt she couldn’t, and finding meaning and purpose in life.
You Are More Than Your Diagnosis
Your eating disorder may trick you. It may deceive you of who you are underneath the distressing ruminations about food and weight. The truth is, you are so much more than your diagnosis. You are more than the thoughts that plague you. You are worthy of taking up space, of being heard, of being seen. A core belief I held for many years was that I did not deserve “good things” and that everyone else around me had the right to excel, feel happy, and succeed. This mindset is how I knew the eating disorder had completely undermined who I was as a human.
Recovering from my eating disorder meant I needed to go on a journey to re-explore who I was. It meant taking risks, doing things that scared the eating disorder, and participating in life in a whole new way. And most importantly, it meant realizing that I—just like everybody else—deserved a meaningful and fulfilling life.
My enmeshment with the eating disorder encapsulated my identity, despite the fact that I was a student, sailor, writer, research assistant, friend, daughter, and sister. In early recovery, it can be challenging to recognize who we truly are, what we love to do, and how we want to engage in the world.
I remember feeling lost and scared. I could not conceptualize a life without the eating disorder. Through the help of my outpatient team, family, and friends, I started to visualize myself in a world where I could embrace all parts of myself. I began reintroducing myself to my inner child and experimenting with different hobbies and interests.
I have always been drawn to electronic dance music (EDM), a popular scene within the Boulder and Denver area. With my roommates’ encouragement, I began going to concerts, where I found that I could truly be myself. I found freedom in dancing with my friends and noticed that my eating disorder thoughts no longer plagued me while I embraced the EDM community. By stepping out of my comfort zone and leaving my eating disorder thoughts at home, I was given a snapshot of life without the eating disorder. This was a huge step in my recovery. I felt a sense of hope that I previously thought was unimaginable.
As I continued my outpatient treatment, I faced challenging circumstances and a lot of grief. I was worried that I would relapse, and I did several times, but that is all they were: a momentary lapse. Some relapses lasted a few weeks, some a few days, but each time I was able to resurface and come out even stronger. Each lapse was a learning experience that proved I could come out on the other side. A relapse is not a failure.
Perhaps the most crucial part of my recovery story was that I was able to find what gives me meaning in life. My experience with anorexia and treatment stays was turbulent, but it illuminated my passion for helping those in the grips of their disorder. As someone who deeply understands how painful this disorder is and how beautiful recovery can be, I felt drawn to begin my path toward becoming a mental health professional.
During my senior year of college, I began a job at a residential mental health facility (akin to a treatment center) in California that changed my life for the better. I worked as a Psychiatric Technician, spending evenings with clients where I could support their recovery journey. I found purpose in my connections with clients, in guiding them through difficult situations, and showing them compassion when they couldn’t show it to themselves. I finally felt in alignment with my true self. By helping others, I was actually able to help myself. And I discovered that my pain was a great asset in helping others heal.
My eating disorder told me I was better off in isolation, fear, and suffering. My healthy self—my recovered self—showed me that connection and community were the opposite of my eating disorder.
Recovery allowed me to disentangle myself from the bind of the eating disorder. It opened doors that burgeoned self-growth, self-compassion, and self-acceptance. I’m here to tell you that the other side of the eating disorder is worthwhile: it is beautiful, welcoming, and inspiring. You are worth recovery, and the world is excited to see how you come out the other side.
Let your recovery inspire others. Email email@example.com to learn how to share your story with our community.