Building an Identity Beyond Your Eating Disorder

In recovery, building an identity beyond your eating disorder can provoke feelings of anxiety, resistance, and confusion. You might ask yourself, “Where and how do I start?” or “Who am I if not this person?“. These questions are natural, but with support, commitment, and trust, expanding your identity can be one of the greatest gifts of your recovery.

Understanding and Self Compassion

Understanding what makes expanding your identity difficult can foster an attitude of grace throughout this journey. In her book “How To Do The Work,” Dr. Nicole LePera explains that our subconscious mind feels safest in a comfort zone where it can predict a familiar outcome, even if it is painful. Moreover, we might naturally fear failure, questioning, “What if I try and it doesn’t work? What if this is just me?” Exploring an identity beyond dieting and appearance can feel like breaking social contracts, thus jeopardizing our sense of belonging.

Redirection and Integration

Building an identity beyond an eating disorder does not mean that we aim to reject or banish the entirety of who we are. This idea only breeds fear and resistance. Instead, Carolyn Costin, in her book “8 Keys to Eating Disorder Recovery”, proposes that we can repurpose any traits that have been used to fuel our eating disorder by channeling them towards recovery.

Explore the Whole Of You

When dealing with an eating disorder, it is important to remember that it is only one aspect of your life. There are parts of you that existed before and will continue to exist beyond your eating disorder. The following activity will help you “zoom out” and recognize these other aspects of yourself.

Get a blank piece of paper. Everything you put onto this page is a part of what makes up who you are. Draw a circle and write the words “Eating Disorder” inside it. What else can you put on the page? Consider personal qualities, strengths, passions, and your core values. Use different colors and shapes, but ensure that everything you write is bigger than the eating disorder circle, as this is what we aim to “recover” and build up.

Experiment and Then Experiment Some More

One of the best parts of building an identity is trying new things and discovering what nourishes our souls. In her book “Quit Like a Woman,” Holly Whitaker discusses “throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks” when cultivating an identity beyond addiction. You can try out different activities, take classes, volunteer, or do an activity you enjoyed as a child. It can be helpful to create a lined page called ‘The List of Me.’ Each time you find something that brings you joy, peace, or purpose, add it to this list.

Treat This As Your Great Adventure

Building an identity beyond an eating disorder does not need to be viewed as a punishment. It can feel intimidating and uncertain, but there are steps you can take to support yourself in this journey. Realizing that you are more than your eating disorder, that your identity is nuanced and multi-faceted, is a valuable discovery. It comes with time, patience, support, and self-love.

At BALANCE eating disorder treatment center™, we offer two FREE Virtual Eating Disorder Support Groups open to individuals seeking help and family and loved ones. The group provides a supportive forum where members can explore issues, including ambivalence about engaging in treatment, recovery, resources, and treatment options, and knowing when and how to take the next steps toward making change. RSVP for our next group here.  

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This post was written by BALANCE Blog Contributor, Emma Kehoe (she/her).

Emma is a student of Gestalt Psychotherapy in Sydney, Australia. She is also certified in Systemic Family Constellations. She is passionate about working with trauma, addiction, and eating disorders; empowering others to reclaim their power and inner essence. Her insights are a unique combination of both lived experience and clinical training. Outside of work and study she is a book worm who loves cycle and strength training, meditation, drinking coffee, and thrift shopping.  

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