What Does Recovery Look Like?
Many people want a cookie cutter definition of what their life will be like when fully recovered, but with eating disorders things are never so simple. Healing is not as easy as taking a pill or going through a corrective surgery. Eating disorder recovery has a more complex definition because recovery isn't an event; it's a process. One of my favorite descriptions has been put together by Carolyn Costin:
"When you are fully recovered your eating disorder will feel totally gone, a thing of the past but you will not be the exact same person you were before it started. Think about it, if you went back to being the exact same person you were prior to developing an eating disorder, if you thought the same and acted the same, you would develop an eating disorder again. Through the recovery process, you will come to a new understanding of your life, let things go, use new coping skills, engage in different behaviors and discover how to lead a more authentic life."
Healthy Self vs. ED Self
You will learn many skills as you go through the recovery process, and one of the most important is to begin to separate your healthy self and your eating disordered (ED) self.
Begin to make a practice of identifying thoughts and actions and evaluating whether they are coming from the healthy self or the eating disordered self. At first, this can be incredibly tricky! One method to help determine which voice is which is to ask yourself whether you would treat another person the same way you are treating yourself. For example, would you feed your niece just half a piece of toast for dinner?
Be mindful that your ED voice can be sneaky and try to manipulate your healthy self into believing and doing something that is really motivated from the ED voice, yet another reason to nourish your brain. You need the energy to rebuild and engage your healthy self in dialogue that challenges the ED voice.
The Healthy Self is Persistent
It takes practice and conscious awareness, but the more you use effective, counteractive statements to fight the ED self/voice/dialogue, the easier it is to build a repertoire of recovery focused statements. Affirmative self-talk buffers against the sort of discouraging, negative, and repetitive thoughts associated with EDs. If the path ahead of you seems overwhelmingly difficult, I can empathize and promise it gets easier as you become more empowered! I still conquer eating disorder dialogue every day as well, but it's worth it!
The following is a list of healthy self-statements to get you started on battling the negative ED voice. You may not believe in many of these statements at first, but the more you read and rehearse them, the more they will become second nature and authentic. Add this to your treasure chest of coping skills to draw from; all of which will aid your journey of building a healthy self to discover a more authentic and purposeful life.
Healthy Self Statements
1. I don't have to punish my body. It was created uniquely to be authentically me and have fun.
2. I may have intense feelings now, but they will pass.
3. My eyes may show my reflections and often things are distorted at times, but I can be aware that this is not exactly as they are. (Check out Operation Beautiful!)
4. No food is a bad food; everything is good in proper proportions.
5. I have a natural and beautiful body. It is not meant to be starved or abused.
6. Many of the things I value (i.e. building healthy relationships, having fun, & being in the moment) do not coincide with having an eating disorder.
7. My self-worth, appearance, and character are not reflected by my weight or number on a scale.
8. Proper levels of exercise must be combined with adequate nourishment. Healthy exercise is a choice, not an obligation.
9. I will choose foods and activities by exercising my free will!
10. Maintaining balance is key and can only be achieved by my healthy self.
11. Self-esteem is built from positives... my character, authentic values, integrity, and more — Not a from a number on a scale!
12. God has given me a natural body to do many things with, and I am learning to tolerate, accept, & appreciate it.
Use this list as a starting point and then make/add to your own healthy self statements.