I am currently reading Healing your Hungry Heart by Joanna Poppink and it has some really valuable and eye-opening passages in there. One thing that I found especially important to mention is the fact that, whatever eating disorder you have, your worth as a person does not depend on it. She goes on to explain that fat is a substance, not an identity. Have you ever told you are an allergy? No? Then why do you say you are fat? Change your wording and maybe use the sentence “I carry fat” instead.
Since those of you who are reading this are most likely severely underweight, but still think about this topic so much (I know because I was obsessed with it), I wanted to bring it up and take the topic of identifying yourself as an eating disordered person a bit further.
While reading this, I was reminded once again of my sheer terror of having to gain weight. When I started to tap into eating a bit more, stopped my workouts and had to go to bed without a growling stomach, I was unable to sleep, laying awake with the agony of totally losing the person I had been for most of my life.
I was the skinny one. I was the one who controlled herself. I was the one being admired for hardly ever eating dinner. But I was also the sad one, the one who hardly laughed, the one who was always losing temper, who had no energy, who cried over homework, who was always doubting herself and her abilities. I was the one who could not do anything but restricting. Or so I thought and believed.
When I tried to make changes in order to get out of this hellish state, my eating disorder flooded my mind with messages that told me I was not going to be anyone without anorexia. I was going to be the biggest failure in history. Everybody was going to hate me, judge me, laugh at me, pity me and ultimately lose interest in me.
These thoughts trapped me and wouldn’t let me move forward. I did not gain weight, at least not a lot, I did not stop abusing laxatives, I did not eat and often sneaked out to go for a run.
It was destructive, it was dangerous, but I was scared of letting go.
At the same time I was terrified of becoming fat (here is that word again), of losing control. I thought that once I stopped restricting, I’d go wild and wouldn’t be able to tame myself. And who was I going to be if I was not emaciated anymore? What would be special about me? What would others associate with me if not control, hunger and a tiny frame?
I expressed those fears over and over again in therapy and while working with my recovery team, but no matter what they told me, I was not convinced that there were other talents, skills and characteristics within me that had nothing to do with being skinny.
I simply could not see it. I was anorexic. That was my identity.
However, once I started to gain weight and I started to really dig deep and do some soul-searching, I came up with a long list of abilities that were slumbering inside, only waiting to be reawakened. When I got the job at Starbucks, my self-confidence was instantly boosted and I felt proud of having accomplished being hired despite having been rejected at first.
I continued to gain weight and realized that I was not losing control, my eating disorder was. It tried to gain back its influence many times, but I was my own master now. I didn’t binge, I didn’t go wild, I slowly developed a balanced diet for the very first time in my adult life. I felt empowered despite the initial need to get used to a completely different body.
When I was fired and stumbled deeper into the world of blogging, podcasting and even creating my own digital products, I felt incredible. I realized that now that I had stopped obsessing over my body, I was more successful, more alive and more energetic than ever before. I received all kinds of positive feedback about my changed posture, my smile, my sparkling eyes and the path that I have started to take. It felt pretty ironic to me that after walking through life believing only skinny people are successful and worthy of praise, I had come to a place where I had a healthy weight and was living my full potential for the first time ever.
It is easy to get wrapped up in thinking that because your eating disorder has been with you for years or even decades, you are just that: an eating disordered person, an anorexic, a bulimic, a binge eater. But it is not true. Far from it. You’re eating disorder is part of you, yes, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
So, take some time for yourself today. Go to a place where you feel comfortable and relax a bit. Maybe you want to listen to music in the background, maybe you can sit by the lake, whatever it is, create a pleasant atmosphere. Write down all the things that come to your mind when you think about your skills, talents and interests that have nothing to do with your looks.
I am sure you can come up with a lot of them. Don’t judge them and don’t hold back. Just put everything down that you can think of. Whenever you feel like you are nothing without your eating disorder, look at that list and remind yourself that once you can let go of your destructive behaviors, you can transform into the person that has all those skills and can implement them because that person has energy and a clear mind.
Are you brave enough to share a few of the ideas you came up with with us? I’d love to hear about your awesomeness.