Gratitude in Recovery: What I Learned from my Eating Disorder and What You Can Too

I love this time of year because there is so much energy given to gratitude.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that may bring trepidation and anxiety to folks recovering from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, but it is also a day where we are invited to sit down and be thankful for what we have.

There’s not a day that goes by where I am not giving thanks for my recovery from my eating disorder.  As I sit and hold space with my clients who are finding their own journey to recovery, I am regularly reminded of my own process and the steps that brought me to where I am today.

The recovery process of an eating disorder is fraught with ups, downs, twists, and turns, and many frustrations and confusions about these peaks and valleys.  Why can’t I just stop these behaviors? some might wonder….or, Why am I not able to see myself the way that others do?  I have had to answer these questions myself, and the passion I felt for my own health and healing ignited my career path to becoming a psychotherapist who helps others get here too.  Sometimes my clients and I contemplate what they could learn from their eating disorder.  What is its function?  What are its needs?  What is it trying to tell you? And even: What is it wanting to help you with?

I know, thinking of an eating disorders as “helpful”  might seem bizarre and unconventional.  Eating disorders are painful, destructive, and demeaning, you might say.  I agree — they are those things.  But by looking at it in a new way, in one that invites gratitude and healing instead of illness and pain, we might find a more peaceful path towards the end goal: recovery.

In the spirit of gratitude and thanks, I wanted to offer some insight into what I learned from my eating disorder (perhaps that I might not have learned in the same way if I hadn’t ever had an eating disorder) — and what you can too.

What My Eating Disorder Offered to Me and How My Recovery is Deeper Because of It:

  • I have feelings.  Some muddy.  Some sticky.  Some smelly.  And they are all ok!  I remember that before I developed an eating disorder, I experienced many complex and somewhat foreign feelings (maybe part of being a pre-teen!) and I didn’t know what to do with them.  I pushed many of them — ones that felt ‘unacceptable’ — inside and tried to forget about them.  Oh how they grew and festered!  This then caused me to feel overwhelmed and not know what to do with them.  Disordered eating was one way of trying to manage.  In my recovery, I have learned to find ways to sit with and sit through all of the feelings I experience and to understand that they are part of what it means to be a human being.  I am grateful for all of my emotions, as they give me depth, character, and space to grow.
  • I can eat!.  When I embarked on recovery, one of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t be able to eat foods that I really loved and feel satisfied by them.  I worried that my relationship with food would always be somewhat warped and abnormal.  I am so grateful for the relationship I have with food and eating today.  There is truly nothing  that I tell myself that I cannot eat, and I check in with my body daily to ask it what it is wanting.  When I am able to do that, I can eat until I am satisfied, enjoy my meal, and leave the table knowing I can have it again tomorrow if I wish.  Freedom from destructive eating behaviors is so liberating and my whole view on food has shifted!
  • I know myself pretty damn well.  One of the requirements for recovery from an eating disorder is a willingness to explore, accept, and challenge yourself.  Through my recovery journey, I have deepened my connection with my body, I have found acceptance with my emotions and feelings, and I have developed a peaceful perspective about who I am and what makes me unique.  These are things that I believe I learned so deeply (because I had to)  in my recovery and I’m not sure that I would have explored myself so intricately if I hadn’t developed an eating disorder.  I am still always growing, learning, and changing, and will forever be on a quest of self-discovery — and I feel like my eating disorder allowed me to be open to that challenge.
  • My body is mine.  And it’s beautiful.  I was walking down the street yesterday, noticing my steps, my pace, the way my feet felt in my shoes.  I realized that I didn’t want any other body.  I spent so many years wishing I had a different body.  But if I had a different body — blue eyes instead of brown, etc — then I wouldn’t be me.  I am the only person who could be me, and this body is a gift that I am given the responsibility to take care of.  And it will give back to me a hundred-fold.  And it does.

These are a few thoughts that came up as I was contemplating gratitude today, Thanksgiving Eve.  I learn new things every day that I am grateful for in my recovery as well as things that my eating disorder has taught me.

I invite you to think about what you are grateful for today and every day and to foster some energy in that direction.  If you have recovered from or are in recovery from an eating disorder, what are you taking from the process?  What do you want to look back on in ten years and remember about this journey?

Recovery is lifelong.  Every day brings a new opportunity to utilize skills, tools, and learnings from our life’s path.  And I’m always growing and learning.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.  I am grateful for all of you!

Are you looking for support on your journey to recovery?  Please contact me today or call me at (720) 340-1443 to schedule a complimentary consultation!