Guest Blog: 3 Truths I’ve Learned Along The Road To Recovery…

My ED Recovery turns 24 years old today! Here are three tidbits I’ve learned along the path.

1) You are not responsible for causing your eating disorder, but you are responsible for your recovery.

Eating disorders have a complex etiology. They are not caused by one thing but have several factors that can contribute to their development (family of origin, temperament, genetics, trauma, sexual abuse, underlying mood disorders, toxic diet culture, …).

We could argue over nature vs. nurture on causes of eating disorders (and this does happen at eating disorder professional conferences!), but I don’t think it is very important in a recovery sense other than this: it’s not your fault that you developed it. It is your responsibility to be in the solution of healing from it.

I remember when I first heard the theory that eating disorders are brain-based diseases (see Walter Kaye’s work on this if you want to be a neurobiology nerd). This information helped me understand the importance of healing shame. I could finally let go of thinking there was something I or any of my loved ones “did wrong” to cause the eating disorder.

And, once I began to let that go, I could also look at some of the character defects and character assets that went along with the temperament I was born with and use them towards my recovery.

Carolyn Costin talks about how instead of trying to get rid of your anxiety, perfectionism, controlling, rigid, or compulsive aspects of yourself, why not direct them toward your recovery?

Once I started directing my anxious, perfectionistic, supersensitive, and compulsive aspects of myself toward things like:

*being fully committed to my recovery,eating disorder recovery treatment body image anorexia bulimia perfectionism

*stubbornly persevering through ten years of graduate school, doctoral/postdoctoral work, and licensure because I no matter what wasn’t going to give up and

*being the best therapist I could be for my clients,

these traits became assets!

2) Recovery has nothing to do with the size of your body.

My first 12-step sponsor told me “the size of your body is not your business.” (I wanted to punch her in the face. So now I am just passing this lovely wisdom along. You’re welcome.) But seriously, it doesn’t. The quicker you consider believing that possibility, the quicker you will grow.

Changing your image, and therefore your experience, of your body has to do with your thoughts about your body. It has to do with challenging a culture that is steeped in the false belief that “Thin + young + white = Worthy.” Your body size and shape are at least partially genetically determined and largely not changeable. (The authors of When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies found that at least 25% to 70% of your body is determined by your genes.)

Despite billion-dollar industries telling you that you will think/feel/be different if you change your body size/shape/weight, you can’t really change it much. Think about it this way: your height is your height. You’re not really going to change it. If you’re shaped like a pear, you’re not going to turn yourself into a banana. (Side note: Who decided body shapes should be compared to fruits, anyway?! And which fruit-shapes are more worthy?)

But you could change the way you think and feel about it. If you focus on this false belief that you will think/feel/be different in a different body shape or size or weight, you will spend a LOT of time, energy, and money in the attempt to do this.

LOTs of time and energy spent obsessing about food, exercise, diet, and your/other people’s (which are really your) thoughts about your body. This is a really effective way of keeping you small: psychologically, emotionally, and in the world.

How much energy do you have left for fighting the patriarchy/racism/global warming and being the amazing Big-Love presence you are supposed to be in this world if you are always thinking about how to get rid of your arm flab?

3) You won’t have a choice between peace and war. You will have a choice between war and a different kind of battle.

This is a paraphrase from the Bhagavad Gita. It is basically saying your ego will always be there/here. But you can change your relationship with it. The Buddhist version says pain is part of being human, but suffering is optional.

I wish I could tell you that the voice of your Eating Disorder (ED) will shut up and stop being mean to you. But my experience, and that of my recovering clients, shows that though the content changes, the relentlessly self-critical part of the self doesn’t go away. It shape shifts.

So instead of telling you that you need to lose weight or be less wrinkly in order to be more lovable, it will tell you that “you are getting too big for your britches” when you start to become successful in your career.

Or it will tell you that “You can only be successful in your career or a good mom. Not both.” Or it will tell you other people can have long-term romantic love, but you can’t.” Or “women can’t be Presidents, successful businesspeople, or shatter any more glass ceilings. No more shattering. All the current glass ceilings must stay intact. You should go back to worrying about the size of your stomach.”

You can have freedom from food obsession. And body hatred. I do not obsess about food or my body anymore- haven’t for decades. When it is time to eat breakfast, I eat breakfast. Same with lunch, dinner, and snacks. I don’t change my clothes a hundred times before leaving the house (pre-pandemic) or traveling to a different room (currently). I don’t blame or distract away from complex life problems like relationships, grief, career, parenting, or social justice by obsessing about arm flab.

But I do still have a very overdeveloped self-critical voice. Sorry. It tells me all kinds of ways that I am not enough, haven’t done enough. It is very invested in keeping me small (psychologically and emotionally), fearful, and not growing.

What is different is that I don’t believe it. I notice it for what it is: a scared part of me trying to keep me “safe.” I use awareness of it to guide me to the more loving part of myself. I think of the scared, critical part as if it is a member of a 12-step meeting.

In 12-step meetings, people are given 3 minutes to share. Then it is time for the next person. So, I allow this scared-part-of-the-self 3 minutes to share. It gets to share whatever fear, obsession, or self-loathing it is having. Then the rest of the meeting (parts of you) get to listen without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice. Then: time’s up!

This scared part of the self does not get to facilitate the meeting. The facilitator is the wise part of you that is based in love. Sometimes this part of the self is called your “Wise Mind” (in DBT) or your “Higher Power” (in 12 step) or your “capital S Self” (in Jungian Psychology) or the “Friend” (in Imaginal Psychology).

It is the part that is not fear-based and includes your highest good, your moral compass, integrity, and empathy. This part can be very fierce when it needs to be. And it is always kind.

In summary:

You didn’t cause your eating disorder, but it IS your responsibility to cure it. Your mean-girl brain will continue to share. Don’t believe it. It’s not about the size of your body. It really isn’t. Just keep considering that possibility. You are worthy NOW. You are lovable NOW. And you are good enough NOW. Any other messages need to be cut off at 3 minutes (or earlier). You can do this. Recovery is completely possible.


If you would like support in your recovery journey, reach out to us today! 

 Written by Dr. Linda Shanti