How to Heal from Shame During Eating Disorder Recovery

Shame guru, Brené Brown, says that shame is the belief or feeling that because we are flawed, we are unworthy of acceptance and belonging. We all feel this from time to time, but when shame lingers it tends to become a critical inner voice that convinces us that we are not enough. This belief is often at the root of an eating disorder.

For many, eating disorders are a way to cope with the feeling that they are not good enough. This might seem confusing since disordered eating is about the relationship someone has with food.

However, there is usually an underlying reason someone feels the need to manipulate their food intake.

This was true for me and for many clients I have worked with. As someone who has recovered from an eating disorder and works as an eating disorder therapist, I notice that shame creates a cycle of trying to fix the “badness” we believe lives inside so that other people will accept and love us.

My relationship with food communicated how I felt about myself. As my clients and I can attest, if you don’t feel good about yourself, it is hard to nourish yourself.

Deep healing tends to come when we release ourselves from shame so that we feel free to feed our body, mind, and spirit.

Here are five steps you can take to begin healing from shame:

Acknowledge it

If you want to recover from something, you have to recognize that the pain exists and that it has an impact. If you pretend it isn’t there, it becomes impossible to navigate. It would be like ignoring a bloody wound and then asking why your leg hurts. Healing emotional pain is not any different.

You have to admit it is there in order for change to occur.

Explore the Source of Shame

As mentioned earlier, shame is a feeling based on a faulty belief. Often, the beliefs you hold are formed during your childhood or during significant events in your life.

Shame became a part of my life after enduring sexual violence. I thought that the abuse made my body dirty, which started a long battle with body image and trying to purify myself through my relationship with food. Once I was able to identify the shame’s origin, I had space to critically examine whether my beliefs about myself were true.

There are many ways you can begin to unravel the source of your beliefs. One of the most effective ways I have found is to create a timeline of your life. Go through each year of your life and identify important events and the feelings you felt during that time.

Be gentle with yourself during this step. If you need to create this timeline with a therapist or other trusted person, give yourself permission to do so. Deep digging can unearth big feelings, so do it at a pace that feels safe and tolerable.

Examine the Validity of the Belief

Once you can place the source of your shame, critically examine it and ask yourself if it makes sense. When I began healing my relationship with my body, I had to ask myself if the trauma really made me flawed. Was it a reflection of me that I was abused? No, because it wasn’t my choice. This realization is of course an oversimplification of my process and it took many therapy sessions and hard work to get to reach this point.

Shame is a liar. I promise you that the reasons you think you are bad are not true.

I say this with confidence after providing thousands of therapy sessions and assisting my clients in sorting through their deepest secrets.

It can be a powerful breakthrough to realize that the beliefs you hold about yourself are not true.

Let Yourself Be Seen

Because shame leaves us feeling undeserving of connection, shame is a relational wound. This means that it was brought to life as a result of things that happened within a relationship or it negatively influences your relationships. To heal relational pain, we have to have experiences with others that feel healing.

Find someone who will listen to you without judgment and can provide you with safety and the space to share authentically about yourself. Choosing a safe person is critical for this step to be effective. You do not want to choose someone who will reinforce the beliefs you already hold.

Once you find someone, let them know that you would like to share something important and vulnerable with them. Tell them what you need from the conversation and then share about the shame and the reasons you have it. You can choose how much to share, but aim to make it authentic.

To be real with someone else and to remain accepted and cared for is deep medicine.

Practice Self-Compassion

Just like empathy from another person is healing, giving yourself compassion is also restorative. Simply put, self-compassion is giving yourself the same compassion and care you would give someone else who was going through the same situation. Think about what someone else would find helpful. Maybe it’s kind words, loving touch, or a soothing activity. Whatever it is, gift it to yourself.

The healing process is hard work, but it is not as hard as continuing in a shame cycle. You are already good enough, but somewhere along the way you have just forgotten that.

The above steps are just here to guide you back to the truth—that you are someone deserving of good things because you have inherent goodness. Reclaim this truth and I promise it will be worth it.

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