If I’m Not My Eating Disorder, Then Who AM I?

eating disorder - drawing of a woman looking forward with serious expression, blue eyes, white and yellow hair

We’ve all heard it a million times: you are not your eating disorder. But you might be wondering, “If I’m not my eating disorder, then who AM I?”

You are a caring, loving, passionate human being with unique gifts to offer the world.

Seeing Yourself Beyond the Eating Disorder

It’s not easy to see yourself beyond your disorder. It may even be frightening to think about it. But if you are reading this, then you are a recovery warrior. A warrior is defined as someone who “shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness.” To discover the real you (that is, the you minus the eating disorder), you need to be courageous. That means doing what you know is right, even though it scares you.

As a kid, I considered myself anything but courageous. I was bullied at school, had no friends, and felt worthless. I began restricting food and engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviors at eight years old. By the time I graduated college, I was an empty shell of hopelessness.

After two grueling hospitalizations my weight was finally restored enough to begin pursuing  my dream-acting.

Acting might just be the worst career choice for an eating disorder sufferer. The entire industry is centered on appearance, rejection, and lack of control. As for many actors, the jobs were few and far between. In between gigs, I worked boring day jobs and faced an overwhelming amount of rejection as I continued to audition.

I felt like a failure. My chosen career fed my eating disorder (no pun intended), but I couldn’t think of anything else I could possibly do. All I had ever wanted to do was act. I didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough to do anything else. But I was finally desperate enough to try.

Trying something new

I began to brainstorm ideas and made a list of everything that interested me, even in the slightest. A pattern emerged. Health sciences came up again and again. I wanted to help people. And while I didn’t know it at the time, helping others would change my life.

When you make a positive difference in someone’s life, it takes you outside of yourself. And away from the illness that has kept you locked inside your own head.

Doing good for others also makes you feel better about yourself, and diminishes the need to resort to unhealthy eating patterns.

This doesn’t mean you need to go into to a job like healthcare or social work. Find what you are passionate about and pursue that passion with fervor. When you do what you love, be it teaching, painting, programming, martial arts, gardening, caring for animals, or ethical hacking (yes, that’s a real thing), you will be adding value to the world.

The more you fill your life with stuff you are passionate about, the more you’ll find your eating disorder retreating to a thing of the past.

In a life rich with learning, nurturing relationships, and exciting pursuits, there is no room to obsess over the number on a scale. That’s not to say everything will be sunshine and rainbows.

At times you will struggle, as we all do. During those times, you may feel the urge to resort to unhealthy behaviors. But by then, chances are you’ll be strong enough to override those impulses.

As you probably know, people with eating disorders tend to see things in black and white. But the world is gray. If you have hardships, remember that they are temporary and, even more importantly, that you are never alone.

You cannot help others without first helping yourself.

When things get tough, try taking a yoga class, getting a massage, hanging out with friends, or watching a funny movie (laughter really is the best medicine). Take time for self-nurture instead of self-punishment, to help you get back on track.

Anorexia used to be my identity. Today, I am a licensed massage therapist with a private practice, a published author, a wife, and a mother. When life gets difficult, and it does frequently, I remind myself that I need to keep my body healthy because I have a responsibility not only to myself, but also to my family, clients, and readers.

Life is filled with wonders, surprises, and endless possibilities. You have so many gifts to offer and love to give―and receive! It may seem scary at first, but you are a recovery warrior. And if you continue moving forward, you will find that life is truly worth living. In the words of Nelson Mandela,

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Image: @vinganapathy

More from Rachel Richards
Feeling Lonely? How to Form Meaningful Relationships in Recovery
It’s lonely having an eating disorder. No one seems to understand what...
Read More
Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. says: Rachel

    I also experienced an identity crisis where I didn’t know who I was without my eating disorders. I didn’t think it was possible to live without the daily obsession and your story along with my own journey confirms that true recovery is attainable. Thank you for sharing, Rachel, and for being a voice of compassion.

Leave a comment
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *