Can you mourn the loss of your eating disorder? Recovering from an eating disorder or disordered eating is a complicated nonlinear process, similar to mourning. I recall shouting at my therapist to tell me exactly what to do and I would do it step by step. I tried to explain to her that I wasn’t an ordinary client, I was goal-driven, special, and an overachiever. She looked at me like I was asking her for money, shocked and confused. It’s a messy process with layers that are individualized for each person.
This is complicated grief. I am referring to the identity attached, beliefs formed, a body that is desired, and perhaps the physical attachments we have formed with individuals. We’re mourning the loss of those in eating disorder recovery.
Most people are able to relate to this. Maybe we lost our dream home, relationship, promotion, or job, or maybe we are struggling with infertility. What was the attachment about? We know we are left with anger, disappointment, and grief. I know when I break it down this way it doesn’t sound like a fun process. However, once we are able to mourn, something beautiful emerges and we give ourselves permission to heal and create a new way of existing. Let’s look at this in 3 different ways.
What makes you, you? Do you over-identify more with your profession? Your role? (i.e mother, daughter, son, uncle). Are you the smart one, the runner, the overachiever? Some of these labels are passed down to us and others we cling onto like someone is going to steal them.
Let’s reassess what doesn’t serve us or “fit” us anymore. This could be in a literal or metaphorical sense. I donate clothes this time of year because, let’s be honest, holding on to jeans that don’t fit you does not feel good. This could also be part of reassessing our identities and thinking about the thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve us.
Part of reassessing is also integrating. Integrating what beliefs we want to continue operating from and which need to be left behind. We tend to think mourning is only reserved for the ones that have passed away. However, we go through this process on a regular basis. We are mourning the thoughts and beliefs that once fit us perfectly only to find out that one day those beliefs no longer serve us.
I once had a client who would often say she wished we would not exist in a physical form. Instead, we would walk around as colors of light. I remember thinking how poetic that statement was. Like many of us, she struggled with caring for herself. It was a struggle to have a good relationship with food and body.
I get it. I have yet to meet the person that wakes up each morning loving every inch of their body. Our moods vary and the feelings we have about ourselves fluctuate as well. Our identities change during different stages of life and so does our relationship with our bodies.
Being honest with ourselves is a helpful start and will provide some clarity in the attachment we hold in wanting a certain body type, weight, or age.
Friends and Support
Now this one might be tricky. Family and friends might have a difficult time seeing you change and mourn the loss of your eating disorder. As you are mourning and shedding layers, some family members and friends, might not embrace this. It might be uncomfortable for them or even bring up some of their own personal grief.
It would be helpful to work with your individual therapist to further guide you through this. It’s helpful to recognize that mourning is very personal. Although there is strength in the community, everyone is going through their own personal process. My dark humor is a tool that assists me in daily life and my work. When I’ve had some difficult sessions at the end my clients and I will say, Happy Mourning!