Do You Have a Love-Hate Relationship With the Eating Disorder?

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I'm in the "research phase" of my next book -- this one a memoir. Research for this project entails reading through 20 years of journals documenting my healing journey. I've had moments of absolute horror at the way I treated myself. I've also been overcome with compassion for the pain living in the pages of those journals.

A theme that's been coming up in my research is the love-hate relationship that I had with the eating disorder for all those years.

The guilt and shame of failing the eating disorder was heavy, but so was the pain of failing to banish decades of beliefs, behaviors, and rituals. For as much as my favorable character traits and values were a part of who I am, so too was this eating disorder.

The effort to exile the eating disorder was exhausting. The struggle was suffocating. The push and pull between wellness and sickness created a momentum of its own, making healing from years of an eating disorder slow going at best and frustrating beyond measure.

But then, a breakthrough. A most unexpected twist to my story. A yoga therapist I deeply trusted asked me about my love-hate relationship with the eating disorder, pointing out how swinging between these two extremes was a barrier to accepting myself.

“What if you made friends with the eating disorder?” she asked. “What if you got to know it? Learn from it instead of hate it or love it?”

She went on, “What if instead of being ashamed of the eating disorder, you embraced the truth that you are capable of all that you are despite and because of it?”

She was right. If I flipped my thinking from believing I had to cast out the eating disorder to honoring it as a part of who I am, then I could also be free of the shame that kept the eating disorder going in the first place.

I’ll share that once I made this mental shift, my symptoms decreased dramatically, I felt more comfortable and confident in my body, and I worked through “my stuff” with much more ease. Without the heaviness of guilt, shame, depression, and failure to hold me back, I was free to accept myself,and to value all my experiences (eating disorder related and otherwise) as opportunities from which to learn. By adopting this approach to relating to the eating disorder, I came to appreciate that I have a unique lens through which to see my life and the world.

To all my friends on a recovery path, you too have an opportunity to understand your life through a healing and empowering lens. This can be a tough perspective shift to make. In fact, it may feel like more of a leap than a shift. I often share this story with my yoga therapy clients to introduce the notion that they aren’t “bad” for having a slip with symptoms, because the symptoms are a part of an experience that can be examined, discussed, and processed. As “ugly” as they are, eating disorder behaviors hold wisdom; they want to tell us something. The symptoms don’t make us “bad,” they make us students of our lives.

Certainly, we must resolve to learn our lessons and keep moving forward; I am not condoning actively engaging in eating disorder symptoms! Rather, I offer a perspective shift—from demon to friend—to enlighten you to the truth that you are whole already. No matter how divided or fragmented you may feel in this exact moment, you are whole.