Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By: Cindy Coloma
“I hate you,” Dusty whispered. She glared at her own dark eyes in the mirror, searching for signs of anything worth fighting for. Dusty’s stomach rumbled as venomous thoughts flowed through her. Her chest ached, and her head throbbed with hopelessness.
Disgusted, she turned and headed for the back door, stepping out onto the patio. She sat for a long time wishing herself away. Then she saw inside an old lopsided planter a flower still surviving in the cold earth. It was a dusty miller that her grandmother had planted last spring.
“Dusty miller for my Dusty girl,” Grandma said with a smile as she covered the roots with soil.
Dusty rubbed the silver, velvety leaves between her fingers. The plant was still growing, even after the last freeze. Maybe Grandma was on to something. It reminded Dusty of what she learned in treatment — recovery for her eating disorder was an ongoing process, just like tending a garden.
Dusty stood up. It was time for breakfast, and the day ahead awaited. She looked at the flower once more, took a breath, and determined to focus on today only. She knew there’d be more moments when she felt frozen inside, but today she was determined to dig deep and find the beauty and life within herself.
The Fight for Wellness
There are over 30 million Americans every year who are affected by eating disorders, and only one in 10 of them actually seek treatment. Of any mental illness, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate.1 If you’re in recovery, you’re not alone.
It’s a challenge to keep your eating disorder from defining you. It’s hard to not fall back into old patterns and ways of coping. There are days you can’t stand your own reflection. Some days it may feel like you’re just too tired to keep fighting. So how do you keep going? What will be the key to keeping the critical voice inside you from winning?
Using Self-Compassion to Overcome Your Critical Voice
When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, the disorder can become your “critical voice.”2 This critical voice can affect every area of your life as you fight for wellness. It tells you to hate the way you look, act and feel. It tempts you to give in to the belief that things will never change, that you should just give up. It may even tempt you to take your own life. In the moments when the critical voice begins to nag you, there are some tips you can use to fight it:2
- Identify the moment: Take a deep breath when the critical voice begins to be the loudest voice in the room. If it is hateful, angry, shame-inducing or self-loathing, take note. Acknowledge you are experiencing a difficult moment. You’re not alone in experiencing difficult moments. Everyone struggles.
- Write it down: Write down what the voice is saying and then take some time to think about it logically. Seeing the words on paper helps take away their power. Try drawing a line through the words and writing the opposite of what the critical voice was saying. Keep writing as long as you need to. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself. Write down everything you are grateful for. Use the writing time to develop your empowering voice.
- Reframe the critical voice: Think about what may have triggered the critical voice in the first place. Is there something you can do to avoid a trigger in the future? Come up with a plan for next time, such as self-soothing techniques, positive self-talk or engaging in something healthy and fun to turn your attention away from the critical voice.
- Practice self-compassion: It’s hard to be kind to ourselves when we are carrying shame and feeling stuck. Often we go months or years believing we don’t deserve kindness. Think about what you would say to a friend who was struggling. What advice would you give them? Show yourself the same love and kindness.
- Look forward: Look for things you can plan that you will look forward to. Engage in social and physical activities you enjoy. Find productive outlets that help you focus on your hope for the future.
Choosing Your Influences and Environment
As your focus shifts, you’ll have the capacity to realize who you are without the profound mental and physical effects of an eating disorder. Consider ways to move away from unhealthy influences and environments:3
- Social media: Are there certain people or pages that trigger you on social media? It’s OK to stop following or unfriend them. Choose positivity whenever possible.
- Commercial media: You might have to stop consuming commercial media, such as specific magazines and television shows, that encourage you to chase unrealistic ideals. Don’t allow them to influence you any longer.
- Embrace change: Learn new patterns and habits to replace the old ones. For example, if going to the gym obsessively helped to feed your eating disorder, find a way to reduce your gym time. Get outside and find other activities to fill your time.
Just like tending a garden, the recovery process takes work. Some days you won’t get it right. The truth is, perfection is actually the enemy in recovery. Don’t strive for perfection. Embrace the process and strive for progress, even if it feels slow. Life is beautiful and messy, and you were made to be right smack dab in the middle of it.
1 Kacmarcik, Meghan. “7 Lessons I’m Learning From My Eating Disorder Recovery.” Bustle, February 26, 2016.
2 Gleissner, Greta. “Self-Compassion in Eating Disorder Recovery.” Psychology Today, September 12, 2016.
3 Bruneau, Megan. “9 Ways to Care for Yourself When Recovering from an Eating Disorder.” MindBodyGreen, September 6, 2014.