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You are not your Eating Disorder; 3 steps to rebuild your identity

Updated: Apr 29


eating disorder psychologist


As a fully recovered eating disorder psychologist, when I look back, I feel that I was in denial of my eating disorder for so long because I was so fearful and ashamed of the label, 'eating disorder'. I hated myself so much for what, I felt I was doing to myself that the thought of being labeled when I didn’t finally open up and ask for help felt too much to even bear. Even when I decided that things had to change, I still refused to accept the labels of anorexia and bulimia and did everything I could to avoid having to say the words and created every explanation possible in my mind as to why I didn’t fit in the 'typical eating disorder box'. Right up towards the later stages of recovery I still couldn’t say; “I have an eating disorder”. This label brought me so much shame, guilt, anxiety, and self-loathing.


Now the thing I didn’t consider here was, that, I had to accept I had an eating disorder, but, this label didn’t have to define my recovery. And this is the problem. Many traditional approaches look to put you in a box and label you and assign a treatment to your label rather than the other way around and look at the person who they are and how they do their emotional eating/bulimia/binge eating etc. Now I only made true progress when I first had that understanding of how my mind worked because I could use that information to guide what strategies, and treatments I took and what tools I used to recover, I used my mind to influence the approach I was going to take.


This was so much more successful than looking for a treatment to fit my label. This is why in my eating disorder clinic in Sydney I offer individualised eating disorder treatment approaches using a range of therapeutic models and approaches depending on the needs of the client.


How to de-identify from your eating disorder


I have spoken before about the idea that very similar to a split personality, all of us have two parts to ourselves. One part is on our side, it is goal-directed, positive, and wants to help us overcome our food issues, whereas the other part is working against us, speaking to us through a negative, critical voice in order to hold us back and keep us obsessing around food and weight. I call these parts:


1. Your true self part (who wants to change)

2. Your eating disorder part (who is holding you back)


Your problem part of has been formed and shaped by early life experiences, the ways you were viewed and treated growing up. For example, if you were repeatedly told you were stupid or not clever enough as a child, over time you will begin to believe these things and they will become engrained as limiting beliefs deep down in your subconscious and you will just accept them as the truth. You can also be affected by your environment, for example, if you were isolated and lonely as a child you may grow up to feel unlovable, and unworthy and turn to food for emotional support.


Now, consider the idea of, ‘where focus goes energy flows’. This also applies to these 2 parts of you. If you are spending most of your time giving your eating disorder part the most attention, whether that is through worrying, battling in your mind, or even giving into its thoughts and feelings, this part of you will become stronger and more dominant over time. The consequence of this is that ‘what you fail to use you lose’.


Your true self part, the part of you who so desperately wants to change will shrink, becoming quieter and weaker over time until you completely lose your true voice, you feel lost and completely controlled by your food issues part. This is when it can feel like you have no idea who you are anymore and you start living your life as if you are your eating disorder.


Even though it may not feel like it right now, there are ways you can strengthen your true self part and rebuild your identity. Follow these 3 simple steps:


1. Awareness of the 2 parts of you


The very first step is to start to view your eating disorder as a separate part of you from your true self.


2. Give the problem part of you a name


To make this separation easier and to help you recognise who is doing the talking, name your eating disorder part and visualise what it would look like. This can be anything you want. For me, my eating disorder part was called 'Bec', an emotional little monkey who looked cute, but was manipulative and could suddenly become very aggressive. There is no right or wrong to this exercise.


Here are some examples of the names of eating disorder parts I have worked with along the way as an eating disorder psychologist


Virus

Devil

Parasite

Brian

Evil

Ana

Ed


As you can see, it doesn’t have to be a human name, it can be anything you like. This is completely your choice and there is no right or wrong, so just go with whatever first comes to your mind.


3. Start to recognise who is doing the talking


Now it is time to listen. Start by making a note of your thoughts and feelings throughout the day and go back and highlight anything that has come from your eating disorder part. This is anything negative, self-critical, food or weight related. This will help you to work out which is the true you and which is your eating disorder part sending you thoughts and feelings around food and eating. Have a look at what you have highlighted. It is common for most of the page to be glowing with colour. This will give you an idea of how dominant your eating disorder part of you is and how much of a role it is playing in your day to day life.


If you continue this journaling exercise for a week and compare each day you may begin to notice some patterns or similarities between the language, words and talking style of your eating disorder part and when it is stronger or weaker.


This can be a real eye opener exercise as it can feel very confusing and muddled in your heads with all these different thoughts and feelings trying to guide your actions. Start putting the 3 steps into action right now to begin the process of finding your voice again.


 

Need some help?! 


If you are interested in taking that next step and are ready to speak with an eating disorder psychologist in Sydney please get in contact with Hannah Myall, who has also fully recovered from an eating disorder and has since spent the last decade helping individuals and families work towards eating disorder recovery.


Book a free consultation with Hannah and find out how she may be able to help you,


Got a question? Send Hannah an email at hello@hannahmyall.com.

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