A Surprising Way to Discover Who You Are Without Eating Disorder

You may have heard about the “discovery” stage of overcoming an eating disorder. It’s an idea Kaila Prins talks about a great deal in her podcast, Finding Our Hunger. Kaila says discovery is the second step in overcoming your eating disorder, after “recovery.” Recovery involves restoring weight, no longer restricting or engaging in other unhealthy behaviors, and adopting more balanced ways of eating and moving.

Recovery is the entry point, the grit-your-teeth, beat back the (very loud) voice of your eating disorder phase.

Recovery is focused on stopping behaviors and changing harmful patterns. Discovery, on the other hand, is much more amorphous. In discovery, you figure out what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want to do with the space your eating disorder used to occupy in your life. While discovery can be more exciting than recovery, it comes with its own unique challenges.

Discovery is limitless. There are no rules to guide you how you must move through the process and no two discovery processes look the same. There is no time limit and no template. That can be overwhelming, especially if you’re used to following rules and meeting specific goals and having plans in place before you take even one step.

My suggestion? Make a list.

You may be thinking, “lists are a HUGE source of anxiety for me. I can’t do that.” You may have made lists to keep you powering through your days, to make sure you never deviated from your agenda, and to make sure you always had time for the gym. That’s not the kind of list I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about a messy, unorganized, dump-it-all-on-the-page list.

A list of all the things in life you enjoy, from the color purple to Sudoku to bluegrass music. From reading autobiographies to driving at night. From watering flowers to taking hot showers.

The list, it bears repeating, should include only things you enjoy. Not things that pesky eating disorder voice tells you to like, or things you think your friends or the media want you to like. You may want to avoid listing things that involve food and exercise if you aren’t yet able to separate the voice of your eating disorder from your own desires.

Don’t bother categorizing the things you like, just list them. When you think you’ve completed your list, keep thinking. You’d be surprised how much juice you can squeeze out of this lemon.

My list includes everything from eco-friendly makeup and Amy Schumer to science podcasts and laughing with my sister. I like weak coffee, dry humor, dancing at weddings, journaling, Jemima Kirke, puzzles, home decorating, and any video of real dogs with fake arms (worth Googling if you haven’t seen it).

My list includes people, books, music, weather conditions, certain trees, fabrics, and colors. My list is not ordered or organized into sections. My list is a free-write exploration of who I am and what I like.

When you’ve been immersed in the world of an eating disorder, it can be difficult to see who you are, separate from your disease. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: You are not your eating disorder.

You are so many other things, and figuring out what you like, what excites you, can help you dig up who you were before your eating disorder and discover who you want to become.

Your list may change as you progress in the process and continue to grow. You may find that the things you thought you truly enjoyed were things your eating disorder told you to do. That’s okay. Just scratch those things off your list (Resist the urge to rewrite your list, if you can. It can’t hurt to challenge rigidity and rules about neatness!). The point of making a list is not to plant a flag and say, “This is who I am and who I will be.” The point is to begin exploring what can fill the place in your life that your eating disorder once occupied.

As you enter and move through your discovery process, you may want to seek out more of the things on your list. Do you enjoy spending time with your 5-year-old niece? Maybe arrange to take her to a bookstore one afternoon. Do you like writing letters? Buy stationery and write to a friend you haven’t seen in years.

But first, before you do that, make a list. Make a list so you can see how much you have to offer the world, and how much the world can offer you, when you conquer your eating disorder. Make a list so you can see how amazing you are – how varied in your interests and how unique in your preferences you are. Make a list so that on difficult days you can listen to podcasts, rather than engaging in eating disorder behaviors. So that at first sight of a trigger, you can watch Girls or start a puzzle.

Overcoming an eating disorder requires a toolbox full of many tools, and a list can be one of them. Keep adding to your list, as you add to your life free from an eating disorder. Your list, and your life, will become fuller by the day.

Photo Credit: Danor Shtruzman

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