Why Letting Go is Essential to Full Eating Disorder Recovery

letting go eating disorder - closeup of woman's profile as she is blowing on a dandelion, seeds are floating in the air

Just like the break-up of a romantic relationship, breaking things off with your eating disorder is painful. Like in most areas, letting go of an eating disorder is never easy.

Letting go of my eating disorder, and all the purposes it served me, has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.

Repairing my relationship with my body has taken up my time, energy, mental capacity, and at times, sanity, over the past year. And it’s still the very early days. Going through the whole thing alone, without any form of support or psychological therapy has only made it the whole more difficult. Not impossible. But difficult.  

In all honesty, it’s been a lot of ‘one step forward, two steps back.’ Despite all the best intentions, there have been some days where that eating disorder ‘quick fix’ has been all too tempting. But, for me, relapses have been an essential part of the process.   

Having reflected on my journey over the past 12 months, and why my recovery has been a bit of a yo-yo, I’ve come to realize I was still holding a grasp on things that were incompatible with the very nature of what it means to be recovered.  

So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve had to relinquish to enable true recovery.   

1. Letting go of the idea that I’ll ever be skinny again 

‘I want to recover from my eating disorder, but I don’t want to gain weight’. Possibly the biggest oxymoron, and a total contradiction of the very notion of what it means to recover. But certainly a very common idea held by people entering eating disorder recovery, nonetheless. 

Indeed, eating disorders are a mental illness that present in physical symptoms. Often weight gain is a necessary part of the process.

Attempting to recover from an eating disorder whilst controlling your weight is like trying to drive a car without any keys. You’re not going to get very far and any change will only be surface-level.  

To truly commit to recovery and a life free from any kind of disordered eating, I’ve had to come to accept the idea that ‘I’ll never be skinny again’. I have to relinquish the idea that I can ever attempt to control my body size or shape again. And minimize the amount of value, importance, and mental capacity I place on my physical appearance.  

Recovery is very much a body-oriented process. Yet, for me, I’ve found moving in the opposite direction to be a huge aid. Reducing the amount of body-focused content I consume on social media, going cold turkey on all forms of body checking, and replacing the stock that I once put in my body into other areas of myself, have been major catalysts for me in my recovery.  

2. Letting go of numbers in eating disorder recovery

The objective, factualness of numbers  is something I’ve always found safety in. There is no grey area. Numbers say what they mean, provide clear indication of what is right and wrong, true and false, good and bad. In some capacities, this has been completely harmless. It certainly served me well through my math classes at school.  

The idea of numbers as an indicator of morality, reality, and veracity, is hugely detrimental (and unhealthy) when you apply that to how you think about and speak to your own self. Numbers are the eating disorder’s favorite marketing ploy.  

Calories.  

Weight.  

BMI

Clothing size. 

Exercise duration.    

Number of miles run.  

Working on my brain’s tendency to utilize numbers as a measure of anything abstract – my worth, moral value, success – has been a massively important part of my journey towards complete recovery.  

3. Letting go of the idea that life can be perfect   

‘I can be perfect’. ‘My life can be perfect’. ‘I can feel perfect every day’. All beliefs I told myself that would be possible if I just lot a bit more weight.  

Ultimately, eating disorders are a coping mechanism with a function. If they didn’t serve any benefit, they for sure wouldn’t be such long-term tenants. And they can be pretty effective at getting their job done, despite the destruction that also ensues.  

But the truth is, it’s never been about your body. I was so certain that once I hit my ‘goal’ weight (news flash: it doesn’t exist – you’re chasing thin air), my life would become an untouchable bubble of sunshine and success. And if anything bad were to happen, it wouldn’t feel half as bad if I were skinny.  

In reality, it was the equivalent of sticking a plaster on an giant open wound.

Losing weight, eating fewer calories, and shrinking yourself, is in no way intertwined within the unpredictable inner workings of the universe. Trying to control that is futile.  

Through learning to accept the fallibility and fragility of being a human, my life has profoundly improved.

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3 Comments

  1. says: Tamzin Stanbrook

    Eleanor. This piece is truly eye opening. Some of the things you have said are just what I need to hear right now. Words that my brain has been trying to compile but I just couldn’t formulate it myself. Sometimes I feel like I will never get to this headspace. Other days I believe recovery is possible. I have bookmarked this article. Thank you

    1. says: Elanor

      Tamzin, thank you so so much for your kind words. I’m sorry that this is an experience that you can relate to – I wouldn’t wish an eating disorder on any one in a million years – but I am really glad to hear that you’ve been able to take comfort and hope from some of the things that I’ve spoken about. As I mentioned, it’s been a whole lot of back and forth, and never in a million years did I think I would be where I am now. 12 months, or even 2 months ago, I was convinced that it would be part of my life forever. Now, I’m so glad that I didn’t just accept that as the truth. At times, it can really be a matter of blind faith and holding onto some hope that you can and you will get there, even if you don’t truly believe it.

      My inbox/DMs are always open to you if you ever want to chat – there’s something to be said about speaking to people who have been through the experience and I’ve found it to be the biggest help in moving through recovery.

      Take care xxx

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