Who am I without my eating disorder? 3 ways to explore this

When in the depths of an eating disorder, thoughts about food, exercise and body image predominate.


There is little head-space for hobbies or friendship or pleasure (apart from food). The real world blurs into the background and the eating disorder infiltrates into every aspect of life, dominating and filling every life crevice.

Although this seems devastating to hear, when in the eye of the storm of the illness, it doesn’t seem to matter. Life is simplified, emotions are numbed and cut off from, and controlling food feels safe and known. It offers a welcome escape from the bigger life problems and can feel like a life-raft to cling to.

As you emerge towards health and recovery, it can initially feel that a glaring void is left. Whereas days were once filled with endless counting of steps, calories or grams, suddenly a looming space opens up, which can bring about worry and uncertainty. If you developed the eating disorder, at a time, when you were only just forming your identity, then you may feel confused as to where to even begin in building this.

Although recovery may feel daunting, this can also be an exciting, exploratory phase of getting to know yourself. It is a phase of self-understanding, appreciating your inner qualities and acknowledging your strengths and personal preferences, never mind that you don’t know them yet.

There is no right or wrong way to go about this. You are in the driving seat of this process and can take it at your own pace.

And simply being creative and experimenting is part of the journey.

Three actions that can help

1.  Be inspired

Think about people in your life who inspire you and emulate qualities that resonate with you. This will give you an insight into your personal values, as you will be drawn magnetically towards others sharing similar beliefs and principles. No one person will share your identical values, but you can gain insight in yourself, as you reflect on aspects of their character which ring true for you.

2.  Think back to your early life

Think back to when you were 10 or 11 years old. What did you enjoy doing? What brought you authentic joy and happiness? How did you spend your time? Now, if you experienced early trauma or abuse, then some aspects of your development may be blocked here and you may be discovering yourself for the first time.

For others, early life, where you cared less about the opinions of others and were more child-like and free, can give clues about your genuine passions and interests.

3. Dream

Consider your life ahead and the experiences you would like to have. What will be important to you, as you look back on your life as an old person in many years to come? What are your key values? Dare to dream and put aside the ‘how’ in creating these experiences, rather allowing your imagination and creativity to access possibilities. 

Take baby steps to explore some avenues, putting little pressure on the outcome, but rather seeing the experience as a creative and exciting journey.

It’s all a learning process and the experiences that don’t go so well, also provide insight into your likes and dislikes and are valuable for self-understanding. Be brave, be bold and believe in yourself.

It’s normal to struggle with identity as you recover from an eating disorder. Stay firm on the recovery road and know that the journey ahead can be both an exhilarating and adventurous one. Good luck.

If you are struggling with issues around identity in recovery, you may wish to seek out further help through counselling.

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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