Keeping a List of Values in Eating Disorder Recovery
Whether you are recovered from an eating disorder/disordered eating or are still enduring the battle for freedom, you may have experienced times where you have felt lost and unknowing where to turn next. Maybe you have found yourself at a point where you can’t fathom why or how you got to your current point in recovery, and whether or not it is worth continuing the journey. Maybe you have lost the original reason for the fight, or experience the idea that life would be so much easier and ‘safe’ if it took place in a smaller body again, while using food as coping tool to numb out pain and negative emotions.
This might be especially so if you now view yourself as physically healthy/healthier than before, or medical professionals, family and friends frequently comment on how ‘well’ you look… Meanwhile, despite the ongoing daily struggles in your mind, something starts to tell you that you are ok … there is no need to keep moving forward… that you are fine just as you are, or might even be better off if you just started to eat ‘healthier’, lost a bit of weight, restricted food a little more to maintain the weight you currently are.
Instead of hearing alarm bells, what we may hear is a soothing voice that lures us back into the safe and familiar clasp of disordered eating and/or exercising in an obsessive way. It may not look or feel like it, but we can often forget that the eating disorder voice takes many different forms and can easily pounce on us during times of vulnerability. And we all experience those times. No matter how far into recovery you are, or what weight / physical state you are. Sometimes life literally gets in the way, or you might have days where you feel hopeless or as though certain life/goal pursuits have been a waste of time.
But lets hang fire for a second. Despite feeling this way, in absolutely no way shape or form will returning back to an old pattern of disordered eating heal what is really going on. Instead of remembering all the tears, heart ache and piles of S*** that living restrictedly and/or in a smaller body created, instead out mind prefers to remember the limited high points - the times when we were able to feel numb with hunger, or slightly superior in life because of our heightened sense of perfectionism, innate desire to overwork ourselves into success, and the privilege that society still provides to individuals living in slim bodies…
However, just because you currently feel worthless and/or negatively self-compare yourself to others, doesn’t mean that the answer to those problems lies in restriction and self-punishment. Part of the battle requires us to stand up strong, firm and confident in upholding our recovery values, and why its vital that we don’t embark down the same or similar path that created an eating disorder in the first place! At times like these, we need to remember and uphold our recovery values, including how we want our relationship with food to look and feel like. This way, when that dark voice inside decides to bombard us with its self-advertisement campaigns, we can hold our hands up with the truth in our hearts. For example, is that plant based diet or deciding to cut out a food group really going to make you feel ‘better’ about yourself? Doesn’t that clash with your values of being able to eat unrestrictedly and until full contentment in mind, body and soul?
To give you a better idea about what recovery values look like and how they may be used, I will share the top 10 of my own. I used to use these values whenever I felt less than worthy, or triggered by the latest food trend promising social acceptance and lovability if I followed supposedly simple plans, rigid instructions and restrictions…. No matter how pretty and successful the face or Instagram feeds of those campaigns and businesses owners might appear.
Here is my own list of recovery values that allow me to recognise whether that voice inside is me talking, or something a little more sinister with an intention for sabotage:
1) I choose recovery / chose to recover because my life is always meaningful - no matter how slim, self-controlled or successful I appear on the surface. I have the full right to enjoy my life without restriction and conditional love for myself
2) I always make time to stop, listen to myself, and engage in self-care and creative activities that I genuinely love - not out of obligation or because they make me feel worthy and productive
3) I NEVER buy into diet fads, food rules, or regimented eating trends, no matter how glamorised the lifestyle may appear or what health benefits are vocalised by others
4) I choose to move my body intuitively and for fun and enjoyment only - never because I want to burn off Calories, alter my body shape, reach a certain number of steps, or feel like I need to exercise in order to have achieved something.
5) I always make a conscious effort to make food choices that are underpinned by a sense of compassion. The compassion to eat what I will enjoy, and what will best nourish and satisfy my mind, body and soul.
6) It is not my aim to restrict food because I wan’t to lose weight, compensate for something I have enjoyed, meet a certain ideal expectation, follow the rules of a food-orientated lifestyle, or feel like I am a worthy and deserving person.
7) I allow myself to eat an abundance of different food types, and look for new things to try rather than what I can remove from my diet. I also don’t restrict food items because I see them as imperfect, ‘unclean’, lacking in nutrition or ‘unhealthy’. I ultimately aim for balance and not control.
8) I have my own body, with its own unique needs. No one else’s way of living, eating or their physical body can compare or be a basis for judgement and negative self-comparison
9) I give myself full permission to eat whenever, wherever and whatever I want without time restrictions, guilt or the need to compensate.
10) I aim to eat meals and snacks that are often made with fruits and vegetables and ethically sourced. However, this is not my prime focus of food, and I will not fall into the trap of only eating plant-based foods or ‘nutritious’ foods because they make me feel like a ‘good’ person. Eating healthy is a way to nourish my mind and body. Healthy eating is not a source of self-esteem, or a way of meeting the expectations of others/society.
11) I allow myself the time and resources to buy the foods I love, and the permission to thoroughly enjoy food experiences while making positive social connections and new memories.
12) I aim to choose food and self-care behaviours that are in line with what my heart and intuition says - not a Calorie count, nutrition label or a celebrity/influencer. I am my own person, and both me and my body know best.
If you can create your own list, you can even carry it around with you to whip out when you most need it. Even if your values are not in a physical form as yet, it can still be hugely useful to have a memorable set of values to hand that you can use to check whether your urge for halting your recovery or turning back to any form of restriction is you speaking, or something else…
When you find the answer, this allows you to find a way of looking back into the depths of your heart, and acting compassionately in a way that serves your ability to become your best self. Yes, recovery can and will likely be a messy task with times where you feel like running back into the dark. Just don’t forget, you are here for a reason on this planet, and no eating disorder/disordered eating deserves to take the right to live fully and away from you. You are enough right now, and no amount of slimness, healthy eating or restriction will heal the part of you that longs to be loved unconditionally.