5 Ways to Reclaim Your Identity from an Eating Disorder

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By: Abigail O'Laughlin
The first time my therapist asked me to write down things I loved about myself, I couldn’t. I couldn’t name a single thing that I loved about myself. I wasn’t proud of my accomplishments. I wasn’t happy with my body. My eating disorder took everything from my being. Reclaiming my identity has been a long process, and I don’t think that it’s a process that will ever end. However, I am closer to finding my true self than I have ever been. I want to share things that have helped me discover who I am without ED.
1. Start a list of things you enjoy

This list isn’t about yourself, it’s just about things that you like to do! If a list seems too daunting, grab a stack of magazines and cut out things that seem like things you’d enjoy. Try your best to avoid anything that has to do with food or exercise. The goal is to separate yourself from the eating disorder, not further mix it into your life.

2. Take a break from social media

I’ve been to treatment twice for a total of 6 months. Both times, I was not allowed to have my phone. This ended up being one of the most freeing opportunities I have ever had. Without social media, I didn’t have to constantly worry about portraying myself in a certain way. I didn’t have to compare myself to others who were just as superficial as I was. If you are an Instagram junkie, sit down with someone you trust and unfollow accounts that make you feel inferior. I did this with my therapist and was surprised at how many influencers I was following that didn’t make me feel good about myself. Social media can be a great tool for recovery, but it can also be counterproductive. We, as a society, tend to only show the good things in life. Burying those “bad” things can have a negative effect on your psyche.

3. Try a bunch of new things!

I tried a lot of new things when I came home from treatment. I tried ballet, aerial yoga, new clubs at my high school, blogging, lacrosse, and many other things. Some things will stick and others might not be right for you. New experiences can be very challenging, but I think they are super important for personal growth. As they say, you never know until you try!

4. Volunteer and/or share what you’ve learned in recovery

I have found that I feel most like myself when I am helping others. The greatest thing about this is that there are so many different ways to volunteer. I volunteer at an animal shelter! I love cats, so this doesn’t even seem like work. I am a volunteer for Project HEAL and luckily, I can do a lot of good work from home which is good for a busy schedule. If you have skills such as photography or writing, you can contact local organizations to see if they need any help! Do you want to share your story and inspire others? Try contacting a local treatment center or outpatient center! There are SO many ways to get involved.

5. Find your tribe

Remove toxic people in your life and find those that embrace you for who you are. This step has been one of the hardest. You can’t thrive in the same environment you got sick in.  This might mean something different to everyone. Maybe you just need to delete that contact, or maybe you need to switch schools. It may be lonely for a while, but once you find your true friends, it will all be worth it. If you already have supportive friends, spend time with them! Even as an introvert, I find that spending quality time with good friends is one of the best ways to get me out of a funk.

You are a beautiful work in progress. You are so much more than a body, a label, a grade, a number, or an eating disorder. You are fearlessly authentic. I hope these tips will inspire you to do a little soul searching. If you have tips about reclaiming your identity, share them below!

Abigail O’Laughlin resides in Destin, Florida. At Project HEAL, Abby is dedicated to spreading awareness of eating disorders throughout her local community. She can often be found discussing mental health, photographing her best friends, petting her 3 cats, and spending way too much at Starbucks. Abby’s favorite ice cream flavor is Huckleberry!