Face Your Fears: Let Go of the Eating Disorder Identity

By Kelli Evans

One of my biggest fears in early eating disorder recovery was: Who am I without my eating disorder? I was so enmeshed with my eating disorder for so long that the thought of living without it terrified me. I had thoughts of letting it go from time to time, but fear and worries would always come rushing in. And then I discovered my true identity and self. Here's how:

One of my biggest fears in early eating disorder recovery was:

Who am I without my eating disorder?

My eating disorder had become my identity over the many years that the eating disorder was a part of my life. The eating disorder was the thing that directed my actions and behaviors. It had invaded my head, taken up residence, and influenced all of my thoughts. The eating disorder deeply affected how I saw myself, and how I saw the world around me.

I was so enmeshed with my eating disorder for so long that the thought of living without it terrified me. I had thoughts of letting it go from time to time, but fear and worries would always come rushing in:

  • What would I do if I was not running miles every day?
  • Who would I be without the number on the scale defining my worth?
  • What would people think of me if I was not striving to be perfect?

I so wanted to be free from the eating disorder, yet, at the same time, I was afraid to live without it. The eating disorder was sucking the life out of me. I needed to separate from it.

And then I discovered my true identity and self. Here’s how:

1. I identified and focused on my values

I was able to discover what I really liked, what filled my heart, and what was most meaningful to me. I wanted to find out what was truly important to me, not simply accepting what the eating disorder said those things should be. I laid down the rigidity of the eating disorder for a curious wonder of what could be. I learned to live in full color rather than focusing on rules and the black and white.

2. I prayed for (and found) strength

I found the strength to start living life without the mandates of the eating disorder telling me what I could or could not do and what I could or could not think and feel. As I became stronger, I began to look at the process of finding out who Kelli really was as an adventure of sorts. I started to become excited about the possibilities that were before me. I started to dream about what life could be like. I started looking for ways to have fun. I made a list of new things I wanted to do, and I did them. I took risks and left my comfort zone more often.

3. I realized I had choices.

I began to recognize the power of choice and that it belonged to me. I began to understand that I could decide what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. I could choose to not let the eating disorder define me. I could choose to not let fear keep me isolated. I could choose to be me.

4. I stopped being guided by fear.

I traded in my fears (and I had many) for enthusiasm and eagerness. New things and new opportunities began to show up in my life, and I grabbed ahold of them. I told myself I could try new things even if the fear was present. I discovered that courage was simply walking forward and still having fear present. I learned that my fear lessened as I kept encouraging myself to step into new areas of growth.

5. I was supported by others.

Walking forward in those early recovery days, with my fears, was not done alone. I had my husband, my children, my friends, and my treatment team encouraging me to continue to be willing, to be curious, and to not let fear have the final say. With their support I could risk trying new things, going to new places, and just being me. I have deepened my relationships with my friends, and I have been able to meet so many new incredible people.

My identity is no longer enmeshed with the eating disorder, and it no longer hides the real me.

As I learned to let go of the eating disorder, I discovered that I love so much in this world, like:

  • Long walks in the very early morning
  • Sitting quietly on the porch with my family watching a thunderstorm roll in
  • Laughing with my friends over a strong latte.
  • Hiking in the mountains
  • Peanut butter fudge shakes
  • Hugs…lots of hugs!
  • Writing for other people to read
  • Speaking to others about my recovery story to offer hope and encouragement.

This, this is the real me! The real Kelli! My real identity!

Face your fears in eating disorder recovery

If you are feeling the fear of separating your identity from the eating disorder, please know that you are not alone. This is a common feeling of people with eating disorders. If it feels like a daunting endeavor to discover who you are, and you are terrified of letting go of your eating disorder, try this:

  • Be curious
  • Listen to your heart for things you have never heard it tell you before
  • Let excitement creep in as you walk forward in your recovery
  • Try new things
  • Try new ways of doing old things
  • Meet new people
  • Try being real with the people who love you
  • Let others see the real you, not the one enmeshed with an eating disorder

Remember the power of choice that you have. You get to decide who you are, not the eating disorder.

If ten years ago you had told me that someday I could live my life free from the eating disorder, having discovered who I am without it, I do not think I would have been able to believe you. However, here I am living life wholeheartedly, still having fun discovering things my heart loves. I no longer feel like my worth depends on what I do. There is no façade of perfection and achievement to hide who Kelli really is. I get to show up 100 percent in every moment just being me.

recovery ambassador
Written by

Kelli Evans

Kelli shares her recovery journey from anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism, anxiety, major depressive disorder, and C-PTSD. Kelli speaks to all age groups and particularly enjoys speaking to middle-aged and…

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