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Eating Disorders Are Not a Choice — But Recovery is

Choosing to recover from an eating disorder, or not, is a choice you make. You have the power to choose.

In our field we often say that eating disorders are not a choice. No one wakes up one day and chooses this life-threatening disease – why would they?

As a treatment team, we diligently work to take away the shame and blame that surrounds eating disorders, choosing instead to help patients and support people in accepting this truth:

Eating disorders are not a choice

Over the years, this has been my experience: patients get very fused to the idea that having an eating disorder isn’t a choice. They then struggle to embrace the reality that recovery from an eating disorder is all about choices! Something about this doesn’t seem fair or right to them; if they did not have a choice to get to this place, how is the way out based on choices they make?

Years ago I read the book Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer. Three key takeaways about choice stuck with me:

  1. Recovery is recognizing that you have choices. When you choose to not make other choices, that, too, is a choice you are making.
  2. Recovery is about making the next right decision and not justifying old patterns that keep you stuck in the disease.
  3. To say you have choice does not minimize the important factors that contributed to the development of an eating disorder and does not minimize the fact that the eating disorder has served a functional purpose and has made sense — given the genetics or temperament you inherited, or the life circumstances you were faced with.

You do have a choice to recover

I completely understand that the eating disorder has served a very important purpose in your life, and that the choice to recover comes with fear, uncertainty, and grief.

Having a choice means that, given all these things that you did not have a choice in, you do have the power now to make a difference — through your choices — to discover the valued life you deserve. (I see many patients getting stuck looking outside themselves for the answers — and do not see the power they hold to make a difference).

Recovery is a series of choices you make

Full recovery from an eating disorder does not occur through the magic of a meal plan, medication, or something a therapist says, but it occurs only after many difficult, life-changing choices.

The patients that find their way out of this disease are the ones that make the following choices:

  • They make different choices in their lives
  • They make the right choices for their lives and for their recovery
  • They choose to take risks
  • They are willing to tolerate discomfort
  • They are willing to share and accept their vulnerability

So, no, the eating disorder was not your choice and it saddens me greatly that you are having to battle this monster.

The good news is, however scary it may feel, your recovery is filled with the choices you make and hope for a different tomorrow.

Recovery is all about making uncomfortable, even painful choices to create a new life. But you are not alone on this journey. The people that care about you stand by your side. We just can’t do this work for you.

Recovery is possible

My hope is that you can embrace the losses and gains associated with recovery, and that when you fall down, or are shaken by the struggles, you will still choose recovery. Take accountability for your choices, create an honest space where you can connect with others, increase your mindfulness, and draw closer to your values.

And, choose recovery.

Lisa Petersen, PhD, CEDS

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Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center are accredited through the Joint Commission. This organization seeks to enhance the lives of the persons served in healthcare settings through a consultative accreditation process emphasizing quality, value and optimal outcomes of services.

Organizations that earn the Gold Seal of Approval™ have met or exceeded The Joint Commission’s rigorous performance standards to obtain this distinctive and internationally recognized accreditation. Learn more about this accreditation here.

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