I am the person who looks for the slightest hue of red on a bright green, fully-bloomed tree in July to see if I can catch a glimpse of fall heading my way. For me, the beginning of fall brings with it a fresh dose of dopamine that makes the days feel a little less stressful, more cozy, and more vibrant. At the height of my struggle with my eating disorder, however, fall didn’t feel the same. The joy that typically accompanies all things fall was dulled by the voice of my eating disorder urging me to stay focused on getting even thinner, to maintain control over what I ate in the face of all the fall flavors and treats. I could not have fathomed there would be a day I would again look forward to and enjoy fall activities in eating disorder recovery.

It wasn’t until I actually began my recovery journey that I realized how much of my favorite season I had been missing. The joy I once felt about the season had dwindled significantly, and now that I am in a much better place than I was, I can recognize the specific compromises I made to appease my eating disorder. If you are here, you are not alone, and if you are in recovery and looking for ways to reclaim some of the joy you once felt for the season we are in, here are some of the things I have found joy in or am excited to experience now that I am sturdy in my recovery journey:

10 Fall Activities You Can Look Forward to When You Are Outside the Grip of Your Eating Disorder

1. Trying new Crock Pot recipes without fixating on the ingredient list

I cannot count number of times I would search “low fat, low calorie, low sodium crockpot recipes” and then scour the lists of ingredients to determine if the finished product would be *healthy* enough for me to eat. I missed out on some of my favorite fall dinners out of fear for what they would *do to my body.* I look forward to bringing back some of my favorite fall foods and trying out some new ones this year.

2. Ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte (or insert another festive fall coffee drink) without  TikTok hacks to make it “healthier”

There was a point where I would only get a shaken espresso that I modified to be 100 calories per some TikTok hack that convinced me it would taste even better than the original. Now, I’m not hating on the Shaken Espresso: I’m a fan. But, I look forward to enjoying some festive fall drinks without feeling a duty to cut the calories (and flavor) to appease my eating disorder.

Check out this video where Dr. Colleen Reichmann addresses fall activities in eating disorder recovery, shares her favorite personal “fall recovery win” from back in the day, and two journaling prompts to help those who are searching for hope or motivation in recovery.

3. Saying, “Yes!” to going to a local family farm or apple orchard to get cider and donuts with friends

Typically, I am trying to drag people to cider mills and family farms in the fall for the donuts, cider, caramel apples, but when your eating disorder tells you that donuts are the rough equivalent to consuming poison, this long-awaited activity became something I wanted to avoid at all costs. Now, outside of the grips of my eating disorder, I look forward to a warm cinnamon sugar donut (or two!) when my family and I go to a local cider mill.

4. Being excited for cozy sweaters and sweatpants not because they hide your body, but because you like the way they feel

I love wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts. That’s part of the joy of fall and winter for me – the ability to wrap myself in layers of comfortable clothes and not feel too hot. And when I was struggling with my eating disorder, I did still prefer sweats and sweatpants in the fall, but it was less out of excitement for how they felt on my body and more about how they could hide my body. Being able to make clothing choices based solely on what feels best and not on what my eating disorder makes me feel shamed into wearing is a welcome change I’m experiencing in recovery. 

5. Going wine tasting and actually enjoying yourself because you’re not obsessing over the sugar or calorie content of the wine

I love wine tours, especially during the fall months. But being concerned with calories and sugar content takes a lot of the fun out of the experience, especially with all of the wineries that feature mulled ciders and fall-themes dessert wines during this time of year. I nearly said, “no” to a wine tour opportunity with a friend when I was really struggling because I couldn’t fathom how I would stay within my allotted calorie count for that day. And while I did go, I spent much of the time fixated on how I would eat less that night, work out more, and otherwise make up for the extra calories in one way or another over the next several days.

6. Baking apple crisp and actually eating (and enjoying!) some yourself

Okay, it doesn’t have to be apple crisp, but that’s a fall staple for me. I made some last weekend and actually ate it without feeling guilty – it felt festive and cathartic and was a stark contrast to the times I have baked fall desserts for other people with no intention of eating any myself.

7. Going to a fall bonfire and enjoying the food and drinks

At a bonfire where I was really struggling, I brought water in a tumbler to make it look like I was participating in the fun when I was really too fearful of consuming extra calories that late at night (and – no shame in drinking water at a bonfire or social event; for me, the reason behind it was what was problematic). I took a cookie someone had brought and set it in the cup holder of my folding chair, hoping that no one noticed that I didn’t actually eat it. I’m looking forward to a bonfire experience where I am not anxious about every food or drink item that someone brings out, where I say, “yes” to a s’more if I want one, and where the time of day or night doesn’t dictate what I eat or drink.

8. Enjoying appetizers at a football tailgate or watch party

The most exciting part of a fall football tailgate or get together (for me- hah!) is the food and socializing that go along with it. It was challenging to maintain that level of excitement when I wasn’t eating much of anything at all, let alone the dips, chips, and other staples that you may see at a fall football tailgate or get together. When you aren’t bound by the grips of your eating disorder anymore, you are free to enjoy all aspects of the tailgates and watch parties you host and attend. 🙂

9. Going on a walk through parks or nature trails without fixating on distance covered or calories burned

Being able to enjoy a walk simply because I enjoy the beauty of the outside in the fall is a luxury I didn’t even realize had been compromised by my eating disorder. I would focus so much on if I was walking quickly enough, far enough to burn the number of calories I needed to burn that day that the beauty of the changing leaves and fall decorations on peoples’ homes was lost on me. Being able to appreciate the fall air and the beauty of the changing scenery without trying to walk or run at a certain pace, walk a specific number of miles, or burn a set number of calories has infused the joy back into scenic fall walks.

10. Enjoying halloween candy without anxiety

There is something nostalgic about sifting through a bag of halloween candy to find something to eat that brings you back to your own trick-or-treating days. I remember my daughter excitedly handing me a piece of candy from her halloween bag, expecting me to join her in eating some of her much-anticipated halloween candy. I also remember taking the fun size kit kat and pretending to open and eat it because I couldn’t fathom actually eating it.

Whether you’re handing it out, sifting through your kid’s candy basket, or buying it to enjoy for yourself, you deserve to do so guilt-free. With that being said, I’m looking forward to sifting through my daughter’s bag this year and trying to find some milk duds and tootsie rolls. 🙂

Ultimately, you deserve recovery and the joy it brings in every season. It’s hard to know or care about the seasonal activities you may be missing out on when your eating disorder has permeated and taken over so much of your mind and life. I feel sad when I think about my relentless pursuit to control my food intake, emotions, and exercise regime at the cost of enjoying the season I love most. But I am thankful for the chance to experience life in color again outside the grips of my eating disorder. I hope you, too, are able to enjoy some of these (and more) experiences this fall and in all the falls to come.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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