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In the process of pursuing recovery from an eating disorder, many people working with a professional treatment team or reading popular books on eating disorders are often encouraged to identify eating disorder thoughts and recognize them as “separate” from their own –  even sometimes naming them as a different person (e.g. Ed, Edna, etc). This is not a one size fits all approach, as some find it invalidating and rigid to chalk their experience and preferences up to “that’s the eating disorder talking” when we are complex, nuanced individuals. A helpful middle ground can be to simpy name an eating disorder thought, followed by a recovery reframe. 

More than just simple affirmations, recovery reframes help to recognize and validate the emotions you may be feeling while also providing a perspective aligned to your values and what you’re looking for out of recovery. In particular, reframes also emphasize the ability to hold more than one emotion at the same time – grief and gratitude, longing and joy, skepticism and curiosity. Reframes can serve as helpful reminders that our thoughts are not facts and our feelings are not permanent. The below examples of eating disorder thoughts are not intended to be diagnostic – having these thoughts does not mean you have an eating disorder. If you are in treatment for an eating disorder you may recognize some of these thoughts and feelings and use the recovery reframes to help empower you to take the small steps in recovery. If you have a disordered relationship with food and exercise the recovery reframes can still help to offer a different perspective from our diet culture dominated society. 

Eating Disorder Thought: I miss my old body. I miss the compliments, the confidence I had. Recovery isn’t worth it.

Recovery Reframe: I am allowed to grieve the body I once lived in AND I can remember that the compliments, and fleeting sense of confidence, came at the steep cost of my freedom, cognitive flexibility and my ability to feel joy and be present in my relationships. The price for that body is just too high. I’ll keep pursuing my long term peace with recovery.

Eating Disorder Thought: I’m so nervous about being seen in a swimsuit at the beach this weekend. Maybe I’ll restrict today to help calm the anxiety.

Recovery Reframe: Restriction is a short term fix that actually INCREASES my anxiety (and tanks my mood) long term. I’ll work to focus on the memories I’ll be making instead of how others may or may not perceive my body. 

Eating Disorder Thought: I had a lot of different foods that I don’t normally eat over this past weekend. I better work out to burn it off and stick to safe foods this week. 

Recovery Reframe: I had different types of food this weekend because I was living my life in color. I don’t need to restrict or work out to make up for that. Rest is productive, necessary and allowed. I’ll keep living my life and eating what sounds good.

Eating Disorder Thought: I’ve gained weight recently and feel really uncomfortable with how I look and what others may think of me. I miss the sense of control I had with restriction.

Recovery Reframe: In gaining weight I’ve also gained a life – I’ve gained the ability for deeper relationships, the discovery of new hobbies, interests and passions, the opportunity for connection to myself and others and living a life aligned to my values. My favorite things about the people around me have nothing to do with their weight, so I will try to extend myself that same kindness.

It can take time and persistence to call to mind these types of reframes when disordered eating thoughts feel particularly loud, so be patient with yourself. Progress often does not make itself visible in big leaps and changes, rather it’s usually found in the small, quiet moments in which you feel your fear and take the “recovery action” anyway. Add the milk to your coffee. Eat breakfast. Put the scale away. Skip the run if your body is begging for rest. Those small things become the big things. 

By: Maddy Weingast, Virtual Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image