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If you’re struggling with an eating disorder (ED) it can feel exhausting constantly battling that voice in your head that tries to convince you engaging in ED behaviors is the best thing for you. It’s convincing, cruel and preys on any areas of weakness or vulnerability. 

And if you’re working through your recovery journey it can feel incredibly frustrating. Hearing that voice can make you wonder if you’re a lost cause at the whole “recovery thing” or not “fully recovered.” My dear friend, that is not true. The ED thoughts can come and go (and having them doesn’t make you a failure!) but it’s what you do in response to them that matters.

It’s so easy to get lost in our thoughts or a line of thinking and we begin to just simply accept our thoughts as facts. But what if that doesn’t have to be the case? What if we can take a thought and observe its existence, honor it and get curious about it, asking why is this thought coming up? What are some alternate ways of viewing this point? Spoiler alert – you can do this, and it’s encouraged! You don’t have to accept every thought that pops in your mind, nor do you need to ignore it and bury it deep. Once we get curious about our thoughts and offer alternatives away from black and white thinking we can open the door to deeper healing. 

You may be thinking “well that sounds great, but what does this actually look like in practice?” Good question! Sometimes this looks like recovery reframes – taking an ED thought and showing yourself compassion, while reframing it through a different lens. Check out these three for a start: 

Eating Disorder Thought: This picture of me from two years popped up on my Instagram memories and now I feel sad and angry. I want to go back to that body. 

Recovery Reframe: I’m allowed to griever that body AND it’s important to take off those rose-colored glasses. I was miserable in that body. In fact, I remember that day, I actually isolated before and after this pic was taken because I was so scared of the food that was around. So I’ll stop looking at this pic, breathe and move on to my fuller, more beautiful life in my current body.

Eating Disorder Thought: I’m thinking of putting myself out there and trying to “date/seek a new friendship/[insert social situation here]” but I’m really nervous and insecure people won’t like me. Maybe if I have a smaller body, people will like me more. 

Recovery Reframe: It’s okay to feel nervous putting yourself out there and fear rejection but grasping at control through restriction and ED behaviors only dims your light from shining through. And, if people only like you because you take up less space in this world or look “more pleasing” then they’re not your people!

Eating Disorder Thought: I’m feeling really full after tonight’s dinner and a little bit guilty about all of the food I ate. I’m going to skip breakfast and hit the gym in the morning to make up for this. 

Recovery Reframe: I did nothing wrong or bad. I simply feed my body fully. Guilt is not an ingredient in any of the food on that plate so doesn’t need to be a feeling I subscribe to. My body knows how to handle this food and take care of me, so I don’t need to punish it for simply keeping me alive.

As you can see these reframes aren’t about ignoring your thoughts or making up stories, they’re about applying a gentle recognition to what is, and exploring what else is there. Now that you’re familiar with what these look like it could be helpful to reflect and explore this practice on a more personal level through these journaling prompts: 

  • Write out a recovery reframe that is personal to you. 
  • What types of  thoughts (i.e. about my identity, preferences, others, etc.) do I routinely accept as fact? 
  • What are some alternate viewpoints to those thoughts? 

As you go through this hard, important work just remember your thoughts are not facts and your feelings are not permanent. Take each as they come, knowing they won’t last forever, and be gentle with yourself along the way.

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