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In my work with special needs children and adults, we try to use something called “person-centered” descriptors.
But when it comes to eating disorders, we are “anorexics,” “bulimics,” “binge eaters.” We box ourselves in by telling ourselves that we are these things – not that they are things we struggle with.
Admittedly, it is very, very hard to see those things when I am stuck in my eating disorder. I’d love to hear your answers to these questions – and leave some questions in the comments for others to answer! This entry was posted in Eating Disorders - Surviving ED, Identity and tagged anorexia, bulimia, eating disorder identity, eating disorder recovery, eating disorders, ed-nos. For years, my identity has been tied up with being either an anorexic or a recovering anorexic. One clinician has written that those of us with eating disorders cling to them because we have not developed our own unique personalities. I also believe that anorexia is unique in that we live in a society that worships thinness, and the anorexic body is one that many — models, actresses, teenage girls, and others — strive to obtain. Since you are a strong believer in Christ, Jessica, have you looked into the works of Lisa Bevere? Progress is indeed progress, and I am really proud of all the progress you have made over the last year. I am not saying this is a good thing, and I have been told it is incredibly diseased thinking. After all we define ourselves all the time as brothers, sisters, sons, colleagues, even Christians, Muslims, Jews etc but these are all umbrella categories, they relate to millions of others beyond ourselves. It is scary to think of finding an identity beyond that, yet, terrifying to think of where that ultimate conclusion leads to if you completely define yourself by the eating disorder. If I identify myself as an anorexic, of course I am going to find it easy to fall into a pattern of restricting – that’s what anorexics do, right?

Trying to find out who you are outside of your eating disorder is HARD, especially if you have spent any length of time identifying yourself with your eating disorder (or any other mental illness). I can’t say I agree with that, because I had a very strong personality before I developed anorexia while in my 40s. Therefore anorexia is the only eating disorder that is subconsciously reinforced and praised by society. You’re right in the fact that our teens and early twenties are a time that we are desperately trying to find our place in the world, discover who we really are.
However, one of the things I have found difficult is that it is easier to pigeon-hole yourself as one thing rather than be all things to all people. By the nature of the disease anorexia is something incredibly personal, something you own and control – how do you find identity beyond that? Jane isn’t “that cerebral palsy girl” – she’s a young woman with cerebral palsy.  We take great effort to make sure that we do not confuse the diagnosis with the person behind it.
No small amount of my time in treatment this time was devoted to determining who I am outside of my eating disorder.
In reality, having anorexia or bulimia or ED-NOS says nothing about who I am, what I desire in life, what I might achieve.  By telling myself that I am “an anorexic,” I sell myself short – I am ignoring all of the other amazing, wonderful things that I am. It is no secret that the entirety of us, growing up in our teens or 20s or even past that, we strive to find who we are.
However, I can see that this might be the case with those who developed an eating disorder during the pre-pubescent ages when the personality is not fully formed.
The incidences of anorexia is lower in societies that have minimal influence from Western values. I am an award-winning writer with three college degrees, and the best I can find to identify myself is my weight!?! Before I went into treatment I was so wrapped up in being an anorexic but at the same time in total denial that I had a problem.

However, as sick as it sounds, being able to be just one category is a rare thing and something that helps to identify you.
Before I left for treatment, I had multiple friends call me out on the fact that I have allowed my eating disorder to become my entire identity. I’m a total word nerd and would be just as happy staying in playing Scrabble as I would going out to a bar or club. Of course, that is rapidly changing in this new global world, in which someone in the far reaches of say, Mongolia or the rainforest, are influenced by Western society. I was totally functional, working full time as a preschool teacher and general caregiver for many children. Once I was given a sort of label, I clung to that because I didn’t know what else to cling to.
Slowly but surely, you’ll be able to see those things as your true self and can tell your eating disorder to shut it. When I came out of treatment I was ready to start to let go of my eating disorder but I was then told that I couldn’t go back to work. My boss felt that with winter and me still on the edge of health that it would be in the best interest of myself and the children at school if I took time off to get properly better and then come back to school. While others would think this was a wonderful opportunity to relax and take some time Out, I felt completely lost.
Not only was not Aimee, the anorexic, but now I wasn’t Aimee the teacher anymore either.
Through many therapy sessions I worked through the uncomfortable feelings I had and learned to be still.

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