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"Finding an identity outside of my eating disorder": Lana's story

Anorexia can feel like an identity. Although a lot of people feel shame in saying it, I will admit, there was a time where I viewed myself from this perspective. Losing my eating disorder felt like the worst possible scenario, because without it, who actually was I?

I had spent so much time engrossed in my illness, that I felt my identity was lost. I was no longer an interesting person to speak to and my thoughts were fogged up by food all the time. Suddenly, no conversations felt enjoyable anymore. Pushing away all my friends, feeling angry at my family for trying to help and focusing on nothing except academics and food restriction. This ensured my entire identity was built around being academically capable and eating as little as possible.

During quasi-recovery, my thoughts were still completely fixated on food, and exercise. At this point, I was in my first year of university, and I had allowed myself the opportunity to make friends. I socialised, and was seemingly a visibly healthy person who enjoyed the gym. Although I was able to maintain important conversations and focus to a greater extent, my identity was still eating disorder related. I had shifted from an “anorexia” identity which I held amongst people I knew prior to university, to a “fit, gym-obsessed” identity.

As a result, I will never praise a person’s gym obsession. All the compliments I got on my ability to maintain my workout routines and macro-counting only reinforced the importance of this identity to me, and fed into my desire to hold onto my eating disorder.

A very predominant reason I chose to fully recover was because of the friends I had made at uni. Regardless of how many times I turned down lunch or dinner plans, or avoided going out in the evening to ensure I could wake up early to go to the gym, they stuck by me. They continued inviting me everywhere.

I started to truly feel I belonged somewhere, with people who cared about me.

Prior to going home for the February half term, I spoke to the two people I trusted most. I explained how I had been feeling, and allowed myself to be vulnerable with them. Right before telling them, I had finally decided to take the step forward and allow myself to fully recover. This was my way of holding myself accountable when I returned to university. The support they showed me was unbelievable, and I felt so loved and cared for, which only pushed me more to recover so I could finally enjoy meals out with them, and accompany them on trips.

Once I started to genuinely recover, the weight gain became visible. This was terrifying, because I felt constantly hungry and I wanted to honour that hunger. Despite the weight gain, it felt as though my mind wasn’t recovering at the rapid pace my body was. The temptations to restrict became unbearable, as I was losing my eating disorder-related identity, but felt myself to be uninteresting and unimportant in all other ways.

To compensate, I began engulfing myself in the things I loved. I spent my free time composing and playing music, and reading became enjoyable again. I took it upon myself to improve my writing during this time. I also focused more on my studies, reading around topics I enjoyed, rather than fixating predominantly on the academic validation my grades gave me.

Above this, I spent time with the people I love and care about. I have a vivid memory of a trip I took with my friends to a sea-side town. We spent the evening enjoying the views and each other’s company, and got a spontaneous dinner from a local Chippy. That was one of the best days of my life because it made me realise why I had chosen to recover.

Regardless of all these beautiful memories I was making, I still felt as though I had lost a significant part of myself. This is where I took it upon myself to decide what identity I wanted to create for myself. My lack of focus on food allowed me to be a kinder, more empathetic person to those around me, and it meant I was able to use this freedom in my mind and be more supportive to the people in my life. I spent more time working on my music, writing as much as possible, and it allowed me to show off the creative side of myself through open mics and performances.

I was building an identity on the things I loved, and the person who I knew I wanted to be.

I’m not going to pretend it was easy. Recovering is likely one of the most difficult experiences. I have been through, both mentally and physically. But, I wouldn’t change it for the world. The memories I have made, the opportunities I have now worked for, and the experiences it gave me… recovery was worth it.

You will find yourself outside of your eating disorder. It may take time, especially if you don’t remember yourself prior to the illness. But, it will happen. Take the time to ask those who have known you for a long time if they remember you before your eating disorder. Try new things. Say yes to anything that sounds enjoyable. And the sooner you choose recovery, the sooner you will find that identity.

I’m going to leave you with the quote that got me through my Anorexia recovery: “Your worst day in recovery will always be better than your best day controlled by your eating disorder”.

-Contributed by Lana

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in Lana's story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.

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