How Eating Disorder Recovery Changed Me for the BetterFebruary 24, 2022
“Without change, there would be no butterflies.” – Unknown
If you asked me 20 years ago to write an article about how going through eating disorder recovery changed me for the better, I would have laughed. Little did I know, all that pain and suffering would be the catalyst for developing the superpowers that I believe actually matter in life, like perseverance, courage, and love, and heal our minds, bodies, and spirits on the deepest of levels.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share the gifts that I gained from my eating disorder journey—all of which have changed me and led me to #bethechange through my work as a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and creating a community that supports others on their healing journeys. I share 11 of those life-changing gifts here, but there are many more.
1. Perseverance. Going to treatment even though I was terrified, choosing to eat when I wanted to restrict, not giving into urges to overexercise, staying honest with my team and family when I wanted to be secretive: all of these challenges taught me how to persevere through hard moments and make choices in all facets of my life that build me up rather than break me down. When I am faced with a challenging moment today, I call on perseverance to ride out the discomfort of the situation and support me in my effort to make choices that align with my recovery and life’s values.
2. Presence. Living numb is barely living. Our bodies are out of balance from chronic deprivation and are minds are fuzzy. We are not present. I never knew how absent I was until I committed to healing my being on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. As I relearned how to nourish these parts of myself, I came back to life. I could smile and feel it, have a conversation and truly hear it, go for a drive and see beauty. With healing, I returned to my senses; I became present to my life and all those in it.
3. Honesty. Staying honest with my team and family was grueling when I craved using eating disorder symptoms. Yet, honesty was the key to getting to the other side of those hard and confusing years of early recovery. Having persevered through the discomfort of honesty when eating disorder thoughts and urges were strong, it is now a cornerstone value in my relationship with myself and others.
4. Kindness. Eating disorders are violent. Learning to be kind in my thoughts, words, actions, and relationship with my body was the remedy to self-destruction. Because I had to relearn how to practice kindness in my own life, I can now be an authentic role model for my daughters. This might be the greatest gift from my eating disorder journey of all.
5. Empathy. I’ve learned how to listen to myself and others with an open heart instead of a critical mind. During the eating disorder, I only knew how to berate and judge. My healing journey has helped me see myself as whole rather than broken, which in turn allows me to see others as whole, too. No matter how similar or different our journeys, we can connect through the power of shared experience: we can understand what it means to hurt, to feel not good enough, to overcome a challenge. What a beautiful healing moment, to be seen and heard. Recovery gave me this gift.
6. Compassion. I was merciless with myself when I was sick, with no room for anything less than perfection. Learning to let go of a strict, rule-bound mindset was scary. Through my recovery work and yoga studies, I have replaced that mindset with compassion, which to me means practicing acceptance, kindness, and empathy toward self and others. Recovery has taught me that a compassionate approach to my efforts will get me much further than a perfectionistic one.
7. Hope. For many years, the pull of the eating disorder was fierce, and I did not believe recovery was possible. Now, strong and healthy, I can look back and say hope was always in my grasp, I just had to choose to embrace it. Hope represents possibility, options, opportunities. Once I let go of believing recovery had to look a certain way, my capacity to heal expanded. I see hope for all who struggle on this journey.
9. Purpose. My mother always told me that my life’s experiences would someday serve to help others. Her words planted a seed in my soul that set my purpose into motion. I have turned my suffering into a calling and today I have the blessing and honor to support others on their eating disorder journeys as a certified yoga therapist, speaker, and author. My recovery journey empowered me to go for my dreams and give back to the eating disorder community in my own unique ways. What a gift – to have found my purpose and feel confident to share it with the world. Without having gone through an eating disorder, I am not sure any of this would be possible.
10. Courage. Choosing recovery is a feat of courage, as the effort required is immense. The daily grind of early recovery can feel relentless and exhausting, not to mention it is filled with anxiety-producing responsibilities like eating meals and snacks, going to weigh-ins, therapy appointments, dietician appointments, group therapy, and family sessions, plus journaling, keeping food logs, and more. I look back on this time of my life and realize just how much courage it took to make it through and how courageous I am today because of it.
11. Love. Recovery has cleared the way for love. The hard work, the sweat and tears, the moments when I wanted to give up—all of it was fodder for learning to love myself. Loving others has always come easy to me. But loving myself has been a learning curve. I thought the eating disorder was showing me how unlovable I was, when it was actually showing me how desperately I deserved my own love. All the gifts I’ve gained on my journey lead to this one – love. Because I can love myself, I can serve my family, friends, and the world with integrity. This is a gift I celebrate every time I hug my daughters, meet with a client, or give a talk.
Although the process of recovering from an eating disorder is a painfully hard process, for me, that suffering cannot compare to the sheer abundance of gifts instilled in me along the way—a world of inner resources that empower me every day to live fully. I encourage you, my friends, to choose to reflect on the gifts of your eating disorder journey. Identify them, celebrate them, notice how your experience has changed by acknowledging all the ways in which you are stronger and more caring, compassionate, and honest because of your journey.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is a sought-after international speaker and former host of Real Body Talk, an online interview talk show. Through her virtual school, Yoga for Eating Disorders, Jennifer offers individual yoga therapy, groups, classes, and continuing education and mentoring for professionals. She is the author of Body Mindful Yoga and The Courageous Path to Healing. Her writing has been featured widely in print, broadcast, and online media. Learn more at www.yoga4eatingdisorders.com.