When we take time to look at the people in our lives that we look up to because they are healthy and well, often one of the most fundamental things they have in place are strong boundaries. Boundaries are one of the most important pieces in eating disorder recovery not only because they teach others how we want to be treated but also because they teach us how we want to treat ourselves. In the past I wrote a blog about how you can set boundaries with other people. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on the importance of setting boundaries with yourself.
Many people don’t realize that when you struggle with an eating disorder you are essentially in a relationship with a horrifically abusive being that lives inside your head. It emotionally torments you all hours of the day and dictates what you are or are not allowed to do, think, feel etc. It is for this reason that one of the most important steps in recovery is boundary setting. We have to learn to separate out our healthy selves from our eating disorder selves and start prioritizing the hopes, wants, dreams and longings of what we really for ourselves.
To set boundaries with yourself requires you to first do some exploring within so you can understand not just your ideal life but the genuine ways you feel your disorder gets in the way of the everyday life you want to live. In what ways do you find your eating disorder takes away joy? What are the things you most miss from your life before your eating disorder? What freedoms do you see others easily enjoying that you too want to be able to do? Getting clear on how your eating disorder hurts you is important because it highlights the places you want to change. Each person’s experience is going to be completely unique and so it is important you spend time dialing into your wants for yourself, not the wants others may have for you or themselves.
Next it is important to know your limits. We all want to race to the finish line in recovery and start doing all the things all at once but we know that this approach usually only sets us back and prevents us from trusting in our abilities to achieve our goals. You need to know what steps feel manageable and which steps feel impossible. For some, the next step might be incorporating a particular food into their daily diet, while for others it might be waking up and setting a mantra that recovery is possible. Everybody will have different first steps. Get clear on yours and make sure it is something you know you can achieve 80% of the time. The key hear is to not expect perfection. If you go in expecting to go through recovery perfectly you will feel like you have failed every time you are challenged. Instead, aim to be successful the strong majority of the time and then be extra compassionate when you have an off day. I would encourage you to write your first step out and put it somewhere you can see. Research shows writing things down makes the goal become a priority and less likely to be forgotten.
Finally, give your healthy self permission to be assertive and to matter. Eating disorders love to tell a person how all of their attempts to be well and good to themselves are futile, silly or not worth it. You have a right to recover and recovery is something that you are just as deserving of as anyone else. Setting a goal and taking a step, regardless of how small, is still significant and will make a difference in the long run. Remember that nobody recovers overnight and that often this journey is about taking a million little steps that add up to living a recovered life. Be assertive with your eating disorder and don’t ever hesitate to tell it off. Your job here isn’t to be kind and nice to something that is sucking you of life, joy and connection. Your job is to give your hopes a chance to become a reality by prioritizing one healthy thing at a time.
I hope you spend some time reflecting on how strong you are to realize what does and doesn’t work for you and which boundaries you need or want to set with your eating disorder. It takes a lot of courage to explore what helps you in recovery and what impedes your progress. If there is anything we can do to provide support for you along your journey, please reach out. We are always here to help!
[dt_divider style="thin" /]
Kaela Scott is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She runs her own private practice and works with the Looking Glass Foundation in both their summer camp and their Hand In Hand Program. She has been passionate about working with eating disorders since freeing herself from her own struggle and realizing what it is like to be happy and well. When she isn’t working, you can find Kaela either cozying up with a cup of tea and her friends or up in the mountains going for a hike.