The things that take the place of ED

One of the things that helped me the most in recovery was finding something that was as interesting and enthralling for me as the AN once was. As I started to emerge from the AN and from starvation, I needed a reason to keep going. It’s one thing to eat in treatment, but I could never keep the momentum going. Most of that was a lack of support and treatment that met my needs as a long-term sufferer. What I also needed that I didn’t have was something to recover¬†for. I found that in my career as a science writer.

It wasn’t a cure-all. I relapsed once hugely and one slightly less huge relapse since then. It didn’t save me or cure me or anything like that, but it did help me at least want to stop a relapse before it became severely life threatening. It was the first time I had something to lose to the ED, something that I truly cared about. And that made a huge difference.

I found my career helped to take the place of the ED. It gave me something to think about instead of food and weight and calories and exercise. It gave my brain something to do. It gave me something meaningful other than losing weight.

It has been almost universally a good thing.


There’s always an “almost,” isn’t there…

I was obsessive and driven and perfectionistic before the ED. I was obsessive and driven and perfectionistic¬†during the ED. So no one should be surprised that I’m still that way.

It’s one of the downsides of being a full-time freelancer: you’re the main person setting your schedule. Sure, there are times when your projects have strict deadlines and you have interviews and such, but you can generally take on as little or as much work as you want. My problem is that there is never enough work for me to do that makes me feel like I’ve done enough. I always feel that I’m lacking, that I have something to prove. It doesn’t matter when I’m basically drowning in work and assignments- the feelings are still there.

The feelings, of course, lie.

But the feelings can eat at you. And the fear- the fear that you will never be good enough, that you will be a failure, that the work will dry up and you’ll be stuck- the fear persists and drives you. It is not unlike the ED. Just as there is no amount of weight loss or exercise amount or number of purges that will appease that voice in your head, there is no amount of writing that can do so, either. I see friends win awards and get their names in big publications…where I haven’t. And so on.

Before the ED, I basically did my best to study myself to death. It sounds absurd, and perhaps it was, but the anxieties about grades and school work drove me mental. I had to study non-stop because otherwise¬†something very bad would happen. Exactly what that was varied depending on the day of the week, but it was always there. I don’t work non-stop, but I do have this ridiculous need to push myself and try harder and publish more and write better and work more and more and more.

Like I said, be careful when you wish for something to take the place of the ED because you just might get it.

Clearly, the beginning part of this post makes me sound like I’m coming unhinged and my job is very bad for me. Let me reassure you: I’m not mental and I do honestly and sincerely love what I do. But like with all things, my job is one of those areas in which my personal demons like to come out and make a LOT of noise. I don’t know if I’ll be able to turn that off, or if trying to turn it off is even really that good of a goal.

I’m working on trying to create an objective set of standards for what a good workday involves and what “being successful” means so I know if I’m doing what I need to do to meet those standards. Or, if I know myself, I’m not doing too much.

It’s far from simple, but at least I get to do what I love while I work it all out.

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16 Responses to “The things that take the place of ED”

  1. This is such an important part of recovery that needs to be talked about. Being a perfectionist can have its disadvantages, but also can be used in a helpful way. I use the ‘good enough’ principe in therapy as a way to mark a more recovery focus approach instead.

  2. I echo this sentiment very much – I too ‘replaced’ my eating disorder with my career (also freelance), and have a huge tendency to obsess about it in unhealthy ways that at times remind me all to much of anorexia. That said, it’s also been the thing I’ve clung to and that has kept me going, through recovery and since.

    As you say, it’s no surprise that the personality traits that made us susceptible to EDs are still there when the ED is no longer. For me the challenge is continuing to work with them the way I did in recovery, being aware that this is something I will always have to work with. Seeing it – sometimes – as a strength as well as a weakness. And sometimes laughing at it.

  3. Despite the fact that I myself am a therapist, I am only just coming to appreciate how closely the two are knitted. I have always written my own insatiable need to keep DOING to a separate feeling that I will be punished for some unworthiness if I don’t keep working all the time. I didn’t connect that the endless feeling of needing to pay some kind of penance, not ever arriving at a place where you are enough, is the same relentless drive to restrict. I am so grateful you are talking about this, naming it. It makes it seem much less powerful and perhaps even optional today!

  4. Yes. I was nodding my head in agreement as I read this entire post. One of my biggest triggers is being too busy and pushing myself so hard that I don’t have time to think about eating or any of the mental aspects of recovery. Right now, however, I am actually taking a little time off to enjoy a summer vacation for a change, but I find the lack of schedule to be triggering, too. For me recovery is all about balance. Find something I love that keeps me busy is essential, but learning to be okay in my down time is just as important. Balance, balance, balance…

  5. I agree very much with everything said above. I got put in treatment for my anorexia long before I was truly in RECOVERY, because in the beginning I didn’t see anything to recover for. A major shift I’ve had to make is not associating “productivity” and “worth” with losing weight and exercising; I needed to realize that it can be a productive, worthwhile, engaging day without moving from the couch…that was really hard for me. And the overall motivating factor in my recovery has been rebuilding and maintaining my health. It took a lot of damage, but I finally understood that I could not be both eating disordered and healthy in any sense of the word – physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc. It’s hard to re-channel those energies and tendencies, but it really is possible and so worthwhile.

  6. One of the best, most enlightening on-the-ground posts I’ve read. I don’t get over here nearly enough!

  7. Life is all about moderation to me, and I do it so mechanically… I am a hopeless perfectionist, and whatever I put my mind into, I become extreme without knowing where I am going. I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you!

  8. Project Bliss is an eating disorder non-profit program for those wishing to begin or enhance their journey into recovery. Project Bliss is located in Arlington, TX..we would be so happy to help you!! Click the link for more info:

  9. Quite unexpectedly, the thing that became my ‘replacement’ was roller derby. Participating in something I became passionate about got me interested in life again and less interested in fixating on destructive habits.

  10. I’m still looking for mine. I thought I found it in my career as a teacher, but I had to finally quit after ending up in long-term residential treatment two years in a row. I thought I found it in my relationship with my husband, but even though our marriage is amazing, I still struggle and have relapsed four times since our wedding day. Then I got pregnant and thought that having a child would make me better. Nope.

    • For me, having something to take the place of the ED was more useful in relapse prevention than in getting well. If I didn’t have people around me insisting on engaging in treatment and getting well, I wouldn’t have made it.

  11. I recovered from an ED a few years ago. I thought that meant I was then OK, but then i realised that i had a whole lot of stuff underneath that i needed to deal with.
    I’ve realised i’m codependent in relationships, and that my ED was an addiction that took me away from myself (and the pain that was there). I have had other addictions – workaholism, shopping, exercise, though not all to the same extent. All of these behaviours take me away from myself, and i’m really trying hard to work on all this now.
    For me, being perfect has always equalled love or acceptance (how it was in my family), so i am working really hard right now to unpick this. It’s hard!!!

  12. This is the crux of my life’s problems, competitive perfectionism.

    Before AN, as a child, I was a competitive musician, practicing compulsively. Then anorexia. Then, yes, I used my GPA as a substitute for calories. Even while eating enough, I kept up the compulsive exercise.

    It’s like playing whack-a-mole, everything I do spirals into obsession, it doesn’t matter what it is. In a way, that’s the most depressing thing–that I can recover, but I’ll just make myself miserable with something else, over and over, ad nauseum. Even if I live to be 90 I’ll just become a competitive bridge player and cry myself to sleep in the old folks’ home over my bets. Ugh.

    • IF I didn’t have an identical twin…I would say you were my REAL twin Eva!!….Relating in every possible way to your above comment…love the “whack-a-mole analogy. I move from one obsession to the next…and do not see an end to this…dancing..child-rearing….gardening…gourmet cooking..running….blog obsessions…and on and on. The “competitive bridge ” scenario seems a feasible one for me too, alas…but it brought a needed smile…Thank you!

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