It is not often that I read an article and really relate to it like I did this one: Leaving the sport, gaining an eating disorder. Though I'm not big on the title "gaining an eating disorder" like it was something that came out of the blue, I did like some of the points the article mentioned.
The big highlight to me was about loss of identity. Here was this woman who had devoted her life to gymnastics, retired, and then appeared to become fixated on her body. While it is true as she says, "The same quality that made me great at sports made me want to get really skinny," the real underlying issue was feeling a huge loss--a life she had known, now going into the unknown, feeling lost, and developing a different identity for herself.
Coming from similar experiences, it is hard to "find" a new identity. There are those who go unscathed and immediately jump into something new with ease, but I think for a lot of people it isn't easy. With eating disorders, this can be seen on both ends of the spectrum. For some, it is the beginning of an eating disorder, for others, it is a loss of an eating disorder as they enter recovery. What both have in common is that each necessarily needs time to mourn. I think people forget this and then blame themselves for not being "over" it (whatever that may be); or, they may feel that pressure from misunderstood people. Or, they hold onto the ideal, that this is their only identity.
For those of you who need scientific evidence, in this New Yorker piece, "Scientists have found that grief, like fear, is a stress reaction, attended by deep physiological change."
The take home message here is that it is okay to feel sad and upset. In fact, I think it is important and healthy. This doesn't mean it has to be some huge event, or some tear jerking session (though of course it is okay to cry too-nothing wrong with that), but it's more a feeling of a kind of acceptance. It's knowing that the loss of one identity allows for us to grow into a different identity--an identity that we can embrace, learn to like, and be successful at.
The woman in this article was lucky in that her eating disordered behavior only lasted about a year. For many others, it is a long, drawn out process of years. I hope those reading are not in the latter. But if you are, and this is one of the things you've held onto-the identity of an ED, I hope you will be able to eventually let go of it. A good question to ponder here is: how do you want to be remembered--the eating disordered girl? What identity do you want?