Eating Disorders & Your Values
By Abbey Emmert M.A. and Gabrielle Morreale M.A. LPC.
If you have struggled with an eating disorder, or know someone who has, the topic of values may have come up. Just like living with an abusive partner, after a certain amount of time of living with this opposite force, it can be hard not to start adopting the other’s values and replacing your own with them. You can be months into the relationship before you realize it's caused you to lose friendships, family members, and so much more. It can be very difficult even then to realize what you have lost. One activity we like to do with clients helps them to realign with their core values, the ones they had before their ED took over, and the ones they hope to have as they reach recovery! This post will help walk you through this activity and reflection questions you can ask yourself in the process.
We want you to first start by identifying the core values you held before your ED started. If it helps, find an old picture of yourself from a time in your life that you were genuinely happy, or from a memory you had that brings you joy! This can help with channeling the “old” you and listing these values. If you are struggling with thinking of any, here are a couple we find are common among the clients we work with:
Adventure, Independence, Balance, Compassion, Community, Creativity, Faith, Friendship, Family, Honesty, Growth, Loyalty, Openness, Pleasure, Respect, Trustworthiness
After compiling a list that sits with you and feels accurate to your identity, take a moment to reflect on how you represented these values in your life before your ED. How did you identify with these values? How did you display them or live them out on a daily basis? What aspects of your life caused you to list them in the first place? A harder part of this activity may be what comes next. Next, we want you to start thinking about your ED and your recovery process. Think of the highs and lows, the places you have been in the past, where you are now, where you want to be in the future. As you think about this, go back to your list of values and start crossing out, one by one, any that have been sacrificed or taken from you life as a result of ED. As you go through each and decide whether to cross it out, think about how you are still either still living by this value or how you are not as a result of ED. For example, ED more commonly than not causes those of us that value honesty to sacrifice that value. ED doesn't allow many of us to live honestly with ourselves, nevermind those around us that love us and know us. By crossing out the value, you are acknowledging that this has been taken from you, and by reflecting on this, you can see in what ways it has impacted your life and where you are now (i.e. loss of friendships).
We know this part of the activity may be hard and we want to give you a big virtual hug for the bravery you are showing by doing this! Also, acknowledge that you are here and doing this activity because you recognize you want something to change, and that you are step-by-step getting there! After crossing out your last one, take a moment to look at the list, how many are left, and what has been crossed out. Take another moment to give yourself compassion for this hard step! You are doing the work.
The last part of this activity is to reflect on how you can reinstall these into your life now that you recognize what has been taken! It may be overwhelming to look at a list of 20 or so values and think of how you have lost 15 of them and trying to get them all back. We know this! But you can do it one step at a time. Try picking one to start off with, one that feels obtainable and one that you feel passionate about working towards at the moment. Maybe it is adventure or fun, and think of the ways in the next week or so you can implement this value back into your life in small or large ways! Maybe it means getting your nails done one day, going for a hike in a new place, calling a friend you haven't seen lately and going to a new place. Working away at these is the point of this activity, not to shame or guilt you! We have all had values taken from us by ED. Unfortunately, it is one of the side effects. But your strength brought you here, and it will also get you to recovery!! Hold space for that hope and know that we believe in YOU!!!! <3