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The Trap of Settling for “Well Enough” in Eating Disorder Recovery

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT, is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes. In this week’s post, Jennifer dives into the idea of “well enough” in relation to eating disorder recovery.

In my own healing journey from anorexia, I often experienced a troublesome conflict between wanting wellness and clinging to illness. I bargained and negotiated over and over with myself, searching for ways to be a little well and little ill or just “well enough.”

I measured all this wellness and illness as meticulously as I counted calories. But instead of numbers, I relied on physical signs to reassure myself that I was “OK,” that I hadn’t overdone it or wandered too far on the side of “well” or “healthy” (gasp!): Do I still have bags under my eyes? Are my cheeks sunken? Am I pale? Do my clothes fit the same way? Am I hungry when I go to bed? And on and on and on.

All of this checking and clinging was happening in tandem with trying to recover, to be alive in my life to the fullest. Based on sentiments that others in recovery have shared with me, I know this rift within is common. We become hyper attached to “looking the part” (in my case, “the anorexic”) and fiercely depend on physical signs to reflect, reassure, and validate that we are “well enough” to keep loved ones off our backs but ill enough to keep the eating disorder in play.

There’s no shame in this. After all, this is how we learned to live, how we understood and moved through life. We clung to the eating disorder like a security blanket because, at the end of the day, we craved security.

The very real problem is, as you know, that messing with our physical bodies to the extent that eating disorders do is harmful, dangerous, and deadly. It also sabotages our emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we can’t be hollow physically without annihilating our spirits.

Even now, more than 2 decades later on my healing path, this rift within shows up every now and again in subtle ways. I combat the urge to “look the part” by remembering that the ultimate conflict of living from a “well enough” perspective limits my potential on all fronts of my life—family, professional, social, spiritual, personal. Only going as far as “well enough” in my recovery jeopardizes and constrains my potential to have the most basic of human desires: happiness.

“Well enough” thinking and living is a messy business, because we will always err on the side of more sick than well, which inevitably leads to bleak dead ends time and time again. I know what my dead end looks like, and it’s the complete opposite of happiness!

Every cell in my body knows how difficult it is to give your all to recovery, to let go fully and honestly of the eating disorder, so trust me, I am with you and deeply understand the challenges you face each day. If you are clinging to physical signs to assure yourself that you are “safe” or have designed routines in your day that support you only being “well enough,” I invite you to grab a journal or take some time to reflect on these questions:

  • What physical signs do I cling to?
  • What am I protecting myself from by clinging to my body?
  • What’s the emotional and mental toll I experience because of it?
  • How am I being held back in my life by living like this?
  • What’s one thing I can do differently starting today to cultivate a sense of thriving instead of surviving?

These are tough questions, but I believe (based on my personal experience) that the more you practice being painfully honest with yourself, the less you will settle for just being “well enough.” From this new awareness of the ways that you habitually cling and limit yourself, you can cultivate the power and inner strength to surpass “well enough.”

I encourage you to reach out for support and call on those cheerleaders in your life who believe you deserve more than “well enough,” who believe you deserve the stars. Because you do. You truly do.

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