Understanding our loved one’s struggle in challenging their own internal conversation and behaviours

A personal reflection following recovery

Parents and carers can be a valuable support for their loved one experiencing an eating disorder, simply by validating their feelings and emotions and helping to counter-spin ED’s misinterpretation of a situation or spoken word.  To aid healing, our loved ones need to challenge their belief systems and behaviours… a difficult but necessary step in order to reach a place of complete healing from their eating disorder.

Elise Marcianti explains what challenging her own conversations and behaviours taught her.

anorexia recovery personal reflection

“During my recovery from an eating disorder I had to tackle underlying beliefs and biases towards food and my body. This meant that I had to dig deep to discover where these ideals were coming from and tackle them head on. 

As hard and confronting as it was, it freed me from many unhealthy beliefs. It freed me from a rigid lifestyle surrounded by rules and numbers. The process led me to see unrealistic expectations, society’s pressure for perfection, flaws in diets and many other unhelpful norms. 

It also allowed me to love myself and my body for how it is and understand that changing what I eat or how much I exercise doesn’t determine my happiness or worth. With so many damaging messages on social media I think challenging your own conversations and behaviours can be powerful for yourself and those around you who may be affected by an eating disorder.

This is what challenging my own conversations and behaviours taught me:

No diet is the best diet. After trying so many different diets I began to pick up that there were good and bad foods – safe and unsafe foods. This led me to believe that only certain foods are okay and that I must avoid ‘unhealthy foods’.  This way of thinking distorted my perception of food and became the backbone of rule-making when it came to food. During this process of tackling ideas around diets I came to realise there are no “good” or “bad” foods, that all foods are healthy in moderation and that food is just food. Letting go of diets also meant letting go of the emphasis on food and now food is no longer in the forefront of my mind. I learnt to have a healthy relationship with food where there are no rules around food. It also helped me to have a neutral view of fat – that fat isn’t a bad word and we all have it.  Fat is essential for us to live as it gives us energy, protects our organs and supports cell growth.

Exercise is meant to be fun!

Exercise had always been a way of compensating for eating and during recovery I had to stop exercising altogether and learn how to have fun with it. Exercise should never be a punishment or a way to make up for something but rather an outlet to help your body move and feel good and fresh. Getting back into exercise after a broken relationship with it, I knew I couldn’t trust myself with a gym membership, so I started with team sports that fostered an environment of fun, socialisation and clear training times so I never went overboard. 

Then I got into hobbies such as roller-skating and pole dancing which filled me with confidence and I loved working on new skills. I now have a great relationship with exercise where I love going out and about adventuring or running as I find it freeing not punishing. Comparison is a big one in the sport and fitness world – remind yourself that exercise is to help you be more energetic, lively and well. Allow yourself to have fun with exercise through hobbies, sport or activities with friends.

Numbers don’t matter! 

Numbers ruled my life when I was unwell – calories, weight, minutes. I became so focused that food became numbers, my body became numbers, my exercise became numbers but there’s so much more!  There’s delicious smells, incredible textures and so many flavours in meals. I learnt to see food for what it really is – a beautiful experience we can share with others at cafes or out for dinner, at home or with housemates. Food can bring people together, it’s a space where you can laugh and talk and converse.  Food is more than numbers – it’s flavours, textures and experiences. Letting go of numbers meant that I could rely on my body for hunger cues and eat and stop eating when my body told me to.  Not when my mind told me to.  The same with exercise and my body – letting go of the associated numbers meant I could enjoy the actual activity and appreciate my body for what it is and what it does, not what it weighs.  A number doesn’t do the body justice for all the systems, functions, the love it can give and for the life it lets you experience.

Good self-talk is important. 

I never realised how badly I spoke to myself until I said it out loud in therapy. And I know I’m not alone in this.  Unfortunately many people talk to themselves in ways they wouldn’t talk to someone else. It’s so easy to point out imperfections and be harsh on yourself but it’s important to realise that physical appearance does not equate to worth. I always had them tied together and hearing people talk about my appearance only reiterated that appearance was important. Questioning why you base worth on appearance can be helpful and is a great first step to taking the value out of appearance and appreciating the body for what it does.

These are just some of the many things I have learnt in challenging my own conversations and behaviours and I hope this provides the opportunity for you to reflect on those underlying beliefs to strengthen your relationship with food, exercise and the body and help those around you who may be affected by an eating disorder.”


Elise Marcianti March 2022