Guest Post: On Purpose and Eating Disorder Recovery

Have you ever looked in the mirror and been unhappy with what you saw? Maybe you’ve even hated what you saw or even thought “if I could change that one part of me, I’d be ok.” As an eating disorder (ED) therapist, I am especially interested in how people see their physical bodies and their relationship to it. Often, someone suffering with an ED may feel that her body is merely a means to gain approval. “If I keep losing weight, I’ll be lovable.”

Recovery cannot simply be described as the reverse of these thoughts and subsequent behaviors, nor is it simply subjective. To sidestep semantic debates, the ever-peppy positive psychologists have coined the term “subjective well-being” or SWB (1). It is typically thought of as analogous to happiness but easily applied to the recovery process. One of the most important components of high SWB is having a sense of purpose (2). Thus, in recovery, our bodies become something more! They become purposeful.

Our bodies allow us to see sunsets, hug children, listen to music, go to school, pursue dreams, help others, and any number of amazing things (3). With purpose, we step outside of ourselves and become a part of something bigger. It’s down right spiritual if you think about it! With purpose, recovery takes on a whole new light. It becomes easier to follow a meal plan and change behaviors. As the old saying goes, it is easy to endure the how, when you know the why.

Purpose is unique to the individual and may take time to discover or create. However, we all have “signature strengths” which can be used “in the service of something larger than yourself” (4). In many ways, recovery gives a person an opportunity to explore the endless possibilities presented by those two very vague descriptors of purpose. Isn’t it exciting? Maybe a little stressful, but very, very exciting. As an eating disorder therapist, I get the biggest thrill out of seeing people find out that they are so much more than their eating disorder. If you are struggling, please believe that there something else out there, and luckily, there are dozens of professionals in the area waiting to help you discover the rest of your life!

Share with us what in your life brings you purpose. We’d love to hear about it.
1. Segrev, Z. (2004). Accentuate the positive: David Myers describes facets of positive psychology. APS Observer, 17, 1-2.

2.Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press.

3. Frankl, V.E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. New York City: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

4. Matousek, M. (March, 2004). Choose happiness. O: The Oprah Magazine, 5(3), 190-197

Casey is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Harvard Square, specializing in eating disorders. She utilizes multiple modalities in the treatment of eating disorders, including working as part of a team with other professionals like dietitians. You can learn more at or by calling (617)797-7949.