This is a piece I want to share from my book, “Walk With Me: A Journey to Full Freedom from an Eating Disorder.”
It comes in many forms.
Although guilt can be a sign of a healthy mindset when presented appropriately (i.e. feeling guilty for hurting someone during an argument), problems arise when guilt is misplaced, or irrelevant to our actions. An example of this would be feeling guilty for eating or feeling guilty for indulging in self-care. Both of these are common occurrences in eating disorder recovery. Oftentimes, people with eating disorders (and those without) feel guilty for attending to their needs.
In recovery, I call this type of guilt “guilt for doing the right thing,” and it is not uncommon to experience throughout recovery.
As I practiced making healthy decisions in early recovery, I remember experiencing a lot of guilt. Guilt for eating everything on my meal plan, guilt for not exercising, guilt for gaining weight, etc. If you are experiencing a lot of guilt while making recovery choices, know that this is not uncommon.
Jenni Schaefer discusses two different types of guilt in her book Life Without Ed: “Positive guilt is the kind of guilt you feel when you are doing the RIGHT thing. It’s the kind of guilt your eating disorder makes you feel when you follow your meal plan. The kind of guilt you feel when you take a nap or spend the day at home relaxing because you are tired. The kind of guilt you feel when you take care of yourself, and not listen your eating disorder” (Schaefer, 2013).
I learned that guilt was another one of my eating disorder’s tools to try to keep me trapped in it. The guilt of being healthy and having needs is your eating disorder’s way of attempting to pull you back to it—to what “you deserve” to what is seemingly “comfortable,” what “feels good” or “safe.”
If you experience guilt when you are making healthy choices, remember that that is your eating disorder trying to lure you back into its deadly arms. Continue choosing recovery, despite feeling guilt or any other uncomfortable emotions, and cope with those feelings in a healthy way. You will not always have those feelings. (Notice the word Motion in emotion). Eventually, making healthy choices will not only be a habit, but it will be pleasurable—enjoyable, and you won’t have to think twice about it.
Guilt for doing the right thing means you’re doing well; it means you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. You are constantly faced with two important choices when recovering from an eating disorder: Either you act based upon how bad you feel and make unhealthy choices that will keep you trapped in your eating disorder, or you do what you need to do, and deal with the uncomfortable feelings that come up by coping healthily; as I have stated several times. The first choice means choosing illness, and the second choice means choosing recovery—choosing life. This is what recovery entails.
It is normal to feel guilt during the recovery process. The important thing is to keep choosing recovery despite it. The guilt will eventually go away.