Creativity and self-expression are wonderful ways to recover from an eating disorder. Not eating and overeating are ways to control your life. Creativity happens when there is full control and can even be a form of meditation.
When I was young, I had many throat infections. My mom’s solution was always to take me to the doctor and give me antibiotics. This was a major part of my life for about 10 years. I took antibiotics about 6 months every year as a kid. It freaks me out to think about it now. When I grew up and learned more about the connection between physical problems and emotional states, I discovered that my throat infections could have been a result of being unable to express myself. Funnily enough, when I started writing at the age of 14, they disappeared.
I also learned that self-expression can be a cure, so since then, whenever my throat starts playing up and I have that familiar dry tingle threatening to flare, I sing! I turn the music on at full volume, or do it in the car, and sing! It does magic. One day and the infection is gone.
Using art for self-expression is a wonderful way to regain control over your life. You are on your own, creating what is in your mind. No criticism, no expected outcomes, just you and your creative flow, so you can feel how your body obeys your commands.
In any creative form, there is a sense of freedom that anorexic people desperately need. They have the freedom to try new things, the freedom to make mistakes, the freedom to express themselves, the freedom from rules and boundaries – basically, the freedom to be themselves.
Also, immersing ourselves in creative art can work as a great distraction from thinking about the emotional challenges that take over otherwise. Anorexic people continually think about their “distorted body”, about food and about their problems. Keeping busy and doing something creative is like putting a sign on the door saying “time out” from thinking and hopefully those thoughts will never come back.
People are different and find different forms of self-expression, but all of them are wonderful and can help in healing and recovering from anorexia or other eating disorders.
Recovering from Anorexia through writing
If you want to keep your thoughts to yourself, make sure you have a lock on it. If you decide to write a journal, be honest with yourself and write your real thoughts and feelings. It is better than having them locked up inside you for years, building anger and frustration. Writing them down is the best way to get them out of the system. Make sure to write successes as well to help you recognize the good things and notice when things improve.
Another form of writing that can be greatly helpful is writing fiction. Coming up with characters, giving them feelings and describing their behaviors is a form of symbolic play. Children play make-belief games to sort out their emotional challenges. Grownups can do the same through writing. If you come up with controlling characters and you go deeply into their motives and behaviors in order to write about them, you will realize that they have fears and problems too and this will help you gain perspective.
Writing poetry is another way of writing about your feelings. It requires more thinking and deep insight into feelings. Anorexic people are overwhelmed by their feelings and negative thoughts, so this is a very good way of putting some sense into them and channeling them in a positively.
Recovering from Anorexia through music
Music is a healing tool not only for eating disorders. When I watch my kids playing music (and they all do), I can see that they are in a different place. Their body is next to me, but their mind is not. When I look at them immersed in the sounds of the music they are playing, I can tell they are meditating.
The simplest way to use music as a way to heal anorexia is to listen to music. Pick the music you like and spend some time just listening to it. Only use music you find pleasant to your ears, regardless of what is popular or what is supposed to be relaxing. Listen to it over and over again, until your mind plays the music along with your iPod/CD player/computer. When you know what comes next, listening becomes effortless and you go into meditative flow.
Another way that is simple to use and enables a lot of self-expression is to sing along with music you like. Pick some songs you like, print their lyrics and sing. If you want more, buy yourself an Xbox and some karaoke CD’s and dedicate half an hour twice a week to singing. You do not have to be perfect, you do not even have to sing correctly, you only need to hear your own voice and enjoy yourself.
The third way is to play a musical instrument. If you know how to play a musical instrument, that is a great option for you. If you need to start from scratch, it might be a challenge. Be careful that perfectionism does not take over the desire to play for the fun of it and play things you are comfortable playing. If the presence of others puts pressure on you, play only when you are alone.
Recovering from Anorexia though dance
Movement is a physical need and dancing is a great way to combine music and movement into self-expression on the way to recovery. The good thing about movement is that it allows you to control your body. You tell the body where to move and it obeys, which may help with the desire to control your body through food.
If you want, you can dance at home in your own room where no one can watch. If you want to make it even better, close your eyes so that you do not watch yourself. Gradually move to dancing in front of a mirror and when you feel better, dance with a family member.
You can also join a group that does some form of dancing. Prefer free-flow dancing, where the rules are relaxed and you are not required to expose your body.
Warning: make sure the dance is not a form of excessive exercise, but a light and enjoyable experience.
Recovering from Anorexia through drama
Join a drama group and do some acting. It helps to play someone else for a while, someone without your problems, without your thoughts and challenges. If you have an anorexic child and there is a drama class at school, encourage them to join it.
Recovering from Anorexia through drawing and painting
I love colors and I know that many other people are like me. Sometimes, when I am busy and have a lot on my mind, I paint. When Gal asks me what am I thinking about when I paint, I really cannot tell. I am just in a quiet place with a blissful feeling without thoughts. I can sit (mostly stand, actually) for 3 hours and paint and at the end of it, I cannot tell what has gone through my mind. I surrender to the colors and the flowing brush. I never know what will come out of it and I never care. It is as if I give myself to the brush and the paints and they take me on an unknown journey. At the end of each painting session, I feel relaxed and energized.
One of my clients was anorexic and a very creative person. She used to decorate even chairs and beds. When I went to see her at the hospital, she took the white bed sheets and decorated the beds and the chairs to look like wedding chairs. Because she was in the hospital for a long time and finished decorating all the chairs in the ward, we talked about painting. I bought her a canvas and some paints and she enjoyed her drawing time very much.
Another way is to go to the library and take a book that teaches how to draw or paint and follow the instructions. If my daughter could learn from the book when she was 10 years old, anyone can.
Joining a painting group is another option and having an understanding and supportive tutor can do miracles. I recently did that and found it a great experience.
Recovering from Anorexia through sculpting
Sculpting is very similar to painting. In many art classes for anorexic people, they use sculpting to work on people’s body image and that is very helpful.
I had an aunt who had breast cancer and used pottery to recover. Her beautiful house was full of figures of women that were just amazing. She went to her pottery group 2-3 times a week to work with a famous artist until she recovered fully. 9 years later, her beloved brother died suddenly. The cancer came back a month later and she died within weeks. Her kids put some of her sculptures on her grave. Thanks to those sculptures, they had had their mother for 9 more years.
Joining a pottery class can be helpful if you need a kiln or prefer to be around other people. If this is too expensive or involves too much exposure, you can use air-drying clay, papier-mâché that you can make yourself and even do cake decoration as your form of art and self-expression. This combines movement and working with different materials and can help with physically touching things and molding them to suit your imagination.
There are many other forms of art that can be great for healing anorexia, like photography, beading, carpentry, cooking, baking, knitting, digital animation, graphic design, cross-stitching and scrapbooking.
Just find something you like and indulge yourself.
This post is part of the series Anorexia: