Romanticizing the Past in Eating Disorder Recovery


One frequent trap I fall into when I become too complacent in eating disorder recovery is an urge to romanticize the past. I reflect on all those years I was consumed by anorexia with a kind of nostalgia that whispers, "Remember how in control you felt back then? Remember the rush of satisfaction that came each time you skipped a meal? Remember the sense of power that intensified with each mile you ran on the treadmill? Remember how proud you were to have a small, narrow body? Don't you want to feel like this again?"

When I romanticize the past, I conveniently forget all the pain I caused myself to suffer, and I gloss over the harsh truth of suffering with counterfeit memories to lure me back into those toxic behaviors. But as harmful as this can be, romanticizing the past is quite common in eating disorder recovery, so I think it's important to discuss it. I can only speak from the lens of my own experience, but if you also wrestle with an urge to romanticize the past in eating disorder recovery, I hope this will empower you to halt the destructive cycle.          

Romanticizing the Past Is an Obstacle to Eating Disorder Recovery. 

The reason this is such an unhealthy mindset to cultivate is because it does not accurately represent what life with an eating disorder is like in real-time. Romanticizing the past is a form of selective memory. It fixates on the perceived allure of an eating disorder, while it overlooks the physical and mental torment the illness ultimately causes.

When I am in this state of mind, I choose to recall the pleasure of being able to wear clothes that I could not squeeze into at my current weight. However, I block out the memories of how uncomfortable it was to be malnourished all the time or how difficult it was to maintain a stable body temperature. I remember the swell of accomplishment after finishing a three-hour workout, then brush aside the flashbacks of almost losing consciousness on an elliptical machine. I tell myself the behaviors were manageable, that I was not in real danger. 

I refuse to think about the constant hunger, the weak and fragile bones, the emotional outbursts, and the oppressive loneliness. I don't allow myself to grieve the broken relationships, the all-consuming anxieties, and the years of wasted time. In other words, when I romanticize the past, I only take into account what the eating disorder voice in my head wants me to remember. This puts me at a vulnerable crossroads to potentially abandon the steps I have taken in recovery and, once again, retreat into the darkness of my eating disorder.

These Indicators Alert Me to When I Am Romanticizing the Past

The truth is, I don't always notice if I am romanticizing the past. Sometimes it takes a pattern of concerning behaviors to seize my attention. But once I'm aware of the signs, I can catch myself in the act before a full-blown eating disorder relapse occurs. The following indicators serve as a barometer for me to evaluate if I have fallen into this trap of romanticizing the past, so I can then recalibrate and recommit to eating disorder recovery. 

I am romanticizing the past when:

  1. I am tempted to look at photos of myself from when I was the most active in my illness
  2. I have frequent thoughts such as, "My life will improve if I can just return to my lowest weight"
  3. I berate myself for not being able to exercise as often or burn as many calories as I used to
  4. I fantasize about the sensation of emptiness in my stomach that followed meal restriction
  5. I refuse to part with a clothing item due to the belief that, "I'll fit into this again eventually"

Now I want to hear from you—is romanticizing the past a common obstacle for you in eating disorder recovery? If so, how does it manifest, and what behavioral signs tell you that it's time to pivot in a healthier direction? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. 

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2021, May 12). Romanticizing the Past in Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

Connect with Mary-Elizabeth on Facebook, Instagram and her personal blog.

Lizanne Corbit
May, 12 2021 at 7:12 pm

This is such an important thing to understand, and very well said: "Romanticizing the past is a selective form of memory. It fixates on the perceived allure of an eating disorder, while it overlooks the physical and mental torment the illness ultimately causes." I love that you included your indicators for what alerts you to romanticizing behavior. This can be so helpful in stopping and changing the behavior.

May, 13 2021 at 12:22 pm

Hi Lizanne,
Thank you so much for the positive feedback—I completely agree that it's essential to build awareness around these behaviors, so they can be recognized and ultimately dismantled on the road to recovery.

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