When you realize you have an eating disorder, the journey ahead is a long battle that cannot be comprehended with just a few words. My journey started when I was diagnosed with bulimia a few years ago. While being stuck in this illness since middle school, I purged, restricted, and exercised until my body and spirit could not handle it anymore. Facing food every single day, several times a day, feels like facing your worst enemy.

Anyone who has encountered this can tell you it’s not just about eating. A relapse is not pretty, beautiful, or solely about weight; it’s about being hypersensitive to every change that threatens your self-destructive way of life. It’s about feeling crippling loneliness for days and deciding that you need to get rid of whatever has soured inside of you.

A support team is one of the most valuable things to have in eating disorder recovery, but I’ve found that music was a key player in that group for me. Throughout my journey, I’ve leaned on music as a friend that’s there to hold me even when I was alone.

In honor of this past NEDA Awareness Week, I wanted to compile a list of the tunes that carried me at my worst and lifted me up into my best. From the grim and borderline cheesy, to positive and upbeat, these songs resonated with me. If you’re going through a similar struggle, I hope they’ll resonate with you too. 

1. Daughter – Human

 "Limbs lost to a dead weight stake." 

Upbeat strumming complements fragile vocals and lyrics that reflect humans' ability to break. In all the trials and tribulations of life and mental illness, there is no need to apologize for what you are.

The last line, "but I think I'm dying here," shows the finality of tragedy. It is common to feel that you are not normal when you have an eating disorder. No one understands the pain of not fitting in during every day scenarios. Owning your experiences is a huge move towards recovery, but it doesn't change the fact that if you do not take steps to get better, the outcome is not as pretty as the story. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: No Care, Medicine, Numb

2. Bon Iver – re:stacks

"This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization." 

Discussing life-altering changes and a false glimmer of hope, this song holds the idea that we will always have—baggage. This concept is true for the process of recovery; each and every day it is a choice, with the past minimizing behind us, but also staying and affecting what we do. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Perth, Blood Bank, Holocene 

3. Florence + the Machine – Various Storms & Saints

“Some things you let go in order to live.”

This song hits so close to home, I bawled my eyes out when hearing it in concert. A determined message, almost like a hymn, that you can exist and heal in spite of the deepest wounds. While it is inspiring, the lyrics contain such depth and understanding of how painful it is to cut off something toxic for the necessity of staying alive, that it's hard not to get emotional. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Shake It Out, Third Eye, Heartlines

4. Demi Lovato – I Hate You, Don't Leave Me

"I'm in pieces, you complete me."

Some view this acoustic track as trouble in a conflicted relationship. Lovato herself wrote it about mental illness (the title comes from a guide to borderline disorder titled I Hate You, Don't Leave Me). I see it as speaking to my bulimia, and the fight to have control in eating disorder recovery. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Old Ways, Fix a Heart, Warrior

5. Paramore – Last Hope

"So if I let go of control now, I can be strong."

A fan favorite for a clear reason. A ballad combined with an explosion of emotion at the end, words that resonate for everyone who understands living on an edge. Like much of Paramore's music, "Last Hope" is what sets off the spark. If there's any music that will restore your hope in a full recovery, this is it.

Other songs by this artist to check out: Anklebiters, Tell Me It's Okay, Careful 

6. Kate Nash – Take Me To A Higher Plane

"I feel worried that my brain is just a fool in your sick game."  

As described by Nash, this tune is "about feeling low and wanting to jump off the edge, but instead you improve your life for the better." Even though it is a dark thought, suicide can come across during the lowest points of an eating disorder. After all, the disease itself is a slow suicide. Turn the pain into progress, and take your life instead to a higher plane. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Don't You Want to Share the Guilt, Part Heart, My Little Alien 

7. The Maine – Am I Pretty

“There’s beauty and grace in the flaws of your face.”

A significant moment always comes to mind when this song plays. I remember I was building up to a relapse through several weeks. Right before I was about to go through with it, I decided to check The Maine’s twitter. This music video had been just released, and it felt like a pile of bricks had lifted off of my chest. It still makes me smile every time I see it. The little blurb in the description box of the video is pretty great to read on a bad day too. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: My Hair, Perfectly Out of Key, Good Love

8. Jack's Mannequin – The Resolution

"I need a light in the dark as I search for the resolution."

Although Jack's Mannequin's music is not specifically about the lead's battle with leukemia, much of it is characterized by optimism and hope. "The Resolution" is no exception.

Other songs by this artist to check out: Swim, I'm Ready, The Mixed Tape

9. Lady Gaga – Marry the Night 

"I'm a soldier to my own emptiness, I'm a winner."

Lady Gaga delivers a defiant thumping jam here. 'Marrying the night' means to make the best out of your dark parts. The message here isn't to drink your cares away and to push them aside. It is to straighten yourself up and dance a little with your friends after drying your tears. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Sinner's Prayer, SpeechlessDope

10. Lolo – Shine

"You're the brightest star in the sky, but no one's gonna know if you never shine."

A lot of anthem-type songs come off cheesy, generic, and un-inspiring. This one actually feels authentic in its message. Lolo wrote when releasing the video, “I’ve lost a few very dear friends to suicide and I’ve always been burdened by the feeling that there was more that I could have done... I can feel them shining and it makes me want to shine for them."

Other songs by this artist to check out: The CourtyardHeard It From A Friend, I Don't Wanna Have To Lie

11.  The National – Don't Swallow the Cap

"Everything I love is on the table, everything I love is out to sea."

There comes a point where you are consciously deciding to leave the dark during eating disorder recovery. You know that it's not a good way to carry on, but it's hard to leave behind and confront the real world.

As many of their songs do, The National pins an unsettled feeling in "Don't Swallow the Cap." This tune is perfect to fall asleep to with that blanket of melancholy and contains some humor and the subtle reminder that you're not alone no matter your indecision.  

Other songs by this artist to check out: Graceless, The Geese of Beverly Road, Demons 

12. Foo Fighters – Walk

"I think I found my place, can't you feel it growing stronger?"

Using re-learning to walk as a symbol of taking second chances, this song has such an impact that it received a Grammy for Rock Song of the Year. I heard this song in 2011 and my head just exploded. The more you hear the phrase 'I never want to die,' the more you believe it. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Stranger Things Have Happened, Rope, Learn To Fly

13. Barcelona – Falling Out of Trees

"I saw a ghost, I think it was me."

Barcelona's soft side is apparent in this tune. You see the process of moving away from those around you and pushing your limits to find that you can't cope. With a resolution of picking up the pieces, "Falling Out of Trees" gives hope for becoming steady again.

Other songs by this artist to check out: Come Back When You Can, Time to Mend, Get Up

14. Ellie Goulding – Army

"Dark times, you can always find the bright side."

A support system is one of the most essential parts of eating disorder recovery. Real best friends can often be the ones who hold your hand throughout this process. Even so, there were times when even though there were people who tried to help me, the point I was at in my illness didn't let me see that. Sometimes, you have to start with being your own best friend. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Human, Hearts Without Chains, Goodness Gracious 

15. Taylor Swift – Clean

"When I was drowning, that's when I could finally breathe." 

With a delicate melody, "Clean" sums up the experience of pain and loss of self while being hopeful, not depressing. To me, all the lyrics include every stage of eating disorder recovery: hurting completely on your own, learning to let go, missing the way it used to be your best friend, but also never going back to that place. There's many amazing covers on Youtube, but this song isn't available on there. You can listen to the official version here. This video is the speech that comes with the song at her concerts.

Other songs by this artist to check out: All Too Well, Never Grow Up, The Lucky One

"If you get rained on, you walk through a bunch of storms, life is constantly coming at you, that doesn't make you damaged, it makes you clean."

There are more people out there who are struggling with you than you think. Crisis hotlines and chats, self-help tools, NEDA walksgrants for treatment, and much more are available to get you where you you will truly be happy. You will get to be happy, let the music heal you. 

Photo by Ian Schneider | Unsplash

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