When you realize you have an eating disorder, the journey ahead is a long battle that cannot be comprehended with just a few words. Mine started when I was diagnosed with anorexia binge/purge type a few years ago. Throughout the six years that I've been stuck in this illness, 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 for me even when I felt most alone.

In honor of this past NEDA Awareness Week, I wanted to compile a list of a few 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's common to feel that you are completely out of the norm when you have an eating disorder. No one understands the pain of not fitting in at something as simple as sitting down to have a meal with your family. Owning your troubles 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 isn't 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 an idea that we will all always have—baggage. This concept is true for the process of recovery; as your past diminishes behind you with every day, it still has an effect on every choice you make going forward. 

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 first 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's 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. Florence Welch almost decided not to put it on the record since it was so personal to her. 

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 personality disorder titled I Hate You, Don't Leave Me). I see it as speaking to my underlying issues, 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. dodie – when

"It'll all be over, and I'll still be asking when."

Vying for experiences in attempt to fulfill some kind of nostalgia for the future only keeps you standing still. Even in recovery, there's a sense of missing the easiness of it all, as if they were fake memories. It almost hurts my heart to look back at all the time my disorder stole from me, every feeling I should've been able to feel, because I was chasing an image in my head. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Would You Be So Kind?, secret for the mad, a love song/a non love song

6. Kate Nash – Part Heart

"It doesn't matter how much I hurt myself, I still feel the same."

An eating disorder is often a defense mechanism for a bigger problem. When mine reared its ugly head, I was going through a particularly rough patch; environment pulls the trigger. Blowing up my little insecurities (which everyone has) was much easier than focusing on what I was truly experiencing. No matter how much I tried to restrict or purge it away, I still felt the same. I've heard the same said time and time again from others in recovery, even if their situations were different than mine. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Don't You Want to Share the Guilt, My Little Alien , Take Me To A Higher Plane

7. The Maine – Am I Pretty

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

A specific 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. Halestorm – Familiar Taste of Poison

"The sweet escape is always laced with a familiar taste of poison."

The lyrics here detail the literal experience of having an eating disorder for me. Having a binge-purge episode brings about a certain high. Being able to numb everything out like that, if just for a moment, almost makes you not want to get better. However you interpret it, Halestorm perfectly describes being addicted to self-destruction. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Here's To Us, I Like It Heavy, What Sober Couldn't Say

9. Halsey – Devil In Me

"I won't let anyone down if I crawl tonight, but I still let everyone down when I change in size."

Re-incorporating yourself into a normal life later on in recovery is just as much of an obstacle as it is asking for help and stopping behaviors. The road becomes messy. Relationships, including the one with yourself, get all the more difficult to navigate. After trusting disordered thoughts for so long, waking up to the good that you've been longing for and that everyone wants for you feels like a lie. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Hopeless, Alone, Sorry

10. Lolo – Shine

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

 My mother and I started a tradition playing this in the car each time we were coming home from my therapy. This anthem-themed ballad 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 healthy 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 tune 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."

In Barcelona's lyrics, 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. Laura Marling – New Romantic

"I don't know more every day."

At a certain point, your skin thickens into armor and you learn to guard your heart. Being jaded can come around after many failed attempts at recovery. When the harsh reality of what life and love mean hit you, what you expect out of your life and what it actually is meld together. It's exactly what Laura Marling sings about in most of her music. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Alas I Cannot Swim, Ghosts, My Manic & I

15. 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. 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.Although it's cheesy, this song reminds me so much of my best friend doing exactly that. They can often be the ones who hold your hand throughout this process. 

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

"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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