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. Through the six years that I've been stuck in this illness, I purged, restricted, and exercised until I ran myself into the ground. 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 facing sinks of blood and hair each morning. It’s about feeling crippling loneliness for days and deciding that you need to get rid of whatever has soured inside of you, then continuing to fill that hole with food. Eating disorders have a way of taking control of your life when you can't. 

When I first started treatment, I had to find a way to connect to reality again. The only time that happened was when I put my headphones on. In honor of this past NEDA Awareness Week, I wanted to compile a list of a few of the songs that carried me at my worst and lifted me up into my best. From the grim and depressing, to positive and cheesy, these songs resonated with me. If you’re going through a similar struggle, I hope they’ll resonate with you too. 

1. Daughter – Human

 "Despite everything, I'm still human." 

Anorexia and bulimia have ways of making you feel that you are completely on the outside. No one seems to understands the pain of not fitting in at something as simple as sitting down to have a meal with your family or in the cafeteria with your friends. It's hard to recognize that you're still a person under your own skin, not a problem. Owning your troubles is a huge move towards recovery, but it doesn't change the fact that if you don't take steps to get better, the outcome isn't as pretty as the story makes itself look.  

Other songs by this artist to check out:  Medicine, Alone/With YouTomorrow

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 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. You're living with the weight of it and learning how to move on. 

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 ended up bawling 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 the understanding of how painful it is to cut off something toxic for the necessity of staying alive. 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, Ship To Wreck 

4. dodie – when

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

This illness is sort of like living in a future nostalgia, dreaming about escaping the present. Even in recovery, there's a sense of missing the easiness of it all, as if they were fake memories. Thinking 'I'll stop when I get to my goal weight', 'it'll all be better when I'm skinny', on and on. It can be painful to look back on all the years the disorder steals. Every feeling that should've been felt compromised on the chase for some kind of unattainable ideal. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Party Tattoos, Sick of Losing Soulmates, Burned Out

5. Kate Nash – Part Heart

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

 Often called a defense mechanism, eating disorders serve as a band-aid to a bigger problem. When mine reared its ugly head, I was going through a particularly rough patch (environment pulls the trigger). When you minimize your scope of life to a set of rules and destructive coping techniques, it's easy to get stuck in a negative loop. No matter how much you restrict or binge or purge, you still feel the same. I've heard the same said time and time again from others in recovery. 

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

6. The Maine – Am I Pretty

“All candor and style in the crook of your smile.”

A specific moment always comes to mind when this song plays. I remember I was building up to a relapse through several weeks. Taking one more chance to get out of my own head, I decided to check The Maine’s twitter. This music video had been just released, and it felt like I could breathe again. It still makes me smile when 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, While Listening to Rock & Roll..., Perfectly Out of Key

7. Talking to Myself- Watsky

"Days of shrugged whatevers folded in with days of shocking splendor."

Spoken word poet turned rapper, Watsky makes music that pretty much can steal the thoughts out of anyone's head. Everything swirling up there that everyone thinks but no one really says; "The song is really trying to resonate with the human experience in general and what we all have in common."

Other songs by this artist to check out: Chemical Angel, Cannonball, Tiny Glowing Screens Pt 2

8. Bibi Bourelly- Sunshine

"I think up a storm and I dream up a mess, I don't rely on anyone else, I'd rather sip 'til I die." 

For some people, there comes a point in recovery where you know you're doing something wrong, but don't have the courage to face it. This aggressive 'screw you' attitude, 'I don't know how to accept help or love, so I don't need it'. Searching for a saving grace only ends in heartache since these survival strategies don't allow room for anything else. The habits are ways of thinking that you are self-sufficient by shutting the blinds from the world.

Other songs by this artist to check out: What If?, Poet, Untitled

9. Maria Mena- All This Time (Pick-Me-Up Song)

"All this time you have had it in you, you just sometimes need a push." 

 I used to listen to this around that middle school age when most body struggles start, wishing it were true. It's so easy to fall into self-doubt and selling yourself short. You get bombarded by other's opinions on the way you're coping, your behaviors, the shell you've made yourself out to be, to the point where you don't know what to think anymore. The process of recovery is where you find that again. Now, almost like a lullaby easing childish worries, this song's a letter to my younger self.

Other songs by this artist to check out: Growing Pains, Your Glasses, Where Were You

10. Lolo – Shine

"No battle gets won alone, so when you need a shield take a breath."

My mom and I started a tradition of playing this song in the car each time we were coming home from my therapy. It's a reminder that sometimes it's a blessing if other people don't see you the way you see yourself. 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 Courtyard, Dandelion, Golden Year

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.

Coming from my favorite band, The National pins the unsettled feeling in "Don't Swallow the Cap." This song is perfect to fall asleep to with that blanket of melancholy and contains some humor and the subtle reminder that you're not alone in sticking your head under the covers. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Lemonworld, Anyone's Ghost, Secret Meeting

12. 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 a possibility for becoming steady again.

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

13. Demi Lovato - You Don't Do It For Me Anymore

"I see the future without you, the hell was I doing in the past? Now that I've learned all about you, a love just like ours wouldn't last."

This ballad perfectly shows how leaving your eating disorder behind is like breaking up with a love that asks for too much. You have to make that distinction between yourself and mental illness, realizing that the person you were before just didn't cut it. They can't survive in the world that you, not the sick you but the real you with hopes and dreams, wants to live in. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Tell Me You Love Me, Cry BabySmoke & Mirrors

14. Great One- Jessie Reyez

"Everything is nothing without you."

"Great One" brings a little bit of hope around. Two common themes of in the entanglement of EDs are perfectionism and fearing your own expectations of yourself the most. Gaining back purity and gratitude in those standards and reaching for goals that you know come from your own heart, no other ill place, is one of the most freeing aspects of recovery. Brand new eyes give a new perspective on the things that matter, allowing for appreciation directed towards those who helped get you to a place of peace. You get to enjoy the gifts recovery gives with them. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Figures, Hard to Love, Cotton Candy

15. Ellie Goulding – Army

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

Everyone always talks about how a strong support system is one of the essential parts of eating disorder recovery. When you're simmering in those feelings of denial it's easy to think that your dark times are for you to face alone. Or it's hard to actually accept the help everyone wants to give you. Spoiler alert—they will stick with you no matter how much you push them away. 

Other songs by this artist to check out: Wish I Stayed, I Know You Care, Vincent

"Recovering people tell their stories. Sick people have their stories told."

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 really should be. Healing and recovery take time, none of this is permanent, and you will get to be happy. 

Photo by Ian Schneider | Unsplash

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