Traditional Lifestyles to Heal from Disordered Eating

Possibly one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome when addressing eating disorders is the concept of continuous self-care after the initial steps toward healing. Many think that recovery is a singular incident and that, after completion, they will be “fixed,” while others think that recovery is simply impossible and therefore even attempting to get better is too overwhelming of an undertaking.

The truth, at least for me, lies somewhere in the middle.

My own journey through recovery began with a singular decision, a shift in my thinking due to an acknowledgment of what I wanted for myself, my family and my future family. It might sound cliché – but clichés exist for a reason – but I reached a point where I realized I simply could not become the person I wanted to be if I kept participating in certain behaviors and ways of thinking. This included everything: knowing I wouldn’t be able to provide any future children with the things I never had growing up if I didn’t figure out my career; knowing I wouldn’t live the long, full life I wanted if I kept eating poorly, sleeping four hours a night, not exercising and having a few beers every night; knowing I wouldn’t be able to commit to a partner if I continued to be dismissive of my feelings. Basically, I realized I had to stop coasting by on luck and chance, and put in the work to truly make a spectacular difference.

While on the surface some of these things might not seem as if they’re related to my eating disorder, they are. Many of our Native cultures teach that everything is connected – my tribe calls this mitakuye oyasin. We usually talk about this in terms of the physical world – the rocks, trees, our bodies, the stars – but it is also applicable to what goes on inside our heads and hearts, and between the physical world and our interpersonal world.

Our ancestors knew this. They knew that to be at peace with themselves, each other and the natural world we needed to be mindful of this harmony at all times. This is why I’ve tried to focus on all different aspects of recovery in this eating disorder series – foods, exercise, culture, etc. You simply cannot be whole again if you isolate one from the other or try to focus on “one thing at a time.” You cannot hope to overcome constant obsessive calorie counting if you don’t practice patience with yourself, but you can’t hope to have the physical energy it takes to do this without feeding your body real, nutritious, whole, natural foods. See? We are all connected.

Again, our ancestors knew this. Before colonization, we had it together. Disordered eating in our communities is a direct result of colonization – it is a direct result of disconnection. When we reconnect with our ancestors through traditional lifestyles – foods, physical activity, ceremony, language – we erase the power colonization holds over us, and the barriers to recovery and wholeness dissolve.

The red road has a starting line, but it doesn’t have a finish line. This is both terrifying and exciting at the same time – you will never be done doing the work it takes, which can at times be exhausting to think about, but it also means that you will never stop becoming stronger, braver and more successful. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and soon the cloud will lift and it will become easier and easier to keep going. You will be amazed, grateful and humbled by what happens next!