Dear Bella

I am half Italian. But even though I grew up next door to Italian-speaking grandparents, I never learned the language. After visiting relatives in Italy last fall, I was suddenly inspired to study it.

I’m all prepped with a Rosetta Stone course and my dad as tutor, but I haven’t actually begun my lessons yet. I am already familiar with many Italian words however. What I remember my grandma saying most was MANGIA (because she was always encouraging us to eat) and TEMPESTA (which literally means storm but was what she called me when I was being a brat).

Another Italian word I have always loved is BELLA (beautiful).

In my work with women who are following inspirational paths to full recovery from life-threatening eating disorders, I have refrained from the use of labels. I believe that addressing a person as an anorexic or a bulimic leads to much too narrow a definition of the total human being. So I shy away from that practice.

I see eating disorder recovery as a journey, a discovery, a stepping stone along the way to becoming a fully integrated person. I see the women who go through this process as extremely bold (AUDACE in Italian) and beautiful individuals.

I see them embodying the word BELLA.

For me, BELLA conjures up an image of hope and strength and bravery. It symbolically represents the audacious soul who is saying goodbye to her eating disorder, discovering once again who she is, and moving delightfully forward with her life.
Today I would like to write that beautiful woman an open letter . . .

Dear Bella,

I am so proud of you. I am proud of your perseverance, your courage, your stamina. You have made the decision to fight through your affliction, to defy what has been holding you back, to confront your demons.

We are often faced in life with situations we are told we must get through. And we are left with the potentially false understanding that only after we erase certain obstacles can we create and appreciate beauty. I’d like to challenge that belief today.

Think about your eating disorder as a wonderful life lesson instead of something you simply had to get through. Rejoice that you are on the other side of recovery, but still believe that every moment of your life has been meaningful. Every moment has taught you something about yourself and your world. I know that wouldn’t have been easy to hear when locked in the tight grip of your illness, but I urge you not to think of one precious moment of your life as wasted. Although you may not know the why’s and the how’s until much later (if ever), there is substance, there is growth, at every stage along the way.

Now that you’ve forged the difficult yet empowered road to recovery, I ask you to think of this healing period in a different way, to reframe and transform your eating disorder into an eating discovery. Here are a few questions I’d like you to reflect upon, Bella.

1) What were you most afraid of during your initial recovery? What do you still fear?

2) What do you want to think about or act upon besides your eating disorder? Where will you focus your freed up time and energy?

3) What valuable life lessons have you taken away from your experience of day-to-day existence with an eating disorder?

4) What would you say to someone just starting the eating disorder recovery journey?

I would like you to take time this week to sit with these questions. Be aware of the emotions they stir up. Dig deep and allow honest answers and genuine revelations to come to the surface.

Bella, I wish for you the continued reinvigoration of your essence, the rebirth of your vitality and strength. I wish for you a renewed outlook on life, incorporating all that you have learned and all that you have to offer.

You are beautiful.



Have you struggled with and overcome an eating disorder? Are you ready to redirect your energies to exploring and embracing the person you truly are inside?

Please leave me a comment below, sharing your answers to the questions posed above. If you would like to connect privately, I welcome and will respond to your email.

Or do you personally know a woman, perhaps a friend or family member, who has had an eating disorder and is on her way to recovery?

I would appreciate your thoughts as well.
Next week I will explore each of the four questions in more depth, based on a composite of responses I have gathered in my work as a coach/counselor.
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29 Responses to Dear Bella

  1. Sheila says:

    Hi April,

    Thank you for the nudge to answer these questions. It’s good to ponder from time to time and look back as to how I would have viewed these questions 5 years ago as opposed to now. What a wild ride it has been!

    1) What were you most afraid of during your initial recovery? What do you still fear?
    Relapse and failure. Before, I feared relapse and the things I thought it stood for. I believed a relapse meant failure, rejection and that it defined who I truly am. I thought a relapse would ruin everything. My whole world revolved around control of this one issue.

    What do I still fear? I still fear the eating disorder will creep back in. But I look at it as a healthy fear. If I don’t stay on top of it, it will slowly sneak back in, It’s sneaky like that. I stay on top of it by not making ‘it’ the focus of my attention. It sounds silly to type it out, but ‘it’ really can’t be the focus of my attention or it sucks the life out of me. I have to focus on on things that have good-positive energy in order to deflate ‘it’.

    2) What do you want to think about or act upon besides your eating disorder? Where will you focus your freed up time and energy?
    Anything else. I’ve invested so much time and money thinking and analyzing and contemplating how I eat, what I eat, what I weigh, losing weight, gaining weight, it’s time to stop. I’m listening to the little voice in my head that never fails to know exactly what I should do. Right now it’s telling me to explore being more spiritual, spend more authentic time with family, and take risks with a new business venture.

    3) What valuable life lessons have you taken away from your experience of day-to-day existence with an eating disorder?
    The lessened learned is that I don’t have all the answers and I don’t need all the answers to move forward. Just keep swimming, Nemo.

    4) What would you say to someone just starting the eating disorder recovery journey?
    It’s going to suck!!! Recovery will initIlly consume you, it has to. Ed will fight you tooth and nail, ‘it’ will not go silently. But do the hard work, listen and BELIEVE what April says, push the inevitable relapses to the side and just keep swimming.

    • April Lee says:

      sheila. thank you so much for this insightful, thoughtful, vulnerable, and oh-so-helpful comment. there is so much to be learned from your answers. you exemplify a meaningful and well-lived life on the other side of an eating disorder.

  2. Sara says:

    Wow, I love the idea of an open letter to reach the beautiful people who struggle with this. Someone very close in my life recovered from an eating disorder, and it was an incredible journey for her. I’ve seen her come through it and now provide support to other women in similar circumstances. I know how important it is to have community around this… so thank you so much for being here. <3

  3. Marg says:

    Oh April, what a truly beautiful Love Note to Bella. I felt as if you were writing it especially for me…it’s so intimate. I can very easily replace ‘eating disorder’ with my own fearful patterns of addiction that keep me from moving forward in joy in this life of climbing mountains. BEAUTY = BE YOU -ty. Interestingly, when something rings a BELL, it rings TRUE. Our beauty is in our true essence. Bella!!! Thank you for this delightful post. X.

    • April Lee says:

      i’m so glad you were able to relate to my words, marg. i sincerely hope that everyone can discover beautiful lessons in whatever difficult journey they are faced with. thank you for your insights.

  4. Cathy says:

    Even though the clients I have with ED have recovered, there are times when they remind me how tenuous that state can be. I’m shown how much “hope and strength and courage” it takes to continue to live every day…and I am awed by the beauty they portray as a result.

    Not sure if that makes any sense at all…

    • April Lee says:

      it makes a lot of sense, cathy. becoming whole again and rediscovering oneself is an ongoing journey with many ups and downs along the way. so much bravery and beauty in every step.

  5. Deb says:

    What a Bella way to write to your clients. Dear Bella ….

    I can feel your love.

  6. Bon says:

    BELLA is a label I can get behind. Wow! Love it. <3

  7. Maria Davis says:

    Hi April – as a fellow Italian – just loved your blog and resonated so much with your words. Thank you xx

  8. Zoe Richards says:

    Beautiful .And love that you wrote as an open letter.

  9. Michelle says:

    This is a bit off topic, but I once volunteered at an animal sanctuary where they were having small dog adoptions. I wasn’t there to adopt. I was there to help out. But….

    I spotted a little scraggly, emaciated, wiry-haired mutt and asked to hold her. A woman who apparently and literally talked to the animals — the female version Dr. Doolittle — came over to me and said that this dog (then “Missy”) called her over to the pen when she had arrived at the event. “Missy” had said that she felt a bit like an ugly duckling compared to the other dogs with the smooth hair. I responded, “Oh! I will have to name her Bella then!”

    And now I am the proud rescue mom of World’s Most Precious Pooch aka Bella. 🙂

  10. April, what an amazing reflection and reframe…indeed we tend to want to sweep all the “ugly” parts under the rug, but we often fail to see the beauty in our growth and our journey.

    Your letter to Bella is one that I feel all women can embrace – whether or not struggling or recovering from an eating disorder.

    Thank you for sharing this and for bringing such a powerful loving light to this topic.

    • April Lee says:

      i appreciate your comment very much, sabrina, since you are such an inspiration to me! and yes – i also believe it’s a message we can all identify with.

  11. Heather says:

    I love these questions – I have someone very close to me that has suffered with eating disorders half her life and I wish that she could have gotten to that point of being open to even looking at questions like that. She is in a lot of denial which is frustrating to me and reading those questions just makes me wish that she could open herself up a bit more to recovering.

    • April Lee says:

      i am saddened to hear of the struggle your friend is enduring, heather. do you think she would be willing to hear the words in the letter, and perhaps open herself up to the questions?

  12. Oh sweet April . . . You are Bella. Truly Bella

  13. Sue Ann says:

    As a first generation Italian, I am moved by the juxtaposition of “Mangia” and the heart wrenching eating disorders that unravel the lives of so many women. I watched my best friend fall into the abyss of anorexia and I have worked with many women who suffer from this devastating illness. I, too, see recovery as a journey and while I understand the need for labels to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that keeps women from seeking treatment, I wholeheartedly agree that those labels are limiting. They detract from the courageous journey we embark on when we step out of the abyss and choose LIFE. Thank you, April, for shining a light on this journey and for opening up a very important dialogue with your questions.

    • April Lee says:

      i appreciate your thoughtful comment, sue ann, as i know you have a lot of experience with these illnesses. i am sorry to hear of your best friend’s struggle. how is she doing today? ironic that we “need” the labels, isn’t it? but i agree – they are often necessary to ensure the life-giving treatment.

  14. Sam says:

    I love that quote.
    Another beautiful article. xx

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