Empowering Music for Eating Disorder Recovery
Music has long been recognized as a tool for healing. Well before Spotify playlists of empowering recovery songs and Pinterest boards of inspiring lyric tattoos, music was celebrated as curative in mythology, religion, and philosophy. Apollo, the Greek god of both music and medicine, used his songs to heal and prevent disease. In the Old Testament, David played his harp to soothe Saul, and in Aristotle’s writings, music was hailed as emotionally cathartic and healing.
Researchers have been studying the restorative power of music since the late 1800s. Their studies have shown that music listening can effectively lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, among other physiological benefits, and positively impact emotion, thought, and mood.
More recent studies have explored how the power of music may be harnessed in our everyday lives.
A 2019 study showed that participants who listened to heroic-sounding music—resounding music with big orchestras, in this case—felt “more positive, alert, motivated, active, inspired, less helpless, less afraid, and more courageous” than those who listened to calmer music. These findings encourage potential use in therapeutic settings, where music listening may promote positive change and self-empowerment.
Here we have curated ten songs that may motivate and encourage those in eating disorder recovery. While individual preference will determine the best songs for any personal soundtrack, we hope this resource inspires a first listen. A sample of lyrics particularly pertinent to recovery is also provided.
Motivational Recovery Songs
“O-o-h child” – The Five Stairsteps
Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier / Ooh-oo child, things’ll get brighter
“Fight song” – Rachel Platten
This is my fight song / Take back my life song / Prove I’m alright song / My power’s turned on / Starting right now I’ll be strong / I’ll play my fight song / And I don’t really care if nobody else believes / ‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
“Warrior” – Demi Lovato
Now I’m a warrior, now I’ve got thicker skin / I’m a warrior, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been / And my armor is made of steel, you can’t get in / I’m a warrior, and you can never hurt me again
“Shake it out” – Florence + The Machine
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa / Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa / And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back / So shake him off
“My skin” – Lizzo
The most beautiful thing that you ever seen / Is even bigger than what we think it means / Reflections in my bloodstreams
“Just the way you are” – Bruno Mars
When I see your face / There’s not a thing that I would change / ‘Cause you’re amazing just the way you are / And when you smile / The whole world stops and stares for a while / ‘Cause, girl, you’re amazing just the way you are
“Try” – Colbie Caillat
You don’t have to try so hard / You don’t have to bend until you break / You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up / You don’t have to change a single thing
“Stronger (What doesn’t kill you)” – Kelly Clarkson
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger / Stand a little taller / Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone / What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter / Footsteps even lighter / Doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone
“Dare you to move” – Switchfoot
I dare you to move / I dare you to move / I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor / I dare you to move / I dare you to move / Like today never happened / Today never happened before
“I’m still standing” – Elton John
I’m still standing better than I ever did / Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid / I’m still standing after all this time / Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind
As it has for millennia, music may promote healing and self-empowerment for those in eating disorder recovery. Whether motivation before treatment, background noise in therapy, or a coping strategy after meals, music can be a valuable part of a full, individualized recovery plan.
Koelsch, S., Bashevkin, T., Kristensen, J., Tvedt, J., & Jentschke, S. (2019). Heroic music stimulates empowering thoughts during mind-wandering. Scientific Reports, 9. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-46266-w