“I will tell myself I am not my thoughts, but then I look in the mirror, pull up my shirt and look at my stomach. I become my mind. It takes over every single time. FAT. It whispers fat and it keeps whispering until it turns into a scream that drowns you. It takes you under and leaves you thrashing to get to the surface, for just one glimpse of air. It takes away any form of oxygen or sanity that you previously had. Your sanity is gone. And like oxygen, we don’t notice its presence until it is gone.”
That was in 2006. It is now 2017 and I am what feels like, a completely different person from when I wrote that passage. I struggled with an eating disorder throughout late high school and early college years. I received treatment from a team of providers; a therapist, dietitian, and psychiatrist and can proudly say I have been in recovery for over a decade. A big part of eating disorders is a focus on the body, usually negative. A large part of my own journey in recovery was and is based on reframing my own focus towards my body. I’ve tried to summarize it below and hope it helps others along the way.
Truth- I still care how my body looks. Another truth- my body does not control my daily activities and on an even larger scale, it does not control my life. There is a not a list of steps that I followed in specific order to get to the point where my body was not my number one priority. The first thing that helped change my priorities was the fact that I found other things that became more important. My family, my dog, my friends, relationships, job, hobbies, etc. Another thing that helps me is I realized and am aware that with my current lifestyle, my body is not going to drastically change. So what happens when I get thoughts of wanting to lose weight, go below my set point, or change my body? I remind myself of all the other things that are more important. And I remind myself that it would be miserable to get there, miserable to stay there, and definitely not worth the pain. For me, it truly is a matter of > or <. What brings me greater joy, fulfillment, and happiness? Recovery or the drive for thinness? 99.9% of the time, the time, it is Recovery. And you know what? The other .01% is just an illusion. The equation that I always go back to is ‘Recovery > Focus on my body and weight loss’. That answer is usually enough for me to remember that focusing on my body's appearance is really just a big waste of time. Something that has also helped is I have learned to love my body. I truly do think my body is beautiful and am proud of my body for what it can do. I know the part of me that does not love my body or wants my body to be smaller is not actually me. It is society, the media, my genetics, it is the eating disorder, and it’s the part that I fight, not the part the I welcome as a part of "me". Fitness is also helpful for me to take the focus off thinness. I have always been an active and competitive person, even before the eating disorder. While it became an issue during my eating disorder, it is now a tool for recovery. Important!!! It can get dangerous because it still relates to the body, but the overall message I remind myself with is that the body is a vehicle for me to achieve things that make me proud and happy. Fit does not mean thin. And you know what, losing 5 pounds is not going to help me run a faster 10k or score a goal in my soccer game. Since college, I have not weighed myself on a consistent basis, but would sometimes see my weight at the doctor or other places. I recently completed a challenge where I did not look at my weight for an entire year. It felt great and I have no intention of getting back on the scale or “accidentally seeing it at the doctor”. You would be surprised how easy and empowering it can be to say “no thank you” when the nurse asks you to step on the scale at the doctor. These days, I am more concerned with being able to do 10 pull-ups than be a size zero. So, when are you truly recovered? One thing I have struggled with is wondering if I can be in full recovery while still partly caring about how my body looks. I know my set point and I am happy and satisfied with it. I am also happy with the lifestyle that I have that puts me at this set point. I think you can be fully recovered and still have the thoughts. It's the self-awareness, challenging of the thoughts, absence of maladaptive behaviors and being able to perform daily activities on a functioning level. I keep associating full recovery with letting go of all control- not having any body thoughts or caring about how my body looks. For me, right now, that is not realistic, but I will continue to challenge myself to grow. For me, maybe that is full recovery. If not, I’ll just keep on working.
I said there was no list, but here’s the closest I’ll get. It might not work for everyone, but it works for me.
- Knowing the importance of other things in your life that rise above your body.
- Understanding that your body is not going to drastically change (larger or smaller) if you maintain your current lifestyle
- Ignore the scale.
- Always know this equation: Recovery > Eating Disorder
- Learning to love your body more every day (as impossible as it seems)
- Find a motivator for yourself that doesn’t focus on “thinness”
- Realizing it’s (*dieting, trying to lose weight, thinking about being thin) just a big waste of time.