I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately on instagram that focus all around recovery: how to do it, how to enjoy it, and most of all, how the heck to stay sane when it gets super tough.
I figured I would do a blog to address some of these questions, cause it seems like a lot of people have the same concerns.
***I will preface all of this by saying that yes, while I am in grad school to become a mental health counselor, my answers are based on MY experience with recovery, and if you’re feeling stressed about recovery, I definitely recommend seeking professional help from someone licensed in your area. You can do that here.***
The most common question I get is: how on earth do I accept my body in it’s natural state and RESIST the urge to use behaviors?
ANSWER: good freaking question. This question makes me wish I had some magical answer that would help everyone feel more at peace with their body and immediately dissolve their ED into a puddle on the ground that would never come up again. THE TRUTH: it’s hard work, it’s takes time, it takes patience, and it takes self compassion.
Accepting our bodies as they are meant to be (aka no obsessive exercise, no obsessive dieting, no binging, just LISTENING TO YOUR BODY AND LETTING IT FIGURE IT’S SHIT OUT) feels nearly impossible when we live in a society that places a lot of importance on the way we look. It’s no secret that diet culture is REAL and ALIVE AND KICKING.
Whenever I feel down about my body, I try to remember that people love me NOT for my body, but for my personality. My body has changed a lot in my relationship with Logan, and he still likes me! My parents love me, my sister loves me, my friends love me. They are not focused on my body, and while yes, there are absolutely ways our lives change when we are in bigger bodies, the people who we WANT in our lives won’t feel differently about us. If someone’s feelings change about you based on your outward appearance, they’re dealing with their own diet culture demons and *you don’t need that in your life, girl.*
I think a big part of EDs is trying to control our appearance in attempt to make us feel *good enough* and *loved enough.* The truth of it is that a lot of feel disconnected from our loved ones and therefore we feel alone. Focusing on our bodies is a lot easier than forging real, authentic relationships. These relationships are SO MUCH MORE FULFILLING than your ED will ever be (even though being vulnerable and truly allowing yourself to be loved in your ENTIRETY is scary).
So again, while I don’t have a magical answer to tell everyone how to just ACCEPT THEIR BODIES and love themselves, we can start by realizing that we are worth more than our looks. We are worthy of love no matter how we look, and if you find the right people, you’ll get it.
ON RESISTING URGES:
This can be a lot tricker, because sometimes our EDs can convince us that using a behavior will make everything feel better, and guess what! SOMETIMES IT DOES MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER, that’s why EDs (and all other addictive behaviors) are so dangerous. Your eating disorder might be able to offer you instant gratification and an instant release of stress/anxiety/sadness/anger, but it WILL NOT give you the life time of acceptance and love that you REALLY want.
Most people recommend finding other coping skills that help you relax and process your emotions, but it’s important to remember that your ED can sometimes trick you into thinking a behavior (like exercise) is a coping skill. If obsessive exercise is part of your ED, this IS NOT a coping skill.
My favorite coping skill is URGE SURFING. I heard this term the first time I went to treatment and it sounded almost impossible. People would talk about urge surfing and “riding the wave of emotions” and I basically would roll my eyes and think: “HOW THE HECK DOES THAT ACTUALLY WORK?”
While it’s taken A LOOOOONG time, I actually love it. To me, urge surfing is recognizing that:
- YES, this feeling is here.
- Yes, this feeling sucks.
- Yes, I might want to do something *not too healthy* to deal with it, but that will only make it worse.
- This feeling WILL NOT last forever (even though it might feel like it will).
- I can feel this. I have done a lot of work to stop numbing my feelings. It may not be fun, but it WILL NOT kill me.
Another common question: How do I deal with having to get rid of sick clothes/buy new clothes (that are bigger than what I used to wear?)
MY ANSWER: First off, enjoy getting to shop. Honestly it might be stressful to be in a fitting room or be looking at numbers on pants (I recommend using European sizing because it’s somewhat less stigmatized that U.S. sizing), but try to just enjoy finding items you LIKE and feel confident in. A big thing for me when I go clothes shopping is finding things I feel good about wearing. We all have that one outfit that we can put on and just FEEL GOOD. I try to chase that feeling when I’m clothes shopping.
The truth of recovery is that our bodies are going to change. Along with that, so will our clothes. Yes, there’s pressure in our society to remain at a size X and to remain that size our whole lives, but that’s not really possible. Your body will change if you have children. Your body will change as you age. Your body is going to change. That’s just reality.
I try to focus on how I feel in my clothes rather than how I look. Of course I like to look good (you’re not crazy for wanting that!) but I also really want to be comfortable. I can’t even BELIEVE that I used to wear clothes solely for the look of them. Like seriously, that actually blows my mind.
I know I might be older than some of you, but comfort is seriously key. The greatest thing of all is when you can feel comfy AND look cute. I often joke to people that my style is things that feel like pajamas but that I can also wear in public.
I think there’s also this misconception that people will KNOW if you’re wearing a different size? Like I think sometimes we convince ourselves that someone will be able to TELL that you’re wearing a size Y instead of a size X. DEFINITELY NOT TRUE. I don’t love to use the word flattering because I think it implies that we need to dress to make ourselves look smaller, but wearing clothes that fit you is more “flattering” (aka it makes you look more normal) than if you’re wearing the wrong size in something.
There are a few things that have helped me when I’ve had to buy bigger clothes in my recovery:
- going shopping with someone who is supportive (for me this is my mom, my boyfriend, or one of my best friends who *gets* my recovery)
- Focusing on being comfortable in my clothes
- Finding my confidence and wearing things that I ENJOY wearing (side note: here’s an example. The other day I bought this super cute jean jacket at target [my old one that I got in high school is way too small for my arms and boobs now] and I’ve worn it almost every day since. I just LOVE it and I feel cool and cute in it and it’s comfy and I just DON’T EVER WANT TO TAKE IT OFF)
- remembering that no one looks at us with the same critical lens as we do. I REPEAT: no one is looking at your body and judging it like you are.
A lot of people ask me: how do I find a healthy relationship with exercise?
MY ANSWER: Sometimes you need a break from exercise. A lot of people use exercise as a way to control their body and in recovery, a lot of people still feel the urge to exercise *just to make sure they don’t gain too much weight*
STOP! That’s not recovery, y’all! That is your eating disorder trying to trick you into thinking it’s okay to use behaviors.
Don’t get me wrong: I love exercise! I love moving my body when I crave it. But I’ve had to do a lot of work on my relationship with exercise.
Working out in a gym was a part of my ED, so for the last year, I’ve vowed to stay away from gyms. When I crave movement, I go for a bike ride, or I play soccer, or I dance with my friends at a bar. When we are trying to mend our relationship with our body, it’s important to mend our relationship with movement. A lot of people force their body to perform intense workouts that they don’t actually enjoy, and THAT IS A PROBLEM.
It’s normal to want to move your body, but it’s not normal to hate doing it or feel like you have to. If you’ve struggled with over exercise as a part of your ED, it can be helpful to take a break from it. AND I’M NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT WHEN YOUR DOCTOR OR THERAPIST WON’T LET YOU.
A lot of people are not allowed to exercise when they are first in recovery, but then when their doctor or therapist tells them they can start reintegrating exercise into their life, they go right back to using exercise-related behaviors.
Here’s a cool flow chart I made to help you decide if you should really be moving your booty right now:
Listening to our body when it comes to exercise is just as important as listening to our bodies when it comes to intake and hunger. EDs mess up our whole communication system with our bodies, it basically cuts the wires between our bodies and our souls. We need to let that wire rebuild over time and show our body that it can TRUST us to not hurt it any more. Exercising to avoid weight gain/control your body shape in recovery is NOT healthy.
People also ask about the restricting/binging cycle, chronic dieting, and extreme hunger:
MY ANSWER: Engaging in EDs and disordered eating puts our bodies into a restrict/binge cycle. This means that we restrict our intake to control our bodies, and then we inevitably get SUPER HUNGRY and sometimes we binge (because our body’s main job is to stay alive). People who experience this cycle repetitively are chronic dieters, or they have EDs/DE.
This kind of goes with what I was saying about about listening to our bodies. A lot of people message me super freaked out about how hungry they are, and my question in response is: have you been restricting?
It takes time for our bodies to figure themselves out (years, even), and the only way to allow our hunger/cravings/appetite to balance out is to feed ourselves unconditionally. This means that whenever you get hungry, no matter what you’ve eaten yesterday, what you ate already, how much you’ve moved, what you’ll eat later, LITERALLY NO MATTER WHAT, you feed yourself what your body is asking for.
Not doing this (even just once in a while), can keep our bodies in this cycle of extreme hunger or binging. I talked in another post about what happens when we forbid children from eating certain foods, and about how a lot of the recovery process can get overshadowed by the psychological cravings of food we’ve restricted. If you restrict a certain food or good group, you are more likely to binge on it. It’s literally that simple. The best way to allow our bodies to drive the bus of recovery (and drive the bus of intake and exercise in general…cause that’t their job) is to eat intuitively.
And the grandfather of all questions: how do I accept that my weight is just a number and not allow it to ruin my day?
MY ANSWER: Again, a question I wish I had a magic answer to. I don’t often know my weight, and in fact, I went a whole year without weighing myself because WHO REALLY GIVES A F*CK. I recently got exposed to my weight *by choice* and honestly, it didn’t really bother me. *I don’t recommend this unless you are in a place where knowing your weight WILL NOT trigger you into using behaviors*
I had talked with my dietitian before doing this and she said something that really stuck with me: if you wake up feeling good about your body and just feeling like “okay, this is my body,” then why would a number on a scale change the way you feel?
I’ve been in a spot in my recovery lately where I consider myself to be recovered for a little over a year. This means that I haven’t engaged in any ED behaviors in that time frame. Learning my weight recently was a very thought out experience and I processed it accordingly after it happened.
I’ve also been in a spot in my recovery where I am doing really well with body acceptance. My body is simply the vehicle in which I live my life, and it is going to change shape and weight and that’s normal…in fact, it’s healthy.
I did experience an increase in thoughts after I learned my weight, but not NEARLY as much as I used to. When a thought would pop up, I would remember: HEY. My body is just my body, and honestly, I feel pretty good in it lately. My weight is just a numerical value of the pull of gravity on my physical form. That’s it. I don’t need to use ED behaviors anymore. I have better ways to handle my feelings, and I know that I am worth more than a number on the scale.
I wanted to expose myself to my weight because I was sick of fearing it. I was sick of going to the doctor and wondering if they would weigh me and fear that if I saw it, I might be triggered. I wanted to experience seeing my weight and KNOWING in my soul that it didn’t change a single thing about my life.
I wish I could just tell everyone how to NGAF about their weight, but it takes a lot of time. If you had asked me a 18 months ago how I felt about my weight, my answer would be very different than it is now.
Here’s what helped me:
- Realizing that my weight is literally just a number. This is a common thing that people say in recovery, but I really needed to own this. That number can change, but my worth doesn’t. That number can change but my love for animals doesn’t. That number can change and the love I receive doesn’t. This goes along with the idea that we are worth more if we are smaller, and being in active recovery for 4 years has really shown me that people love me even if I am not a size X.
- Working with my dietitian has REALLY helped me understand that weight is a pretty stupid and shitty way to measure health. There are a thousand other ways to figure out how your body is doing (blood work, actual physical feelings, hormone tests). Weight and BMI are super archaic and useless. We go to the doctor and they tell us our temperature, and we don’t freak out. We don’t say “HOLY SHIT my body is hot I *need* to cool it down.” We just shrug and realize that it’s a random number that gives numerical feedback. That’s it.
- Recognizing that bodies come in ALL shapes and sizes. Seriously, look around you. I bet you couldn’t find two bodies that are exactly the same. Even if we all ate the same exact food and exercised the same amount, we would all look very different.
***Again, these answers are based on my experience and my work with helping others recover. Please feel free to always reach out if you have other questions, and please remember that a specialized ED therapist can always help you navigate your unique journey***