Becoming Friends with My Body in Eating Disorder Recovery
For as long as I can remember I have been in a battle with my body. Being years into eating disorder recovery it is almost impossible for me to tell you where my disordered thinking and understanding about my body ends, and the disordered thinking of society begins. I often tell my patients that the hardest part of recovery is learning to be on your own team as we work together to liberate ourselves from a world that continually tells us that our bodies are a currency. Diet culture, shame culture and weight stigma constantly bombard us with messages that our bodies define our worth in the world. So much of my recovery has been learning to make peace with the constant presence of this harmful messaging and to continue to love and accept myself even when I find myself in the grips of diet culture. Learning to show up to my mind and my body as a friend has been the foundation of my recovery, and this has been far from a perfect or quick journey.
Being in a queer body
Blaming my body started long before diet culture and my eating disorder focused my self-worth on the size and shape of my body. As a young queer person, I felt like my body was something to be ashamed of, embarrassed of and afraid of. Being in a queer body, from my voice to my mannerisms, was unacceptable, and I was often teased and made the target of assault. Then came diet culture and it was the perfect storm to blame my body for my feelings and believe that my body was a currency for acceptance and status. Rather quickly I buried my shame underneath the belief that my body size and shape were to blame for how uncomfortable I was in my skin. My body became something separate from me and something to fix or blame rather than a part of me that I could trust and respect.
Being afraid of one’s body
One experience really comes to mind when I can honestly say that my relationship with my body really began to shift in my recovery. I realized I was terrified of my body. I was scared that if I approached my body, or body image, in any way my recovery would come tumbling down and my eating disorder would come back with a vengeance. I valued my recovery and was so grateful of the progress that I had made and the cost in the moment was that I felt like any relationship with my body was impossible. I began to feel like my world was becoming smaller and smaller and any peace I felt in my recovery was quickly disappearing. I felt like a hostage in my body. Exercise became a source of fear, sexuality and dating felt impossible and, most importantly, I began to feel a hatred toward my body. This time it wasn’t because my body wasn’t thin enough or perfect enough. The hatred was centered in the thoughts that I was never going to feel safe or at home in my body and anything I did in respect to my body was going to take away the recovery I fought so hard for. I knew something had to change and I was overwhelmed with where to begin. I realized that my recovery and my life were contingent on making peace with my body and beginning to look at body image.
Making peace with my body
I knew that how I was feeling about my body was not sustainable and, like most experiences with my recovery, I had to let go of what was familiar and comfortable in exchange for something different. It wasn’t as simple as positive affirmations or just forcing myself to be nice to myself. This went deeper than actions. This required me to look at beliefs and fears around my body. Up to this point I had been avoiding all the areas of my life where my eating disordered was triggered. This especially included anything having to do with my body and body image.
Loving and appreciating my body
Becoming friends with my body first meant acknowledging and getting honest about how I was really feeling and what I was really thinking about my body. I avoided exercise because I believed that any negative or disordered thoughts around my body meant my eating disorder was coming back. I was terrified to admit out loud my gender dysphoria because I was afraid that this too was part of my eating disorder. When I finally opened up to a friend in recovery about how I was feeling, she gave me the lifeline I so desperately needed. She said for her, recovery was not about loving her body no matter what but making peace with her body and being neutral with her thoughts and feelings. She helped me learn two valuable lessons. The first was that recovery happens when I share what I am thinking and feeling out loud with another person in recovery. The second was how could I not have those thoughts and feelings about my body and recovery when they are the only thoughts and feelings I have known. Could I trust myself to grow into a friendship with my body, even if my thoughts are negative at first? The answer, I am happy to say, is yes.
Tearing down walls separating me from my body
Learning to accept kindness from others, learning how to accept that other people do not define me or see me based on my body, my gender or even my orientation was incredibly liberating and scary all at the same time. I had built up walls to protect myself from the world that I thought didn’t approve, accept, or allow me to be human. This wall also kept out all the love, joy and connection that comes with being vulnerable and seen by others who are asking the same questions and walking the same path as myself. I recently heard from a friend that their home is off-limits to negative body judgments and criticism and that when they are home, they practice saying nice things to their body and spend time with their body as they would any other friendship or relationship. I took this practice from them because recovery is an ever-changing and evolving journey to wholeness and self-acceptance.
Questions we can ask ourselves
Today when I catch myself in fear or disordered thinking about my body or anyone else’s I ask myself:
- Is this kind?
- Is this helpful?
- Is this true?
I have learned that the messages I allow in my life affect how I view the world. I no longer follow accounts on social media that lead me down a road of comparison or diet culture. I have even started blocking and reporting ads that try to sell me wellness, cleanness or fitness. Today I feel much freer in my body. I move my body in ways that celebrate what my body can do instead of making my body look or be a certain way. I fight perfectionism by heeding when my body is tired, when I need to play, when I need to move my body. My hope for myself and others is that this fight for body acceptance and even friendship is a continuous journey of liberation and acceptance that we walk together one step at a time. Learning to become friends with my body is like any other relationship in my life. It takes time, patience, practice and listening to what my body needs and is trying to tell me.