Dealing With Body Changes During Recovery
In my certification training for eating disorder coaches I ask students who have recovered to write answers to some important questions in order to get them thinking about “how”they recovered and what they can share to help their clients once they become a certified coach. Consequently I have a wealth of information in writing from recovered individuals about ways they dealt with common issues that could be useful to those still struggling. So I’ve decided to start sharing some of that here.
People always ask for help dealing with their body image. How can they accept their body changing, if that is necessary in order for them to recover, or how do they accept it as it is, if that is needed? Hearing from those who have been through this journey successfully offers ideas and inspiration.
What are some of the ways you dealt with your body changing?
Client 1: I constantly reminded myself what my body does for me and noted these down everyday to feel grateful and be in awe of it
I used Mantras like “my body is my earth suit that allows me to enjoy this human experience.”
I bought nice new clothes as I gained weight. This helped me feel comfortable. The feeling of tight clothes or seeing clothes I used to fit in was a trigger for me.
Another great task was identifying the women in my life who are the most inspirational and I am in awe of and noticing that they are not necessarily in smaller bodies, even the most beautiful were not in smaller bodies.
I cleared my Instagram account of anybody I found triggering and started following HAES practitioners, people who promote body positivity no matter your size and are pro-recovery.
Client 2: Keeping a jar with a list of all the things my body has been able to do since it’s been changing (like being able to sit on a chair without it hurting, to be able to go up a flight of stairs without my heart racing and getting winded)
Keeping a list of everything I wanted to achieve/do in my life and why I needed a healthy body to achieve those things.
Reminding myself that I needed to gain weight so I could experience a full life
Client 3: I started with taking pictures. A LOT of pictures. When I felt cute, when I just woke up, with make-up, without make-up, with friends, alone. I took them with my phone, with my super nice camera, and even with my computer camera. I kept going until seeing pictures of myself felt normal and I didn’t have an immediate negative reaction.
I sought out bodies that looked like mine, and ones that had gone through their own major changes. I filled my social media with fat and proud babes, fat positive bloggers, people who had lost limbs or had differently abled bodies. I made it so that I couldn’t go on my phone/computer without seeing at least one person who wasn’t model thin and made up and yet still managed to be happy.
I also talked to my therapist a lot about how and why I wanted to control my body, and where that really came from. They gave me the tools to do my own research about the science of weight loss, fat bodies, and what really happens when we force our bodies into unnatural situations like dieting.
Client 4: My body changing was the most challenging part of recovery. Because I suffered from my eating disorder for over 35 years, the images I saw in the mirror for 35 years were engrained in my mind. Accepting the reality of what my body looked like and needed to look like for me to live took a lot of work.. That being said, here are the ways in which I did and still do that!
For about 4 months after I got home from treatment, I kept every mirror in the house covered! I let others assure me that I wasn't walking out of the house with toothpaste on my face or something on inside out.
I then uncovered the mirrors by one third....gradually seeing what was in the mirror helped me to not feel so overwhelmed and deal with the feelings slowly.
On the day I decided to move all covering from all the mirrors I first sat down, took a few breaths, reminded myself that I was fine right where I was today, and that nothing I saw in the mirror would change that. I promised myself I would focus on one part of my body that I did like...and that was my hair. I looked at my whole self in the mirror...I honestly remember feeling a little startled. I scanned my body, focused on the part I knew I liked...my hair...and then left the room. I literally went to another room, and sat down. I allowed myself to feel ALL the feelings I was having...I cried for about 15 minutes. I acknowledged all my feelings...saying them out loud...believe me...not all wonderful feelings. I felt all the feelings that came with seeing myself. I then got up and left the house. I left the house to go do something nice for myself...that day it was a massage...I knew it was important for me to have compassion towards myself rather than beating myself up. It helped me move forward from the enormity of the task I had just taken on.
My mirrors are all uncovered and have been for years...I don't spend a lot of time in front of mirrors and I choose not to body check in front of any windows when I am out.
I chose not to look at pictures of myself for the first fourth months or so...and then did so with someone who could remind about the experience or reason I was having the picture taken--that helped keep my focus off "what I looked like". I can now look at pictures of myself. I smile before I look. Smiling always changes my attitude. And I now know that they are…. just a moment or reminder of an experience that I have just had.
I got rid of all my old clothing.
I wore clothes that were comfortable and that were not tight anywhere so that my mind wouldn't even get a chance to pounce on those thoughts.
I bought some new clothes and tore tags out of everything.
I made a list of all the other things I liked about myself...other things that were more important to me than my body...these reminded me that I was, and am, so much more than my body.
I made a list of all the people who were and are important to me.
I made a list of all the people who said they loved me and all the reasons they loved me. My family all recorded and then wrote out the reasons they loved me...not one of them mentioning my body....
I reached out and still do to my family...they listen to me...acknowledge me, and my feelings, and accept me right where I am. They would and still do ask me questions in a non judgmental way that helps me tweak out all the feelings I was feeling.
I got manicures, pedicures and massages. Doing nice things for myself helped me have compassion for myself, which was really hard to do at first.
I reached out to my therapist...my yoga therapist...or women in my support group.
I moved my body in ways that felt good...walked, played tennis, and did yoga.
I prayed...remembering that God accepted me just the way I was.