Body Changes in Eating Disorder Recovery
Patricia and I have both written before about the long, slow process of coming to acceptance of your body in your eating disorder recovery. However, it occurred to me that one of the most helpful things in my early recovery from anorexia, was a list of very down-to-earth, very practical do's and don't's for dealing with my changing body. Some of these are things I still use today if I'm having a rough body image day.
Accepting Body Changes in Eating Disorder Recovery
To some extent, these things are only helpful if you come at them with an attitude of acceptance - meaning, accepting that you don't get to choose what your body looks like at the end of the recovery process. (At times it might feel less like acceptance and more like admitting defeat.) This was a really hard one for me to come to terms with. The most helpful thing that anyone said to me with regards to this was told to me by the yoga therapist at my treatment center. She told me that I was missing out on all the things I could become because I was coveting my anorexic body. I was so attached to a dying body that I couldn't let myself really live in this new, healthy body.
That stuck with me in a way that nothing else had to that point. The use of the word "covet" made perfect sense - there was nothing good about this desire - and convicted me enough to look at things in a different way. So however you have to encourage yourself to continue on, do it, but keep going. It does get better, I promise.
Dealing With A Changing Body
[caption id="attachment_2818" align="alignright" width="401" caption="You are beautiful at any size! Thanks to Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign for making this statement with their advertising."][/caption]
- Avoid full-length mirrors: Nothing good can come of standing in front of a full-length mirror and just dwelling on your body. (This is true, really, at any point in recovery and/or life.) Stick to mirrors that will show just your face - just enough to do your make-up or hair. If you're in a dressing room with mirrors, turn away from the mirror until you're fully clothed, then look. Full-length mirrors are just going to encourage body-checking, which is another thing you want to give up.
- In the shower: I found it really difficult to be in the shower and wash my body while I was weight restoring. A couple of things made it easier. First, I took showers as quickly as possible, dried off, and got clothes on. I usually find showers relaxing and enjoy feeling the warm water hit my back, but when my body was changing, showers became stressful. I got in and out. Secondly, I used a loofah while showering. It prevented me from touching my body directly and getting stuck in an endless loop of body-checking. I've been weight-restored for almost a year now and I don't need to do these things any more - but it was extremely helpful for the first six or seven months.
- Don't get attached to clothes: I practically lived in yoga pants for the first few months I was weight-restoring, because I couldn't stand feeling pants against my waist or legs. I didn't go to buy new pants and shirts until I had finished the process of gaining weight. In the interim, I would wear stretchy clothing that had more give, or if I needed something "new" I would go to a thrift shop. It was much easier to part with a pair of pants or shirt once I outgrew it if I knew that I had only paid $3.00. Once I had hit my goal weight and settled a bit, I went out and bought clothes that made me feel good about my new body.
- It's not forever: During weight restoration, I had to remind myself of two things: 1) I was not going to gain weight forever and 2) The weight will re-distribute. The reality is that when you start to gain weight, the majority of it is going to settle in your mid-section. There are a lot of vital organs that your body is trying to protect - and most of them are around your core. Your body doesn't trust you yet - it's not yet assured that you're not going to starve it again, so it keeps the weight where it is most useful. Once you've been weight restored for a while, the weight will re-distribute more "evenly." Do I still carry some weight in my stomach? Sure. But it's not nearly as noticeable as it was six months ago. The trick is sticking through recovery even through that awkward period.
- Recognize distortion: One thing my therapist told me last summer was that, on average, women will gain one or two dress sizes through the course of weight restoration and recovery. Only one or two dress sizes. Sometimes, this change is barely noticeable to anyone other than ourselves. So regardless of what your eating disorder is telling you, you don't look like a pregnant hippopotamus. You look like a normal human being. I promise.
- It's not about your body: A lot of the time, we will fixate on parts of our body as a way to avoid fixating on the real problems. Begin to recognize your triggers and what feelings make your body "feel" fat. For example, if I'm feeling vulnerable or scared, I am convinced my arms are the size of my thighs. If I'm anxious or upset, I am positive that I look pregnant. The reality is, I'm just dealing with difficult feelings. Recognizing these and reminding myself that my body "issues" are really feelings is important and helpful in continuing forward on the journey to recovery.
These are survival tips that are more suited to anorexia and really borne of my personal experience. I'm sure you guys have a lot of great ideas as well - and some that I've overlooked or missed. I'd love for you to comment below and share your suggestions with the community!
Hudgens, J. (2014, May 22). Body Changes in Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2014/05/body-changes-in-eating-disorder-recovery
Author: Jessica Hudgens
Thank you, Dear Heart. I needed this reality check right now, having a fat day and freaking out about my thighs. I’ve put this on my mobile homepage which will go into folder on there called “recovery.” You are a courageous and generous Soul, and I want you to know that you are really mattering to so many people. I hope I can be where you are someday, because I really do want to help.
Firstly, thank you so much for sharing your tips and experiences with your recovering. I have started my recovery last year in Feb. Going to the clinic changed everything, going from an extremely low weight to where I am now is petrifiying, but when I am not body scanning and not mourning for that "friend", I am actually alive, I can lay and have fun. Going to restaurants with an unknown menu still gets mr though, but it's ok, even had my first milkshame 3/4 years, and got rid of all my super thin clothes. I guess it will always be a struggle, nuut if your journey is only starting now, keep on going,I know it is incredible scary, but I promise you...it will be worth it
Apologies for the errors I made
Nuut should be but
thank you for this post, it was really helpful. is it normal to still experience a LOT of water retention and bloating after 1 year ( i can t stand for more than 5 minutes )? I am still very uneven eventhow I eat a whole lot ...( about 3500 calories per day because I read that it should help speeding up the process and I am weight restored)
I have been trying to recovering since 2014 and it is still hard. I do not how to deal with the body dismorphia. Everyone says I am thin, but I cannot see that. I still feel huge and buy size XL or bigger because I think I cannot fit into smaller clothes. I feel kind of depressed, it is taking me so long :(
HI Carla. I know that recovery is hard. My therapist years ago told me that body image is the first to come into the disorder and the last to leave. I know you feel discouraged but keep doing the work. You are moving forward even if somedays it's only in little steps. I know it can be terrifying to take the full leap into recovery because we fear that our bodies will go out of control. Keep talking to you therapist about this. What you are feeling is completely normal and you can get to a healthy place with your body, just keep going and keep seeking lots of support from professionals and other people that are healthy for you to have in your life. You are doing a great job.
Thank you for sharing that with us. You offer great advice I have recovered from an eating disorder, however sometimes I question if I have fully recovered. There are days when I miss being preoccupied with Ed. However, what keeps me on track is remembering the difference in lifestyle. Two years ago getting dressed was very difficult as I did not have the energy. Today, not only do I get dressed but sometimes even three for times a day before I decide on what to wear. In addition, people admire me for overcoming the deadly disease, and if that's not motivating enough I'm able to do the little things in life I could not do before. Things people take for granted....go for walks, hold a conversation with someone, stand up for the duration of mass, hold a full time job, and showe love and affection. I pray this post makes you think twice before restricting and ruining your life.
HI Paula. Yes, I thought this was a great post from Jess, as well. First off, I just want to say how happy I am that you are living your life beyond the eating disorder, that you can do little things in life that you couldn't do before, and that you can enjoy all the little moments that are really the big moments. I also understand having those days where you miss the ED because it is like mourning a best friend you once had, although destructive. I guess my question to you would be what do you miss about the preoccupation. One thing I learned in recovery is that the eating disorder offers us "positive" things, meaning that there's a reason we're engaging in this destructive behavior. One possible option is that it allows us to make our body a scapegoat for our feelings instead of sitting with them and feeling them. There are many different possibilities, and I'm curious what might show up for you during those days that you miss the ED. It's not so much that you miss the ED, it's that you're missing what it offered you. So what did it offers you and how might you go about filling that need in a safe and healthy way. Thanks.
I am still dealing with recovery after almost a year now. For me the hardest part is the day to day weight fluctuations because of the water retention. I think what has been keeping me motivated is that I feel like I had the chance at a second life. So many things have changed since my recovery, and I am not referring to my body, more or less just the fact that I have a social life again and that I can enjoy day to day activities.
Hi Julie. It can take a while to settle into a new way of life without the eating disorder. Your motivation is key. You do have a chance at a second life and I'm so happy that you can enjoy day to day actives and have you social life again. Connection is so important. You're doing a great job in taking care of yourself daily, even on the harder days. Keep the motivation in mind because it does get easier to stay recovered. With Love, Z
That's really great information! How long have you been in recovery?
I've been solidly in recovery since I checked into my most recent (and hopefully last!) treatment center in April 2013. However, I started my journey to recovery in earnest during the spring of 2010. It can be a long process, certainly, but definitely worth it!
Thanks for commenting!
For me as I recovered from an eating disorder it helped to try and understand just how unimportant looks are in relations to other qualities. I tried to focus on building up my whole self, so that I had qualities that I could be proud of and to see my eating disorder in context.
I think our society includes so much that is sending a message to women and girls that they will not be valued unless they look sexually desirable. I am not that happy with my looks but am more worried about my frustrations I feel with the expectations that are placed on women. Please have a look at one of my blog posts on this subject
Such a good post Jess!! I really like the idea of 'not getting attached to clothes'. It's so true how we get caught up on sizes, pieces of clothing that 'make' us feel a certain way. Best to avoid the ones that leave us with negative feelings and eventually get some that we truly feel enhance our happy feelings of recovery and show parts of us we like. Easier said than done, I know, but it's doable...one pair of pants at a time ;)