Do you know the relationship between eating disorders and body dysmorphia? I remember the first time I stood in front of a mirror, scrutinizing every square-inch of my reflection. My thighs were not lean enough. My arms lacked definition. My stomach looked bloated underneath my shirt. My face registered the deep, gut-level disappointment I felt about my entire appearance. If I could just tweak those “problem areas”—shed a pound here, tone a muscle there—surely the mirror and I would become friends, or start tolerating each other at least. During the most critical and self-deprecating phases of my eating disorder, I had no idea this mirror-image was not reality, but a false representation of my distorted beliefs. I had never heard the term “body dysmorphia” or that it affects an estimated one in 50 people.1 Moreover, I did not make the connection I was one of those people, but eating disorders and body dysmorphia often go together.
Why wouldn't exercise have a place in eating disorder recovery? There's no denying that bodies are designed for movement. In fact, exercise offers health benefits that we need in order to thrive, both physically and mentally. Being active helps us manage stress, boost our moods and feel more energized. It redirects our attention off social media or smartphones, so we can be mindful of how our breathing deepens, muscles contract and bodies function. When used for balance, enjoyment and wellness, exercise is a positive lifestyle choice. But for those of us recovering from eating disorders, exercise could turn into a compulsion.
My name is Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer (but for convenience sake, call me Mary-Beth). I’m honored to join HealthyPlace’s Surviving ED blog. I hope we can engage in honest, authentic and meaningful conversations about the triumphs and struggles of eating disorder recovery. But first, here’s some background on my own path to healing from anorexia nervosa.
It's important to show empathy to yourself and others in eating disorder recovery. It’s vital for our loved ones to be able to show empathy for us as we journey towards recovery. It’s also vital to be able to show empathy for ourselves because empathy will help to keep us in eating disorder recovery. Here’s how to show empathy to yourself and others in eating disorder recovery.
Negative body image in eating disorder recovery is often the last thing you let go. It’s said that a negative body image is the first thing to come and the last to leave. Hating our bodies is a theme even though eating disorders aren’t really about what our bodies look like on the outside. Here’s the reason negative body image in our eating disorder recovery is the last thing we let go.
There are many barriers to eating disorder recovery, but there are three that particularly wreak havoc. Recovery of any addiction requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves, take responsibility, and hold ourselves accountable. These are all things that an addict of any kind despises (How to Fight Barriers and Get to Your Safe Place). But once we can face the three barriers to eating disorder recovery that stand in our way, the road opens under our feet.
What if numbing out pain with food is an unhealthy solution, not an addiction? What if I told you that you weren’t addicted to food? What if I told you that you didn’t have a problem with food at all? What if I told you that the problem was the discomfort beneath your skin, that urge to squirm and itch and run. The discomfort under your skin is what you’ve been trying to numb out. The food is just the solution you’ve come up with.
Shame can keep you trapped in an eating disorder. Shame is insidious, creeping into our self-esteem and wreaking havoc on our thoughts and feelings. Eating disorders come with both shame and guilt, but the difference is important. Shame is the feeling that “I am bad,” while guilt is the feeling that, “I did something bad.” The insidious part about shame is that we begin to see ourselves and the eating disorder as one. When we do this, we become all bad and shame keeps us trapped in the eating disorder.
There are important things you don’t know about eating disorders because for many people, eating disorders are a mystery. If you’ve never had one, you may struggle to come up with anything about them. I’ve heard people fumble, “It’s when you don’t eat or think you’re fat right?” Yes and no. Eating disorders are multifaceted. They’re a mental illness many people can struggle with for life. Here’s one important thing you don’t know about eating disorders.
There’s a phrase that eating disordered people love to hear. We must be careful because this phrase can validate the person’s disorder. When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, food and body image weigh on you all day long. Your mind whispers and screams commands about food or exercise and berates you when you can’t follow them perfectly. You have a slew of unrealistic expectations for yourself to live up to. Then you must factor in other people. Sometimes the people who love us can unintentionally validate our eating disorder with this one phrase that eating disordered people love to hear.