From Mirasol ED Recovery Guest Blogwriter ~ Hope
For a majority of people with eating disorders, weight gain is the greatest fear, challenge, and roadblock to recovery. I get it. It’s been my hardest battle, too. I hope some of these tips help you cope with weight restoration regardless of what stage of change you may find yourself, whether just considering recovery or actually maintaining progress after treatment.
To lift some pressure to help you get started, you could try approaching your recovery as an experiment. A gain doesn’t have to be forever, but at least give yourself some time to work with the differentness of being in a weight-restored body with a nourished brain before you write it off. Hopefully, you will stick recovery through long enough to find relief. But, in a worst case scenario, you can always go back to your eating disorder. First, though, give yourself a chance.
If your body image is still making you miserable, remember that an overwhelming majority of those who recover agree that healing body image is the longest step of recovery. Be gentle with yourself as it may very well take more time for the mind to catch up than for the body to heal.
Here are 8 suggestions to help you along your way.
1. Remind yourself of why you began recovery in the first place. As time passes, it can be easy to begin glamorizing the aspects of the eating disorder that you liked. Do you want to find yourself in the same pain that motivated you to start recovery in the first place? I don’t think so! If you ever reminisce about the good old days of your eating disorder, you have to complete the picture by reconsidering the awful ones too. Dig deep and get to the ugly. What has your eating disorder taken away from you (hobbies, career, relationships, money, energy, hope, etc.)? What complications have you endured? How does having an eating disorder impact your daily life? Also, ask yourself what you are looking forward to by healing. I once made a gratitude list of 101 things I loved about life. From fresh cut fruit to freedom, what are some of your own gratitudes? Together, these are all motivators for your healing.
2. Come up with a food is fuel mantra that works for YOU, such as, “Food is my medicine right now.” Nourishment is a form of medicine, self-respect, and love. Appreciate the foods you DO enjoy. As I learned more about the medicinal values of various whole foods, I began conversing with food on a whole new level. For example, changing my use of food language allowed me to transform my relationship with healthy fats. When I learned walnuts are shaped like the brain and are a healthy brain food thanks to their Omega-3 essential fatty acid content, I changed my internal conversation from, “OMG, these walnuts are fattening and going straight to my bottom half,” to, “This is fueling my brain to help with clear thinking and stable mood. The fats are vital for my nervous system to function at optimum levels.” When I eat avocados, I still think, “Oh yeah. This is going straight to…the shine in my hair, skin, and nails.”
3. Be prepared to deal with body shape, weight, and appearance comments. Be prepared that many well intended people will want to compliment you on your accomplishment of “filling out a bit” and looking so much “better”, so much “healthier”! Some people will not know better and others may not be able to help themselves because they are so relieved and thankful. For someone still ambivalent about weight restoration, a seemingly innocent word like “healthy” can become a tossed grenade that explodes upon our recovery parade. If this happens, it helps to remind yourself that your eating disorder is confusing enough to you. Imagine how confusing it is to the general population. A little compassion can go a long way as a distress tolerance skill with these unwanted comments. In more valued relationships, you may decide to engage in conversation about how you actually interpret appearance-based comments. In all fairness, what we think at times hardly makes sense. PS. Healthy does not mean fat.
4. Just say no to “Thinspiration!” I know; it’s everywhere. The longer you have had an eating disorder, the more likely it is deeply embedded into your life. You don’t always even have to be looking for it. And it goes way beyond magazines and websites. I’ve been sidetracked on Facebook by someone’s alarming new profile picture, where they have clearly lost weight. Catching the interest of my eating disorder thoughts and with just a few clicks later, I could be perusing through photo albums of others with eating disorders –sucked into the abyss looking for thinspiration. Don’t let your social media support become a weapon of destruction against your hard earned progress. If you find yourself caught in a web of thinspiration, whether online or offline, remind yourself of why you began recovery in the first place. These people likely have very painful struggles they are dealing with, too. Every eating disorder has a shadow. Try not to torture yourself with thinspiration. Instead, fill up your newsfeed with pro-recovery outlets!
5. Avoid excessive body checking. There are so many ways we do this without realizing it. The most obvious way is probably the use of a scale, but some things are more discreet such as seeking your reflection in reflective surfaces or measuring body parts by wrapping around your fingers. Some of us might have certain clothing items we use to reference our body in space, such as a certain pair of “skinny jeans” that we taunt ourselves with. Consider donating or consigning these items. While body checking is often intended to provide some level of comfort or relief, conflict ensues when we are not happy with the number, size, or measurement. There are schools of thought that we shouldn’t know our weight at all and others that suggest using blind weigh-ins at the beginning of recovery and gradual weight exposure over time. If there is no way you are giving up your scale, at least consider putting this quote up on a post-it note nearby, “This scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, possibility, strength, or love.”
6. Spend time with encouraging social supports. Reduce your exposure to people who are weight or appearance obsessed. Set the tone and ditch the “fat talk” mania. Encourage your social supports to follow suit. Surround yourself with people who are uplifting and encouraging of others. You probably have enough trouble with criticizing yourself. You do not need further exposure to negative chitter chatter! Positive people will more likely help you appreciate both your inner and outer beauty. It’s also helpful to have a body image role model, whether someone who has recovered for an eating disorder or simply owns body confidence.
7. Adopt doable distraction techniques. Distraction techniques will not cure underlying issues, but they will help you avoid behavior use, which is incredibly empowering. You also deserve a break from the eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Urges are temporary and will pass. While they may return, it lifts one’s spirits to be able to conquer urges when they present. I have used whatever works in the moment when I need a shift in focus away from negative body image. I may choose to read, watch TV, or color a mandala. I often use essential oils as a grounding distraction. Listening to music can change my train of thought quite easily as well. You may wish to call, text, or IM a friend. Snuggle up with your furbabies. Don’t be afraid to spend some time day dreaming about a goal you’ve had. Mental rehearsing plants the seed of success. Or maybe you are a list maker. Do anything other than accept mental torment from ED. J
8. Practice joyous exercise. Exercise can be a touchy subject with regards to eating disorders. If you have a history of excessive exercise, please consider exploring this in a therapeutic relationship, especially before reintroducing exercise into your life. Always seek medical clearance before engaging in exercise. In some cases, you may need a physical therapist to begin physical activity once cleared by your team. Exercise can have incredible benefits when practiced in moderation, including antidepressant benefits. Healthy exercise can also encourage a nourishing appetite, increased energy, and sound sleep – all elements of a balanced lifestyle. When possible, choose joy filled activities such as yoga, gardening, and surfing, where the focus is more likely to be on the activity than the eating disorder. Warning signs of excessive or abusive exercise may include: skipping social opportunities to work out, distress when a workout is missed, unwilling to allow rest days, being driving by obsessive thoughts, using exercise to purge calories, and exercising despite injury.
You’ve made it way too far and worked way too hard to give up now! I cannot emphasize enough that glamorizing the eating disorder only opens the gateway to relapse. Sure, the eating disorder served a purpose for you for a long time, but don’t forget it stopped working, which is why you decided to start your healing. If you find yourself wishing you were thinner or that you had not gained weight, know you are also wishing for all of the pain, struggle, and misery the eating disorder left you. And, you certainly don’t need all of that! You are worth a life worth living.