I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to anorexia, weight restoration is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not something that is often talked about or mentioned in prorecovery circles for fear of being triggering, or discouraging. But let’s face it: it’s the elephant in the room. To recover from an eating disorder, you will have to restore your weight. Period. End of story.
Okay. Got it. Conceptually, I understand that. Hell, I even welcome it…conceptually. But what about when it actually starts happening. How do you handle it when your body actually starts changing? What do you do on the days when you look into the mirror and just want to die from disgust in your new body and poor body image? What do you? How do you actually start loving yourself? Because, right now, “loving yourself” probably seems like such a distant concept. It sounds incredible, but maybe you’re are just so down right now, it just seems impossible? What then?
First of all, I want you to know that I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t have all these answers, I just have my experience, and what worked – or helped – for me.
And as I’ve been thinking and reflecting about my recovery journey, when it comes to loving myself and dealing with poor body image and self-acceptance, there are two categories of things that have worked for me. One is more practical, and the other deals with the Truth.
First: The practical things that helped. For me, accountability is the name of the game. What happened when I went away to school in South Carolina and was left to my own devices? I RELAPSED. Because I didn’t have anyone to be accountable to. So when I was back home with my parents, I had people to eat with and be with. I had the support that I needed. They weren’t the “food police,” but they were my accountability until I became strong enough where I could be accountable to myself.
Similarly, I really had to give up control in the food department. Truth be told, I still had a lot of fears and reservations about the weight restoration. And if left to my own accord, I would have eaten nonfat yogurt and oatmeal to restore my weight. I was afraid to add butter or sour cream or oil. Even though I desperately wanted recovery, when it came to actually making the food and choosing to add the butter, add the salt, add the peanut butter – it was something that I really struggled with. So after my relapse in South Carolina, when I came home and had to put on a massive amount of weight, my father, bless his heart, took me to all different kinds of restaurants to fall in love with food again. Our favorites were the Chinese Buffets. Sounds crazy, but it really worked. You see, I was fine with eating the food if it had butter or oil or fat or whatever, but if I was the one that had to cook it, I couldn’t do it. So my dad and I, night after night, we’d get a buffet meal so that I could put on the weight and fall in love with food again.
Other practical things: I found showering to be really difficult from a “body check” standpoint. I would just scrutinize every inch of my body in the shower. So I would take them as fast as possible. Get in, get out. Along those same lines were mirrors: during weight restoration, I would not suggest being around full-length mirrors. When I did look into the mirror, I would try to only focus on my eyes: they were the one body part that I actually liked. So I would focus on them instead of meticulously body checking my changing form.
I threw away my “measuring stick” clothes. I know you know what I’m talking about. You’ve got that one pair of jeans or that one shirt that you know exactly how they fit when you’re X number of pounds. I used to base my worth on how they would fit that day. I THREW THEM AWAY. Get them out of the house. In fact, I avoided tight fitting clothes throughout my weight restoration period, and still to this day.
My mom and I took a lot of walks, too, during this period. Not walks like in my previous history where I was power walking to burn calories. No, these were leisurely night strolls after dinner to talk. And frankly, to help me cope with the intense anxiety I would often feel after eating. But my mom and I talked about everything. And this was so important for me to have someone that I could be vulnerable with, and someone who I could let in. She and I also talked a lot about my worth and dignity as a daughter of God. Which leads me into the second, and most important aspect of dealing with body image and self-love: God.
All of the afore mentioned things — yeah, okay they helped in the moment – but my true healing came from one true source: His grace.
I think about how I actually dealt with my changing body, and how I truly went from a place of absolute self-hatred to a place of true self-love, and I couldn’t explain it. It was nothing that I, myself, did. Nothing like, “Well, first I would put on this pair of sweat pants, and knit a scarf while distracting myself with the Travel Channel.” No, none of that. (Although I did try that). The way I was open to loving myself, and dealt with my changing body was through God’s grace.
Now I might get some eye rolls from this, or brush offs, and that’s okay. But this is the truth. I look back at my recovery journal, and every single page is filled with bible quotes, and messages, and prayers, and sermons about how my dignity and worth is because I am a daughter of God, and that the Holy Spirit – God – dwells within my heart. How He loved me so incredibly much that He died on a cross so that I wouldn’t have to pay the eternal price for my eating disorder.
And yes, we hear that message all the time. We’ve been singing it since childhood, “Jesus loves me this I know. For the bible tells me so….” Yeah, yeah, yeah. We can grow numb to it and stop truly believing it. I know I did — or at least, I forgot.
But I had to believe it. In order to be able to look in the mirror and love the girl staring back at me – even at a higher weight, even when my body image made me want to cry or do something drastic, even when I felt tremendous shame and guilt – I could only get through it by truly believing in my heart and soul that I was precious in God’s eyes just for being me. That it was nothing I did or achieved that earned His love. That I didn’t have to perform for God. I didn’t have to look a certain way or be perfect in order for him to love me. No. He loved the broken, vulnerable, scared, and imperfect me that I was at that very minute, eating disorder and all. That there was literally nothing I could do that would disqualify me from His love, because He already knew all the shit I was going to do in my life, and He came to earth and died anyway. For me. For my sins. For my eating disorder. Because he loves me. And when I just let Him love me, that’s when I started accepting the changes in my body. That’s when I started loving myself and forgave myself. It changed my entire world.
And so – I can see it in my journal, and I can see it in my lifestyle today – I have to completely fill my head and fill my thoughts with Jesus and nourish my spirit every day with His love and the Truth from the Bible. (I will publish excerpts of especially helpful messages from my journal in a post later this week.) Even today, I constantly listen to Christian podcasts, Christian music, read motivational books, etc. because I need Him as the center of my life, otherwise ED will stealthy find a way in, the dirty bastard.
Jesus will carry a cross for you. He will carry your shame, your guilt, your self-hatred, your eating disorder – and take it away from you. He will take my sin – take my eating disorder and put it to death. That cross is love. His love for me. And all I had to do to truly learn to love myself, learn to accept my changing body, learn to stick to recovery – was accept His love. To let him love me and accept the love that He literally died to give me. That’s how I’ve learned to love myself. That’s how I deal with bad body image days. Because I am so incredibly loved and wanted and worth that love. When I think about bad body image, I remember Jesus’s body – and how it was flogged and scourged with metal-hooked-whips. What was His body image when he had blood dripping into His eyes from the Crown of Thorns? When they drove nails through the bones in His hands and feet? He endured that for me. For you. Because He loves you that much. That’s how precious you are to Him. So I try to imagine how He looks at me: how He sees me as a cherished daughter, simply because He made me – not because of anything I did or didn’t do.
This is how I love myself. This is how I dealt with my changing body: from the grace that I received by desperately clinging entirely to His love and His forgiveness. I filled the space in my heart that was once occupied by ED, and filled it with His grace.
That’s my recovery: knowing that I am weak, I am broken, and that the only way I can make it thorough a day is with His love. I am nothing, but that with Him – with Jesus – I am free.