Eating Disorders · Mental Health

What an Eating Disorder Looks Like

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There’s a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation out there concerning eating disorders. Additionally, there is a lot of ignorance, insensitivity, and disrespect in the way people talk about eating disorders and devalue the seriousness of this mental illness. I may be hypersensitive to this issue given that I struggled with an eating disorder for many years and now work as an eating disorder counselor; however, I don’t think I am in the wrong for this. In fact, I think more people should be (and need to be) hypersensitive to this issue.

For starter, here are some basic statistics on eating disorders from The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, which I think pretty adequately portrays the seriousness of this illness:

  • At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • 13% of women over 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors.
  • In a large national study of college students, 3.5% sexual minority women and 2.1% of sexual minority men reported having an eating disorder.
  • 16% of transgender college students reported having an eating disorder.
  • In a study following active duty military personnel over time, 5.5% of women and 4% of men had an eating disorder at the beginning of the study, and within just a few years of continued service, 3.3% more women and 2.6% more men developed an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups.
  • Genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits all combine to create risk for an eating disorder.

Furthermore, eating disorder research consistently receives less funding than any other mental illness while at the same time having the highest mortality rate. I think the table below (from NEDA) adequately illustrates the craziness of all this:

Illness                                                  Prevalence                    NIH Research Funds (2011)
Alzheimer’s Disease                       5.1 million                     $450,000,000
Autism                                                    3.6 million                     $160,000,000
Schizophrenia                                    3.4 million                     $276,000,000
Eating disorders                                30 million                      $28,000,000

“Research dollars spent on Alzheimer’s Disease averaged $88 per affected individual in 2011. For Schizophrenia the amount was $81. For Autism $44. For eating disorders, the average amount of research dollars per affected individual was just $0.93 (National Institutes of Health, 2011).”

So uhhh, yeah, eating disorders are kind of important to address yet fairly neglected in our society despite significant evidence demonstrating the seriousness and prevalence of this illness. I hope this helps explain why I have a problem with the lack of information and misinformation provided regarding eating disorders.

This struck me hard earlier this week during one of my intakes. I sat in session with a mother and her daughter who was seeking help for her eating disorder for the first time ever despite demonstrating symptoms for years. As the daughter described her relationship with food to me, it was clear that she had an eating disorder. She was deeply stuck in the restrict/binge cycle and overwhelmed with concerns about her body weight, size, and shape. She expressed feeling out of control around food and constantly anxious about the effects her eating would have on her body. She expressed how her eating negatively impacted her life, her relationships, and her overall wellbeing. From my perspective, it was a pretty clear representation of an eating disorder.

During this session, I soon began referring to my client’s relationship with food as an eating disorder as she met full criteria for an ED diagnosis. I feel that it is critical to name the illness for what it is given its seriousness and the urgency of treatment to prevent further damage and poorer prognosis. Near the end of the session, my client’s mother interrupted me to ask why I kept referring to “this thing” as an eating disorder. The mother was a physician. I put on my best poker face and calmly explained the disordered qualities of her daughter’s relationship with food and body, highlighting her daughter’s personal distress. As I continued sharing this information, my client’s mother interrupted me once more stating that she thought we didn’t need to diagnose “this thing” because her daughter was not throwing up.

While I have a lot of compassion for what it must be like to hear that a loved one is struggling and has an illness, my ability to empathize stops when I hear invalidation and neglect, especially coming from another helping professional.

During the remainder of the session, I did my best to simply stress the seriousness of the issue and the importance of receiving adequate treatment from an eating disorder professional, whether at our clinic or elsewhere. I do not know if this client will return, but I hope more than anything that she receives the help she deserves.

For the remainder of the week, the mother’s words, “It’s not like she’s throwing up,” rang through my head. I thought this is why people don’t get help, this is why people’s struggles go on for years, this is why so many people with eating disorders die, this is why prognosis is so poor. I do not entirely blame my client’s mother for her ignorance, despite her education and training. Rather, I blame the impact of society and education systems for the misinformation my client’s mother possesses with regard to eating disorders.

Today, most people believe that eating disorders either look like a skeletal white woman or someone who throws up after eating. Binge Eating Disorder only became an official diagnosis in 2013 and the DSM continues to prove imperfect. Furthermore, the large majority of eating disorder diagnoses fall under the “unspecified” and “not otherwise specified” categories, meaning that they do not meet full criteria for any of the three diagnosed eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. In fact, true Anorexia Nervosa has the lowest prevalence of all eating disorders, yet the anorexic’s body continues to function as the default for what an eating disorder should look like.

Even though eating disorders affect approximately 1 in 10 women (and 3 out of 4 women are likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors), doctors continue to underdiagnose, misdiagnose, and neglect the diagnosis of eating disorders. And I get it, there’s discomfort in breaching the subject with a patient or their family. I know. I have to do it daily in my job. However, many patients are waiting for someone to breach the subject and that just might be the one opportunity in their life to turn things around.

I remember going to a doctor in twelfth grade when my weight had already dropped significantly and my eating disorder was stronger ever. I went to the doctor because I hadn’t gotten my period in about half a year and even I was concerned at that point. Looking back on it now, I know that I was experiencing a classic symptom of eating disorder restriction: amenorrhea. My mom took me to who I believe was her OBGYN, but I’m not entirely sure who this lady was. She informed me that I had lost my period likely due to having low body fat and a low weight, yet she completely neglected to ask me about my eating habits or screen for any sign of an eating disorder. And here I was: an adolescent girl at a low weight for my height who had gone without my period for over half a year at this point. The doctor simply sent me home with some pills that were supposed to help bring my period back (and didn’t), and that was the end of that. I often wonder what would have happened if she had simply asked about my relationship with food and my body.

You see, even when a patient comes in with the classic signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, doctors often fail to address the topic. IT’S CRAZY TO ME!!! Seriously, 10 % of your female patients will likely meet criteria or at least demonstrate signs of a disordered relationship with food and body, yet this continues to go unaddressed?!

Again, I don’t entirely blame the individuals in these incidents, I blame their training (or lack thereof in the field of eating disorders) as well as the image of eating disorders that has been painted by the media and society at large. As I stated earlier, our society possesses a singular perception of eating disorders: a skeletal white woman. The fact is that eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, and forms.

Eating disorders have no set size, gender, age, ethnicity, race, or any other singular factor. Any person you see regardless of their appearance may be struggling with an eating disorder and their weight does not dictate the severity. We need to stop assuming that eating disorders come in one form with a single setlist of behaviors. Eating disorders do not discriminate and should be taken seriously in all cases regardless of the individual’s appearance.

 

 

Happiness · Mental Health · Recovery · Self-Worth

Those Damn Rhinestone Belts

While biking to work this morning, I was thinking about the origins of the many beliefs and patterns that fueled the development of my eating disorder. Previously I thought everything had set in around seventh grade when I decided that dieting and losing weight would drastically improve my life. However, after further reflection, I realized that many of the ways of thinking that eventually lead to my eating disorder began much earlier than that.

For instance, I remember a specific moment in sixth grade when I sat down one afternoon to make a list of all the things I needed to achieve in order to become popular. In my sixth-grade-mind being popular was pretty much the ultimate conquest and goal of life. I like to think I wasn’t alone in this struggle, which is simultaneously comforting and sad. While this list was probably a couple dozen items long, to this day I still remember about four of the tasks I scribbled on my to-do list for popularity:

  1. Start shaving my armpits and legs (even though my hair was hardly visible and I still think I was too young to be concerned with this. Plus, who even says women should be required to do this shave at all?!- That’s a whole other blog post for later).
  2. Start wearing deodorant (not because I smelled bad but because all the cool girls in school wore Secret Va Va Vanilla deodorant and I didn’t).
  3.  Get new low rise pants (because I didn’t know the “rise” of my pants was an important factor before the first day of middle school when I entered homeroom strutting khakis pulled up higher than Steve Urkel’s).
  4. Get this belt:

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    I have no why this belt style was so popular at my school, but I distinctly remember walking into this girls’ locker room on the first day only to be blinded by dozens of these rhinestone encrusted belt buckles. Obviously, it instantly became something I needed if I were to ever become popular.

You see, in sixth grade while I had already received the “women should be small and thin message”, this wasn’t something necessarily on my radar at this point. The pressure to lose weight didn’t gain momentum in my life until around seventh grade; however, that didn’t stop me from coming up with countless other obstacles that I needed to overcome in order to be popular/cool/worthy/etc. The tasks on my Popularity To-Do List seemed so significant in my life at the time, and very few other things mattered to me. It’s crazy to me just how profoundly that damn belt still sticks out in my mind today as something associated with my self-worth because in sixth grade my popularity, or lack thereof, determined my worthiness as a person. And being someone who was never popular in school, I consistently regarded myself with little to no self-worth.

To me, popularity determined my likeability, my approval rating, my peer acceptance, and, consequently, whether or not I was okay. It’s so hard not to let this effect take place, especially as a sixth grader. Even now, at the age of twenty-seven, I often feel bombarded by messages from TV, magazines, movies, coworkers, and peers telling me what things I need in my life, how I should look, or who I need to be in order to be cool/popular/successful/happy/worthy/okay.

Knowing how hard it is for me to ignore and rebel against these messages as an adult, I have so much empathy for the eleven-year-old me who just wanted to shave and wear a rhinestone belt to fit in. However, I know now that what she really wanted was to feel worthy and okay for who she was. Instead, she felt the need to become someone else.

As I continue to think back on my life, I notice times when this pattern popped up at even younger ages. I remember “needing” to have particular school supplies and a Jansport rolling backpack before starting fourth grade or else I would miss my potential opportunity to finally become the “cool girl” (which didn’t happen anyway). I can recall so many moments spent creating mental to-do lists of things I needed to do or gain in order to be okay with who I was.

I now recognize this thought pattern as one of the main driving factors of my eating disorder and I’ve worked hard to fight it over the past many years of my recovery. However, even today I catch myself in it. I notice the passing hopes and wishes for achievement, status, and success in life, which is perfectly okay as long as they’re not tied to my self-worth and happiness.

Since recovery, these sorts of thoughts have fallen along the lines of “I’ll be okay when I am in a loving relationship” or “I’ll finally be happy when I am settled in my career”. While these may seem healthier than the I’ll -be-okay-when-I-lose-‘X’-pounds type thoughts, they still tie my self-worth up with some external achievement or occurrence.

I’ve heard this pattern of thinking described as “The Cinderella Complex”. It’s the idea that some distant, magical, happy ending will be the solution to all of life’s suffering and suddenly fix everything that feels not good enough in life. It sounds great to me, and I’ve bought this notion time and time again. However, what I usually found was that every time a reached some achievement or crossed off all the items on my Popular/Success/Happiness To-Do List, I usually felt the exact same as I did beforehand. Nothing magically changed in my life or felt different. In fact, I noticed that I usually created some new far-off task or occurrence that needed to happen next in order for me to be okay and truly good enough.

That’s just the nature of the Cinderella Complex- it’s a never-ending trap. There’s constantly something we could be doing better or more of– more to achieve, more weight to lose, more money to earn. It just never seems to feel like enough. And there lies the paradoxical solution to this never-ending cycle! The answer is simply realizing that no external source of validation makes us actually feel good enough.

Self-worth starts with the word “self” for a reason. It comes from within us, not some external source or achievement. It’s a felt sense of worth, acceptance, and compassion for who we authentically are no matter how cool, popular, thin, rich, smart, talented, or successful we might be. Trust me, I’ve searched for self-worth in many things/people/accomplishments, and I’ve never found it outside myself.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that really resonates with me at this current stage in my life.

If you persistently seek validation from others, you will inadvertently invalidate your own self worth.

-Dodinsky

 

 

 

Body Image · Holistic Health · Mental Health · Recovery

How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

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I made this cake for my birthday a couple years ago, and you better believe I ate it.

I’ve thought a lot recently about the period of my recovery in which I attempted to heal my relationship with food while simultaneously fighting my body’s natural push to gain weight. I refer to this time as my pseudo-recovery and a place of limbo between my eating disorder and true recovery. I had one foot in the door of the eating disorder while the rest of me wanted so badly to leave it all in the past.

I stayed in this place for a long time and consequently struggled to fully heal my relationship with food for many years. I was committed to my recovery as long as I didn’t have to gain weight. While I attempted to intuitively eat during this period, I was very much on the “intuitive eating diet” in which I only allowed myself to eat if I was absolutely certain I was hungry. Eating from a place of pleasure and craving was still labeled as “bad” in my mind, and was something I associated with so much guilt and shame. During the first few years of my recovery, I was still very much a prisoner to the diet mentality and constant bad body thoughts.

As a therapist who works largely in the realm of eating disorder treatment, I see this pattern often in my clients. The desire to recover and heal may be strong, but the fear of weight gain is even stronger. There’s this thought that maybe, just maybe, I can recover without my body needing to change– that I can heal and eat “normally” while also staying a size ‘X’ or staying under ‘X’ many pounds. Many individuals struggling with disordered eating hold tightly to the hope of being the first to disprove the old proverb: “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

After many years of being stuck in this trap of pseudo-recovery, I learned a valuable lesson: true recovery requires letting go of the need to conform to body and weight ideals. As long as we hold on to the need to abide by society’s standards of beauty and manipulate our weight, it is impossible to truly heal from disordered eating. Real recovery requires surrendering to the unknown of how our body may change as we heal our relationship with food. In this regard, healing our relationship with food first requires that we heal our relationship with our body. Eating from a place of freedom and peace requires that we grant our body permission to change as it needs to during the process of recovery.

At some point in my recovery, something shifted in me that made the body acceptance piece finally click. One day, I finally sat down to really think about what was so alluring about society’s ideal body. I wanted to figure out how losing weight and getting fit would change my life.

And you know what? I realized it wouldn’t. I realized that my life would look exactly the same as it did at that moment in time even if I weighed ‘X’ amount of pounds fewer or suddenly gained a six pack. I realized that I would have the same quirks and characteristics, the same family and friends, the same career path, the same hobbies and interests, and pretty much the exact same life I currently had even if my body were fit society’s ideal image.

Then I thought, “but my friends, family, and partner would probably like me more if I had a thinner and more fit body”. I quickly realized that was a bold lie as the appearances of my friends, family, and partner have no influence on how much I like them. Furthermore, I know for a fact that I always become an uptight, irritable bitch whenever I’m obsessing about food, exercise, and my body. And that’s definitely not the type of person anyone wants to be around.

So there you have it, I literally couldn’t think of one single way in which achieving an ideal body would positively affect my life. I could, on the other hand, think of countless ways that the process of working to gain an ideal body would make my life miserable. I thought of the countless hours I had previously spent during my eating disorder in the gym punishing my body, the crazy obsessive feeling of counting calories to the decimal point, the constant insecurity about my appearance, the incessant thoughts about food, the hours spent planning and cooking meals I wouldn’t even enjoy, the deprivation of eating “clean”, the constant moodiness and feelings of shame, the guilt over eating one tiny piece of a forbidden food, the fear of going to restaurants with friends, the embarrassment of wearing a bathing suit, and the constant beratement of my self-worth.

After sitting with this drastically unbalanced pro/con list of working towards the body ideal, I suddenly realized that it just wasn’t worth it. It hit me like a bus and dawned on me that I didn’t have to fight anymore. My body was allowed to be okay at whatever shape, size, and weight it needed to be at. In a way I did beat the system proverb: I was allowed to have my cake AND eat it too, as long as I shifted what it meant to have my cake. I surrendered from the war on my body and the fight to keep my body a particular size. Instead, I decided that I was better off shifting my belief of what it meant for me and my body to be okay.

For me now, being okay has so much more to do with my health than my appearance. It includes not only my physical health but also my mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational health. Addressing my health at this holistic level was the piece that finally allowed me to feel okay and make peace with not just my body but also with food.

I’ve slowly learned that being okay is a feeling and a state of consciousness– not a particular size or weight. It’s an experience within my essential self that I have the choice to tap into whenever I want; and, it’s definitely not something that I can determine through looking in the mirror or at the number on the scale.

Holistic Health · Intention · Mental Health · Recovery

What Is Recovery?

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what recovery means to me. There are certain concepts that I associate with my recovery such as intuitive eating, body positivity, joyful movement, health at every size, self-care, emotional health, spiritual practice, wellbeing, and so on. While these elements are all fundamental to my recovery, none of them encompass the meaning of recovery as a whole to me. Rather, they have functioned as the stepping blocks of my recovery and items I know to focus on in order to remain holistically well and balanced.

On the other hand, when I reflect on my recovery as a whole, I usually arrive at a deep feeling of trust. You see, in order to stay on the path of recovery, I must constantly surrender to the unknown and accept that many aspects of life are outside of my control. For me, recovery has involved surrendering to so much– surrendering to weight gain, to my shifting identity and concept of self, to unexpected bumps and forks in my life path, to recognition of my mistakes and BS, to feeling uncomfortable and a whole slew of unpleasant emotions, and to the unknown of life after an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are largely about control, and my eating disorder provided me a way to avoid many unknowns in my life. When life felt scary and uncomfortable, I knew that I could grasp an element of control through manipulating my food intake and body size. I could restrict calories, exercise, and perfect my way through pain and crises.

Throughout my life I have constantly worried about being enough: being pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, fun enough, cool enough, laidback enough, talented enough, kind enough…the list goes on. I had the idea that if I could just be good enough, I wouldn’t have to face the possibility of rejection, pain, fear, and sorrow. I could control my emotions and evade such hardships through perfecting my life and identity.

This worked temporarily and provided me relief in the short term. And I mean VERY short term because I never actually felt good enough despite all my efforts and accomplishments. As soon as I met one goal, up popped a dozen more. There seemed to be a never-ending list of things I had to accomplish in order be enough and successfully avoid any possibility of pain in life.

In a way, the habits and behaviors I turned to in order to gain control ended up controlled me, trapping me in a cycle of constant worthlessness and futile efforts that never seemed to be enough. I stayed here for a long time. Years actually. In fact, at times I still find myself lost in this cycle for brief periods. It’s hard not to when you live in a society that preaches these beliefs. We are sent messages that we just need to be thin enough, rich enough, successful enough, cool enough, smart enough, etc. in order to master life and experience joy and satisfaction. It becomes easy to view such “enoughness” as the antidote for eluding the suffering of life. But it just doesn’t seem to work out that way.

That’s where recovery came in for me. Recovery meant surrendering to not being enough (by society’s standards), which strangely finally allowed me to feel enough (by my standards). Recovery provided me the space to decide for myself what it means to be enough and what I want my life to look like. It has meant choosing peace, compassion, and vulnerability over perfection, rigidity, and control. And it’s been scary as heck.

I am no longer able fall back on being thin, smart, and talented as a means to feel enough, and I am no longer able to turn to others for approval. Rather, I must tune into a deep sense of trust that I am okay just the way that I am. My recovery has become a practice of faith in a sense as I commit to a journey of trusting that my authentic self is good enough. I must constantly surrender to the unknown of what this journey looks like, and I am learning that I cannot control many things along this path.

Yes, this has come with more discomfort and a greater exposure to unpleasant emotions, but it has also opened me up to a tremendous sense of freedom and peace. I now choose not to measure my self-worth through my weight, size, salary, and strength. In fact, I have chosen not to measure my self-worth at all. Instead, I have a self-worth that inherently exists just as I do. This can be difficult to believe at times, especially when I experience spikes in insecurity and moments of incredible discomfort.

My default for so many years was the identity of “not good enough”, and I consistently turned to overcontrol and perfection to get my fix of temporary okayness and approval. It’s still difficult for me to bypass my past habits of control and instead trust that I am okay just as I am. But regardless of how hard and scary this journey is, I know that it is worth it. I trust that this is the only way I can stay on the path of real recovery and experience a life of peace and freedom.

Body Image · Happiness · Joy · Lifey-ness · Recovery

Your Body Is Not Your Art

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We are bombarded daily with messages that lead us to believe our bodies not only determine our self-worth but also our ability to be happy and engage in the world. The $64 billion and rising weight-loss industry promotes these messages, which encourage insecurity and discontent with our bodies and physical appearance. Society tells us that we must have flawless skin, toned muscles, flat stomachs, sculpted backs, six packs, the perfect tan, and countless other trivial attributes in order to have happy and successful lives.

And not only that but the weight-loss industry profits from these messages. Seriously, think about it, the sustainability of this industry relies on two principles:

  1. Making people feel insecure about their bodies and question their inherent self-worth.
  2. Producing products and programs that fail so people must return to them over and over again.

It’s both infuriating and heartbreaking to think about.

We’re led to believe that our bodies are our one masterpiece in life- a project that we must always work on, shaping and forming into a piece of art for other’s viewing pleasure and approval. We are pressured to obsess over our bodies as we attempt to perfect them and mold them to fit the societal standards of beauty and fitness. And who defines these standards? The same industry that sells products promised to help us achieve these ideals but designed to make us fail and feel not good enough in the end.

More than often, the media; fashion, fitness, and beauty industries; and the performance arts assert that only certain bodies should be valued for their appearance, abilities, artistic expression. They proclaim that bodies must be toned and aesthetically pleasing. Such messages are exclusionary and lead us to believe we cannot participate in certain domains of life due to the size, shape, and the overall appearance of our bodies. These are the same messages that not only lead to body dissatisfaction and a fractured self-esteem, but also to dissatisfaction with life in general.

We begin to believe that only certain bodies can dance, attend fitness classes, perform in a ballet, model on a runway, wear a bikini, and so on. These subtle (and not so subtle) hints about our bodies permeate every facet of life and lead to judgment, shame, fear, and withdrawal. They lead us to disconnect from our bodies and resent our bodies for not allowing us to participate in the world and experience joy.

But what if this didn’t have to be the case?

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Glennon Melton, author of Love Warrior, proposes that we reject the commonly held societal view of the body as a piece of art and something we must perfect and offer to the world for approval. Rather, she urges us to see our bodies as paintbrushes and vehicles for expression that allow us to transfer our insides onto the “canvas of life” in whatever way we choose to.

She asserts that it doesn’t matter what your paintbrush looks like, just make sure to USE it! Just as paintbrushes of any size and appearance function in their own unique and beautiful ways, so do the vast spectrum of human bodies. The inherent, unparalleled beauty and ability of each individual’s body adds to the diverse beauty of life and what we are able to create of it.

Our bodies function as a unique and unmatched vehicle for engaging in life. They are the paintbrushes that allow us to express, create, connect, immerse, grow, move, and inspire. The appearance of our bodies does not determine our ability to use them, and be happy and successful. Rather, the way in which we choose to view and use our bodies (and minds) determines our ability to be happy and successful.

“Happiness is a state of mind, not a smaller pant size.”

Happiness is not a toned muscle.

Happiness is not a six pack.

Happiness is not a certain hair style.

Happiness is not perfectly even, wrinkle-free skin.

Happiness is not the absence of cellulite and stretch marks.

Happiness is not the number on the scale.

Happiness is not the color of our skin.

Happiness is not a particular height.

Happiness is not a flat stomach.

Happiness is not the size of our breasts.

Happiness is not any physical attribute, achievement, or status.

Happiness is a state of mind that is accessible to all people regardless of appearance, ability, and any other social factor. All people have the right to be happy and all bodies have the right to participate in each and every activity and domain of life. These are the messages we need to spread.

Body Image · Holistic Health · Intention · Recovery

Intention

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My intention for this week is to focus on gratitude for my body’s ability.

I easily take my ability status for granted, especially at times when thoughts and feelings of insecurity are a bit louder for some reason or another. In the past when I’ve been stuck in my eating disorder, my attention has centered on aspects related to my body’s appearance and its alignment with the societal standard of beauty. I’ve viewed my body as something to be shaped and molded so that others would approve of it and hopefully like me more. Before recovery, I actually viewed my body as the only reason that someone would like me and thought very little of myself as a person.

I was not grateful for my body in the slightest sense and, consequently, I did not treat my body well. I put my body through hell. Starving it, stuffing it, pinching it, overexercising it to fatigue, fighting it, and weighing its worth on the scale. Its ability to sustain my life despite all my attempts to destroy its vitality still amazes me.

My body fought back over and over again and, at the time, I hated these efforts. It fought back through frequent binges, which I now see as attempts to nourish my depleted energy levels during my struggle with anorexia. My body significantly slowed down its metabolism to protect against the periods of starvation I put it through, which left me frigid and drained. My body attempted to eliminate my gag reflex to prevent my ability to self-induce vomit during periods of bulimia. It fought and fought and fought despite my attempts to break it down.

Through all my disordered behaviors and destructive actions, my body nonetheless persisted. And by some miracle, it came out the other side of a 7-year struggle with disordered eating with little to no consequences to my health.

Looking back on the torture I put my body through, I feel nothing but immense gratitude and tender love for its ability to sustain my living. I view my body in a different light now. I see its strength and perseverance through a lens of wonder, and I am constantly amazed by my body’s abilities and its will to survive.

Not only does my body allow me to engage in my life and interact with the world around me, but it automatically functions in a way that helps me live optimally. It knows to breathe in and how to carry oxygen to the millions of cells throughout my body. It recognizes the food I eat and somehow manages to digest and use this sustenance as fuel. It also knows how to get rid of the waste that my body no longer needs. My many organs function automatically without any conscious input from my mind. My eyes, ears, mouth, brain, and nerves somehow all work together allowing me to take in and sense the world around me. My muscles twitch in reflex to stimuli and potential danger to keep me safe.

When I decide to stand, my brain and legs (and I’m sure many other parts of my body) work together to make that decision happen. When I have the desire to pet my cat, not only am I able to do so, but I am also able to experience every sensation and feeling that arises during the activity. My body is able to become more flexible and stronger through activity and movement. I can decide that I want to learn to do a handstand, and I can work with my body toward this goal. Furthermore, my body intuitively knows its needs and signals them to me through sensations of hunger and fatigue. It directly guides me to care for and nourish it if I tune into these cues.

My body does so much for me and asks for so little in return. I often forget this. I also often fall ignorant to the fact that my body’s abilities are a privilege that some people do not have. It is easy for me to take for granted the basic functions my body performs for me, functions that some people’s bodies are unable to execute due to illness or disability. I easily overlook the way my body allows me to connect and engage with the world so that I may immerse more deeply into my life. I forget its role as a vehicle for my life and a vessel that allows me to engage with each moment.

So this week, and each week after, I wish to set the intention to practice gratitude and show love to my body for all that it does for me.