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.