Eight years ago, a senior in high school, I was told that I was recovered (double clap) and I sure as heck believed it. Believed it like I used to believe in Santa, before my Jewish friend told me to check my mom’s closet. To convince myself I was recovered, I even spoke to a group of high school students in Young Life (a Christian organization) about overcoming my struggles with an eating disorder the year and a half prior.
I came clean about my disease, giving a taste of its repercussions - the loss of friends, the avoidance of food-centered social events, the whispering behind my back, the depression, the hurt I caused my family, the hair loss and thinning nails, and the damage to my teeth enamel (the list could go on).
I look back now, eight years later, and pat myself on the back for giving others the courage to get help. At the same time, I smile in disbelief, for even thinking I was so quickly recovered. I was “recovered” on my doctor’s clipboard because of the increased number on the scale. I was “recovered” in my family’s book because my eating was far less disordered and I exercised normally. My dietitian seemed to think I was “recovered” because I no longer logged the calories for everything that went into my mouth, and politely followed her eating plan. I really gave my psychiatrist no choice but to stop seeing me because I convinced my mom that I no longer needed anxiety/depression drugs.
The truth is, numbers may have shown healing, but that voice inside my head was still there. Most of you know this voice, but maybe not to the extent that it rang in my ears, hogging every one of my thoughts and distracting me more than Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.
But eating disorders are an illness, not a choice. You can’t choose how close you want to get to them, since trying to “be good” or “look fit” can be a slippery slope.. You see, along with genetics, it’s one’s emotions, stressors, and societal exposures that bring about an eating disorder. Individually, healthy-lifestyle practices may be with the best intentions. But when they are constantly in our faces (i.e. an advertisement on Beyonce’s new vegan meal plans, the Fitbit step number we begin to define ourselves by, or resolutions about eating strictly Paleo/non-processed food) our subconscious swims in these exposures, and we forget to come up for air.
And let us not forget what’s already in our subconscious library. For me, experiences began in elementary school: not being able to share my friends’ Gap jeans because they wore “slim” fit, or having to wear my coach’s son’s softball helmet because my head was bigger. In middle school, I was asked if “my head was on backwards” because I was so flat-chested.
And throughout my childhood (without her even realizing it) I was influenced by my mother’s battle with weight: starting her mornings off on the scale (to gauge her beauty), her tears of frustration when trying on dresses, and then by high school, stocking our fridge with “foods” like spray butter, high fiber jelly, and diet bread. I am by NO means blaming my mother, nor The Gap for accommodating taller kids, nor the bully in middle-school who was speaking straight from his raging puberty…
Instead of playing the blaming game, I want to push for awareness about “the voice”. While it is established from our subconscious library and the societal exposures aforementioned, it manipulates our conscious; and the more we buy into it, the more prevalent and powerful it becomes. Everyone’s “voice” is different; yet, no matter the person, it is a damaging source of restriction, negative self-talk, guilt, and/or shame.
I want you to notice how many times you put a moral value on food (i.e. what’s “good” and “bad”), are hard on yourself for not making it to the gym, or how often you check a label and count calories (exhausting!) instead of eating quality food knowing you are fueling your body. End the daily weighing, because I promise that 90% of the time a cup of coffee, a salty dinner, a trip to the bathroom, or your menstrual cycle is to blame for the change in number that affects how you start your day. Start complimenting people for more than how they look or what they’re wearing. Notice their talents! Don’t examine the soft parts on your body every time you get in the shower; instead, thank your body for being able to walk/taste/hear/laugh/love (prior to biochem, I took for granted the millions of cellular level functions my body does on a daily basis!).
Free yourself of self-doubt; it will never feel as good as confidence sounds (and looks) on you!
Understand that your words and actions are contagious: those around you absorb them, and the more you yourself say them and hear them, the more the words and actions snowball in your subconscious. This can pose either harm or support, depending on how you exchange negative self-talk with someone. Fact is, we have developed a mantra that we are not good enough; the media has seduced us to want more, be better at something, work out extra, eat cleaner, no matter how hard we push ourselves.
#False. You are good enough. Respect yourself by shifting this attitude when you’re listening to it, or, about to project it onto someone else. You are enough.
Eight years later, I can now say I am physically and mentally recovered. That voice still comes back to haunt me sometimes, but the difference is that I now know how to give it the cold shoulder. I know how easy it is to listen and how damaging it was to every aspect of my life.
Today, I embrace my muscular legs, accept that God did not build them to be shaped like those on the 5’9” model I see in the media, and thank them for giving me curves and the strength to do squats on an upside down Bosu ball. As a grad student, I workout less, indulge a lot, and can still be hard on myself… BUT I have never felt more comfortable in my skin, and it’s liberating.
Love your body, I dare you.