Recovering from any type of eating disorder is a lifelong challenge. Just because you recover physically does not mean it magically goes away. It is a continuous effort mentally and physically to remain in a state of recovery. Negative self-talk, unrealistic expectations, and low self-esteem cause a negative feedback loop of damaging behaviours mentally and physically. These include: self-loathing, damaging choices, and self-criticism. I recovered from an intense restrictive type of eating disorder many years ago. Through lifting weights and living an active healthy lifestyle, I have slowly come to accept and to my great surprise, even like my body.
At a very young age I felt uncomfortable with how my body looked. I’ve always had an athletic build and before puberty, I was at least twice the size of other girls my age. If I was a boy this would have been great news. Unfortunately, as a young girl, this was not beneficial. It was not that I was overweight per se, but I had a strong muscular build and not the dainty, slim look that so many of my peers had as well as the women on television and in magazines.
Although I was crushing it in my Phys Ed classes, I was not so successful with the opposite sex. I felt large, bulky, and ultimately, unappealing. I began to diet with the hopes of becoming smaller, thinner, and to fit a more traditionally feminine role. It seemed as though no matter how little I ate or how much weight I lost; I would never reach that lanky size zero I was trying to achieve.
As a teen, it became an obsession that took over every part of my life. This is when my eating disorder began in earnest. Physically, I could feel the negative effects of what I was doing to myself by restricting food. I felt all of the textbook symptoms of coldness, tiredness, irritability etc. Mentally, I had so many negative thoughts stuck on repeat. I never felt good enough and I would pick myself apart from the inside out, further feeding my sickness. This inner voice became louder and more influential as I became sicker, further isolating me from the people who cared about me the most. Eventually, my mother forced me into recovery when the sickness was taking over.
It took a few years to recover physically and get to a healthy weight but I still was not mentally well. I had gone through the motions and jumped through all of the hoops. I saw a dietician and went to counselling. I put on the weight to get healthy-unhappily-and I was considered to be “recovered”. On paper that sounds wonderful. Well, the disorder itself didn’t magically go away. My “progress” felt like I had gone backwards. I was unhappy with my body again, afraid to gain more weight, and uncomfortable with food and food-related situations.
During my recovery, I did not address the root causes of the eating disorder. I didn’t experience any pivotal changes until a few years after my “recovery” when I chose to stop wallowing in self-pity and address the core problems. I wanted to be healthy, happy, and to not feel so bad about myself all of the time. I wanted to be one of those people you see leaving the gym or talking about going to yoga during their break at work. The happy-go-lucky type where it seems like everything just works out for them. After really thinking about it I thought to myself, “Why can’t I be one of “those people”?
It didn’t happen overnight; I didn’t get a six-pack in two weeks with the programs that promise you that. I started by signing up for a spin class two times each week and making my bed to begin improving myself. That was my first small attainable goal that I committed to. I would make small attainable goals related to my health and fitness and then once I conquered those, I would make new ones.
Slowly I started to feel much better physically and mentally. I got into lifting weights, quit drinking, and started to become better at cooking healthy, balanced meals. Anxiety around eating too much and food related situations began to go away. I started making friends with the mindset of self-improvement. I realized that the key to overcoming my issues with my body image started with me accepting that I would never be a size zero. I realized that I needed to have more realistic expectations and attainable goals.
It became my goal to strive to be the best version of me that I can be, nothing more or less. I need to make a daily effort to practice improvement and not perfection. I have been lucky enough to find a community of people that value me the way I was created. I feel loved, supported, and even admired by those around me and most importantly, myself. I still have bad self-image days, but not as bad as when I was really sick. Now I accept it as a feeling that washes over me from time to time and I don’t dwell on it. I know that it is just simply a negative thought that is passing by and I don’t let it define me anymore.