March 15, 2016 by Deanna James, LPC, CEDS in Alumni and Family, Body Image, Testimonials Guest Post by A.W., Castlewood Alumnus
I think it’s safe to say that this time of year can be particularly difficult for people in recovery from an eating disorder, especially when it comes to grappling with body image. For some of us it may be talk of spring break approaching, or chatter about the weather warming up that sends our ED thoughts into overdrive. “Do I dare wear a bikini to a pool? Should I wear that dress that shows my thighs? What will my mom/ dad/ boyfriend/ girlfriend/ friend/ stranger on the street think of me when they see me in this outfit? Will they notice all my body’s “flaws” that I see?” These are just a handful of examples of thoughts that ED can whisper (or yell!) into our ears. And these thoughts are never ending! It’s like listening to a playlist on repeat that feels impossible to turn off. So how can we counteract these thoughts and start to improve our body image? There’s no magic formula that I’ve found to improve body image; plus, different strategies might work for different people. Having said that, I did learn some very useful strategies for improving my own body image during my time at Castlewood that I’d like to share.
First, it is crucial to continue behavioral changes in order to experience body image changes. What do I mean by that? Basically, you have to keep following your meal plan, obey your exercise restrictions, and stay as close as you can to being “behavior free” before you can expect to see positive shifts in your body image. Personally, I’ve found this to be a super difficult lesson. I want to like my body first and then maybe that will encourage me to stick with my meal plan! Sadly, body image change just doesn’t happen like that. Secondly, the more that I have let go of body checking and obsessively looking at my appearance in the mirror, the better my body image has become. Maybe one day I will be able to look in a mirror and see my body as it really is. But for now, I’ve accepted my body checking is like looking through a fun house mirror: I see major distortions. Finally, I now make an active effort to wear clothes that a) fit me and b) I feel comfortable in regardless if c) the clothes reveal parts of my body that I feel self conscious about. In past summers, I refused to wear shorts because I was so self-conscious about how my legs looked. Instead I wore baggy pants and sweatshirts to hide my body. Hiding my body in unfitting clothing only reinforced my belief that my body was ugly, too big and should not be seen by myself or other people. Now by wearing fitted clothes and taking risks (like wearing shorts when it’s hot out!) I am teaching myself that my body is not something to be ashamed of. It’s just my outer shell. I’d like to leave you with this quote that I found that I think couldn’t be truer. When in doubt, I hope you remember: “Your body is beautiful if: you have a body. That’s it. You win. You’re beautiful. Congratulations.”