Picture on the left is right before I came home from vacation and suffering from an eating disorder. Picture on the right is 6 months of hard work, remaining healthy, and being eating disorder free.
So this blog entry is a long one so I appreciate you bearing with me and hearing what I have to say.
I remember when I very first got back from vacation I knew I had no out in terms of having to go to therapy. I knew that since some of the most important people in my life knew about this there was nothing I could do to go back to my old ways. At first it got on my nerves a little I couldn’t go to the bathroom without being asked “Do you actually have to go to the bathroom or are you going to make yourself sick”. I couldn’t say things like I don’t feel good without hearing “well you aren’t going to do anything stupid are you”. I know it was all done out of love but it took a while to get used to especially when you are just coming to terms with the fact that you have a problem yourself. The truth is I was tired of living with this always over my head so I didn’t mind it to much but what I was truly preparing myself for was the fact that recovery would mean I would never have the body I wanted it and it was just going to be learning to accept that in therapy.
Clearly I never really expected my body to make changes so drastically so I never took a single picture of my ACTUAL body the first day back in order to track my progress (it wasn’t till about a month or two in that I really started documenting the changes in my body). Yes I knew that I had changed my body before with running, however I had been trying over and over to do that again and my body had just got progressively worse. That became obvious after a while that it was due to the lifestyle I chose to pursue instead of fully giving myself to the gym and recovery but it would take me a while to understand that. I was getting ready to mentally tell myself this is who you are and you need to learn to be okay with that. I had it figured out that recovery was going to be all about learning to accept the body I have and not about changing it along with that. I do not know if I would have been nearly as successful or successful so fast if it wasn’t for me seeing that I could build the body I had always wanted through lifting. Now let me get one thing straight I still struggle with learning to accept the body I have and there is nothing wrong with figuring out ways to come to peace with yourself in therapy. In fact, it’s a key part to recovery but what I am saying is that on top of learning to mentally cope with your body it is possible to build a body that you want and this made it mentally easier FOR ME to be happy with myself.
Know that recovery wasn’t a clear road or a linear path. It was full of bumps, curves, and constant struggles. There are things I still struggle with to this day. I am not the most confident or secure person yet. There are three things that were my biggest struggles in my recovery and I am going to go over those in detail in hopes that they are something you may struggle with and you can realize you are not alone.
My first and biggest struggle to this day is the scale. MY BIGGEST TIP TO PEOPLE WITH BODY IMAGE ISSUES (or really anyone). Throw. The. Fricking. Scale. Away. Smash it to bits, throw it out a window, have someone hide it from you. I do not care just do it. The brutal truth is I worked my butt off for a month and a half and out of curiosity I stepped on the scale. I thought to myself well I have been working my ass off in the gym the scale is certainly going to reflect that. Well I was wrong and I weighed the highest I had ever been in my whole life. I am not sure why this was but it didn’t really matter because even if there is a logical reason you couldn’t of logically explained it to me, I was triggered. Seeing this nearly caused me to crawl right back into the hole I worked so hard to get out of and certainly pushed me close to a relapse. By a miracle I didn’t go back to my old ways. Now I am not telling you that you are banished from weighing yourself for life but I will tell you that restraining from weighing yourself is a MAJOR key that will keep you in recovery. So when can you weigh yourself again? Well, once you have worked SO hard that you can look in the mirror love yourself and also know that when you do step on the scale you will have no negative effects from whatever the number is then you can weigh yourself. We are extremely tied up in the number that reflects back at us when we weigh ourselves and it becomes very hard to understand that it is just that, a number. This is especially dangerous for people who have eating disorders and are likely to act on the negative feelings they get when they weigh themselves so it is extremely important for them to forget about the scale. To this day I very rarely weigh myself and if I am in a negative mindset I won’t even look the same direction as a scale.
This is really a tip you should follow whether you have an eating disorder or not. If you have any negative associations with numbers on the scale then its safer to work on non-scale victories and becoming happy with what you see in the mirror than focusing on weight loss. That being said the scale is still my biggest battle (no I am not cured of body image issues I still struggle). For the longest time I wanted to be a police officer. One day after 8 years of wanting to do this I woke up and said “I don’t want to do this”. The point of that is that for physical testing to be a police officer you have to perform certain tests based off of your weight, which meant I had to weigh myself to know what performance level I needed to be at. I was so far from recovery here that this was the most torturous thing. Each time I had to weigh myself it required so much mental preparation and it didn’t matter how much I “prepared” the end result was always the same. I saw the number and immediately burst into tears, my anxiety was triggered, I vowed to lose weight in any way I could, and I am sure you can figure out how I figured I could do that. I don’t know if this is just something that applied to me or if anyone else with an eating disorder felt this but it was almost as if every time I wanted to weigh myself my feet turned to led. I literally felt the weight of my body down to my toes and it would trigger anxiety attacks because I was convinced I was going to weigh an immense amount when I stepped on the scale. Please understand how many factors go into our weight (such as age, height, the way we are built, fluctuations based on the day etc) its nearly impossible for the scale to be perfect reflection of how we are really doing.
My two biggest struggles besides the scale were something I like to call “body checking” and covering my midsection. For years, the first thing I did every single morning is spend 15-20 minutes looking at my body in the mirror. I was examining every little thing and every little change. If I found one thing I didn’t like it triggered anxiety and I would base my whole day off of it. So if I wasn’t satisfied with what I saw in the mirror, and I rarely was, then I would have a miserable day in terms of body image. If you add this many terrible days up over years it is enough to drive a person to the point of insanity and permanent anxiety and that truly looked like where I was heading. This was by far the hardest thing for me to tackle especially since there is a mirror right next to my bed so it is the first thing that I would look at every morning. My final bad habit was covering up my mid-section with anything and everything that I could find. This wasn’t just when I was in public it was also in private, when I was driving, at work, etc. My mid-section was the thing I struggled with the most (still is) and I believed that it drew unwanted attention to me. I was always taking pillows, my purse, my arms, etc and using them to cover my midsection. I remember I was always fidgeting with my clothes around my stomach area because I was worried they were making me look fat. I remember specifically when my boyfriend and I first started dating we would be eating on his bedroom floor while watching a movie and I would try to take the pillows off his bed to cover my midsection. He would take them from me and tell me I couldn’t have them because he didn’t want me to get food on them (of course he had no idea at the time). I cannot even begin to say how torturous it was at the time to be eating and have nothing covering my midsection. I wasn’t just magically cured of these things they took time and practice to move past.
So how did my mindset change and what did I do? Well first I sought out a therapist who could help me with this process. I will admit when I first got a therapist and she was telling me all this stuff I had to do I got angry with her. I thought to myself how dare she tell me what to do she has NO idea what is like. Things I thought were silly, small, and would never help me ended up changing my life (For example, writing down all my feelings in a journal which I never thought would help but here I am writing a blog about it). It took me time to accept they were what I needed to do but when I did they began to help immensely. Next, I had to start by attacking my bad habits. It was a really slow start. For me the scale was the first thing to go. I could never project a positive body image if I constantly had myself tied up in numbers. What I did was based on the weight I figured out when I weighed myself out of curiosity (and nearly lost all of my progress) is figure out how many calories I should be eating to promote a healthy lifestyle and positive weight loss. Okay, I know what you are thinking “you just told me not to weight myself”. One, this is just something that worked for me and not necessary for you to do. Here is a tip that you can follow while still remaining in the dark about your weight, if you do not know your current weight already. What I found easiest is you can stand on the scale backwards and have a friend read it for you. With that they can tell the person figuring out the calories for you your weight or figure it out themselves through many websites that help you find out how many calories you should be eating (google macro calculators). You can also have a doctor do this for you if you are not comfortable sharing this with a friend. Figuring this out is beneficial because when you abide by these calories you can know that you are taking measures to promote weight loss and you don’t have to constantly check your weight (never hesitate to reach out to me I would love to figure this out for you as I have the knowledge in how to do so). Losing weight can be complicated but figuring out how many calories you should be eating to lose weight it is a fairly simple formula and when followed correctly it is highly effective. Standing backwards on the scale is something I utilize to this day when I am in situations where I have to get weighed, such as the doctor’s office. Second, if you are working out and trying to measure the changes in your body take progress pictures a few weeks apart from each other. This allows you to see the changes in your body without having to determine your success through a number on the scale. If you have body image issues I do not suggest you taking progress pictures each week. The reason I say this is because if you are taking it each week there may be little change and that can be discouraging and almost as bad as obsessing over your weight. In general these should not be something your obsessing over but really just looking at generally to see changes in your body. If your body image is really suffering and even taking progress pictures is something you can become dangerously obsessive over then try to focus on other non-scale victories that make you feel good about yourself. For example, the way your clothes fit, the energy you have to do something you haven’t done in a while, the way you positively talked to yourself, the time you performed a workout/task you never thought you’d be able to do etc. Focus on things that build up your self-image and confidence so you can begin to understand that you are more than a number on the scale and you can do things DESPITE said number.
As for the mirror checking that was a little bit harder because even if I didn’t know my weight actually looking in the mirror and not liking what I am seeing is not quite as easy to change. So obviously the first thing I did was about this was work out and eat healthy so that I could see changes in my body. However, that takes time so I had to take measures to ensure I wasn’t looking in the mirror for extended periods over-analyzing. The first thing I did was make sure I was wearing a shirt any time I passed a mirror so I couldn’t see my midsection and stop and focus on it. Right when I got out of bed I would walk straight to my desk to get ready. I also got out of the side of the bed that was away from the mirror so I wasn’t tempted to look in the miror. These all seem like silly and small things but you have to realize small measures going against what we normally do add up and eventually make changes. What we are doing by exercising these little things every day is creating positive habits. The biggest challenge here is actually starting out and sticking to them everyday. This is because we aren’t seeing any changes at first and they seem so absolutely miniscule to us, we think to ourselves “If it were that easy I would be better by now” but just like anything you have to practice it and it takes patience and time. A very helpful thing I did was every time I looked in the mirror, and I mean every time, I found something positive to say about myself. I did this even if I was about to body check myself and cause negative thoughts. Eventually, saying the positive things in the mirror (even right before the negative) led me to actually spot things I liked about myself. So slowly anytime I was looking in the mirror I was beginning to feel positive about what I saw and was building myself up versus tearing myself down. It started becoming so my whole days weren’t ruined by poor body image any longer. I will admit though that at times I still focus a little too much on my mid-section in the mirror and let it affect my mood. For example, I am the type of person who when they have their cheat meal and they get that “food baby” look they instantly forget they had a cheat meal. To me it is hard to not go into my whole entire body is ruined and all my progress is gone mode. So how I adjust to that is not over doing it on my cheat meals meaning I don’t overeat. However, I am not spending every day affected by what is reflecting back at me and so even though I still have some room for improvement my life is significantly better and that is a win in my book.
Unfortunately, the last thing to go was covering my midsection. What happened there was that I had become so accustomed to mindlessly grabbing something and throwing it over my midsection that it took a LONG time to undo. I think the first thing that helped with this was one building positive body image in the mirror. The second thing that helped me here was the gym. After I was working out and my clothes became looser, I started seeing changes in my body, etc I became more confident in my midsection so once that confidence was there overtime I stopped reaching for things to hide my mid-section.
By far the biggest thing that changed my mindset was working out. Working out caused me to see changes in my body and when I saw those changes that I never thought were possible I realized that I was beautiful and strong. In knowing I had the strength to build the body that I always wanted but had never achieved I knew that I could also start changing my mind for good. There was something so unbelievably empowering of having a blank canvas for a body and changing it to something I had NEVER seen before. It showed me nothing was permanent and there is always hope and a way to become what you want to be. There is also something empowering in lifting weights, increasing your strength, and watching your muscles grow. For me if I could put the dedication into becoming that person in the gym then there was absolutely no reason my brain wasn’t a muscle I should be working on. You have to understand though that I didn’t just magically start seeing results without making sacrifices. I completely changed up my lifestyle. First and most importantly, I cut out drinking every weekend and turned it into an occasional occurrence. Excessive drinking was not healthy for me. It led to binge eating and consuming mass amounts of empty calories, which of course triggered guilt and self-hatred. From this alone my body started responding and when I wasn’t binge eating I wasn’t feeling so much self-hatred nor the need to throw up. I stuck to a certain amount of calories (which also meant no binge eating) and not of just any food I wanted but foods that provided good nutritional value to me. What was great about this is not only did I feel great but I was also allowed to have “cheat meals” once or twice a week and suddenly eating things like pizza didn’t come as such a guilt trip because I was treating my body right all the time. Eating bad was the rare occasion not an every day thing. Don’t get me wrong it was hard for me at first but now I welcome cheat meals with open arms. None of this was just an easy lifestyle change it took time and a whole bunch of mental discipline as did everything else but it was well beyond worth it.
These are just a few things I did in my time of recovery that worked for me. Obviously what works for me is not something that works for everyone else. I also will go into more detail about the journey of my recovery but for today I just wanted to give an overview of it.
I know this whole blog entry is a whole “easier said than done” type of deal but know that it has to start somewhere. If you are currently nowhere near recovery then you can see that someone who has recovered did face the same issues as you with weight, not liking what they saw in the mirror, etc. From there you can understand that you are not alone and reaching out for help is the next step. If you are currently on the border of recovery or you are just starting out then you can see that the measures you are being told really do work it just takes dedication and faith. You can also relate to the everyday struggles someone in recovery still goes through. If you are fully recovered then you can completely understand where I come from and you can join me in letting people know what it takes, that its okay to speak out, and that recovery is possible.
***Please note that I am not a mental health professional. I encourage all to reach out to me and I will be there to support and aid their journey. However, it is absolutely critical that you seek professional help to help cure your disease**
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