You may be living with or in recovery from an eating disorder or maybe you just know what its like to experience body shame with the diet culture we live in. Spring and Summer can be a trigger to restrictive urges, body comparisons and self-judgement. Learn 3 tools to strengthen your body image this Summer.
Give yourself a break: when you compare yourself to people in magazines, remember that these people don’t actually look like that. They are photo-shopped and air brushed and have had their hair and makeup professionally done.
Focus on appreciation: Take 3 deep breaths and ask yourself ‘what do I love about my body’? Maybe start with things like: ‘I love the way my arms are able to hug people’ or ‘My legs get me places and help me close drawers when my hands are full’. See how many things you can find about what your body DOES that you can appreciate.
Reduce the criticism: Sometimes people believe that if they focus on what they don’t like, it will motivate them to change. The opposite is true. If you notice yourself measuring and pinching parts of your body that you don’t like, see if you can get yourself to STOP these actions. If you notice you’re in front of the mirror or critiquing your selfies often, commit to yourself that you will avoid the mirror and/or stop taking selfies for 1 week (or 1 day if you need to start there). Journal about this experience: what did you notice? Were you as critical?
Breathe into Compliments: If you receive a compliment, see if you can breathe into it rather than brushing it away. Take a few moments to really savor the compliment. Give yourself a few moments, even if you don’t believe it, to just pretend that it’s true. How would your life be different if you believed the compliments you received?
Project: You are on a search for body love. Look for images of people who are beautiful but are not perfect – whatever that means for you. If you feel that you need to be very thin, look for images of people who are NOT thin, but are beautiful anyway. Get at least 20 images. Gather these images in a place where you can look at them often – weather you have a paper copy or a Pintrest Board – put them all somewhere you can look at them at least daily and notice what you appreciate about these bodies. You might be surprised how your view of perfection shifts.
To learn more about how to love your body, call now to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation: 610.314.8402
I have a dear friend out in California, her name is Ashly. We met while we were both working at an eating disorder recovery facility together. She's beautiful and successful and she'd shared bits and pieces of this story with me when we worked together. I was always so touched by the raw emotion attached to her story. I asked her if she'd be willing to write her recovery story for my blog and she so kindly agreed. I am in awe of the bravery, honesty and eloquence she put into writing this. Ashly, you truly are a recovery warrior, thank you for allowing me to share your story here:
It’s been almost 10 years to the day (March 7th, 2007) when I first sought help for my eating disorder. I had just turned 21. I had always looked forward to my 21st birthday (as most teenagers do), but it wasn’t exactly the greatest birthday ever. My family took me out to a nice Asian restaurant, decorated with orchids, candles and plush, red velvet booths. My dad ordered expensive champagne that I pretended to drink. I spent most of dinner in the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to look at or smell the food. I got dressed up that night for the first time in a while… black satin pants, white tank top, make-up and high heels. I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror thinking how ridiculous I looked. What had happened to me? Why couldn’t I just be happy and normal? I went home that night and sobbed into my pillow. I had no friends, no job, no one I would let anywhere near me. I had dumped my boyfriend right before New Year’s, only because he was worried about me and wanted me to seek help. He had even given me a diamond ring months before – which I swiftly pulled off my left hand and flung it at him while he begged me to get better. I remember him telling me that he had no idea what had happened to me – but I was scaring him. I had joined him and his family on a ski trip weeks before, and looking back, I scare myself. I skied as long and hard as I could everyday, not because I loved it, but because I needed to burn the most calories possible. I wouldn’t go near his mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls, eating a diet bar instead. We’d go out to dinner to fabulous restaurants, and I’d always special order the same thing – and eat exactly half. We’d return to the cabin to watch a movie at night, and I’d sneak off to the bedroom where I’d hide in the closet to do as many crunches as I could stand. My boyfriend caught me one night, and the disappointed look on his face made me so angry. When did I turn into this cold, shell of a person? I loved him more than anything – yet he wasn’t enough for me to let go of my eating disorder.
When I think about how much wasted time I spent obsessing over food and weight, it makes me really sad to have lost those years. I’d spend hours (really, hours) in the grocery store studying every food label before a few chosen items made their way into my shopping cart. Everything had to meet a certain criteria: less than a certain number of calories, a certain ratio of fat and carbs, and no sugar. Protein was ok. For items that didn’t have a label, like produce, I’d Google the nutritional content on my phone. One day, I found this package of “seaweed pasta.” Growing up with an Italian mom and grandparents, pasta was a staple in our house – and I missed it terribly. The seaweed pasta had close to no nutritional value, so I gave it a try. I made a huge plate of it that night. It reminded me of something alien. It was slimy, a little crunchy, translucent and sticky. I topped it with this red Asian marinade since regular pasta sauce didn’t meet my standards, and it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever eaten. I was able to have a few bites before the rest of it was flushed down the toilet. I actually felt a huge sense of accomplishment – I made something taste so badly that I couldn’t eat it. Gold star.
March 6th of 2007, I saw my boyfriend again for the first time since we had broken up. We went to a movie, and I couldn’t even tell you which one because I was too busy counting up all my calories for the day, figuring out what I could eat tomorrow, and how many hours of exercise I would need to burn off that handful of popcorn I just ate. After the movie we hugged goodbye, and I remembered how good it felt to be in his arms. I wiggled my way out of them because I wouldn’t allow myself to start crying. Once home, I ran a hot bath trying to get warm. I was constantly freezing. I put on every piece of warm pajama I owned and crawled into bed. My body hurt. My heart raced. My stomach felt like an endless empty pit. I missed my boyfriend. I missed my old life, old friends, old self. Where was this going? Was this my life now? I was just going to live day by day obsessing over calories, exercise and weight? I didn’t want to live that life. I was absolutely exhausted. I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep that night.
I felt something warm on my bare face and neck. I could hear birds singing. I slowly opened my eyes and saw the most beautiful shade of light filling my bedroom. My mind was quiet and it was peaceful as I lie in my soft bed. I sat up, feeling as though I had awoken from some sort of coma. I wasn’t thinking about food, my body, or anything else. I was simply enjoying the gorgeous Spring morning. I turned toward the side of the bed and swung my legs over. There was a mirror above my dresser directly across from me. I looked at myself and realized now is the time – I don’t want anorexia to be the rest of my life.
The following days, months, and years were filled with doctors appointments, therapy appointments, support groups and days when I didn’t believe I’d ever get better. It was really hard learning how to let go, and even harder actually doing it. Not even a year into my recovery, I met a boy at college and we started dating. He invited me to spend a week with him in Hawaii over the holidays. He was incredibly sweet, handsome, and shy around me. I had never been to Hawaii, and although I was terrified of losing control over my meals and exercise, I said yes anyway. I had only known him a month or so, but I nervously bought a plane ticket to meet him in Maui. He knew nothing about my struggle with ED. I packed all my “safe” food and had it in a bag under my airplane seat. As the plane started to descend, I could see the islands through the clouds and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I was in complete awe. I grabbed my suitcase and walked off the plane excited to see my new crush, later realizing I left my bag of food under the seat. The relief I felt in that moment was overwhelming.
We spent the next week exploring Maui: snorkeling, hiking, surfing, swinging from jungle vines and finding hidden waterfalls. We ate fresh sushi, pineapple, bananas, and this incredible chocolate lava cake. Every. Single. Day. I wasn’t worried about my hair looking perfect or making sure my make-up stayed on. We lived that week in our bathing suits and tanned skin and I felt more beautiful than ever. He was sweet to me, and taught me that being your authentic self is the only path to true happiness. I let someone see me for who I really was, and I wasn’t rejected, abandoned or hurt. We shared the same bed the entire trip but always ended the night with just a kiss. I felt safe, protected, valued and respected. When it was time to head home, I had a true moment of sanity: After a week of having the most fun of my life, eating what my body wanted, and letting someone wonderful really see me, I was still O.K. I didn’t die, I wasn’t out of control, and I felt more like myself than I did in years. I truly believe that decision alone – a plane ticket to Maui – saved my life. Recovery was still hard and a process after this experience, but I learned - at my core - that I was worthy. Worthy of living a full life. In every sense of the word.
As I sit here proof reading this story, I can hear my toddler playing in the next room while my unborn baby moves in my tummy. I never thought I’d be here: a mom and a wife, with a career that I love. I feel incredibly lucky to be living without my eating disorder. Having the right support, sound guidance, and a professional who helped move me through the root causes of my eating disorder are what keeps me in recovery today. “We have the capacity to redraw the lines between our powerlessness and power. We’re altered by what hurts us, but with love and consciousness, with intention and forgiveness, we can become whole again.” – Cheryl Strayed
A brief update from the author:
I wrote the following post just over 6 years ago. I had been fully recovered from bulimic symptoms for about 4 years at the time. It’s now been 10 years of recovery and I still deeply believe in all of the words I speak in this piece. The only thing that’s changed is that I feel even further away from experiencing desires to binge or purge. There was a time when it was hard to imagine feeling completely comfortable around food, easily stopping when full, and not thinking about the ice cream in the freezer constantly. I hope this article helps some of you! Be brave. Recovery is totally possible! - Melissa
My Journey With Bulimia
December 6, 2010
About ten years ago I developed a condition known as bulimia. I never would have guessed that a smart girl like me would struggle with something like that. I knew better. I had learned about eating disorders when I was younger and could never make sense of why someone would force themselves to vomit after eating or avoid eating all together.
I think very differently about eating disorders today. You can be intelligent, self-aware, and informed about eating disorders and still struggle with the “disease.” I remember the first time I displayed signs that I was at risk for developing bulimia. I was reading a book about how bad refined sugar was, and I was doing an excellent job of eliminating it from my diet—that is until I was tempted by a birthday cake brought into work one day. I decided to treat myself to a slice, and as I was finishing it, I felt deeply concerned about how the sugar might be harming my body. I don’t know what made me think of it because I had never chosen to throw up food before (nor did I know of anyone who had), but I quickly went to the bathroom and vomited in a stall.
I felt much better after getting rid of the sugar and didn’t think of it again until a year later. I had begun a big transformation in my life. I was starting to question my faith, my choice of career, the reasons for my failed romantic relationships, etc. I decided to go to counseling, and after a few sessions the counselor asked, “Where is Melissa?” I didn’t understand what she meant, but after some back and forth, she finally explained, “You tell me everything you think you SHOULD do and SHOULD want, but you don’t tell me how YOU feel and what YOU want.”
No one has said anything that has impacted me more deeply than that statement. I realized that I had become so good at assessing what I thought other people wanted that I had become disconnected from my own desires, feelings, and opinions. It’s like they were crowded out by the noise of all the other expectations and demands I thought I had to meet.
After that session, I started concentrating on my inner world and made a lot of effort to to connect more deeply with myself. As part of that exploration, I went back to dance class. Dance was an innate joy for me. It was my childhood passion, something I knew that I didn’t do to please anyone else. I hoped that dance would remind me of what it was like to feel.
And it worked. The feelings that dance inspired in me became recognizable in other areas of my life. In an attempt to follow this, I started spending more time alone so that I could learn to hear my own voice. I stopped going to church so that I could figure out what I really believed about God, without pressure from others. I also got a second job and began saving to spend six months in New York studying dance. New York was a place I had always wanted to live and I wanted to gift myself with the opportunity. And lastly, I decided to finally lose the weight I had gained since high school. For the first time, I was choosing to take my dreams seriously and have confidence in my ability to achieve them.
Several months later the pounds were coming off and I felt amazing. I was losing weight in a healthy way and sticking to a diet plan longer than ever before. I felt like I was discovering my real body: lean, healthy, strong, and energetic. I felt beautiful inside and out.
Somewhere close to my goal weight, I gave in and ate something that I knew was higher than the amount of calories I needed. I became afraid. Seeing myself eat food that was not in my plan made me fear that I was stepping back into old behaviors. In the past, I would stick to a diet for a little while but would always end up giving into temptation, promising myself that I would start again the next day. It was a bad cycle that I didn’t want to continue. Not only that, but I was falling in love with the “new” me, the me that was living from her heart, the me that was committing to her goals, and the me who was coming out of her shell and no longer hiding under extra weight. I felt more confident. I was getting attention from boys, and I was interacting more with people. I didn’t want to lose those things. That’s when I remembered my experience with the sugar elimination diet. I realized that I could just get rid of what I ate in the bathroom and my problem would be solved. So I did.
I never imagined that I would do it again. I thought it was a one-time thing. But it did happen again. Not often, at first. But every time I felt unsure about the calories I had consumed in a meal or I knew that I had too many, I ultimately found myself in the bathroom.
At one point, I became concerned that I might have an eating disorder. I remember going online and looking up the symptoms for bulimia. The criteria noted that an individual must have a certain number of symptoms to be diagnosed. Although I thought I might need help, my symptoms didn’t match enough of the criteria. I wasn’t bingeing at all and I wasn’t vomiting enough over the course of a week. As a result, I worried that I would not be taken seriously, so I was too embarrassed to seek help.
Eventually the symptoms did grow. It became harder to vomit if I didn’t eat enough, so I started to binge. My bulimia began to look very “textbook.”
In May of 2001, I moved to NYC. I accomplished some amazing things and had some wonderful experiences. During that time, I had periods when I went for months without symptoms and others when I vomited every day. I eventually went to counseling again, and during those sessions, my counselor offered me one important insight about bulimia. She simply said, “Maybe you’re not ready to give it up.” For the first time I considered the notion that I could give myself permission to continue. What a scary idea, but she was right to suggest it.
From the time my symptoms began, I was resistant to them. After every purge, I promised myself it would be the last time. My mind was filled with figuring out ways to keep it from happening again. By accepting bulimia’s place in my life, I was able to learn from it and understand why it was there. Since my mind was free from thoughts of guilt, criticism, and resistance, I had space to feel the emotions that bulimia was trying to bring to the surface. I started recognizing the feelings I felt when I would binge and purge and realized how they were connected to other challenges in my life. When I saw the connections, I could start resolving the problems in other ways.
It took awhile, but I eventually let bulimia go. I would stop for several months, have a bout, then stop for many more months, have another bout, then stop for a longer period of time, etc. It’s been over three years now, maybe almost four, since the last period of symptoms.
I believe my bulimia represented a step toward healing. It often felt that people around me viewed bulimia as a problem, as a step backward, as something I was doing wrong. At first, I joined them in this conclusion. But bulimia came into my life when I was beginning a fight to be true to myself and resist the external pressures around me to please others, to follow another’s lead, to do what other people thought was good rather than what I felt was good. I didn’t know how to say “no.” I didn’t know how to negotiate. For years I had been taking in, absorbing and adjusting to what others wanted so that I could gain their approval and respect, ultimately depending on them for assurance and confidence. Simultaneously, I ate all the time. That’s how I gained weight in the first place. I just consumed. I dealt with my problems by eating. I couldn’t say no to food either.
I was finally coming to a point in my life where I wanted to trust myself, but I was scared. It was a battle. I was taking food in (symbolically, others’ opinions, desires, and expectations) but realized that I didn’t want it. So I would push it back out. I was starting to say no and bulimia represented a violent fight inside me.
It’s hard to be yourself in this world. There are a lot of demands, many that are indirect, and it was hard for me to resist the impulse to meet all those demands. Food was my vice, so it makes sense that my relationship with food symbolically paralleled my relationship with myself and with the world.
I think my bulimic episodes ended when I started trusting myself more and worrying less about others’ opinions, worrying less about someone being upset if I told them “no.” I knew that I didn’t want to continue bingeing and purging because the health risks weren’t worth it to me. So, eventually I chose to stop, probably when I had the internal strength to make that choice for myself (rather than just to appease others). Much of it was learning how to have boundaries. Just like I had to learn how to have boundaries with people, I had to learn how to have boundaries with food.
Does this mean that I have perfect boundaries with people now, that I never overeat, that I trust myself completely all the time? No. I still struggle with these things, just like everyone does. But the experiences I had while dealing with bulimia transpired into major changes in my life, changes I certainly benefit from now. My boundaries are much stronger and clearer, and I have more awareness of when I am compromising who I am. In fact, if I ever have the urge overeat or vomit, and I do sometimes, it’s a great clue to me that I’m not dealing with something in my life the way that I need to. I know that now, so I can take a step back, look at the problem, and figure out a more productive solution. It’s funny, because that solution often means asking for help or making myself more vulnerable with someone (letting someone in), or saying what I feel and risking possible rejection - again, all connected to boundaries.
Bulimia is complicated and very layered. I haven’t addressed all of those layers here. Furthermore, I can only speak from my own experience; I don’t mean to represent others’ experiences. Over time, I’ve learned that people’s stories and the reasons behind their personal challenges are varied and don’t all fit into a neat little defined box. But I do believe that for many people, symptoms of bulimia actually symbolize an attempt toward health, the body reacting in order to make something right. I believe the symptoms are symbolic of the internal fight of an individual trying to find their voice, to find confidence, to look for a way to move out of whatever problem they have been dealing with, a problem that existed before symptoms of bulimia showed up. It’s never just about bulimia, it’s always about something much deeper. I think that many individuals with bulimia are trying to figure out how to finally have boundaries—with themselves and with the world. If they can find support to understand and transition through it, support to trust themselves, then the stage after bulimia can be fuller health, greater self-esteem and confidence, and healthier boundaries.
Melissa King, LMHC is now a psychotherapist in New York City who works with women, gay/bi men, and couples in the first 10 years of a relationship. Find out more about Melissa here. https://www.myheartdances.com
If you have any questions or need support, please feel free to call me at 610.314.8402 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.
Please comment below and tell us your story !
We’ve talked a bunch about some techniques and tools to help you navigate some of your eating disorder and there’s so much more to learn! I thought it would be helpful to give you my list of books by women I consider to be Eating Disorder Recovery Gurus. Their influence on treatment for eating disorders has been unparalleled. Here’s my list – I hope you find some peace through reading these books:
Jenni is in recovery from an eating disorder and this book explains how she did it. Jenni took a simple enough concept and turned it into phenomena that the majority of people touched by an eating disorder now know how to use. She and her therapist used a Gestalt therapy technique to have Jenni imagine her eating disorder, which she named ED, sitting in the chair in front of her during therapy. Her therapist instructed her to talk to ED and engage with him. She did this and came to realize that ED was just like an abusive partner – putting her down, berating her, demanding she follows his rule. This book describes the process by which Jenni separated herself from, and eventually divorced ED. It is beyond useful and wonderfully inspired. It’s an easy read and can be used in groups, individually and of course, you can read it on your own. It’s a perfect place to start your recovery journey.
Anita Johnston is an ethereal visionary in this field. This book taps into the archetypal idea of the feminine and how the eating disorder betrays that and distorts what it means to be a woman. She uses metaphor and archetypal fairy-tale stories to explain the spiritual aspects of the eating disorder and guides her readers on how to heal. This is a beautiful, delicate, strong piece of work that will change how you view your body forever. It is a must read for all Warrior Women looking to heal from eating disorders.
Here is another giant in the field of eating disorder recovery. Carolyn Costin recovered herself and then went on to create Monte Nido Treatment Centers based on her 8 Keys that she identifies in this book. Another easy to read and a well-inspired piece of work.
Geneen Roth is an excellent story teller. I’ve listened to her audio books which she narrates and I found myself laughing, hard, often! She comes from the other side of the eating disorder coin. She talks about being over-weight and binging and then the diets and the restriction in such a way that most people can relate to – even if you’ve never struggled with an eating disorder. She’s the one who will explain how and why being in recovery from an eating disorder is NOT the end of the world and it should not make you fat. She uses mindfulness, humor, and real-life experiences to help her clients, readers and anyone listening to slow down and take notice of what they are putting in their mouth and why. She has helped countless people to put an end to over-eating, restriction and body hatred. Here are some of her books:
Linda Bacon does a great job at explaining a lot of the science behind weight and body. She comes more from a clinical perspective and is the author for you if you have a political bone to pick with our culture’s way of dealing with diets, weight, and body. She speaks many important truths and helps you to understand how we got to be this way as a society. Here are a few of her books:
To learn more information on anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or other eating disorders, go here. I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you need any further help, please feel free to contact me at 610.314.8402