A picture collage of the author

The Problematic Nature of Eating Disorder Recovery Transformation Photos

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When scrolling through the #edrecovery tag on Instagram, it’s common to see transformation photos juxtaposing an emaciated and healthy body. I understand the purpose of these photos: they document the impressive achievement of weight restoration, and even I admit to posting one of these before and after pictures. But I now fear these images are largely unhealthy to both those who have eating disorders and the general public.

When I posted my transformation photo, I was not in a good place. I examined that before photo constantly, looking for differences and idolizing my most extreme features. The eating disorder loved these photos; they acted as a reminder that I had this body before, and I could get it again. These sick photos were images that I deleted once I began true recovery, for I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to trigger myself in a moment of weakness. Holding onto these photos, even for a transformation picture, seems risky to me.

For others struggling with eating disorders, these images are also problematic. Eating disorders love to compare, and the proliferation of sick photos acts as a direct means of comparisons. I remember looking at before photos of other individuals at my worst, critiquing myself and using them as a motivation to restrict and exercise more. These photos provide similar ammunition to eating disordered individuals that got the #proana and #promia tags reported.

Even though these photos will likely not act as a trigger to the general public, they do perpetuate the oversimplification of eating disorders in society. Eating disorders are mental illnesses and are rooted in issues beyond weight, but these transformation pictures only acknowledge the physical aspects of eating disorders that are already overemphasized in society. In addition, they suggest that weight restoration is the only requirement for eating disorder recovery, which we know is not true. Some may be struggling the most at a healthy weight, and others may not even have to undergo weight restoration in order to recover, but this does not make their struggle less valid.

Instead of physical transformation photos, I want to see the joys of recovery captured on camera. Eating disorder recovery is more about gaining freedom and happiness rather than weight, and I want to see that on Instagram.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Image via Thinkstock. 

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To Those Who Can't See Light at the End of the Anorexia Recovery Tunnel

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I always thought people were lying to me when they said the words “It gets better.” I thought I would wake up and fear the food I would have to eat for every single day of the rest of my life. Yet, I woke up this morning after having a three-course meal with some friends and never felt more joy.

The last few years, anorexia clouded my perception of what the world had to offer me. My life was consumed by thoughts associated with food, weight and calories. I had no enthusiasm for recovery; I felt purely controlled by fear of food. Listening to anorexia led to me being unable to support myself, yet now I am sitting here a year later about to make myself pancakes for breakfast. Everything has changed.

Accepting recovery is one of the greatest choices I have ever made. At first, it felt unnatural and painful. It would involve crying and refusing food, yet five minutes later, picking the fork up and completing the meal. It would involve planning relapse, yet waking up and doing the opposite. And it involved powering through the hardest moments in my journey. Slowly, it got easier. It got easier to say yes to the piece of pizza or the slice of cake, but it wasn’t just food that got better; my gratitude towards life improved. I began to smile more, laugh more, dance more, I started to accept myself and my imperfections more. Since starting my recovery, I have done things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do; I started to live, I opened up more, I went out for meals, I went on holidays, I helped people who were fighting similar battles.

In my darkest hours, people told me to never give up, even if I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for a while I couldn’t see it. However, I am soon celebrating a year since being discharged from the hospital, I have handed in my university application to study psychology in the hope of helping others, I am going traveling for nine months in my gap year, I have a job, and I am soon taking my final exams. Choosing recovery from anorexia has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and it certainly has not been a straight line. There have been relapses and breakdowns, but there have been such beautiful moments, too. And for me, each of those happy moments makes the worst moments worth it.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

To those who struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel: In the end, I don’t believe anybody can say they regretted recovery. Choosing recovery can give you infinite opportunities that you may miss out on if you continue to believe what anorexia tells you. I could never imagine myself in the place I am today; however, each day living in recovery, my life keeps improving, and I know every step I take in recovery will lead me to one day being fully recovered.

Image via Contributor.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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To the Woman Who Congratulated My Friend on Declining Candy

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Hi,

You probably don’t remember me and my friends. We were the 15 and 16-year-old kids who knocked on your door this Halloween. We were laughing and you guessed our costumes, allowing us a few minutes to return to our childhood. But then you offered candy and we took it thanking you – except for one friend who smiled and said no thank you.

You told her you were impressed by her ability to resist – or something to that effect, I can’t quite remember. It doesn’t matter.

In that moment, you unknowingly validated her eating disorder.

Her smile showed me that she’d been proven right, starving herself was the “strong” choice. You didn’t know that she’s deep in a fight with anorexia nervosa. You didn’t know she had only been allowed to go to summer camp on the condition that she gained weight. You didn’t see the slight argument with her mom about taking a candy bag trick-or-treating. Neither her nor her mom wanted to have the discussion “in front of company,” but her mom just wanted her to take a candy bag. She wouldn’t. As an outsider, I can only imagine this is a normal occurrence in her household.

You don’t know she skips lunch every day to do homework and then goes horseback riding for hours. You don’t know she has spent years criticizing the way her thighs touch. If you’d known all that, I assume you wouldn’t have said what you did. At least I hope you wouldn’t have. So I don’t fault you. You too have been pushed to believe that dieting is strength and weight is weakness. She doesn’t “look” anorexic, unless you know her. You were maybe projecting your desire to lose weight onto an insecure 16-year-old. In that moment the innocence and fun of running around asking for candy was gone. Yes, you were not the first person to make some sort of comment; we’d been told we were too old to be trick-or-treating and our costumes were boring, but nobody had said something with such lasting impact. So if you read this, I just ask next time please think before you speak. I believe you are probably a very nice person and I hope you use this as an opportunity to reflect on the consequences of your words.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Thank you.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Christmas Time With Ana — My Anorexia

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Christmas can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, whether it’s based around celebration, religion, spending time with family or those family traditions — but to me, it’s a time of fear, stress, being triggered by the slightest of things, and the yearly tradition of crying during dinner and the family fallout after it as a result.

In my household, we seem to surround ourselves with food at christmas: the advent calendar treats, attempting to sneak chocolates off the tree without anyone noticing (by putting the foil back on), and tucking into those Cadbury selection boxes a family friend always seems brings round (and add to the pole of chocolate).

Then it’s Christmas day itself: the morning treats, tucking into snacks of sweets from our stockings, then it’s the meal itself (the pigs in blankets, the massive helpings of vegetables and other items piled high on our plates). The rest of the day is drinking wine, munching away on whatever is left from the morning, and dinner before sinking into that drunken or overfed slumber in the evening.

But this, to me, is hell. It torments me and haunts my every waking thought throughout December.

As it gets closer and closer, the voice of Ana (anorexia) gets stronger and stronger until it starts to haunt my every moment, dreaming of what I used to eat during this time, what I miss, what will happen if I do go and eat the things I used to enjoy so much, and the shame/guilt of losing that control.

Ana goes into full-blown overdrive during this time. It gains even more of the control it craves so much. Every trip to the shops is an opportunity with shelf after shelf of treats (chocolate, biscuits and cakes) for her to tell me no, I can’t have this or that for fear of losing that control and gaining weight.

The insightful me doesn’t want this battle with myself all the time. I don’t want to be full of anxiety when that box of celebrations comes around while we’re all watching an overplayed Christmas film on the TV. I don’t want to make people wonder why I don’t take any. I don’t want to try and make excuses to avoid dinner. I don’t want to struggle with trying to eat small mouthfuls of vegetables — only to feel guilty, ashamed and like I’ve gained a million pounds as a result.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Some family members and friends say it’s only a day — a day when I can try and be free from anorexia and enjoy the things I used to eat (and crave so much), act without fear around meals or snacks — but it’s not as easy as just flicking a switch to turn the voice off, or the feeling off, or the fear off.

It’s the panic about going away from safe foods, my routine, and the fear of the voice of Ana making me second guess everything, leading me to the wrong conclusion and taking well-meaning comments the wrong way.

I guess with time and progress with my recovery, I can try and enjoy this time of year and eat everything I used to. But for this year, that won’t happen.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

A version of this post originally appeared on Blueeyedfoxie.

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To the Tabloid Editor Running Eating Disorder Recovery Cover Stories

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I have been reading your articles about anorexia for a while. You know the ones I mean — they have shocking headlines like “Girl nearly dies after living on just X calories a day.” The first picture is always an emaciated girl or guy. She’ll be dressed in clothes that looks about ready to fall off her. It’s a picture printed to shock the reader and hook them into purchasing a magazine to find out how someone can survive being that thin.

I have read these stories from different places in my life. I read them when I myself was in the throes of anorexia, trying to feel less alone. I read them now, from a place of recovery, wondering when the stigma will disappear. On the surface your articles look like a simple story of eating disorder recovery, a much needed exercise in raising awareness. But every time you focus on weight and calories, I fear you may be telling a more dangerous story.

I wish you would stop showing us before-and-after pictures — displaying his skeletal form just to prove he was really ill, as if the severity of a mental illness is directly linked to the amount a person weighs. Please don’t describe to me her diet and how many calories she ate. I don’t want to know what she allowed herself to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also don’t need to know what he’s eating now that he’s “better.” Please don’t make this about food, as though this is just a diet gone wrong.

Tell me about her. Tell me who she is. Tell me the things he loved to do before he got sick. Tell me the stresses and factors that brought her to this place, where this need for control came from. Help me understand that anorexia does not discriminate, that it happens to anyone for a vast number of reasons. Show your readers that anorexia is not really about food or weight, that deep down it is not about wanting to look like the most fashionable model or celebrity. Don’t paint these people as selfish and narcissistic. This isn’t a diet or a self-obsession. This is a mental illness.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Tell me what it felt like for him — not what it looked like from the outside, but the agony of living through it. The torture of watching yourself fade away and being replaced by someone you do not recognize. To become a person who will lie in a heartbeat as though it’s second nature. Someone who feels utterly powerless to stop the heartache he is causing his family. Tell me what it was like to no longer be able to feel anything but the elation of not eating and the guilt of eating. Tell me how she lives with the contradiction of being absolutely terrified and completely unwilling to stop what she’s doing.

Maybe you think the shocking photos will scare some people into asking for help. But for others your photos become triggers with darker results.

There are people who are reading your article backwards. They start at the recovered picture and believe themselves to be much “bigger” and “fatter” than the man or woman in the photo. And then their eyes move back to the “before” shots. They see that skeletal figure and see how far they can go. They take note of the weight the girl in the picture was and the calories she was consuming and see this as a recipe to follow or a challenge to take up. They may believe they’ll be able to stop before it gets that bad.

By printing weight you are potentially showing your readers how thin they could get without (immediately) dying. Or they may believe that weight is the exact weight a person would have to reach to be “worthy” of a newspaper article. A reader may believe that whatever weight they are now doesn’t qualify them for help. That, by comparison, they aren’t really sick.

These people I’m talking about are likely already in the grips of the eating disorder, so you could say they are not your problem. Leave them to doctors and stretched eating disorder services. But you see, Mr. or Ms. Editor, you do have a chance to draw them in — not with shocking photos and calorie intake, but with hope.

Instead of telling me what dress size or weight your subject is now that they have recovered, tell me what recovery feels like to her. I want to hear about the first time he enjoyed food again with friends, the freedom that brought. I would love to hear more about the things she is able to do now that she couldn’t do when she was sick. The dreams he is now able to chase. Tell me that life in recovery is worth the battle to get there. Show me what inspires her to keep going on the difficult days. Paint a picture of life after anorexia, not just another diet or meal plan, but a fulfilled and rich life. I need to hear that he can and will be so much more than the person who had an eating disorder.

The truly beautiful thing about recovery is that your life can stop being about food or weight. That wonderful moment when you have gone your first hour, day or week without worrying about food. When you realize you can harness those traits and tendencies that made you ill and use them to succeed in life. Recovery means your life can tell a different story — a story that may have had some dark chapters but can continue on into the light.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that you are publishing stories about anorexia and raising awareness. You could be helping to start conversations and end the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

But there is power in how you tell a story.

Is it perhaps time we tell our story differently?

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Follow this journey on Hope Whispers.

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