The Naked Truth About Eating Disorder Recovery


I quickly slide into the hot spring, carefully balancing the white washcloth on my head in the process. I try to avoid eye contact with the dozens of naked women around me, and I smile to myself as I resist the urge to burst out giggling. I am freaking naked. Surrounded by naked strangers. In another country. And I couldn’t be happier!

As someone in recovery from anorexia nervosa, I can say with confidence that I never thought I would enjoy something like this.

I spent 15 years of my life weighing, measuring and critiquing every little thing about my body. I despised my body more than anyone or anything on the planet. I physically harmed it and starved it and pushed it to the brink of exhaustion more times than I can count. My body was my nemesis.

Yet here was that body, carrying me on a solo backpacking trip to a small village by the Sea of Japan known for its Japanese onsens (hot thermal baths). Here I was, in my body, enjoying a large smooth stone pool of steamy goodness — taking in the bamboo forest enveloping the peaceful setting I found myself within.

I closed my eyes and remembered the snow crab udon I enjoyed for lunch, and the sushi I planned to eat for dinner. I breathed in the sea breeze and, when I exhaled, I released all tension held tightly in my belly as I meditated on just how far I had come.

woman in front of japanese shrine jumping for joy

My time in the hot spring didn’t start out so gracefully. I had prepared for my trip by reading online articles on how to respectfully enter an onsen. I nervously repeated the steps to myself as I entered the women’s locker room and slid off my clothes. I gathered my washcloth (that currently felt smaller than ever before), and walked through the steamy doors.

There was a woman going in before me and I decided my safest bet was to duplicate her actions. She went to the corner of the room where there was a small fountain with a bucket placed within it; she simply threw some water on her shoulders. I did the same and quickly got into the pool so as not to attract any more attention to my tall and very white self. “That was strange,” I thought. I had read that I was supposed to scrub my body for several minutes with soap before entering the springs.

When I looked up, I experienced something similar to what I had felt when I was in my eating disorder: everyone was staring at me. I tried to act cool as I gracefully hopped out of the pool — just in time to see dozens of shower stations I had missed coming in. The showers reminded me of the large single shower I feared in my junior high school gym, except each shower station was furnished with a mirror, soap, and a stool.

I sat down and stared at myself in the mirror. “Don’t cry. You didn’t know. Let’s start over.”

My friends will tell you I am known for an excellent “resting bitch face.” But the truth is I am often quivering inside and full of self-doubt and judgment. And, I hate breaking the rules.

When I was in the lowest depths of my eating disorder, I covered my bathroom mirror with wrapping paper so I didn’t spend hours picking at my acne, pinching the little hip fat I had left. At the onsen, I looked in the mirror and saw not just the body I was born with, but the body I went to war with.

I scrubbed myself from top to bottom and stared at the glistening reflection before me. I felt strong and powerful despite my rolls and imperfections. I reminded myself I was a survivor. If I could overcome the internal hell of anorexia, anxiety, depression and suicidality, I could most certainly endure an afternoon amongst several (now probably angry) naked women.

Nicole Griswold is an Eating Recovery Center Recovery Ambassador. She is passionate about sharing real stories of hope in recovery and is grateful for her body — strong, resilient and alive.

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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