'Body Positivity' Isn't Helping My Eating Disorder Recovery – and That's OK


I call my eating disorder, “ED.” Not very original, I know. He has been with me for the majority of my life. My memories tell me I was a child when I first became aware that some bodies were “good” and some were “bad.” I gained weight in times of distress. I have lost weight when I wanted to disappear and control my life right down to the last cherry I put in my mouth.

And in recent years, I have found “my people” on social media. People who get how I am feeling. People who have struggled in the same way I do. People who tell me that all bodies are good bodies and our weight doesn’t matter and we should take back the beach in our plus-sized bikinis. I am really happy that it’s working for some people.

The problem is, it doesn’t work for me.

I spend a lot of time “should-ing” on myself. I am certainly my own worst critic, and my inner thought loop often is a list of all the things I “should be” doing — paying the bills, doing the laundry, cleaning up the living room, doing my homework, cooking dinner, going to the gym. These thoughts consume me much of the time. And it’s hard to get anything done when I am should-ing because each small piece of progress just shows me how much further I have to go.

Many of my internal messages revolve around my diet. I should eat more vegetables. I should not drink so much soda. I should get a salad at lunch instead of the chicken tenders. I should not eat so much candy. I should be able to buy a pint of ice cream and actually stretch it into four servings.

So over the last few years I have taken to social media. There are many body positive activists out there who are working to normalize all bodies. They are sharing their message that all bodies are beach bodies and size does not matter and you can be overweight and healthy. And I agree with all those things…in theory. However, I just can’t make them stick for me.

As I transitioned from my 30s into my 40s, my desire to lose weight became less about how I looked and more about how I felt and what I could do. After losing a whole bunch of “divorce weight,” my weight began to climb back to where it has usually stayed. I have done some unhealthy things to try to make my body smaller. I have not been kind to it. I have not treated it well. But I had a “look” in mind that I wanted to achieve. When I got there? That is when I would be allowed to be at peace with my body.

This year, I have realized that all the social media that I have been faithfully following and sharing, all those podcasts I’ve been listening to about anti-diet viewpoints and body positive messages and all the articles I have been reading to try to learn my way out of my eating disorder are just not going to work for me. I am 41 years old. I may not have youth on my side for much longer. I want to do so many things with my life and I am limited by the size of my body and how it feels.

The kindest thing I can do for my body is not just to accept it the way it is. The kindest thing I can do for my body is to stop comparing it to all these people who make me feel like I “should” be happy with myself just the way I am. I don’t want to be skinny. I don’t want to run a marathon. I don’t want to give up all carbs. But I want my body to fit comfortably in an airplane seat. I want to be able to do inversions in yoga. I might want to take up jogging again. I don’t want to be aware of every ache and pain. I want to be done with all that.

And I want to be done with trying to hammer home messages about body acceptance just because that is what I “should” do. Without all of those social media posts and podcasts and blogs taking up a large chunk of my time, I hope to have time just to be. To get to know my body and find out what we can do together without all that noise from the outside. And to say goodbye to ED for the last time… because I don’t need him anymore.

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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Thinkstock photo via SergeyVasutin

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