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What You Should Know Before You Compliment My 'Skinny Body'

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It started as a retaliation to my pubescent body changing in ways I could not control. Wider hips, a soft layer of fat on my belly, breasts beginning to develop. Looking in the mirror, all I felt was disdain for the changes happening to me, despite my internal protests. So, I began to restrict my intake, trying to gain some semblance of control over my body once more. But as those of you who have anorexia nervosa will know, this only led to a downward spiral that markedly altered the course of my teen years.

I was engaging in a number of harmful behaviors – poring over so-called “thinspiration,” participating in toxic pro-ED communities, fasting desperately and religiously weighing myself every morning and night. I wouldn’t say I merely “grew out” of these behaviors, but by the time I was 18, I had managed to place myself upon the path of recovery. However, I experienced some traumatic life events in the last year and an unfortunate consequence was the reemergence of my anorexia. I have begun seeing a wonderful therapist weekly and I am once again trying to recover from this awful disorder. This time I have the help of a professional who is helping me undo the problematic patterns of thinking I have developed around food, my body, exercise and eating.

In my teen years, no one around me seemed to notice the physical and mental changes I had undergone. Upon my recent relapse however, friends and family have noticed my weight loss and the reactions have been mixed. Some do not believe I need treatment or should be trying to gain any weight, whereas some of my loved ones are very pleased I have realized how damaging my relapse could be and are glad I am seeking help.

What stuck out to me, though, was the reaction from a couple of people in my life who went so far as to compliment my body, telling me I look ‘well,’ that weight loss looks good on me and I have a beautiful figure they are envious of. This stunned me because even though I am not at the moment experiencing the most rational thought processes around my body, I know well enough I do not look good and my “figure” is not something others should strive for.

Here’s the reality. I am sick. I have restricted my intake until my body has been starved and I am now paying the price for that. I am cold all the time, a kind of cold that feels as if it is in my bones themselves. It has taken me twice the amount of time as my partner to recover from a virus that hit me so hard I was almost taken to the emergency department. My skin is dry and flaking, to the extent I need a medicated shampoo to control the embarrassing dryness that has developed on my scalp. My eyes look bruised constantly because of the permanent dark circles that have appeared in recent months. My nails are brittle and no amount of manicuring will prevent them from splitting and snapping. Social events and holidays are a nightmare because they inevitably include food in some shape or form and my neuroses around eating mean I can’t enjoy being around my loved ones because all I can think about are the number of calories in whatever I do manage to eat.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. My body is a sick body, a body I now have to take great care of to help it recover. My anorexic body is not one to validate, to tell me I don’t need treatment. I know I do. My attitude towards food is incredibly unhealthy and I have to work with my therapist to reverse this. My anorexic body is not one you should envy. The body I will have in my recovery will be a body strong enough to take me through life as this one can’t yet. There is strength in acknowledging you have a problem and this is what I am trying to do.

To my loved ones, please don’t get mad at me for struggling but also please do not try to validate my unhealthy behaviors and thought processes. I need your support in fighting this illness, not your well-intentioned but misguided compliments. I am choosing recovery now. For the first time, I am ready to accept my eating disorder and begin a new life without it.

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.

Originally published: January 20, 2017
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