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Why Eating Disorder Comparisons Are Harmful, Even in Recovery

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We’ve all done it. Whether it was comparing our own personal mountains or milestones, comparison happens. Eating disorders play games with your thought processes and when you’re sick, it’s harder to see reality. Comparisons can make finding the truth that much more difficult.

Everybody’s recovery is so individualized. We’ve all experienced things differently and cope with things in our own ways. So when we take something as personal as our recovery, and compare it to those around us, it can be really damaging. The only truth we really have is our own. Someone else’s middle won’t look the same as ours, especially if we’re still working on our beginning stages.

It’s really easy to find ways to compare ourselves. Sometimes, for example, seeing people’s posts online can become problematic when we perceive others as being further ahead in recovery than we are. I remember when I was pretty new to recovery, and I followed other people’s blogs who were also documenting their journeys. I felt like I was doing everything wrong. When my body changed differently, I felt inadequate and even more self-conscious, especially when I saw “progress pictures.” When my coping skills didn’t work similarly, I felt like I was some kind of poser, or like I wasn’t trying hard enough. I had a Tumblr that I kept while in the beginning of my recovery and it often kept me stuck in my thoughts. Once I realized that, I deleted it, even though I didn’t completely want to. But it helped allow me to heal, so now I am able to look at things like that with a new perspective, with a
healthier brain.

The same things happened once I entered treatment for the first time, and the second, etc. The comparisons occurred continuously and it was really hard to teach myself that they weren’t doing me any favors.

It was really hard sitting at the table during lunch, looking at my meal plan and
then looking around at those surrounding me. It was hard to pick my afternoon snack without looking to see what other people were choosing. I did this with pretty much everything. It happened partially because I felt like I wasn’t worthy of being in treatment, and because I couldn’t always take my eating disorder seriously. I can’t even count how many times I’ve told providers I felt like I was taking up a bed someone else deserved.

Whether comparing was about positive aspects of my recovery, or harmful eating disorder behaviors, it always chipped away at me, regardless. But, with a lot of hard work, I have made doing so a non-option. I started to, whether this phrase has become cliché or not, take it day by day. I had to redirect myself when I found myself choosing a snack based on somebody else’s selections, or when I caught myself checking out others’ plates at lunch.

Even outside of recovery friends, I would still check myself against people from other places, or my family. I would look at people I saw on commercials and just think to myself that I needed desperately to change something about myself to be “better.” None of this ever helped or made me happier.

Reminders that my recovery may mean doing different things than others to progress was a realization that was really important. It started with me trying to forgive myself daily for things I considered to be mistakes. It meant forgiving myself for not being the same as those around me. I had to let myself start over, daily. I needed to let myself try again and
stop letting one missed exchange allow my entire day to snowball out of control. I had to stop beating myself up for not doing my meal plan perfectly. Forgiveness of myself is an ongoing fight, but allowing myself to recover in my own way, and at my own pace, released me into climbing my mountains in the ways I needed to.

Recovery, to me, has a variety of mountains. And comparisons are one of them. Climbing
my way to the top, to conquer it, was challenging. Sometimes I still find myself slipping back down into negativity, but I always remind myself that it always hurts more than it helps.

My recovery is mine. My path is mine, and won’t always look like the ones I see online, or in others around me. My life won’t always match the one that I think I’m supposed to have. And that’s OK.

It’s important to remind yourself that you didn’t fall down the rabbit hole of becoming sick just as somebody else did, so you won’t climb your own mountains just as they do either.

This post originally appeared on

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 manuela bertoli

Originally published: September 21, 2017
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