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How to Avoid Triggering Your Loved Ones in Eating Disorder Recovery

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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 “NEDA” to 741741.

The eating disorder brain is obsessed with food. It spends every waking moment and sometimes sleeping moments thinking about food, planning the next meal, fantasizing about food it won’t eat, consuming food with its other senses instead. Looking at food. Pictures of food. Recipes. Imagining what it would be like to eat them. To make them. To enjoy them.

The eating disorder brain is constantly making comparisons. It is competitive and not a good sport. It checks out its body in every reflection to make sure nothing’s changed. It starts to find reflections in new places — sunglasses, glass cabinets, doors, metal. If it is reflective, the eating disorder brain will find it and savor the opportunity to make sure everything still “looks right,” although it never does. If another body walks by at the same time, eating disorder brain looks back and forth between that body and its own to make sure it is the smaller one. The eating disorder brain thrives when those around it are bigger and punishes when they are not. Even worse if its own body is not smaller than it once was. Or weighs more than it once did.

The eating disorder brain doesn’t have a name, but it responds to certain things as if they are its name. You can be sure it hears and listens when you mention “food,” “full,” “hungry,” “diet,” “fat,” “heavy,” “light” or “eat.” It watches like a concerned parent but reacts like a dictator. It measures everything in relatives. How much you get is less than all of them and less than yesterday. How much you weigh must be less. The circumference of your wrists and ankles and stomach should be smaller than before. Your bra size should be getting smaller. Your sizes getting smaller. If it’s not less, it’s not right. If it’s not lower, it’s not good enough. “It” being you. You are your sizes. You are your measurements. You are your caloric intake. You are your weight. You are not right. You are not good enough.

Fighting an eating disorder brain takes a strength you do not have when you are so deprived. Beating an eating disorder brain requires you to fight brain sickness with your sick brain. It takes admitting and accepting you have a problem when feeling imperfect is part of the problem.

It is so hard. So seemingly impossible. You don’t have to fight it alone but you do have to fight it yourself.

No one is responsible for fighting for you but you.

But everyone gets to choose if they are making it easier or making it harder, and everyone has the option to examine their own behavior to see if they are feeding eating disorder brains.

Whether you like it or not, if there’s an eating disorder brain around you, it is listening to you, learning from you and competing with you. That’s just how it is. The things you say affect a battle that you don’t know you’re a part of. But you are.

So if there’s an eating disorder brain around you, you can choose to start to listen to yourself a little harder.

You can either show an eating disorder brain that it is not “normal” and will not be accepted, or you can show it that it is among peers.

So you can choose to talk about calories, portions, how often you take in food or how much food you can take. Or, you can choose to not talk about it.

You can choose to talk shit about your own or another’s body, and your own or another’s weight, and how it’s changed and what feelings you assign to those changes. Or, you can choose not to talk about it.

You can choose to fight your own insecurities and work on being kinder to yourself, and focus on the things you like about yourself, accept the things you don’t and evaluate if and how you can make a healthy change. Or, you can speak negatively about yourself and put all of your self-worth into what you don’t like.

You can choose to rebel against a vain world that capitalizes on vulnerable people feeling valueless by valuing people and yourself not by something as meaningless as the appearance of a body, but instead by the life inside that body and all it has to offer. Or, you can choose to contribute to this vanity and the negativity it runs on.

I don’t pretend that these are easy shifts to make, but I also know they are shifts that we all have the power to make. Frankly, in my experience, the hardest influence to ignore is not the media, the magazines but the people we are surrounded by and the things they say.

I am deep into my recovery. I am very rarely tempted by my eating disorder brain, but it is there. And it is a lot. And there are times such as the week I’m writing this where trigger after trigger presents itself, and it’s hurting me. I am in pain. I am hurt that the people around me (who know about my eating disorder brain) speak the way they do around me. I don’t want to hear it. It hurts.

When I hear it, I shrivel. I don’t feel strong, I feel sad because if even the people around me, knowing about my brain, won’t change how they view body image and relationships with food then how can I believe anyone will? And seeing so many people around me still care so much makes me doubt myself. This diminished confidence makes more space for me to hear my eating disorder brain saying: “If this is how they think about themselves, can you even imagine what they think about you?”

I want to see this change. I don’t want to live in a world where we spend our precious time worrying about how we look and torturing ourselves to try to achieve an aesthetic. I am surrounded by kind, intelligent, funny, talented, generous, compassionate people who care more about the size of their waist and hips than what incredible people they are. And it makes me so sad.

I want to believe it can change. I changed. Can’t we all just change?

Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash

Originally published: January 17, 2020
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