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Learning to Cope With My Body 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.

Learning to live in a recovered body can be tough. I’ve found eating disorder voices romancing me back to disordered behaviors as jean sizes go up, stretch marks become apparent, and cellulite covers my skin — all the things I’ve been taught to reject about my body. Ads for weird creams, pills and fads fill my newsfeed. I find myself reading them and struggling to not hate my body as I’m told it’s “bad.”

But negative body image isn’t something we are born with. We are taught to hate our bodies. It isn’t like newborns come out wanting food, love, water and to lose weight or have tight, clear skin. Body hatred is something we learn — something taught to us by companies selling products and socialization.

I used to not think about my body. I just ran around freely, playing in trees without thinking about calories burned or how it would tone my body. Completely free.

I remember the first time this shifted and I felt my body was inadequate. It was fourth grade, at a pool party with my friends. We took a picture and I was the only one whose stomach wasn’t flat. I had no idea the rolls on my stomach “weren’t OK” until my friends started vocalizing judgments about their own bodies, pinching the baby fat on their hips or commenting on how their skin wasn’t clear. It was like that scene in “Mean Girls” where Gretchen, Karen and Regina are looking in a mirror and talking about what they hate about themselves. Cady, unaware of this ritual, confusingly joins in.

I suddenly became aware of this standard I was expected to meet. I watched my mom try all sorts of fixes for the veins on her legs or flab on her arms, trying to fix natural parts of her body. I talked to my friends about foods and juices we should eat in order to make our bodies “better.”

I quickly internalized these messages. I covered my body and refused to wear swimsuits in public. When I was deep in my eating disorder, I checked it every day to make sure it met cultural standards, which is why changes in recovery felt like a failure. It felt like giving up as my body morphed into what I was afraid of.

I’m trying to make peace with my recovered body. No, I don’t love it every day, but I’m trying to connect with my childhood self. The one who loves my legs because they allow me to hike and play. My arms which allow me to hug the ones I love. My stomach that protects my organs. This body, despite facing years of abuse, still protects me.

While I’m far from loving my body, I choose to respect it. I respect all it does for me and move closer to acceptance every day. Because, although it doesn’t meet bullshit cultural ideals, it loves me. I’m unlearning how to hate my body. Making peace with myself. Learning to be free again.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Originally published: August 7, 2019
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