How many times in recovery have we heard “it’s not about weight. It’s not about the size. Your disorder is really not about your body at all.”? We are told to throw our scales away, never let the doctor show us our weight when we go for a checkup, encouraged not to exercise during recovery, to buy new jeans in more “realistic” sizes… I remember doing these things in my early recovery days and thinking everyone was full of it. They were clearly all in in cahoots to make me completely lose awareness and control of myself. To make me stop caring about my body so I could be 'fat and happy'.
I realize now that this was all so difficult and incomprehensible at the time because, at the time, it was about all of those things (in my sick mind at least). It was, but it wasn’t. It was smoke and mirrors, but I wasn’t ready to see that yet.
As a therapist now, I do it too—I tell my clients that knowing their weight will not do them any good. I remind them that their body is literally crying out for nourishment and energy.
And then I hear myself say that what they are struggling with really has nothing to do with their weight or size at all...it’s a twisted facade to cover up the insecurities, pain, fear, and lack of control going on far beyond anything to do with their physical body image. They’ve got “eating disorder goggles” glued to their faces.
Sometimes, for those who are ready to look beneath the binds that hold them, I get a look of relief that says “tell me more”. But usually, I get a deer in headlights look, a blank stare, or, especially the teens, a thoroughly annoyed eye roll. And that’s okay! Neither response is right or wrong, they simply reflect two very different phases of recovery. I think back to my earlier self, and I get it.
It’s interesting because the illness, the disease, the life vs. death reality all have everything to do with physical factors—but the recovery itself, the true, sustainable, the genuine recovery takes an immensely significant and difficult perspective shift of what really matters...and of what is real. No wonder body image is arguably one of the most difficult parts of recovery.
Something really stuck with me during a presentation last week by Dr. Guadiani of the Guadiani Clinic, and Lyn Goldring, VP of Nursing at Monte Nido. They were discussing the unique jobs of nurses, doctors and other clinicians in the eating disorder treatment field, and Lyn spoke of the invariable truth that sometimes, our most important task is to simply bear witness. I felt like she was speaking directly to me. She was so right, and I so badly needed that humbling reminder.
Recovery is a funny thing. I firmly believe that all the time, it is about feeding the soul. All the time, it is about relationships and boundaries. All the time, it is about self-esteem, control, attachment, and belonging. All the time, it is about so much more than what it seems.
But, in eyes and the mind of a hurting, broken, confused girl, sometimes, it is about the food. Sometimes, it is about the body. My job is not to try to convince anyone otherwise, but to hear, respect, and honor my clients, wherever they may be.
I will remind you, I will show you the light, I will bear witness and be a witness to the beautiful and hopeful realities of recovery. But you must walk towards that light, throw away that scale, try on those new jeans, and choose to trust the process in order to really get there. The mission is not to lose awareness of your body or to lose control so you stop caring. It’s quite the opposite. But it’s one of those things that is so hard to explain, yet so powerful to experience.
Body image is about so much more than the physical, tangible, measurable aspects of the body. And it is undoubtedly something that all women struggle with to some extent. I have lots more to say about this topic, so stay tuned, beautiful girl. And don’t give up.
Rachel Daggett, MS, MFTI is a Wellness and Recovery Coach and a Registered Therapist Intern. She has a private practice in Manhattan Beach, CA, and strives to be an active force of empowerment and love in the community. Through struggling with her own eating disorder and journey of healing, and now being recovered, she has become an advocate for eating disorder recovery and mental health. Rachel has a Masters degree in Psychology, and believes in the importance of caring for the mind, body, heart, and soul as a whole. Rachel is a yogi, a dog-mom, a beach-girl at heart, and has recently started studying the natural healing power of essential oils. Visit her website.