How to Recover in an Appearance-Obsessed World

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The content of this article may be sensitive to some readers.

There’s no way around it. You will have to eat more than whatever you allotted yourself daily eventually. You’ll have to eat more than you’re used to and more than you think you “deserve” or “want.” You’ll have to accept yourself, and not the version of you that constantly wants to lose weight or engage in symptoms. You’ll have to be honest with yourself and those you are working with in treatment, which can include medical professionals and maybe even friends.

That is how you’ll recover from your eating disorder. You must make peace with your body and mind and cultivate a new ground of acceptance, or at least tolerance, to take back your life from the eating disorder.
That is how you’ll get your true personality back, you know, the one you had before all you could think of were numbers, calories, weight, and how much of these you could get rid of or exclude in a day.

This is the reality of recovering from an eating disorder, whether you’ve just been diagnosed or have been attempting to survive with it for years. The good news is that you certainly can recover, no matter how short or long the duration of your eating disorder has been.

Some more good news is that it is worth it. If you can get past those initial and incredibly difficult first steps for yourself and what your mind has wrongly perceived as the enemy, you can and will recover.

I’m not saying that it is as simple as reading recovery articles. You have to place your mental, emotional, and physical recovery above everything else, and stare down the mental health issues that are underlying the eating disorder and its other symptoms. You have to put in the tedious work in therapy, at mealtimes, and all of the times in between when you may want to give up. Don’t give up.

Recovery in any society that is obsessed with thinness, dieting, and overall appearances isn’t exactly a day trip to the beach, but the amount of self-acceptance and peace it will bring you makes up for all of the head banging you’ll want to do when you encounter someone spouting off random (and often incorrect) dieting tips, or bemoaning the three pounds they gained (that no one else noticed, anyway).

It’s shocking that much of our society is centered on these comments of self-hatred. The average person will say things that you thought to yourself while in a particularly dark period when you were ill, and you’ll think, “Hey! They can’t say that if I’m not allowed to!”

The thing is, they will, and they haven’t been given the tools to reject these almost ingrained ideals that are taught and not innately learned. Use your tools instead, whether it’s something you’ve learned from the therapy you’re hopefully receiving or just an opposing comment that makes that person look at themselves with a different perspective.

We already have to deal with bullying from our own minds, the media, and people who have taken it upon themselves to make the world a terrible, unwelcoming place. Let’s not make life or recovery any harder on ourselves by playing into these paradigms that only serve to increase hatred.

Shut down that diet talk (if you feel comfortable) when you hear it. Tell your friend that every body is ready for the beach, and not every single person is supposed to look like the models on Instagram. Offer to find support for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, or seek help if you’re the one caught in its web.

Recovery may place you at a weight or body in which you don’t believe you can ever be comfortable. I’ve been there, and just know it gets easier the more you learn that what your mind (and possibly society) perceives as ideal is not ideal or coveted if you make yourself deathly ill in the process. You can be happy and recovered.

You are more than your body, your weight, or your appearance. Don’t let a full recovery slip by because of what you think you’ll look like afterwards. I can tell you that happiness is what people will notice the most about you, instead of the necessary pounds gained to restore your life, health, and personality.

I’m grateful for my recovery because it’s made me more aware of these insidious messages that people repeat like prized parrots because they’ve heard them reiterated extensively in their lives. These messages are harmful and do not need any more air time than they’ve already received.

The change we need to fashion an environment that is easier for everyone to recover, whether that’s from an eating disorder, low self-esteem, or a problem with body image, starts with calling out hurtful statements when they occur. It begins with not engaging in self-disparaging talk when everyone seemingly takes a number and waits to talk about their “flaws,” which every human being has.

Choose recovery, choose to live your life to the fullest, and choose to make a difference for those recovering from eating disorders, or even the general population, by not uttering another hateful or ugly word against yourself or others. Let’s try to make loving oneself the norm.

Please visit the National Eating Disorders Association or call the NEDA Helpline at 1-(800)-931-2237 to find resources and get help.

Featured Image: Moyan Brenn, Flickr

Keara Hozella
Overly-caffeinated post-grad fixated on cats (especially my girl, Sophie), literature, sparkly jewelry, anything with a purple hue, and the Oxford comma. Currently living in the middle of nowhere and looking to expand beyond "what is dreamt of in [my own] philosophy."