Dianna Chillo, LCSW-R
ED Recovery in an Image Obsessed World
Originally published for Project HEAL as a member of Project HEAL's Healer Circle
She sits at the lunch table with her friends as they discuss their upcoming Spring Break and the weight they all “need” to lose in order to get “beach body” ready.
While taking a nutrition class, necessary for her degree, she listens to her professor lecture about the foods we need to stay away from in order to avoid obesity.
It’s the holidays, he is gathered around the table with his family, discussing their meal and how much they ate, all the while labeling foods as “good and bad,” and how they need to start their diet and hit the gym.
As he peruses his social media accounts, he is bombarded with messages and images about fitness, and selfies of cut and sculpted individuals being praised for how disciplined they are and how amazing they look.
She’s out socially for the first time in a while and a random person asks to take her photo commenting on her modelesque physique and she thinks, “when will anyone ever see who I am?”
These are all real events and they happen on a regular basis. We live in a world obsessed with image. We are inundated with talk of dieting, the latest weight loss plans and endless fitness programs. With social media as our new culture, these messages are even more rampant and make the average individual feel somehow inadequate. But these messages are what make recovering, from an eating disorder, that much more difficult.
Eating disorders are not the result of societal messages alone. They are serious mental illnesses and are the result of biological as well as sociocultural factors. Recovering from an eating disorder that basically normalizes disordered behavior can be confusing and challenging. Let’s face it, we live in a society that has brainwashed us into believing in myths about fat, weight, health and fitness. Most people without a diagnosed eating disorder buy into the lies sold by weight loss and fitness companies. They rely on all of us to chase that one little carrot dangling in front of us…the feeling of never being good enough.
For someone navigating the recovery process, this culture we live in can be a nightmare, but that’s life.
It’s impossible for anyone going through the recovery process to avoid triggers. In many ways it’s important to be exposed to them, in order to learn how to deal with them and integrate them into everyday living. The examples I gave at the beginning of this article are all real examples that clients have given me over the years and continue to do so. Whether surrounded by peers or family talking about losing weight for the holidays or an upcoming vacation, it’s helpful to be equipped to handle feelings and triggers.
Here are a few ways to manage these triggers:
Inform & Empower Yourself
As mentioned, we are flooded with disordered messages and myths about weight and body image. The great news is, the eating disorder community has grown, and our voices are being heard more now than ever before. As much as we are exposed to these negative stressors, there are so many pro-recovery and body positive messages out there. I truly believe that knowledge is power, so I encourage my clients to follow pro-recovery accounts to empower, support and inform themselves. A few examples of awesome pro recovery accounts are Project Heal, Recovery Warriors, Jennifer Rollin, Jennifer McGurk, and Christy Harrison, to name just a few. Having informed support in recovery can help with your own healing process, but also arm you with ways to combat diet talk, body image and/ or fat phobic comments, which leads me to my next suggestion.
Create Boundaries/Use Your Voice
At any stage of recovery, it’s completely appropriate to feel any range of emotions when triggered. Notice your feelings and those who are around you. Are these close friends or family, or people you may or may not see again. The nature of your relationship may determine your response. Take a moment and think about how you feel and how best to respond. It’s ok to excuse yourself from a triggering conversation if its’ too uncomfortable.
If a person is engaging in negative body image or diet talk, you can also change the subject and ask the person you’re speaking to about other things going on in their life.
You can also, if you feel comfortable, share that you are in recovery and let them know that you prefer not talking about diets and weight, and/or you can take it a step further based on the prior example, and share your informed knowledge regarding diet myths, weight and fat phobia. It’s always important to be mindful of where you are in your recovery and what you want to share in terms of your vulnerability.
Reframe the triggering comment
Remember when people are negatively talking about their bodies, weight and dieting that is their emotional baggage. They are allowing that to rent space in their own head and you are working hard not to fall into that anymore. Remind yourself how much more life has to offer. Access your healthy voice and remind yourself how hard you’ve worked to get where you are in your recovery.
Talk to Someone Who Understands What You Are Going Through
Triggering situations are exhausting to combat and can bring up your own urges. It’s important to discuss these feelings with your therapist, dietician, eating disorder coach, or anyone in your life that truly understands your struggle. Slips happen and are often the result of triggers and/or the culmination of stressful events. Having the space to discuss the feelings and urges that come up as a result of these situations are vital to continued recovery.
As a final thought, I love this piece by Linda Bacon in her book Health at Every Size.
“Your body doesn’t represent your core self. You are many more important things beyond your body: Perhaps you are compassionate, intelligent, articulate, and/or creative. Don’t give your body more power than it deserves; it can’t define you. Instead cultivate a value system that puts appearance in its place and honors bodies for more than their packaging. Your body is valuable because it houses you….”