An Open Letter to Lady Gaga’s Belly Roll

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Dearest Lady Gaga’s Belly Roll,

You are causing quite the stir in the social media stratosphere after Sunday’s spectacular Super Bowl Performance. But, if I’m being honest here, I didn’t notice you. I’m so sorry.

I completely overlooked your big debut because I was entranced by the performance. To my shock and dismay, Monday’s news headlines were not about the overall extraordinary Halftime show, but your appearance. Seems odd, right? Especially, when everyone I know has a belly roll. So what makes you so different?

I mean, don’t get me wrong. You are beautifurs_1024x759-170205180601-1024-lady-gaga-super-bowl-4l! You’re a great looking belly roll. But we all have belly rolls, some smaller, some bigger, some with stretch marks. You get the idea. My belly rolls have actually become my favorite part of my body.

I used to despise my belly rolls. Like, really, really hate them. I would lie on the floor in agony, pulling at my rolls wishing to rip them off my body. I would tear and scratch and my belly, taking all my mental anguish out on it. I thought if my belly rolls would disappear so would the monster in my brain.

Turns out, no surgery, diet pill or diet would heal the war in my mind. Thankfully, after years of hard work in recovery, I have made peace with my beautiful belly.

My belly helps me stand tall and it carried my two precious babies. I love my belly rolls more than I ever thought possible. Last week, I went on my first vacation with my husband to celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary.

As I laid on the beach, I looked down at my belly rolls and smiled. There is such peace when you no longer have to hide or hate your body. I snapped pictures liberally, without fear. I took a selfie from below and immediately thought, ‘Oh, gosh, this is going to be bad. Such a horrible angle.”

I clicked on the photo app to see what I knew was going to be a ‘bad’ picture, and laughed. I loved it. I suddenly realized, I no longer had a bad angle. My belly and belly rolls are beautiful from EVERY single angle. I put my phone down and continued to bask in the sun.

Maybe it was because I just had this experience, I didn’t notice you. I’m sorry for the hurtful things people have said to you. I pray they can look at their own bellies one day and love their rolls.

These people don’t understand the impact they have when they body shame others. The damaging ripple effect runs far and wide. When I was in my eating disorder, if I read the things people wrote about you, I would look down and question my own belly, “If they think that about Lady Gaga’s belly, what would they say about mine?” Thus, catapulting me further into self-hate and self-destructive behaviors.

None of us are the same – not our skin, our beliefs and definitely not our bellies. Why can’t we all just raise our shirts and love our bellies? And ourselves for that matter?

For what it is worth, I think you are beautiful and I am so thankful you were brave enough to show up and be seen on Sunday. You and Lady Gaga rocked that performance!

Give Lady Gaga my best.

With love and warm [belly] hugs,

McCall Dempsey

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About the Author

McCall Dempsey, founder of Southern Smash, is an eating disorder survivor and passionate recovery advocate.  After a 15-year battle, McCall sought treatment at the Carolina House in December 2010. Since then she has made eating disorder awareness and prevention her life

McCall Dempsey, Smashing Scales, 225 Mag, 1.14.14, Collin Richie Photo

’s work and passion.

McCall travels the country, sharing her story of hope and healing with audiences everywhere. From

high school auditoriums to treatment centers to corporate meetings, her message of authenticity and embracing your inner-uniqueness transcends all ages.

McCall also writes the popular blog, Loving Imperfection.  Her writing has been featured in various national print and online publications, including Women’s Health Online.  She has also appeared on HuffPostLive.com multiple times.

McCall resides in Saint Simon’s Island, Georgia, with her husband, Jordan, and is the proud mother of two precious children, Manning (5) and Marjorie (2).

 

FAQ Friday: Are Weight Transformation Images Liberating or Triggering?

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by Dr. Colleen Reichmann, Licensed Clinical Psychologist 

 

“Are the weight transformation images a good thing or are they negative for the recovery community?”

 

woman-smartphone-girl-technology-2-650x437This is an important topic, because of the recent swift growth of the online pro-recovery and body positive community. The notorious “Transformation Tuesday” pictures that have historically reeked of diet culture (i.e. images of individuals pre and post-weight loss) have been commandeered by our beautiful community.

If you search #transformationtuesday on social media today, you will still find a slew of weight-loss before and after pictures. However, dotted among these pictures will be the occasional weight-gain picture– typically an individual pre and post-weight restoration during recovery from an eating disorder.

Recently another hashtag started trending – one that is more specific to the recovery community- #gainingweightiscool. A search of this hashtag will almost exclusively yield these before and after weight restoration pictures of individuals in recovery from eating disorders.

Additionally, some of the most loved body positive and recovery accounts routinely post these transformation pictures. These accounts are widely followed, and hence have the potential to deeply impact the community as a whole.

So while I am typically against black and white responses, I do tend to believe there are more negatives to these transformational images than positives. Let me explain:

 

The Negatives

These images focus on just that – images.
They put a face to eating disorders. This encourages us to do what we are all subconsciously primed to do anyway – focus on someone’s appearance as a gauge to estimate how sick they are or once were. The vast majority of individuals suffering from eating disorders are not underweight-indeed many individuals with anorexia may not ever appear drastically underweight. Hence the dangerous myth that eating disorders are all about weight loss is not something that we want to perpetuate via social media.

Additionally, more simply, they encourage us to focus on the outside. We are all SO used to focusing on the outside anyway, and recovery from an eating disorder usually involves a fight to recognize that worth stems from the inside. So putting focus on visual depictions of the illness seems like a step backwards.

They ramp up competitive eating disorder voices.
This is a no-brainer. These pictures are triggering for many individuals struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder. Though the message may be that #gainingweightiscool, the stark visual image of sickness leaves the door open for the eating disorder voices, saying things like, “I’m not sick enough,” or “I never got sick enough,” to creep, ever so sneakily, back in.

An important note is that some well-known body positive activists will post disclaimers on their transformation pictures to address this very point. For example, some will post pictures featuring the pre-weight restoration and post-weight restoration with a notation at the bottom to the tune of: *YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LOOK LIKE I DID FOR YOUR STRUGGLE TO BE VALID. EATING DISORDERS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES*

Disclaimers like these might, however, have the drawback of speaking to rational thought, and the “I’m not sick enough” thinking is anything but rational. Rather, it’s ED thinking. For some, this notation may not be enough to break through the thoughts that come along with the triggering images once they begin. The “I’m not sick enough” thoughts can still be pervasive even after one has been well-educated about the fact those suffering come in all shapes and sizes.

They perpetuate societal misunderstanding.
Society (and sometimes doctors, insurance companies, etc.) already seems to have a tough enough time grasping the fact that eating disorders have no face. ED’s affect people of all different genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, ages, and YES- body types. They Do. Not. Discriminate. And yet, the vast, vast majority of articles and educational pieces for the mass media are written about one type of eating disordered individual – the young Caucasian female with Anorexia Nervosa. Articles for the commercialized media are more often than not accompanied by images of emaciation.

Why? Because this sells. Anorexia is easily sensationalized in the media because of our current societal obsession with the thin ideal.

Those of us involved in recovery awareness and activism cannot necessarily help what a women’s magazine chooses to focus on. But we can help what our social media community chooses to promote. By posting these transformation pictures, we are adding to the societal idea (as well as the eating disordered thought) that anorexia is Everybody’s Favorite Eating Disorder, and that people who are not underweight are not sick. In doing so, we are also perpetuating the tendency to overlook those suffering from other forms of this illness like Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, Other-Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED), and Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).


The Positives

They fight stigma.
It cannot be denied that these transformation pictures buck the trend-among a slew of weight-loss idealization pictures, it can be so refreshing to see someone celebrating weight gain! It is a great reminder that weight loss is not always the goal, and that “healthy” can mean different things for different people.

They allow people to own their stories.
The pictures can be liberating to post. Our society sends an overwhelming message that mental illness is something to hide or be ashamed of. These pictures are an attention-grabbing, incredibly courageous way of saying, “Hey! I went through something. I’m STILL going through it. And you know what? I’m not ashamed. I’m a brave warrior and I’m fighting every day.”

Also, sometimes when one goes through something as trying and difficult as an eating disorder, there is a pull to show people just how much suffering occurred. A pull to shout, “Hey! I went through hell and back, see?” After staying silent and numb for so long, (as people tend to when suffering from their eating disorder), sometimes there is that irresistible pull to break free, tell one’s story, and in turn, set it free. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

And furthermore, not everyone considers their social media account to be part of a social justice movement. Some people simply want to document their journey, and posting their pictures is 100% their right in doing so (although sometimes the pictures depicting severe emaciation do get reported and removed by Instagram).

They start a conversation.
If the pictures are public (and even if they aren’t) they start a conversation. They start a conversation among strangers, family and friends. They force people to confront their own biases about weight gain and health. The pictures are a visual declaration that weight gain can be positive, beautiful, and life-saving. They are a pictorial screw-you to the diet culture script- the idea that weight loss is ALWAYS the goal and that skinnier is ALWAYS healthier no matter what. These pictures have the potential to open people’s eyes and minds to the idea that all bodies are good bodies, and that health can fit every size.

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There are both positives and negatives to these transformation pictures, but my final thought would be to proceed with caution. You never know who could be triggered by the image.

Your journey is yours to own, so of course it is within your right to post your photos and empower yourself and your recovery. I would simply suggest that you be deeply thoughtful about what your reason is for posting the pictures before doing so. Consider not putting too much emphasis on them, and instead focusing on your inner strength, your mind, your newfound ability to deal with tough emotions, and your fresh starts in relationships.

Eating disorder recovery involves so, so much more than the outside.

And, as a final note to the well-known body positive accounts: please use the images sparingly. You are all doing such amazing, impactful work. Your message is SO important, and you have the potential to influence so many. So while your journey may have involved weight gain, there are an infinite amount of other variables involved that make you YOU. Be sure to shine a STRONG light on those as well.

 


 

About the Author:

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc site

 

Dr. Colleen Reichmann is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing in Virginia Beach. She works in a group practice, and is a staff psychologist at the College of William and Mary. She is an eating disorders and women’s issues specialist She is an advocate for feminism, body positivity, health at every size, and FULL recovery. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, or send her an email.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The views expressed in this posting are based on this writer’s professional knowledge, training, and experience in accord with current and relevant psychological literature and practice. These views do not indicate that a professional relationship has been established with any recipients. Readers should consult with their primary medical professionals for specific feedback about any and all questions.

 

 

 

 

Loving All Parts of My Body

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By Danielle Sherman-Lazar

Why do you still order maternity swimsuits?” My husband said, eyeballing me as I slipped on the new polka-dotted swimsuit I got on Amazon to see if it fit.

I quickly  looked down at my body and went through the checklist in my head: it fit ✓, covered my thighs ✓. Perfect, I thought, and then robotically stripped it right off. It ran through my head that this bathing suit was a “winner winner chicken dinner,” in my book (which brought me back to another very important decision in my life– hmm, what should we have for dinner?)

“Hello, Yoo-Hoo, Earth to Dani?” The hubs said, waving his hands in front of my face. Waking me up from my zombie, or more like zombie-chicken-like trance.

Because they are more comfortable, a little lose, more flattering.” I answered, swatting his hands away like he was a pesky bee zigzagging around my head.

Plus, he was kind of acting like one. He clearly doesn’t know my checkered history with swimsuits. At least I will now wear one in public.

My worst nightmare was to have to go to a store and put one on in front of the mirror. Both, terrible nightmarish situations—especially for this self-proclaimed anti-shopper with a poor body image.

My shopping experience used to go something like this:

1. Try it on.139136870_4fadd2f255_z

2. Look in the mirror and be terribly unhappy with my body and what I saw.

3. Then, feelings of sadness and failure.

Needless to say, my shopping experiences were quite difficult and triggering, and as Barney from “How I met Your Mother” would say, “Not so legendary.”

If you still don’t get it, here is a simple equation:

I would stare in the mirror completely horrified. Now, I find myself in this bathing suit situation every Thursday.

My daughter takes swim lessons and obviously an eight-month-old can’t swim alone, meaning I must go in with her. Though her instructor informed me she is buoyant, I don’t think I should chance it just yet. So, every Thursday we go to swim, and I change myself, then her, into our bathing suits.

When I walked out of the locker room our first lesson, to my surprise, I didn’t even think about the fact that I was wearing the dreaded swimsuit. And five months later, I still don’t. Recovery is the key that unlocked all my doors clasped tightly together by shame. Recovery has let me live, and thus experience. These amazing momentous things happened to me because I am in recovery.

There was a trickle-down effect of sorts: If I wasn’t in recovery, I couldn’t have a baby: one, because I wouldn’t have let anyone in (so unless I was The Virgin Mary herself that wouldn’t be possible) and two, because I wasn’t healthy enough to conceive.15238438089_7f8e078277_z

If I didn’t have a baby, I wouldn’t have fully understood how amazing my body was and appreciated it.

So yes, because I am in recovery and my body could give me my daughter, wearing a swimsuit has become a non-issue. I hardly think twice about how I look while playing in the pool with her.

I see my daughter’s smile, hear her laugh as she “splashy splashes the water,” and that’s all that matters.

In that way, I’d like to thank my eating disorder recovery for giving me the experiences and perspective to make a swimsuit that—is just a swimsuit.

So no, I won’t be the girl rocking the tiny string bikini, thinking I look hot, but that just isn’t me or what I am about at all. Plus, I think some old-fashioned modesty goes a long way.

So yes, I will be the girl in the one-piece, or comfortable two-piece playing confidently with my daughter, smiling, laughing. And you know what, I don’t care what society says about my frumpy suits; I am happy and have come a long way.

 

This piece originally appeared on https://livingafulllifeaftered.com/


 

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About the Author:

Danielle Sherman-Lazar is four years in recovery from anorexia and bulimia, Vice President of a transportation company, and a mother to a nine-month-old. Hobbies (when she has a minute to breathe!) include reading, writing or blogging, anything on Bravo (she is not afraid to admit her reality-TV/Real Housewives of Anywhere addiction) and the occasional workout. Follow her on her blog Living a Full Life After ED and like it on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Who Do You Want to Show Up as Today?

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who-do-youIn the early morning hours, before darkness lifts and the pace picks up, I tip toe downstairs, shower, and quietly prepare for the day. I love this time, before my husband and children wake and my various responsibilities kick in. I can hear my thoughts, my breath, and the stillness.

I dress and approach the mirror. I stand before it, meet my eyes, and instead of asking who is the fairest of them all, I ask: Who do you want to show up as today?

For years and years, I stood before the mirror frantically checking my body. Do I look anorexic enough? Do I look sick enough from the side, front, and back? Of course, the answer was always no, and in an instant, the calm morning hours turned day into a raging hell. Can you relate?

That single moment in front of the mirror determined my attitude for the entire day. And because of that, recovery felt like a big fat inconvenience. An uphill battle. A never ending source of agony. I was always on the defensive, running against the natural flow of life for the sake of a measly moment in the mirror.

I’m 22 years into my healing path now, and I’ve given myself permission to play offense instead of defense. It’s taken time and many leaps of faith to test what would happen if I asked myself a different question in front of the mirror, one that celebrates instead of berates, empowers instead of belittles, raises up versus ridicules.

The idea of asking myself questions that weren’t traps for misery came from learning about the philosophical concept in yoga called the koshas. The idea is that we are all made of five layers: body, breath, mind (emotions), intellect, and spirit. In my experience, recovery is so heavily focused on food and feeding our bodies (because it has to be!) that we often don’t pause and notice how we are feeding our minds. You and I both know how difficult it is to get a grip on spinning eating disorder beliefs, thoughts, and rules! Gruelingly hard work, yes?

The reality I had to face was that unless I started feeding my mind different questions about myself, I would never have an opportunity to respond differently or feel happier or believe I was more than an eating disorder. My experience of life would forever be dictated by a mirror.

Little by little, I started asking different questions, the most pivotal one being: Who do you want to show up as today? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes my answer to that question is related to body size. The difference now, though, is that I don’t allow that thought to stick. I consciously choose to ask myself the question again until the answer that comes is one that feeds my mind with positivity so that I start my day with an attitude of “Look out world, I am ready for you!”

So, I ask you: Who do you want to show up as today? How can you begin to feed your mind differently so that you have the opportunity to create new thoughts about yourself, your body, and your place in your world, in this world?

If you are unsure, just start with one simple question similar to what I ask myself, and don’t let yourself off the hook until your answer is about who you are at your core. We all deserve to draw out these beautiful parts of ourselves, and it begins with feeding our minds new words and thoughts about our whole sense of self.

jennifer_yoga-9076Written by Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy, is a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders. In recovery herself, Jennifer is exceedingly passionate about helping others connect with their natural gift of resilience through yoga. She works with individuals one on one and leads yoga therapy groups and seminars. Jennifer is also a yoga therapist at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, and she teaches yoga at Verge Yoga in Wayne, PA. Her ultimate goals in life are to be a positive role model for her daughters and to teach them that anything is possible when we ring true (Chime) with who we are at our core and live with strong intention. Learn more about Jennifer: www.ChimeYogaTherapy.com.

After Years of Disobeying My Body, It’s Now Disobeying Me

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Written by Project HEAL co-founder, Liana Rosenman

11203042_10153197326585041_7354793636075951106_nI spent most of my teenage years treating my body like an enemy: hating it, blaming it, manipulating and controlling it. Through recovery, I’ve learned how to appreciate myself as a whole person and to love myself for who I am. I have realized the strength and goodness that lies within my body. I became my body’s friend rather than its enemy.  

The thing is, I’ve done a lot of HEALing over the years. In a lot of ways, I became more in tune and aware of my body and was healthier than ever. My life was full of beauty, exploration and learning. I was in love with life and in love with living. My moments were filled with good friends, loving family and hard work. I was happy. Truly happy. But, that was once upon a time (or at least for now)!

I took my body for granted until I woke up one day and realized my immune system stopped doing its job. My body has become my own worst enemy because I am no longer in control of my body — Lyme Disease is. Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochete—a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is called “The Great Imitator,” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.

I have always prided myself in being productive. Organizational systems made me swoon. There is something about systematically organizing your entire life into one little book that excited me. I must say, one of the best feelings in the world is when you have a beautifully laid-out, organized, color-coded day where everything fits together like a puzzle (because I just couldn’t say NO and had to use every single square inch of time in my day on something). I got a kick out of ticking off a to-do list. Goals? I had them down baby! Success and my addiction to achievement were ingrained into the person I was.

My plate has always been full. I’ve had a go-go-go personality for as long as I can remember. I think I was born with it. I wanted to do it all, and to be the best at all I did. For me, what’s on my plate determined who I was, how I saw myself, if I allowed myself to be happy. I judged myself based on what was on my plate. Somehow I thought life was about putting things on my plate and continually having to add more.

But life with Lyme has changed that. Life with Lyme means that I can’t predict what I’ll be capable of doing from one day to the next, or even from one hour to the next. Lyme Disease has a way of bringing you down. You feel like you are living life in a box — looking out of a window and watching life passing you by. Each day is unique and to what degree my body will cooperate is unpredictable. I am learning not to be stuck on how things are supposed to be done.

Sometimes it feels like Lyme Disease has stolen everything – my health, my energy, my time, my relationships, my focus, my joy, my plans, my dreams – literally everything. I am quickly learning that I have a choice: I can push myself to an unhealthy point and try to make up for what it seems I’ve lost, or I can choose to accept that who I am in this moment is enough.

I believe that there are life lessons in every circumstance joyous or otherwise. Whether it seems fair or not, obstacles present themselves for a reason and the experiences and introspection that these difficulties bring, allow us to evolve. I am learning to just be for the first time in my life. I am learning to find time for small daily rituals that keep my body healthy and happy. I am learning to rearrange my priorities to focus on my health. But most importantly, I am going to have to learn how to slow down, focus on HEALing and balancing life.

I hope that although I am not on the path I intended to be at this age, nor where I want to be right now that eventually, I will find my way onto a path that I will be happy with, grateful and thankful for. Most importantly, when I eventually look back on life in a few years, I hope I will understand why things turned out they way they did.

Don’t worry Kristina- I won’t leave Project HEAL and start another non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about Lyme Disease.

I Am More

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by Julia Gari Weiss

I use the mirror’s edge to chop blurry images of photo shopped pages,
slice numbers out of collars
to ward off rashes
caused by tag toxicity.
I am more than a label. More than
a beach body. I am more than plus sized, straight sized, or thin. I am more than
losing 10 pounds to love the body I am in.
I am a woman. Several sizes dress my closet to display the array of lives I’ve lived,
to encompass all that this body has held.
Oh, how I’ve grown
into power that spreads from my fingertips to the kick drum roar inside my ribs.
“You are beautiful” isn’t sold
I no longer buy
into flat abs, toned legs, I flex
my sizeable brain like a muscle, fuel it –
I was not born to diet,
to purchase fat-free, gluten-free, or diuretics. Sell me beauty agenda-free.
Invest in risk-free, cost-free
not sold at Target or Duane Reade
not on newsstands or the cover of
(insert standardized beauty magazine)
until vision becomes reality
say it loudly, “I love”
and this ends with “me.”

Julia Gari Weiss is the author of the poetry collection “Being Human,” published by Thought Catalog Books. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is the recipient of the Academy of American Poet’s John B. Santoianni Award for Excellence in Poetry. Julia has been published in The Huffington Post, The Australian Women’s Weekly, Thought Catalog, Old Red Kimono, 3Elements Review, Image Curve, and The Santa Monica Star. She is proudly from Santa Monica, California, and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. You can follow her on Instagram at @JuliaGari and visit her website at www.JuliaGari.com.

 

 

Why the Jeans Struggle is (Still) Real (And Why This Gives Me Hope)

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Ask me what my top ten likes and dislikes are. Go on. Ask me. If you did, I might tell you all about my love for coffee, memoirs, bangs, and dogs. I might tell you about my distaste for traffic and slapstick comedy. I know I would tell you about jeans. Yup. Jeans.

This seemingly innocent article of clothing has crested the top of my “dislike” list for years and years. Why? I’m not so sure that there is a simple answer. But let me try to explain:

I struggled with an eating disorder for over ten years of my life. When I think about my late teen and early adult years, my most stark memories are not falling in love, getting into college, or landing that great job. Rather, I recall me-obsessively calorie counting, me-running in rain/snow/excessive heat, me-losing friends as I slipped more and more into my own little world- you get the picture. My eating disorder happened gradually and then all at once. What started out as a simple diet slowly but surely became an all-consuming illness, one that would take me years to disentangle myself from. And while much treatment has brought me to the realization that this was about a lot more than weight, poor body image was and continued to be a decidedly strong symptom of my illness for quite some time.

Flash forward to present day. I am recovered. I am a wife. I am a friend to many. I am an advocate for those who struggle with eating disorders. I am a psychologist. Meaning I not only pulled myself out of my own personal hell and demise, but I kicked ED’s ass long enough and hard enough for me to feel comfortable pursuing a career empowering others to do the same. And while I do not disclose my history of an eating disorder to all of my patients, the times that I choose to, I inevitably get asked the same question: Are you completely recovered and how did you do it?

I feel comfortable answering that yes, I am completely recovered, because I can be authentic and genuine when saying so. I am and have been behavior free, I accept my emotions, and the thoughts that once dominated every second of my day now come so infrequently that I can spot them a mile away. This is what full recovery means for me.

In terms of body image, I have worked long and hard to accept and cherish my body. Now does that mean that I LOVE everything that I see in the mirror every day? No. I’m human, and I was born and raised in a society that celebrates the thin ideal and promotes diet culture aggressively. Enter-Jeans.

Jeans are my Achilles Heel. Try as I may, I despise shopping for them. They just never feel like they were created with my body-type in mind. They are always too tight or too loose. I always find myself irritated when shopping for them, muttering to myself like a cantankerous old man- “Why are there so many damn washes? What even are jeggings? High waisted or low? How the hell should I know?”

This happened recently, and it got me to thinking- why do these stubborn feelings persist about this stupid article of clothing when I left my eating disorder in the dust long ago? After much contemplation- this is what I came up with:

I’M HUMAN! A recovered human, yes. But also a highly sensitive, introspective, and perfectionistic human. These are some of the personality attributes that made me vulnerable to the development of an ED in the first place. These things don’t just go away. I just learn how to work them. Years of progress in recovery allowed me to understand how to make my personality work for me, rather than against me. Like I previously stated, to me, full recovery doesn’t necessarily mean that you never have a disordered thought. It just means that they have no power over you anymore. A fully-recovered individual becomes a ninja at challenging and deflecting those thoughts. Yet even ninjas have Achilles Heels.

So rather than let this terrify me or make me question myself, I celebrate the fact that I still have a bit of work to do. Why? Because it is a great opportunity to catch myself getting a little too sure, or compliant. My jeans light-bulb moment allows me to continue to work on my own progress. I hope the day never comes when I decide I have done enough self-reflection and stop striving for more progress. Because there is always room for more. And the more progress that I make, the more personal mountains that I move, the more I can help to empower others to do the same. How great is it that I have such a clear understanding of what still gets under my skin?

So jeans, consider yourself my next Everest. I am comin for ya.

 

 

 

I Still Hate My Body

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“I’m following the meal plan….but I still hate my body.” “I’m in recovery….but I still hate my body.” “I’m talking back to ED….but I still hate my body.” As a psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, I must hear a variation of this phrase from at least one person a day. In response to this refrain, I must reiterate the very phrase that used to infuriate me years earlier, during my own recovery: “Keep going. Body image takes the longest.”

 

Now I am well aware of how maddening this response is. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING used to frustrate me more than when my therapist would say this to me. (That’s a lie. “Fat is not a feeling” made my blood boil.) However, this statement is the truth. And it’s incredibly important to hear.

 

Body image takes the longest. It makes sense when you break it down. After all, physical symptoms are usually the first to go. The body heals before the mind. Thoughts and feelings are a bit more stubborn. Anyone who has been to inpatient treatment can likely empathize with the experience of leaving treatment weight restored, but feeling absolutely raw and riddled with thoughts of wanting to go back to the ED. Then comes the real work. The excruciating period between weight/health restoration and becoming fully emotionally and psychologically healed.

 

This work may very well mean acknowledging what role weight plays in your eating disorder. What does losing weight really mean? What does a skinny body actually represent to you? Yes, eating disorders are about more than weight, but weight is certainly a common thread throughout the illness. After all, research shows that the biggest risk factor for an eating disorder is starting a diet. Hence if the disorder was triggered for many by a quest for weight loss, it makes sense that body dissatisfaction may be a vexingly persistent experience well into recovery.

So, with that said, recognizing that you still idealize weight loss well into recovery certainly does not take away from how far you have come. In fact, it is just the opposite. Acknowledging these feelings is incredibly courageous and shows that you are determined to be honest with yourself no matter how painful the truth. This will also allow you to confront these dark thoughts head on, which will reduce the likelihood that they will sneak up on you during times of high stress and trigger a relapse.

 

I would argue that body image, then, must be addressed throughout the recovery process. One must continue to evaluate and address the impact of a changing body in our diet-obsessed, thin-idealizing culture. Truth be told, weight gain and body acceptance fly in the face of every message that our society tries to send us. In this sense, it is no wonder that we still hate our bodies in recovery. In order to break through this layer of recovery, one must rally against one’s own ED voice, and the voice of society. But body acceptance will come. This is a proven fact. If you continue forward, continue to do the work, continue to address the very heart and root of these thoughts and feelings, body acceptance will come. Maybe even body love. But you must be proactive about the fight. And you must be patient. And, most importantly, you must be honest with yourself. If you still hate your body, say this to your therapist, say this to your dietician, say it to your friend. Then nonjudgmentally keep moving forward and forge on towards the body acceptance that you so much deserve and will have one day

-C

Calling BS on BMI

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BMI-1

Maybe you found out the number in health class. Maybe you calculated it yourself after researching “healthy” or “unhealthy” weights on line. Maybe your doctor or psychologist used it to diagnose you (or mistakenly not diagnose you) with an eating disorder. However the method, it is safe to say we have all been confronted with this oh-so-irritating number at one point or another. Well today, I’m calling BS on BMI (body mass index).

 

The National Institute of Health says that your BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Any doctor worth their salt will tell you that it was never meant to be used as the sole determining factor of your physical health; however, it’s user-friendly format has contributed to our society doing just that. Companies offer financial incentives for employees with a “healthy” BMI, life insurance rates are higher for those with an “unhealthy” BMI, and, infuriatingly, health professionals routinely bring it up during everything from yearly physicals to gynecological exams.

 

The problem is, as was previously stated, BMI was never meant to be an indictor of health. It was designed for a random research study on the physics of “normal man” in the mid nineteenth century. As such, the BMI boundaries are arbitrarily produced and completely subjective. According to BMI, a difference of a decimal point will place you in the underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese, or morbidly obese category.  Clearly, this formula is far, far too simplistic. It does not take into account cholesterol, heart rate, or blood pressure, nor does it interpret relative proportions of bone, muscle, and fat in the body.

 

The fact is, whether you are completely healthy, in the depths of an eating disorder, or in recovery, BMI can feel like one big mind game, toying with fragile emotions and encouraging self-doubt and poor body image. I have personally never ever plugged my height and weight into an online BMI calculator and walked away feeling ok with myself.

 

So why do we still use it? There’s simply no single number that can represent “health,” so why are we hinging so much weight (pun intended) to this metric?  The only answer I can come up with is that it is convenient and simple, so insurance companies like it. But I don’t think I am alone in questioning why our society insists on continuing to measure our health (and self worth) on an invalidated heuristic statistical measure.  In fact, when it comes to our diet-obsessed culture, the last thing we need is an oversimplified number deeming us “unhealthy” without accounting for any of pieces of physical wellness (i.e the ones that actually matter).

 

So in conclusion, my final message to everyone (including myself) is this: do not let your BMI (or weight, or jean size) validate or invalidate you. A number does not define your health, self worth, recovery, or anything else. You are so, so much more.

 

 

-C

A Letter to My Daughter on My Recovery Anniversary

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Dear Emma,

I hope you can feel inside your perfect little home inside my belly how much you are loved. Your grandparents, aunts, and uncles are anxiously waiting your arrival, one of them usually in tears. But mostly it is your dad and me. We are so very much in love with you and think about holding you all day, every day. Even at approximately 18 inches and 4 pounds, you already fill our lives so close to the brim we might burst! You are completing a part of us we didn’t even know was missing and you will do this your whole life. We are so very lucky to be your parents.

And then there is just me. I have wanted you since the first day I ever held a baby doll. Being a mother has always been my ultimate dream. I’ve held you in my heart for a lot longer than I will hold you in my belly. But there was a time when something so insidious grabbed my life that I couldn’t think of how badly I wanted you anymore. I was lost and confused; no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get to you. Eight years ago I was sitting in a therapist’s office who offered me a question, “Would you rather be a mom or be skinny?” Painfully, I admit choosing being skinny. This was the lowest of my life, when my eating disorder ruled me like a marionette. Know that if I ever face that question again, I would choose you over and over and over again.

There will be so much I will provide you with during your life. I promise to love you through every high and low. I promise that you will not date until you are 30. I promised that we will laugh until our stomachs hurt more times than we can count. But out of all of the things I will give you, my sweet girl, my eating disorder mindset will not be one of them. I will be praising your body and you will hear me praising mine. Frequently. We will live our lives grateful for the parts of our body that society tells us to hate. We will never speak negatively about others’ bodies or knock them down based on any quality; instead, we will learn how to build them up and help them be the best people they can be.

One day, I will talk to you about my eating disorder. I will tell you the terrible things I did to my body to be “perfect.” I will tell you how brutal and exhausting my thoughts were every day. But until then, you will hear about how amazing your mother’s body is. How despite the odds, this body made you, sustained you until you were born, and will spend forever hugging you, kissing you, and cuddling you.

Each year during May, I think about all that I have done to be actively recovered and I like to thank all of the people that helped me to the place I am today. This year recovered is especially important to me because pregnancy was a time when some of those thoughts about my body came back. This year, I dedicate my recovery to you. I dedicate every wonderful pound, every beautiful stretchmark, every change my body went through to make you. Thank you for reminding me with every roll, kick, or punch that my body is an incredible, sacred, perfectly imperfect body. And I will spend the rest of my recovered years helping you believe the same about yours.

 

With all of my love,

Mom

 

Author: Jen Buckwash