I recently came up upon a journal entry from several years past, which I wrote when I was going through some of the earliest phases of my recovery from my eating disorder. For one reason or another, I decided to read it. At first, it felt like this may have been a mistake. The feelings, so dormant, came flooding back in a surprisingly (and alarmingly) intense way. But instead of running from them (hello, old patterns of behavior in anorexia) I decided to sit with them and learn from this entry.
I’m glad I did. You see, this particular entry was written when I was going through the weight restoration phase of my recovery process. One of the darkest, most difficult times for me, hence I don’t care to reflect on it often. My body and mind felt out of control, and I felt desperate for the world to slow down and stop changing so quickly, to just hold on and give me one second to catch up, to get myself together already.
“I went jean shopping today. That was fun. No wonder I’ve been avoiding it for so long. Everything. Looked. Disgusting. What is happening to me? I must have taken 10 pairs into that dressing room. Five pairs of my old size. Five pairs of what I guessed my new size would be. None of them fit. Major breakdown. I literally sat there and cried for 20 minutes. I knew I shouldn’t have gone alone. But who would I even want there for that? Too embarrassing. I’m supposed to be “getting better.” I guess it’s time to suck it up and face reality. I’m not that size anymore. I’m not even in that bracket or whatever. God this is hard.”
Reading this may not be hard for you, but it literally took my breath away. Once you have some solid distance from your eating disorder, it is easy to forget what it is like to reside in this particular acre of hell. This girl, the girl writing the jeans entry- she seems so angry. So broken. So alone. So-confused. Confused being the most important point, I think. I was not able to think straight at that time. My body and my mind were fighting a battle, and were working hard to heal much damage that had occurred. I remember feeling hopeless and downtrodden, as if the fact that I didn’t fit into those jeans meant that I was no longer special, or that on some level, people wouldn’t love me as much anymore.
There is one sentence in this entry that truly catches my ear: “I’m not that size anymore.” This, to me, speaks volumes about my confusion and headspace at the time. Because now, years later, with a well-nourished body, and a mind that has been working towards emotional growth and healing for so long, I am able to see- I was not that size because I was not a size. I am not a size. Let me repeat that because it is just that important- I am not a size. I am not my jean size, I am not my shirt size, I am not my weight, I am not my height. I am not a number. Clothing fits me, not the other way around. If the size of the jeans that I wear happens to change, so be it. And this is a long-term lesson that will apply for the duration of my life (not just during the weight-restoration phase of an eating disorder). My body is dynamic and ever changing. The number will morph throughout the years. If I become pregnant, my body will change, and the number on the clothing will change with it. When the shape of my body changes as I mature into middle age and older adulthood, I am assuming the number will ebb and flow right there along with it. This is more than ok. This is natural. The important part is that I am able to see that I am me, regardless of the number/s.
As you can see from my journal entry, this is easier said than done when you are in the earlier phases of recovery. If your own recovery involves weight change, the best advice that I can give is this:
- Be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself that your body is changing because you are choosing to beat this eating disorder. Give yourself permission to dislike these changes, but never stop reminding yourself that you are working towards eventual body acceptance and love.
- Wear clothing that makes you feel comfortable. Before weight is distributed, it tends to settle in our core, because this is where it is most essential for survival. If this is making you feel self-conscious, go out and buy a few flowy tops. These won’t take away the discomfort, but they will not continuously draw your attention to this zone throughout the day like a tight top will.
- Try not to buy new pants and shirts until you are finished the process of weight restoration. Wear stretchy comfortable clothing in the interim.
- Throw out/ donate the clothes that you wore when you were in your eating disorder. Trust me on this one.
- Recognize the distortion. Understand that while you may notice every bit of weight gain, the reality is others around you do not see what you see. Remind yourself of this daily.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is, “Never run back to what broke you.” I think this applies so well to this part of recovery. It will be hard. It will feel impossible at times. Keep going. Turning back wont speed up the process. Above all else, be kind to yourself. As I said before, give yourself permission to mourn your old body. But only for a moment. Then turn around, toss those old jeans into the trash, throw on your new pair, and tell yourself, “These are size LLA (living life again).”
*Please note: This entry pertains to one subset of the population of individuals in recovery from an eating disorder (i.e. those who require weight restoration). This is not meant to invalidate the seriousness of all other subsets of the eating disordered population. Medical complications and chronacity of illnesses are shown to be positively correlated with all eating disorder diagnoses, hence there is no one type of eating disorder that is “more serious” than another.