Inside Look

Body Image Issues: Tips From Those in ED Recovery

bulimia recovery recovery story Jun 17, 2024


For many in eating disorder recovery, the territory of body image is recharted over and over, with the same complex feelings constantly bubbling to the surface. Negative body image issues are common for those dealing with an eating disorder, as the journey toward body neutrality and acceptance takes time. Eating disorders may not bloom out of problems with body image alone, but the real challenge arises the longer the disorder stays. Obsessive thoughts about food, weight gain, and fears of judgment, ridicule, or disapproval are all pieces that can drive these body image issues into overdrive. 


Overcoming these body image issues can feel like an uphill struggle. In order to progress in recovery, it’s critical to take these feelings into account. It may not be possible on day 1 to look in the mirror and say “I love my body,” but the key is to get to a place where how you and your body looks is not at the constant front of your mind. 


Instead, we want to get to a place where we can take a step back and see every incremental inch and improvement in the process. Not seeing your body as a byproduct of your eating habits or something you can’t bear to be in, but seeing it as the physical embodiment of the living, breathing you. 


By clearing out the proverbial “room” body image issues may take up mentally, you can finally see what your eating disorder has taken from you, and what you are going to take back. With the help of tips and affirmations from other eating disorder recoverers, getting to both mind and body freedom is not just possible, but absolutely achievable. 


Society’s Constant War on Body Image


An important context to note in body image and eating disorder recovery is the role that social influences play in what goes on in our heads. We’re shaped by years of influences, both on the micro and macro level. Our family, friends, and other peer relationships are the first primary guides in our lives, shaping who we are and what we think at an individual level. 


On the macro scale, schools, institutions, media, and other large organizational systems project a larger collective consciousness onto us through overarching messages. While some guidelines like social cues and laws are necessary for living in a society, other meanings can be the exact opposite of helpful.


From media representations of the "perfect" body to cultural norms and expectations, unrealistic beauty standards seem to be at every corner of our existence. Scrolling through social media or flipping through magazines can feel like a constant funneling of inadequacy, from how you look to how you live. These pressures can exacerbate existing body image issues, making recovery from eating disorders all the more difficult.


Growing up I have memories of TV shows where girls talked about wanting to lose weight and it made me wonder if I should do the same thing. As I got older, the pressure to fit in with certain friend groups became more intense and that meant changing my appearance so people would like me more or think I’m prettier.


Talking to recoverers like Paige from @paigesbalancedlife on Instagram reveals further truths about the impact of these childhood memories, which can ripple for years to come. Paige, an avid and outspoken advocate for the recovery community, presents her unfiltered struggles with healing from an eating disorder on her account with nearly 2,000 followers. Being vulnerable about her personal lived experience broadcasts a message of hope and helps to share what worked for her in her recovery to the countless others going through the same thing


Rerouting Ingrained Societal Messages About Our Bodies


As mentioned above, the reasons for eating disorders are complex and many. Negative body image issues, however, can become a huge instigator. A person’s eating disorder may hold their self-worth hostage, determining their value as a person based on the perceived value of their body. 


Undoing the lifetime of beliefs that society has sprouted within us is just a part of the healing process. This process itself might take months, years, or maybe even an entire life spent picking apart each subconscious meaning. The good thing is that even though these thoughts may hold a presence in our heads, we don’t have to listen to them. 


Thoughts are unconscious and fleeting; they are ideas that happen automatically without input. Even if or when they pop up, they don’t need to be true. We can let these thoughts pass uncritically, without the need to engage or acknowledge them. Rather, letting them flow away without needing to answer them lets us open up the mental space for new growth and healing.


If you’re having a hard time disregarding the negative self-talk in your head, there are practical ways to reintroduce and reinforce positive thoughts. One method of planting the seeds of a beneficial internal dialogue is using recovery affirmations. 


Practical Recovery Affirmations for Body Image Issues


Affirmations are simple mantras or sayings that resonate with you. These sayings can look different to everyone, but their intentions are the same: changing the way you think. This could be changing your outlook on a tough day, changing how you feel about a certain situation, or changing how you view your body. All in all, affirmations are used to alter perception.


 1. “You can do hard things.”


Going back to Paige, one mantra in particular that struck her was You can do hard things.” Processing the long road to recovery can be difficult, especially when preparing for the hard mental and emotional work that’s needed to change. She said despite this knowledge, choosing the “tougher” route of recovery was more important in the end. 


Speaking with others in recovery revealed even more healing mantras that directly helped motivate them:


2. “You’re not fighting yourself, you are fighting for yourself.”


3. “Your body is not the problem, so changing it is not the solution.”


4. “Fight yourself and feed your illness, or feed yourself and fight your illness.”


The above recovery affirmations all came from Jwana, a young eating disorder recoverer and mental health advocate who shares her journey across Instagram at @jwanasdiary. To her, affirmations are reminders, ways to push restorative thoughts to the forefront of her mind. These phrases serve to focus on her main mission–choosing “not to listen to [her] illness” and regaining her spirit, freedom, and happiness instead.


Recovery affirmations like these helped Jwana move to a more accepting place in her journey, one where she learns and grows from the past beliefs that held her down. ...Every day I’m becoming more aware that there are many toxic things that we hear about our bodies and what we as women should look like, but those things are mostly things that we should learn to accept and embrace instead of change!”


5. “The only way is through.”


6. "What would I say to my friend?”


These recovery affirmations came from @hopesforhealing, another recoverer looking to foster her own safe space online to talk about eating disorder recovery. A self-described quote addict, she uses the first phrase as a motivator to keep up the fight against relapsing. “For me, it means that you can’t give up. You have to go further. You can't stop. Keep moving forward.” 


As for her second affirmation, she uses it to help find compassion for herself by channeling her compassion towards others. Think to yourself as well: would you ever talk to a loved one the way you talk to yourself? By realizing you would never tell a friend not to eat the food they love or to watch their weight, you can begin to allow yourself the same empathy and sensitivity you lend to others. 


You can either be your own worst enemy or greatest ally. Letting yourself be human and enjoying what you deserve to eat instead of punishing yourself is key to living a fulfilling life, not the one reduced by an eating disorder.


Moving Forward in Eating Disorder Recovery


Overall, cultivating a healthy body image in the face of societal pressures takes time and energy devoted to change. Motivation and momentum are key to creating the change you want to see, and finding some of your own quotes or recovery affirmations can help fuel that process. 


Take these personal anecdotes into account while on your eating disorder recovery journey. If others have battled their own body image issues and come out the other side, so can you. There are good body image days and bad ones too, but being able to take control of how you let your thoughts influence your actions will help in your recovery long run.


Affirmations may just be one part of the healing puzzle, but with their help, you can begin to build a more positive and resilient self-image that is not defined by outside expectations. Reclaiming your body and self with eating disorder recovery is possible if only you find the courage to start. I hope these recovery affirmations give you the strength to try.


Thank you so much to @paigesbalancedlife@jwanasdiary, and @hopesforhealing for sharing their stories with me. I'm so appreciative of their collective vulnerability and strength and hope to all of them that their recovery journeys continue on a brilliant upward path 

With Peace,

Whitney Chase

Whitney Chase is the Writer and Content Manager for Sarah Lee of Sarah Lee Recovery. She holds her degree in Psychology from Georgia State and has a strong passion for the mental health field, writing, and advocacy work.

Posted on June 17th, 2024.

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