As I was scrolling through social media, I felt an urgent need to throw away the chocolate bar I was munching on, get my anxious self to the kitchen, and make some pretty looking quinoa salad or a stack of tiny protein pancakes. All of a sudden it seemed like I was the only woman in the planet with tiny boobs and some cellulite here and there.
Of course, I knew this was not true. The rational part of me was well aware of the fact that these images had been carefully chosen and altered to fit into our society’s rigid and unattainable beauty standards. Nevertheless, as someone who has a history with eating disorders, I couldn’t help but feel diminished; and as a consequence, the extremely familiar urges to restrict, over-exercise, and count calories came rushing back.
But here’s the thing: as overwhelming as they were, I’m proud to say I did not give in like I would have done in the past.
I acknowledged my emotions, their validity, and their presence.
I told the sick voice inside my head to be quiet and I went ahead and finished my delicious, sugary, high-calorie chocolate bar. And no, I did not engage in any kind of intense physical activity afterwards.
Comparing ourselves to other people’s bodies, behaviours, and activities might seem inevitable these days. It’s obviously a habit that has been practiced long before smart phones, the internet or even television appeared; but it is undeniable that nowadays, the act of comparison has been immensely reinforced thanks to the media.
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Wherever we are, whatever it is we’re doing, we are constantly being bombarded with messages and images of people we should look like, goals we should be accomplishing, or ideas we should agree with.
Most of us who have recovered, or are recovering, from an eating disorder have probably fantasized about how easy and wonderful it would be if we could live inside some sort of trigger-free bubble: no conversations about food and diets; no comments regarding thighs and tummies; not having to hear about your friend’s workout while you spent the whole day eating peanut butter from the jar and watching movies with your cat.
Of course, we know how unrealistic this is, but since recovering from an eating disorder feels as if we were throwing ourselves towards a moving train while expecting to come out alive, it’s no surprise that we would want to make the whole process a bit easier.
The truth is, though, as much as we try to avoid these situations, it is impossible to be entirely successful. We will always have to face that picture of our childhood friend who lost a ton of weight or our cousin’s new low-fat, low-carb, high-protein chia oatmeal recipe. The entire world can be triggering. But it doesn’t have to be.
There is no magical cure for minds that get triggered easily.
It takes a lot of time, patience and effort. For a while I was stuck, complaining about all the things in the outside world that were slowing down my recovery until I remembered something I had been ignoring the whole time. Not being able to change my surroundings meant I was the one who had to change.
Moreover, I figured I was strong enough to do it because of the mere fact that I was capable of choosing which thoughts I engaged in and which ones I ignored; which emotions I followed and which ones I let go.
I realized I have no one to please but myself, and the only approval I will ever need is my own. I decided to set myself free, and every time this comes to mind, the feeling is just as liberating as it was the first time.
So perhaps the girl in the magazine really does love kale salads and spinach smoothies — doesn’t mean I have to.
What works for some might not work for others, and that’s okay.
It is important for us to understand how unique we all are, and how amazing this is. Self-love and acceptance will not come in the form of a tiny waist and flawless skin, rock-hard abs and muscular arms. With our big thighs, frizzy hair, soft bellies or stretch marks, all the happiness we could ever wish for is already within us.
Dealing with triggers is not about what we perceive, but about how we take what comes our way. It is not necessarily about avoidance, for sometimes we must face our demons in order to prove to ourselves how strong we really are.
We should allow ourselves to experience life as it is: chaotic, exciting, intimidating and beautiful, all at once.
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