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Today I want to write about something that has been on my mind a lot lately: how to stay strong in eating disorder recovery while living in a culture that places increasing importance and judgment on weight and eating habits.
If you are in eating disorder recovery, you are familiar with what I refer to as the “Eating Disorder or ‘ED’ Voice.”
For those who aren’t familiar, this voice is the oppressive thoughts about food that plague one’s mind and cause anxiety, guilt, and shame surrounding eating and body image. As if one’s personal ED Voice isn’t difficult enough, we live in a society that is eating disordered. Therefore, on top of the ED Voice, we have what Jenni Schaefer, author of “Life Without Ed” and “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me” refers to as “Societal Ed”: the voice of a society obsessed with the thin ideal.
My ED Voice is almost completely gone, but Societal Ed is driving me crazy! While many people are focusing on New Year’s Resolutions that involve weight loss, I challenge you to join me in making a renewed commitment to recovery.
Here are some strategies we can implement to tune out destructive societal messages and stay strong in recovery and in tune with our eating disorder recovery goals:
1) Get rid of your magazines and books that promote the thin ideal or go against eating disorder recovery.
Why surround yourself with messages that tell you your worth is based on a number on the scale? Replace them with books and magazines that inspire and empower you. Tabloid magazines used to be a guilty pleasure of mine; however, when they aggravated my eating disorder I knew they had to go.
Instead of Us Weekly, I now spend my time reading newspapers, feminist blogs, and novels.
2) Practice positive affirmations about eating and your body.
When you see an ad about weight loss, remind yourself that it is a waste of time to pay attention to it because you know best how to take care of your body. Remind yourself to listen to your inner recovery voice and support system (whether it be a treatment team, family, or friends) and NOT the media. My favourite body image affirmation is “my heart weighs more than a scale could ever handle”. I also recommend writing a list of “Reasons for Recovery” and reading it when you need motivation.
3) Avoid the media’s messages.
It is impossible to completely avoid the media’s messages about food and our bodies, so think critically and talk back to them, whether it’s in your mind, out loud to someone else, or writing about it.
When I see an ad for a new diet I use concrete facts to remind myself of how destructive dieting can be.
I remind myself that yo-yo dieting increases one’s risk of premature death and heart disease. That’s right- regardless of initial weight, people whose weight goes repeatedly up and down have a higher overall death rate and twice the risk of dying from heart disease (according to Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch).
Or, I think about how we have a multi-billion dollar diet industry to promote “health”, yet what are the results? Rates of obesity and eating disorders are on the rise. In addition, there are more diet foods than ever before, yet 1/3 of adults are overweight (Intuitive Eating). Clearly, there is a correlation between dieting (aka rule-based deprivation) and eating problems. If everyone learned to listen to their bodies instead of external forces, perhaps these problems would not be so prevalent.
4) Change the conversation.
If your peers talk incessantly about food and their bodies, bring up new subjects that are more conducive to a healthy conversation. If casually changing the subject isn’t working, speak up if you feel comfortable doing so. Ex: “We’re totally a cultural stereotype right now- smart, capable people discussing our worth in terms of appearance and a number on the scale. Does anyone else want to change that and talk about something else?”
Related: How to Deal with Triggering Comments
5) Carry something around with you that reminds you of your eating disorder recovery goals.
Early in recovery, I carried my “Reasons for Recovery” list in my planner for motivation. I also wore a purple bracelet from MEDA (Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association) that says, “Nourish your mind, nourish your body”. It is easy to get caught up in the chaos of daily life and fall back into eating disordered behaviours; my “recovery tokens” reminded me to stay focused and grounded.
Eating disorder recovery is no picnic, but it has a benefit that goes beyond the obvious benefit of freedom from a deadly mental illness. Many people without eating disorders have unhealthy relationships with food; their eating issues may never get resolved, however, because they do not have full-blown illnesses that compel them to enter treatment and change their behaviours. Many people would argue that by doing the hard work of recovery it is possible to develop an even healthier relationship with food than the average American!
Keep moving forward and doing the hard work of recovery and I promise you it will be worth it. We can do this!
Pass it on:
Jessica has a B.A. in Psychology and Women's Studies and is pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others and advocate for social change. Having recovered from an eating disorder, Jessica is committed to spreading the word that freedom from eating disorders is possible. Through her writing at Libero, Jessica hopes to empower those struggling with eating disorders to fight for the health and happiness that they deserve.
SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.