I am going to vent about my continuous progress with recovery from my disordered eating, while setting the goal to keep a skinny figure. I will mention numbers, I will post pictures of my body goals (tw: thinspiration). If you feel like this might sabotage your own recovery, please do not read further.
My approach certainly wouldn’t work on everybody, I don’t know enough about everyone else’s experiences and thoughts to claim I know what to do with them, this is just something that I personally came to, and it worked for me.
About half a year ago I wrote a post about my recovery progress. I figured it’s time for an update.
From the good news, I had more medication adjustment over this time, mainly increase in antidepressants, I’ve kept a journal to keep track of my day to day life, and I tried my best to maintain a healthy diet, and I renewed my gym membership. Workout-wise I focused on overall ability classes, and cardio. To increase my base activity I also switched back to public transportation.
All of those things were tricky, as due to the nature of my mental issues I struggle with being systematic, I had many fails, but I kept trying to keep on track. It’s still not perfect, and it probably never will be, but I reached sufficient success rate to see the desired results.
The biggest success for me is no longer reacting to the triggers that used to throw me back into unhealthy coping mechanisms. I went from 99% to 100% when it comes to time when I am perfectly happy and confident bodily-wise. My mindset has changed, I got over the feelings that burdened me and kept me in the dark.
This allowed me to finally test my hypothesis on myself. I was always bothered by the classical recovery approach that is currently going on in Poland. It was also the reason why I never agreed to get institutionalized – the recovery path for ED patients in the hospital is making them comfortable with eating high-calorie foods that aren’t necessarily healthy (consist mostly of junk food), make them put on weight, and send them home.
Aside from the fact that I believe that you need to nourish your body properly to heal the mind, as a part of a holistic approach, I wanted to challenge the idea that you have to be okay with bigger body, even if it makes you uncomfortable in your own skin. I don’t believe that being skinny is the main goal for ED sufferers in the first place. While it may start that way, this is not about looks, but rather taking control, depriving yourself of good things, this sort of thing. The same way self-harm patients don’t do it for the sake of looks of the scars on their skin.
When your body is starved for a long time, it reacts by giving you an extreme hunger. You need to let yourself go loose, and eat as much as your body feels you need. This is very disturbing for ED patients, because it also causes rapid weight gain, retaining water, and it seems like there is no end to it. It takes weeks, even months. If you are still in unhealthy mindset (most of us are), the weight gain alone might trigger you to fall back to starving.
I personally gained 14 kilograms when experiencing extreme hunger. At the time I was also focusing on mental aspects of recovery, and I grew accepting of my new body. This part was essential, because it removed the autotrigger. Not focusing on how my body looks I was able to focus on everything else.
Eventually I separated the unhealthy mindset from the healthy one in my head. I recognized all the patterns, and learned the difference between the self-loathing drive to starve, and simply having a personal taste in body types. I saw my own pictures from before recovery and they just gave me that kick. I recognized this is not part of my disorder, which led to a pickle – can I be skinny and recovered? Or will my desire to be skinny sabotage me back to illness?
I decided to test this. I came up with a hypothesis, that if you let yourself submit to the extreme hunger and put on weight, eventually your body will repair all the damage you’ve done to it, and at the same time with recovery your mental state will change enough, so that you will be able to regain control over your body without falling to the triggers, such as counting calories, and other restriction methods, so long as you keep your diet healthy, and you engage in recreational physical activity. Your body then will go back to it’s optimal, fit frame, healthy for you, and you will be able to eat intuitively, and modify it as you please.
I’ve heard from specialists before that focusing on your body is a huge no-no, that you won’t be fully recovered if you still try to alter your physique for example with body building, or keep any kind of diet restriction, even veganism for ethical reasons. These claims just don’t resonate with me. What is really wrong in eating disorders? Is it the habits? What’s wrong in caring for your body looks? Or with restricting foods for rational reasons? Well, nothing I know of. What matters, what makes those habits disordered, is the motivation behind them.
Similarly to, let’s say, shortening your nails. There is a difference between regularly clipping them, and anxiously, compulsively biting them off. The action of shortening their length is neutral without the context of motivation and methods. Losing weight and caring about aesthetics is the same.
While I am perfectly fine with being chubby and happy, I am a perfectionist, and an aesthete, with a very obvious skinny fetish. I believe all women are beautiful in their own way, especially unrelated to their looks. I also always feel beautiful regardless of my weight. But there is something about tall, slim, almost inhuman, ethereal, elven-like goddesses that just turn my head, make my blood rush, and challenge my sexual orientation. I adore looking at them, I am fascinated by them. No other beauty type does that for me. And there is a wonderful pleasure in looking in the mirror, and seeing my ideal beauty type.
Healthy vanity is a great accessory to life. If I don’t absolutely must, I would rather not give up on it. I would simply rather be tall, skinny, pale, and have very long, dark hair. It’s just my thing, what I feel the most like myself with. When separated from trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms, I see nothing wrong with that. If anything, enjoying your looks adds to overall happiness.
I have always struggled with the way media and society demand us, women, to feel about our self-image. Be confident, so that you aren’t needy for attention, but not too confident, you don’t want to be intimidating or cocky. You are supposed to not want attention, yet treat it like a godsend if men pay it to you. You should know your worth, but act surprised any time anyone ever validates you. Love yourself, but actually don’t, so that you don’t make others envious. Be slutty, but a virgin. It’s all a bunch of crap.
You should love yourself first, always. You cannot pour from an empty jar. If you want to be there for your loved ones, you gotta be the best version of you. Value yourself, respect yourself. Make your own choices. Explore. Respecting self means valuing yourself and your experiences. It’s a different mindset when you think of failures, and when you think of lessons. You should not apologize for who you are, just because somebody finds that disagreeable. You don’t have to lower yourself down to show respect and politeness to others.
By extension, your looks are for you, and you only. It’s your call, your needs. It’s yours to explore: if you like attention, if you want to attract others, or if you just want to be attracted to yourself, or maybe you want to attract your partner the most, or if you just don’t have any strong feelings towards it and don’t want to waste time on caring about how you look. It’s you, and only you. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of how you carry yourself.
When I was contemplating weight loss, it started with me just browsing old pictures, and seeing how I feel about my old appearance. When I decided I desire that much more than my (back then) current looks, I figured I will try to achieve it. All the time I was monitoring my well being, by keeping the journal.
One thing that my disordered eating left in me is the inability to assess my weight by looking at myself. I am perpetually confused by what I see in the mirror. Is it huge? Is it tiny? Is it normal? I never know. What I see fluctuates. What I do know is what I feel when I look at a picture taken of me. It’s when I see the reality. The same day I can look in the mirror and see a chubby person, and take pictures of myself, and see a slender beauty.
I made the necessary calculations as to what is my energy usage, how fast I want to lose weight, what are my physical abilities. I came up with a plan, and stuck to it for couple of months. Certainly some of my weight was not fat but water weight after the extreme hunger compensation phase, but in total I lost 7 kilograms in less than 3 months. I am pretty happy with the result, and to be honest – a little shocked. I don’t own a scale. I went to my parents house before those 3 months and after, to check my weight. Before I checked it yesterday I was pretty sure I am not succeeding, there’s no progress, and perhaps I even put on weight. Despite my faith in my competence and objectivity of my biological knowledge, I had that doubt, especially because of how my mind just interprets mirror reflection.
Recovery is only possible if you go through the period of extreme hunger without restriction. After certain point the hunger goes away, and only then you can reset your body to learn intuitive eating, which is possibly the healthiest way to go about food. Teaching your body by eating what’s necessary first results in later having to just listen to what it wants. I don’t have to think much about food anymore. I know intuitively what I need, how much I should eat, and when to not push myself. Same as I know when I don’t feel up to going to the gym, and later I have the energy for it. It’s a natural, relaxed relationship with your muscles and your stomach.
The weight loss process did not trigger my disordered eating. Mentally I am healthier than ever. Food doesn’t bother me, I consider myself to have a very sober approach to it. I allow myself to not be perfect, and also manage to stay on track enough to make it work, and to reach my goals. In my case it turned out that you can stay skinny, restrict your diet (I am vegan), and be healthy after having experienced eating disorders. I am far from claiming everyone can do that, if you aren’t sure it’s what you can handle, don’t do it. Don’t toy with your health, consult your goals and needs with your therapist.
I personally just felt failed by the system, and I managed to deal with my disordered eating by myself, but meanwhile I have been further diagnosed and treated for my mental condition. Since it is the root of my problems, I managed to pull this off. But it’s just my case, and I am aware that often people with ED history can relapse when doing as much as just paying attention to diet restriction, attempting to count calories, or even just looking at pictures emphasizing thinness. I am just showing a marginal example of how it can go differently in some cases.
I will keep my journal, and if something changes I will certainly try to document it. Right now I feel like I reached my goal, the end game for my disorder, and the beginning of healthy lifestyle.
Self-love is the same – take the time to actually recognize yourself, be honest with yourself, and appreciate who you are. Think of what made you that way. Think of your flaws, of your good traits, realize how fantastic it is that you can find people who relate to this, and you can connect with them. And with others you can exchange valuable experience and learn new perspectives.
With looks – you deserve to just be into yourself. I believe that no amount of external approval will make you love yourself. Appearance-wise, you should see your body as a piece of art. It’s great to look at. It’s great to think about how it makes you feel, to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of it. But day to day, do you think about the art that moves you? When you have time, when you’re in mood for it, sure. But outside of that one, occasional, fleeting moment of impassioned awe – it changes nothing in the world. It exists for your pleasure. Nothing else. I doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things. Nobody in their healthy mind obsesses over beauty longer than it’s worth.
Everybody likes something different. I like raw elegance, minimalism, asymmetry, and high contrast. Someone else loves colorful impressionism. We all seek beauty in the world, but what it means to us always varies. It also changes with time and experience. Somehow in the world of art this is obvious, but why we treat humans any different?
I find it rooted in insecurity and desire for dominance. When people try to bring you down, they are no different than those idiots who think their art taste is superior to others. And especially if those idiots try to charm reality to force people to accept pseudo-rational arguments why their own art should be appreciated more than others’. We know those are snobby, self-absorbed, insecure idiots, nobody treats them seriously but themselves. So why would you let them make you feel bad about your body and invalidate your own tastes?
You are the artist, your body is your canvas. A collaboration with nature, if you will. You can edit your artwork whenever and however you like. You can follow trends, you can try to make something original just for the sake of it, or you can leave it plain, for others to decorate. That’s what models are doing. You are your own model, you can do whatever you want, and the only thing that matters is if you are happy with your results. And as you work for achieving your goals, you learn about your style, your skill, your habits. You can be a fucking fairy, if you want to.
It’s all you. You owe it to yourself to carry yourself as you like. Your body is your one and only manifestation in this realm of time and space, your only tool for interacting with all that is outside of your mind. Treat it accordingly.