Body image is a huge issue for people with Eating Disorders, especially at this time of year. Nothing is more terrifying that spending the day at the beach in a bathing suit or wearing shorts and a tank top to a family BBQ when you are fighting against your body.
Sarah K. knows these anxieties all too well. For eight years she struggled with anorexia which led her to have a deep hatred of her body. What’s more is that for six of those years no one knew because she didn’t fit the typical image of anorexia. “Though my body was suffering as result of my behaviours, my body didn’t drop below the weight identified by the DSM-IV,” she says. She eventually reached out for help and was admitted to Homewood Health Centre for treatment. “Homewood saved my life,” she says.
Sarah is now in solid recovery and has created a very popular Instagram account (sar.thrives) where she talks about Eating Disorder recovery, body acceptance and self love. She hopes that being vulnerable on social media will keep other girls from living with a devastating Eating Disorder as long as she did. Here are the top five things that has helped Sarah in her journey to body acceptance.
Redefine your values
Sarah says that a big part of her recovery and body acceptance journey was identifying her values apart from her Eating Disorder. Her Eating Disorder made her believe that if she could make herself more appealing to look at, she would be more successful. Once she started aligning her actions to her true values, she saw that her body had nothing to do with living a fulfilling and happy life. “I started being successful and it had nothing to do with what I looked like,” she says.
Radical Acceptance and Self Compassion
Radical acceptance is a dialectical behaviour therapy tool that was essential in Sarah’s body acceptance journey. She says she had to radically accept what her body looked like and realize that most people struggle to an extent with body image. The key is to be compassionate with yourself. You don’t have to love your body all the time. In fact, that is unrealistic. Sarah recommends the work of self compassion guru Kristin Neff who wrote a book on the subject and also offers guided meditations, self compassion exercises and tips for practice on her website. “[Body] acceptance isn’t far off once you consistently practice these things,” Sarah says.
Dress for the weather
Sarah says her body acceptance journey started in treatment. She was there over the summer so she would purposefully wear summer attire like shorts, dresses and t-shirts to get herself used to dressing her body appropriately. She also says it was very important for her to wear clothes that felt comfortable, which meant not covering up her body in big sweaters that would make her hot and cause discomfort. “I challenged the notion of what I thought I couldn’t wear,” she remembers. “It catapulted me into a region where I feel more comfortable with my body and myself.”
Notice different bodies around you
Sarah says that for a large part of her Eating Disorder she only noticed people who were smaller than her. A useful exercise that she used in treatment was purposefully noticing everyone around her when she was in public. “I started to realize there is more than one body type,” she says.
Surrounding yourself with all different bodies is also important online. Make sure you are following a variety of people and unfollow those who make you feel bad. Be an active participant in your recovery and mute ads and people that don’t serve you. The more you fill up your feed with positive messages and body diversity the more you will be bolstering your own body acceptance journey.
Engage in life
Sarah says one of the key pieces of her body acceptance journey was not letting her bad body image stop her from engaging in life. No matter how hard it is, go to the beach, family BBQ or friend’s birthday. She says the more she engaged in life the less she thought about her body and the less important it became. “Go all in with body image. Do the opposite of what the ED wants you to do,” she says, “You can’t grow without discomfort and the more uncomfortable you feel the more growing you are doing.”