A while ago, I was one of the millions of young women who not only struggled with disordered body image, but acted upon it abusively through anorexia, bulimia, and purging. Without delving into too many details, I can admit that it’s difficult to not only overcome this, but to completely let it go.
Berated by the media's incessant images of airbrushed models, and continuous messages of mindless consumerism, it was inevitable, I believe, that I'd feel some sense of inadequacy and turn to self-harm.
Obviously I was not the only one experiencing this, as millions of people suffer from poor body image, and the number of young girls and boys with eating disorders is staggering and rising.
Because of this, I'd like to share some lessons that I did not learn from my disordered thinking patterns, but instead discovered while I recovered from those unhealthy patterns.
In hindsight, I realize that there was a lot to learn at this stage. In fact, I'm still learning about mankind and about my own body and soul.
If it can help even one individual who is struggling, then I’m hopeful it’s worth it to share.
1. Food is a friend
My brain used to tell me that food is the enemy, it will make you fat. I'd been brain-washed by pro-Ana websites. However, I remember the last time I purged. I was red-eyed, crying, and shaking over the toilet bowl, and – I kid you not – a voice spoke to me and said You’re done.
And that was that – no treatment for my mistake and set-minded thinking, instead I realized that I needed to find a way to live with myself and food or else I was going to die. Lucky in this aspect, it led me into a quest researching food that would keep me trim and healthy.
Because being vegan is commonly touted as a long-term and sustainable weight-loss lifestyle, I was instantly drawn into the world of fruits and vegetables. I grabbed onto the determination that I could forge a relationship with food that wasn’t completely awful.
Long story short: through trial and error, more trial and error, jumping on loads of different bandwagons, experimenting with my own needs, and finally finding inspiration from the health benefits of different foods, I realized that food is a friend.
My body needs energy to survive, and if I eat correctly, these foods will do more than I imagined!
Instead of blaming my body for gaining weight when I eat unhealthfully, I should worship its foresight to hold on in case I’m ever starving, it’s amazing regenerative capabilities, and the fact that as long as I try and be good to it, it will bounce back. What an amazing vessel, and what a grand realization that food is not the enemy.
It definitely took a lot of training to let go of previously harbored intentions against food, but once I allowed myself to accept that food could be nourishing, wholesome, and a source of life – I accepted that I am worth the effort to feed as well.
2. My worth is not judged by my size.
Having two tall parents – 5’11” and 6’1” – genetics naturally made me a 5’11” female. This is tall, in case you haven’t noticed, especially in a high school ruled by short individuals. When you are taller, it is usually the case that you will be a bit broader than someone 5’1”, therefore you are by standards ‘bigger’.
Constantly hearing the message that "smaller = better" did not change the fact that I was still tall. It only pushed me to trim my thighs through excessive exercise and under-eating. Neither is sustainable and this lead me into a pool of self-loathing, grumpiness, and just pure exhaustion with life.
When I finally did begin experimenting with the broad expanse of health-promoting foods and a new outlook on life, I realized I could feel better than I had experienced before, even though I had gained a healthy 15-20 pounds. Exercise was no longer a chore and I began to build muscle.
Even though I weighed more than before with newly acquired muscle mass, I could now run faster, swim longer, hike farther, and enjoy the outdoors with a happiness attained through eating foods that support my body.
When I realized that “I am the only person I am around 100% of the time,” it no longer became a chore to please anyone else and purely being happy was enough to prove my worth. Not to mention, no longer depriving my body of precious carbohydrates, nutrients, and important glucose for the brain – many illness symptoms disappeared and I became a much happier person.
I was a little bit bigger, but I felt amazing and best of all, was for once happy with my own self. If worth is based on what others think of me, I’ll never know the truth. But if happiness deems worth, then my weight is worth gold, and that’s what truly matters.
3. It wasn’t all in my head, and I need to surround myself with messages that support me.
Again, alluding to the fact that eight million Americans suffer with disordered eating, it should be clear that we live in a society that taunts, teases, and basically breeds this type of lifestyle. My biggest leaps in accepting myself began when I looked away from media, television, radio, and advertising and started surrounding myself with messages of love, spirituality, nature, positive podcasts, and silence.
I had been going through a difficult time, but reinforcing the previous messages of self-acceptance, recognizing the beauty in life, and waking up to the brilliant opportunities in life made all the difference.
However hard it might have been, I often spent time in nature reflecting upon positive dailies. This might have just saved my life.
I’m very concerned that media tends to be Opiate for the masses, and until we truly break away and start learning life for ourselves, through the eyes of others who’ve lived meaningful lives devoted towards good, and those devoted to sharing truth, we will forever be following each other like sheep.
I still urge television fasts to jumpstart personal revelations of thought, especially in such times of depression and disordered thinking.
4. There is a bigger picture.
This one took the longest to realize, but is the most important in my opinion. This article may seem like a rant against negative media (and perhaps it is), but when I was completely obsessed with only myself and my looks, I shut out the majority of issues which may be most important in life.
Every day 18,000 kids die of starvation, thousands of individuals die from preventable diseases, our world is environmentally and economically in a disastrous state… and I was concerned with the size of my thighs?
While 22% of children live in poverty wondering where their next meal will come from, human beings are living on the streets because they can’t make enough money to pay their mortgage, and millions are going about their lives not caring to help out… But I’m crying because I have a stomach roll?
Thankfully, there are many positive movements to consider as well – all the charitable work being organized, volunteers starting new missions in impoverished countries, and more!
With all this going on in the world, how could I be so concerned with myself?
Obviously there are many positive and negative news events worth our attention, family matters to honor, and of course our own well-being to nuture, but if what we seek is self-appreciation, perhaps it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
If we were all to focus our energy on matters which help more than just ourselves, imagine the type of change that could be possible!
By no means does this imply that spending time to learn and grow as an individual is not important, but that a bigger perspective may actually help you appreciate all that you have and are right now.
All in all, these are lessons that took years to discern, but they have stuck and continue to guide me in my path of redefining self-acceptance and understanding the human race. I truly believe there is beauty in every soul that walks this earth; it may be unfortunate to many to have gone through this transition of thinking, but now I view it as a blessing and a continued opportunity to learn and connect with others.
We are all at the same time going through our own different struggles, but by remembering we have to be immersed in dark to appreciate and experience the light is inspiration to continue going forward.
For me, these four lessons were taught not by labeling myself with an ‘eating disorder,’ but by freeing myself from all labels and searching for ‘me’. If you’re at this stage in your life, perhaps redefine your thought patterns and try to visualize the concept of these lessons in your own viewpoint. I promise it’s not always going to be easy to change, but the journey of learning to accept you is worth it.