The Truth of Food, Weight, Body Issues & Recovery
In Australia it is Body Image & Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Whilst there are campaigns calling on us to love ourselves and others that highlight statistics of how many people are affected I want to share some harsh, and not so harsh, truths about the effect of food, weight, body issues on people who live with AND beyond them. I believe that this a better way to educate and challenge stigma about food, weight, body issues.
If people knew more of the reality of the struggle, compassion and support would increase and blame and envy would disappear.
The lessons that I share below were learnt through my own struggle with anorexia and overcoming it as well as the work that I now do in supporting others as a Counsellor & Lived Experience Practitioner. They have been hard fought lessons that many people, including professionals, are unaware of or minimise and that the media do not portray.
I share them here to honour my experience and that of everyone who struggles, to honour those who are affected by the struggle, those who seek to understand and those that alleviate the suffering in some way.
What I know about food, weight, body issues:
-> There is no glitz or glamour in the experience of food, weight, body issues; and the media and Hollywood will never convince me otherwise. They are painful insidious illnesses that affect a person’s spirit and how they live their life. This is true even when the person appears to be ok and still functioning in the world.
-> They are no joking matter. Ever!
-> Numbers do not indicate the level of illness or depth of despair that people are struggling with. They are not a true measure of how people are affected and never will be.
-> Overcoming food, weight, body issues is not as simple as learning to love your body and self-esteem is not always an issue. Fostering self-compassion and validating the whole person and their experiences is key; mind, body and spirit.
-> Food, weight, body issues are a way to say that there is something going on inside that the person struggling doesn’t have the words to express. They are not about vanity or a drive to look a particular way. The world needs to listen better.
-> Food, weight, body issues involve a complex war of emotion – shame, guilt, revulsion, being ok and achievement, validation, a distancing, disconnection, numbing – that is confusing and defeating and contributes to keeping people in them. Having someone tell you how physically dangerous they are does not penetrate this on its own.
-> Food, weight, body issues affect all relationships and the effects of this can continue even after recovery. The effects are not always negative.
-> Food, weight, body issues are silencing of the people who struggle as well as the people around them. Shame, fear, just not knowing what to say or where to begin and not wanting to make it worse halt the conversation. This can continue after recovery as things continue to be unsaid. We need to break the silence.
-> Food, weight, body issues feel safe to people who are suffering. They are not safe.
What I know about recovery:
-> A person struggling with food, weight, body issues can know that what they are doing is unhelpful and is not how they want to live but the fear of getting out can be overwhelming. The desire to change is too quickly overlooked by people and professionals supporting them who focus on their actions, often adding in judgements of ambivalence or non-compliance, as an indicator of how committed to recovery they are. This adds to the overwhelm and is not necessarily a true reflection of where they are at.
-> In the early stages of recovery people feel like a failure because of past promises they have made to themselves. They feel that no matter what they do it is wrong.
-> Recovery happens in the context of (re)claiming life made possible by restoring the body and nurturing connections with self and others.
-> The decision to recover does not happen in a single moment. You don’t know the moment you succumbed and you don’t know the moment that you start to crawl your way out. There may be moments of intense clarity and making a stand but recovery starts even before then.
-> People need to keep choosing recovery and it becomes reality through action.
-> The closer you get to recovery the further it can seem from you. The glimpses of life without food, weight, body issues can make recovery seem even more impossible and do not always provide motivation to keep going.
-> Outward progress in recovery does not always match the internal experience of people with food, weight, body issues.
-> The focus of recovery should not be on a destination. The journey that each person makes, in their own way, is what is important.
-> Full and lasting recovery must come from within. People will remain vulnerable if recovery is solely dependent on physical measures, other people or circumstances.
What I know about life after food, weight, body issues:
-> When you recover from food, weight, body issues you will still be (re)claiming other parts of your life. Space will be created for relationships and education or employment that may have been affected or to explore other challenges, such as trauma or anxiety, that were masked by the food, weight, body issues.
-> When recovered you may look back at times seeking confirmation that the experience was real. This validation of yourself and your experience shouldn’t be confused with a desire to go back to the struggle. It is an honouring that has a place and is a part of the recovery process.
-> The memory of your food, weight, body issues lives on. It is an experience that you can be thankful for and that can serve you well.
These are lessons that I have gained from my own lived, learned and practice experiences with eating disorders that sit alongside the five keys to my recovery that I have shared in the past. I would love to hear what your own lessons have been or if you want more explanation on any of these. Share with me on facebook or send me an email via ellie[at]elliehodges.com.
… with heart.