Negative body image is often one of the first symptoms of an eating disorder to appear, yet one of the last symptoms to resolve. While you are recovering from your eating disorder, you will likely experience negative thoughts and feelings towards your body. Luckily, there are some ways to work on improving body image. In the beginning stages of treatment, I often help clients to work toward shifting from body rejection to some form of body acceptance. Eventually – as is appropriate and realistic – we can work toward becoming more positive and affirming.
So how do we start shifting negative thoughts around body weight and shape?
1. Be open about how you are feeling! If you feel uncomfortable, talk to your therapist and fellow group members about it! Even if they can’t “solve the problem” in the moment, they can definitely share in carrying the burden! This work is hard and it is common to experience discomfort in working through these difficult emotions!
2. Know that cognitive distortions are real symptoms of eating disorders. Remind yourself of this when you look in the mirror. There are a lot of really helpful interventions that you and your treatment team can practice to combat thoughts like, “My arm just got bigger from eating that sandwich,” or “I will gain 10 pounds if I eat this cookie.” Your therapist can help you sort out more about how these distortions impact how you feel about your body.
3. Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in! This might mean buying new clothes for the body that you have TODAY. Nothing feels worse than cramming yourself into pants that are too small or hiding in baggy pajamas.
4. Donate or dispose of clothes that you associate with your eating disorder. Have a pair of pants you feel you must fit in to? Or, do you have clothes that only fit when you are manipulating your food intake in an unhealthy way? Well, say goodbye to those pieces – some people even do special goodbye ceremonies with their therapist around these items!
5. Get RID of that pesky scale. In recovery, it is often a goal to work toward connecting more to our internal bodily queues. As we start listening and responding to the signs our body innately gives us when we are hungry, it is natural to experience weight changes. Having a scale can sometimes be a distraction from your long-term recovery goals. While knowing your weight can be a great exposure therapy tool (to minimize power that the number has on worth and affect), I would strongly advise that this intervention be utilized WITH your treatment team as is clinically indicated and appropriate.
Body image is complicated for everyone – especially those who have a history of an eating disorder. Be patient and have compassion for yourself. Body acceptance and neutrality are difficult concepts that take time and require a lot of hard work. Just know that you can do this, and it will be SO worth it.
If you think you might need some extra support, we can help you.
Nina Gilbert, LMSW is an Adult Clinician at Walden Behavioral Care in Guilford, CT. Nina leads weekly body image groups that focus on helping patients connect with underlying emotions and insecurities that become manifested in obsession with the body. Nina earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Fordham University in 2012 and an undergraduate degree in psychology from Goucher College, 2006.