“Beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin. It's about knowing and accepting who you are.” -- Ellen DeGeneres
For many, a difficult aspect of recovery is body acceptance. In addition to dealing with any physical changes that might occur during recovery, looking at how you used and perceived your body during your illness can be beneficial. Look at whether you have used your body as protection: to hide or disappear, or as a barrier to others.
Is the dialogue between your mind and your body healthy and positive? How you talk about yourself can shed light on underlying feelings about your overall self-worth. Below is a list of exercises and some ideas designed to help you explore how you feel about your body and help you improve your body image.
I bring up nutrition again here knowing that when people don’t give themselves proper nutrition, it affects their thinking. In fact, after World War II, concentration-camp survivors were interviewed and found to have had a warped sense of body image. A body thrown out of balance is unable to perceive reality accurately, and not eating properly can create a vicious cycle of feeling uncomfortable with your body, restricting your intake, and feeling even more discomfort with your body as your perceptions become further skewed. Even though it’s easy to understand on an intellectual basis that our size shouldn’t determine self worth and value as a human being, accepting this emotionally is harder.
Aim for the center. As you choose life and choose health, a part of you may continue longing to look a certain way. Keep your focus on your recovery as much as possible. Healing doesn’t mean going to extremes. The idea that being healthy equals being fat is inaccurate. As you begin to recover, you will find comfort away from the extremes, and instead of seeing every issue only in black and white terms, you might find that there are many potential solutions to any given situation. Work on your self-esteem. Practice exercises in which you look in mirror and state outright, “I love my body” or “I love myself.” Analyze how this statement makes you feel. Repeat this exercise several times a day for at least 10 days, even if it’s difficult, and see if you begin to feel different by the last day. The goal is to eventually accept and appreciate this statement.
Define what beauty means to you. When you look at others, do you see only their outer beauty or is their core more interesting to you? Do you hold yourself to different standards than you do others? How does body size define your self worth, and do you believe it should? What are some ways you can begin to move away from the idea that size is an indicator of value or worth?
Stay away from triggering content. Whether it’s an image in a magazine, someone you know who isn’t supporting your recovery, or a website that encourages unhealthy behavior, make sure you understand that the beauty industry is trying to sell you products and will encourage you to see yourself as flawed. This is not true. The beauty standard is unrealistic, and often the images used in magazines have been drastically digitally altered. Always remember that you are beautiful the way you are.
Engage in affirmation exercises. Remember that focusing on your body can be another way to distract yourself from feelings or the past. Some good exercises to try around body image include repeating positive affirmations and art therapy. Affirmations include repeating positive statements such as "My body deserves love and respect" or "My body is perfect the way it is, and I honor it in this state."
Create artwork. Art, including drawing, coloring, making collages, sculpting, and painting, engages a different part of your brain than talking or writing does. Sometimes it can be helpful to process what you are feeling through art. It can also help situate you more in the moment, so you are focused on the act of creating rather than getting lost in thoughts around your disorder. Art therapy is designed to reduce stress and can give you a sense of accomplishment. It has actually been shown that creating art changes the brain. It improves brain connectivity and plasticity.
Avoid competition and comparisons. Every single body on this planet is different. Mark Twain once said, “Comparison is the death of joy,” and he was right. When we compare, we do so with inaccurate information. We never know the whole story when it comes to someone else. Comparing yourself to others can spiral downward into insecurity. Do your best to keep your focus on yourself and your own goals.
Keep ongoing lists. List the things you appreciate about your body. Write another list of what your body can do and how it serves you. Add to these lists as often as you like.
Forget notions of perfection. As much as possible, move away from the idea that you have to be perfect. The body positive movement has some wonderful ideas around avoiding shaming the body, and this includes your own. As Diane Israel, MA, observes,“Perfection is the core wound of anorexia.” She adds, “There is an underlying fear of failure that leads most addicts to seek control through other means."
Don’t indulge negativity. Other people’s comments can throw you for a loop. If someone makes a negative comment, don’t harm yourself because you feel hurt. Never use food or restricting as a punishment. Instead, reach out to friends, write about your feelings or tell the person how his or her comments made you feel. Treat yourself with extra kindness if anything like this occurs and upsets you.
Move away from numbers and the scale. Have a ceremony and toss out your scale or do what members of the Boulder Youth Body Alliance formerly run by Carmen Cool suggest and make a “Yay scale” -- one that’s artistically painted or decorated and covers up any numbers with positive affirmations.