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The Recovery Body Part 1: Beginning to Accept Your Body

Posted May 03 2012 11:51pm

Today was a good day.  In fact, it may have even been a great day but there was nothing extraordinary about it, which is the cool thing.  That probably makes no sense but let me explain.  In the depths of my depression and eating disorder, something really super amazing had to happen for me to have an OK day.  Just to get from shitty to ok took so much, but these days I wake up at good and the day usually goes to pretty good, alright, great, or kinda sucky.  Most of my days are good and that’s such a great thing.

I woke up this morning and made Angie some breakfast and then we went on a long walk around my campus.  It was yet another gray day, which was kind of a bummer, but perfect walking weather and Angie enjoys the long walks she gets at school.  Plus, people occasionally come up to pet her and it’s good socialization for her and good stress relief for the students.  I remember what finals week was like and I still have a hard time believing I am actually DONE with college.

The afternoon consisted of a shopping trip to the King of Prussia mall and my friend is an excellent shopping buddy.  We both have similar tastes in clothing/stores and we’re really honest with each other about what looks good/what doesn’t, while still being conscious of the fact that we are both in recovery.

I’ve really been wanting to do a post on shopping for clothes post-eating disorder, but I wanted to wait until I was far enough into recovery to really talk about it and I feel like now is a good time. Today I’m going to focus on the things I did while in treatment and immediately after that helped me cope with my changing body and tomorrow I’ll talk about the shopping part.

During my year of treatment, I noticed a lot of women who wanted to cover up their bodies as much as they could, and others who wore clothing that really showed a lot of skin…during the dead of winter.  For me the hardest thing was/is comparing to others and I thought a lot about what people would think of me and my recovery body.  The thing is, everybody already has a uniquely shaped body and in recovery that is no different.  It is at times difficult in treatment centers and especially in lower levels of care such as day treatment and intensive outpatient because there can be a lot of chatter about whether or not someone is using symptoms based on their looks.  Sometimes it is out of concern and at other times it’s for different reasons, but this type of conversation has impacted the way I thought about dressing in recovery.

I believe that one of the most crucial elements for someone in recovery (besides being medically and mentally stable) is to learn to love themselves and be kind to themselves.  For me this started with trying to make myself comfortable in my own skin and being ok to even touch my body or look at it.  I’m not referring to anything sexual, but to be able to wrap my arms around myself and give myself a hug, something I’d never do in my ED.  In fact, I hated my body so much that I was in denial about having one and that I actually needed to take care of it.  I saw myself (and told therapists this) as being just a brain that happened to require a human body, but below the neck I didn’t care what kind of damage was inflicted.  I didn’t realize that it was precisely that damage that caused me to think that way and impaired my reason and rational cognitive abilities.

I’ve put together a list of things I’ve done that helped me through the initial stage of recovery (re-feeding and a changing body that was often bloated and uncomfortable- and this is something I saw to be pretty much universal no matter what the diagnosis is).  As a dear friend of mine said, “We are all under the same umbrella but different things are raining down on us.”

I couldn’t have said it more eloquently and the main point is that when it comes to body image, I think most everyone in recovery is on an equal playing field i.e. we are all learning how to love something that we’ve been destroying.


  1. Soft things- Soft blankets, cozy hoodies, warm sweaters, fuzzy socks, silk scarves, etc. These are things I’d put next to my bare skin when I was in treatment and for several weeks when I left.  You don’t have to be in a treatment center to be sick and suffering!! Soft things helped me feel safe and contained, and that really provided me with a lot of comfort.
  2. Stretchy fabrics- This one is kind of a no-brainer.  If you wear tight clothing when you are in recovery, chances are you might not like your body even more if/when it starts to change.  Fluid shifts happen, edema is extremely common, and bloating from starting to nourish yourself properly are all normal (and even though I’m not a doctor I’ve been told this enough times but enough MDs, nutritionists, therapists, and research to know that these are not out of the ordinary).
  3. The One a Day- No I’m not talking about a vitamin or supplement, I’m talking about the once a day compliment I gave myself about myself.  It didn’t necessarily have to be body related because for me that would really be forcing it.  Realizing the good things you have to offer yourself and the world and that your body allows you to exist and do these things can help change your perspective on both your body and being.
  4. Avoiding Mirrors- This one was especially key for me during my first few, most vulnerable weeks after meals and when I was really emotional.  Emotions can really distort your body image for the worse and whenever I had an “OMG” body moment that upset me, I’d ask myself what the prompting event was and realize that something triggered my body image to get worse.
  5. Practicing self-care/self-soothing activities-I’m talking aromatherapy, self-massage with scented oils or lotion, a professional massage, taking a nice warm shower or bath, (and here I will say use a vibrator or anything else that might make you and your body happy), listening to meditations, soothing music, “power” music, doing yoga, stretching, reading good books, journaling, throwing ice if you’re upset (not at someone, please), holding a frozen orange and smelling it (or lemon- citrus fruits are very uplifting), etc.

Alright everyone, I’m off to bed for now but will be back tomorrow talking about how to shop for clothes in recovery without focusing on the size tag! Have a splendid evening!

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