As always, bonus point to anybody who gets the reference. I swear it’s relevant. I have never met or spoken with a person dealing with a past or present eating disorder who hasn’t experience body dysmorphia in some way. It’s easily the most common symptom of disordered eating and it’s not really something that tends to be covered by conventional treatment. In general, you’ll be told that it’s “all in your head” and that “everybody else can see that it’s not true, so why can’t you?” but that doesn’t exactly help. If anything, it worsens the situation by further isolating the person with those thoughts and projections of themselves. Once you label something as “all in your head” it becomes automatically seen as less significant, childish even. And body dysmorphia is anything but childish. It leads to snap decisions and huge setbacks, both mental and physical.
It’s not even something you can accurately predict; some days are good days, some days are bad. Some days can turn from good to terrible in an instant, just because you’ve walked past something reflective and were so taken aback by what you saw in it, or you manage to convince yourself that your stomach has a bit more jiggle to it than yesterday. Just the knowledge that you are gaining or losing can affect what you see in the mirror afterwards. This ties into my monumental beef with weighing scales actually. Weighing yourself is really like BMI. It’s great for showing extremes and fairly reliable for showing trends over time, but it should not be used for any kind of once-off evaluation that gets anything more than the vaguest idea of where the user is in terms of progress. Even if you could guarantee that you could step on the scales twice and get exactly the same reading (which I have yet to have happen consistently - there is always something slightly different somehow), there are so many things that the scale just can’t be expected to take into account. It spits out a number representing how many Newtons the surface is pushing back against your feet with; it does not tell you how many of those Newtons that it displays are down to water retention, chronic constipation, wet hair, slightly heavier underwear than last time, gas, standing on a slightly different part of the scale than last time. I mean, the last pair of scales I owned; if I stepped on with my left foot first, it would show my weight to be a good three pounds less than it was if I stepped on right foot first. Did I magically gain three pounds by stepping on with the other foot? OF COURSE NOT. But it didn’t matter because from that moment all I could think was that I told me that I was heavier than I thought and I’d feel disgusting until I dared to check another day when, by the same magic, I would be right back where I started. So, as a side note scales are really stupid, don’t take what they say as gospel. Using them for trends is fine, but nothing beyond that. The trouble is, we all know the science behind weight gain and loss. We know how many surplus calories you need to gain or lose a pound of mass and we know full well that it was physically impossible to have done that overnight, but we still believe it. One thing which I feel contributes heavily to that sort of…well, delusional behaviour, is the ‘instant results’ myth sold to us by a good portion of society. I’m talking those ridiculous internet adverts, promising six-pack abs in two weeks, the body of your dreams overnight, all the strength, speed,and skinniness you could ever ask for, just as soon as you fill out your credit card details. Every single one is a lie, designed to do nothing more than part desperate people from their cash.
The truth is that changes take time, lots of it. You haven’t gained three pounds overnight, because that would mean that you’ve somehow eaten an extra 10,500 calories IN YOUR SLEEP. I’m telilng you right now, you didn’t. So put away the damn scales for a start, you don’t need them dragging you down. Bloating and water retention are an irritating but invariable part of recovery, if you don’t get any, you’ll be the first. You can’t avoid it, but you can train yourself to avoid having a negative reaction to it. It’s very simple, three steps: question everything, talk to someone, and plan things out.
WHY do you suddenly look so much fatter than you did five minutes ago? Could it be that you’ve just had a challenging day, or you’ve had an argument with someone or you overheard somebodys throwaway comment that wasn’t related to you at all, but you’re stil going to take it as a sign that you look terrible? That’s not real gaining. Were you feeling fine before you stepped on the scales but now that you have and assigned a number to your self-worth, you feel like you’re splurging out of your clothing? That’s not real gaining. Have you not managed to poop in two weeks straight and you can barely breathe from just how full you are all the time and look, your stomach is sticking out so surely that must be so much you’ve put on? That’s not real gaining. Have you, over a period of a few months, noticed a general upwardly trend between day one and day 100? That, and to be honest, only that, is real gaining. It’s far too inexact a ‘science’ for anything more. And even if you are gaining, what is wrong with that? Is there really nothing worse to be than gaining weight? I would rather magically gain 300 pounds overnight than die alone in the name of being ‘skinny enough’. If there is a phrase I hate more than any other, it’s probably ‘skinny enough’. There is no ‘skinny enough’, it’s a lie that we tell ourselves to stay sick. So question that, too. Ask yourself what enough actualyl is and why you don’t think that you already are enough.Ask why it’s alright for a friend or a family member to be at a particular weight or shape but for you it’s the worst thing imaginable.Ask why, after all this time, the people around you are still insistent that you need to get better when you think that you’ve already gone too far. They wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t what they believed. Nobody is trying o make you fat; they’re trying to help you save yourself. And sure, question this as well. I don’t want you to take what I say as gospel truth. I want you to sit down and think about it, rationalise out the different sides of the argument and make educated judgements, not snap decisions. That one is super important. I can’t count the number of times I’ve changed up my recovery on the spot because I’ve thought it was going too fast or that I thought I didn’t need it anymore and didn’t actually sit and logic everything out; I didn’t question why I was making those changes. And you know what? Every single time, I was wrong and it cause more and more setback in my progress. Don’t make my mistakes.
Talk to someone.
I have something of a policy: if you can’t justify why you’re doing something to the person sitting next to you, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Obviously this doesn’t work for everything, mostly depending upon the definition of ‘person beside you’. But for something like this, it’s a fairly watertight idea. If you can’t get someone; say a family member or a friend, to agree with the changes you’re making to your recovery, then the chances are pretty good that the changes being made are not positive ones. You want to switch from gaining to losing because you felt too fat to carry on? You sit down, gather your evidence and present it to someone who knows what’s going on. If you can convince them, without resorting to outright manipulation, then you’re clear. Otherwise, you’re going to have to leave those plans for another time. The truth is that you’re not exactly the best of judges about what’s best for you when you’re sick. It’s only you who sees the imperfection. It is, really, all in your head. But that doesn’t make it any less real or scary. Talk to someone and have them clarify an outsiders perspective for you. It might just be what you need to see through the veil that the illness is pulling over your eyes.
Plan things out.
I can’t stress enough just how important it is to know what you’re doing. It might sound like the most obvious thing in the world; of course you’re going to think about what you’re doing! But when you think about it, just how many times have you jumped into something new on a whim, recovery-wise, and it’s actually been a terrible idea? If you’re me, loads. It’s not enough to say “right, in six months I will be super fit and healthy; I’ll have no fear foods and everything will be sunshine and rainbows. It doesn’t work like that, and thinking like that is really only setting yourself up for failure. Know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, never settle for ‘just because’. You want to get fit? Cool, how are you going to do that? You want to eliminate all fear foods? That’s great, how? What will you do that’s different from how you currently do things? It’s not enough to make grand plans and set a date. That date will come and go and you’ll feel the worse for it. You need a plan of attack, because this is your life that we’re talking about. There is no reset button, you can’t go back to your last save point. So make sure that when you act, it’s going to be to your benefit. This is not something you can - or should try to - rush.
That’s really all I’ve got to say, well, it isn’t, but I’ve been rambling on for ages now, so I’ll let you get back to your scrolling. Just…look after yourself, alright? Don’t ever settle for second best, don’t throw your life away on a whim. It will get better, but only with consistency and strength. This is a fight, but it’s one you can win, I promise.
Whoever you are, where-ever you are; you are special, you are loved and you deserve more than sickness. It’s okay to need help though, it’s okay to not be able to see the full picture all the time. Sometimes you just need that outside opinion to show you what you were missing. You can’t see California without Marlon Brando’s eyes, and sometimes you can’t see just how wonderful you are through your own eyes. And that’s alright, just not forever.
Until next time,