Flower

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a negative body image. The crippling doubt, loneliness, shame and depression that accompanied my self-hatred started long before eating disordered thoughts and behaviors showed up and remained after the eating disorder thoughts and behaviors disappeared. While I received my fair share of wounds from other people, the most detrimental  wounds to my self-esteem came from the sniper inside the face in the mirror.

I wanted to change. I wanted to love myself or, at the very least, like myself. I thought the only way to change was to change the way my body looked. If other people liked my body, then I would like my body. The only way I thought other people would like my body was if it fit the objective standard of beauty set by our society…Thin.

Consequently, what I weighed and what I looked like became more important than who I was. From the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, I focused on losing weight. I was “good” if I ate food and did activities to facilitate weight loss. I was “bad” if I veered even the slightest bit from my weight-loss plan. I was “bad” if I didn’t work out and would beat myself up about it. I was “bad” if I had even a bite of something not on my “good” list. I knew if I had a bite of something “bad” then the day would be ruined and I would continue eating “bad” things the rest of the day. I would go to bed hating myself, thinking I was failure and no wonder I was so fat and miserable. I’d tell myself that tomorrow I would be “good,” but in the back of my head I knew I would fail.

It took me almost three decades, and a significant amount of therapy and hard work, to realize the fundamental flaw in my line of reasoning. I can’t read minds. I can only interpret what I think other people think of my body. And since all my thoughts filtered through my “Ali Sucks” lens, I was locked in a vicious cycle chasing an illusion.

I also operated under the misguided belief that change only mattered if it could be seen, measured and validated by other people. I was wrong. So wrong. Improving my body image was not about changing the way my body looked, it was about changing the way I looked at my body.

Changing the way I looked at my body wasn’t easy. I had to call a cease-fire. Eating Disorder Ali had to stop belittling and demeaning me at every turn (even Healthy Ali has an inner critic that I sometimes need to remind to be kind). Rather than beat myself down when I looked in the mirror or said or did something I thought was stupid, I gave myself a break. I told myself that I was enough. No matter what I did or said or looked like, I was worthy of love and belonging. To be fair, I didn’t believe it at first. But the positive affirmations helped me maintain the cease-fire and without the constant barrage of negative self statements, my self-esteem began to heal.

I also had to stop trying to change the way my body looked. That involved letting go of a decades long obsession with trying to lose weight. Letting go of something that defined my existence for so long seemed impossible. In Writing Assignment #2: Exploring My Phase of Recovery, I wrote:

I pictured myself adrift in an ocean holding tightly to a lifesaver that read “WEIGHT LOSS AS A GOAL.”  For whatever reason, I had been clinging to that lifesaver my whole life. Holding on for dear life. So I started letting go. It was scary, no terrifying, but little by little I began to realize that I didn’t need that lifesaver anymore. It turned out it wasn’t a lifesaver at all, it was an anchor.

Letting go of weight-loss as a goal was a monumental step and I will go into much more detail about this step in another post. I have also forsworn the dark side of The Force, or “the scale” as others call it. It is incredible how much power a little inanimate object can hold over a human being. I haven’t stepped on a scale since March 2015 and I have zero intention of ever doing so again.

By changing how I looked at my body, I was able to heal my body image. My body image now hovers at “neutral, with positive tendencies.” I focus on who I am and what I can do as opposed to what I look like. Maintaining and improving my body image is still a work in progress and continues to yield high returns. I am free of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors and, although you may not be able to see it or measure it, I’ve changed. And its changed everything.

 

 

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