I’ve heard it said that we teach, or in my case, write that which we need to learn ourselves. So, inner critic, listen up:
You’re wholly imperfect and that’s perfectly okay.
You see, I’m not only a recovering alcoholic but a recovering perfectionist with a 10 year history of bulimia, and I can’t afford to despise my body anymore.
And it occurs to me- I’m not alone. Just take a look at some of the current statistics, according to a late 2013 CNN report:
- 11 million Americans battle anorexia or bulimia (10 million of them women)
- Dieting is a $40 billion a year industry
- 80% of all 10 year-olds are afraid of being fat
Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
And the really sad thing is, it’s only getting worse. Between the damaging media messages, with photoshop-contrived figures displaying impossible standards of “beauty,” and a culture of girls, women, and mothers that continue to judge one another based on their dress size, we’re in serious trouble.
So what can we do about it?
First, if you’re actively suffering from an eating disorder- anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder being the most prevalent- get help. For me, this began with an intensive out-patient treatment center during my sophomore year of college. Sharing in a group-setting, with individuals who felt, thought and acted like I did along with the individual therapy and medication I received set a solid foundation for my ongoing recovery.
I came to further understand the power of the group when I entered into a 12-step recovery program for my alcoholism and received untold benefit in dealing with my eating disorder and accompanying depression as well.
I’ve been off the binge and purge roller-coaster for almost two years now, as well being off all psychotropic drugs. But, my eating disorder, much like my alcoholism, it’s something I will have to remain ever-aware of—even more so than not drinking—because while it’s perfectly possible to go through life without an alcoholic beverage, one can’t avoid food.
But it’s really not about the food.
The disordered eating and even more pervasive tendency to pick our bodies apart- I can’t stand my thighs or I wish my boobs were bigger or I love everything about myself except (fill in the blank)– is really an act of self-rejection and, ultimately, self-destruction.
At some point, or at many points, we were taught that we’re not ok as is; if only we dropped a few pounds or grew out our hair or dressed a little nicer, we would be so much more attractive.
I call bullshit.
Because here’s the thing, the only people that pick apart other people are people that have been picked apart themselves. They feel less than whole and because they haven’t sorted through their own body image issues, they project them onto others: It’s easier to ridicule someone else than it is to sit with and work through your own torment.
This is compounded by the fact that most people don’t even know they’re doing it! How many well-intentioned mothers have subjected their daughters to unfathomable criticism because of their own unresolved issues with their bodies?
I’ll give you a hint: A LOT.
And kids do it to other kids all the time, too. The biggest bullies are those who are bullied themselves, usually at home.
Which leads me back to the question of what can be done. In many ways, it’s a problem that requires wide-scale changes in advertising (think a couple million more Dove ads), undoing entire corporate infrastructures (dangerous diet pill companies) and huge paradigm shifts in public and private speech; but we can also take a simpler, more immediate start.
1. Practice radical self-love.
For me, this means loving all of me- my imperfect skin, my thin hair, my small breasts and the cellulite on my thighs and ass. I practice loving all my parts by looking myself square in the mirror and repeating the following affirmation:
“I accept myself unconditionally right now.”
Not when I tone up or get my teeth whitened or buy a new outfit, but right here, in this very second. It used to be something I had to do multiple times throughout the day and more often than not, I didn’t believe a word I was saying. But I kept saying it, and in time, came to identify with and internalize this powerful message.
2. Get your fit on.
This shouldn’t include hours at the gym or obsessive marathon training. If that’s your thing, great, but for many of us with compulsive tendencies or addiction issues, over-exercising can be its own slippery slope.
For me, nothing has connected me more to my body and grounded me more in my environment than yoga. It has the added benefit of decreasing stress levels, bringing about more mindfulness and getting us in tune with our breaths. Talk about a multifaceted workout! Better yet, it can be done anywhere with a mat and (at least initially) some guided instruction. Check out doyogawithme.com for free videos.
3. Eat the rainbow.
For me this has come to mean a 90% vegan diet- tons of fresh fruits and veggies of every size, shape and color, hearty nuts, seeds and grains as well no-guilt indulgences like peanut butter and dark chocolate.
Whatever nutritional regimen you are on, be sure you are getting a good balance of protein, good grains (think quinoa and sprouted bread rather than the processed white stuff), and healthy fat (avocado, olive oil) at every meal. Don’t let yourself get too hungry or too full. Listen to your body. She’ll show you the way.
Oh and water, lots of water. Nix the sugary, caffeine-laden, carbonated drinks and every cell in your body will thank you.
4. Don’t skimp on the zzzs.
Our bodies need 6-8 hours of sleep, on average, to run at optimal efficiency. Lack of sleep affects everything from your metabolism to your stress level and even your sex drive. So if you want a better relationship with your body and nearly everything else, get some darn sleep!
5. Get conscious about your media choices.
As a former reality T.V. junky, this has been a big one for me. And it didn’t occur in dramatic fashion. But I gradually grew to replace episodes of Real Housewives with a compelling documentary or TED talk on Netflix. Soon, it felt safe to turn it off altogether. I grew to crave silence.
I still enjoy an hour or two of television a day, but I make sure to fill all my hours pre-TV in more meaningful ways- catching up with friends/family, reading, working out, and the like. And I’m more deliberate about the shows I choose to watch, ratherr than just subjecting myself to whatever happens to be on. I’ve also tried to be more mindful of the commercials I watch (hardly any) and the magazines I read (think Women’s Health rather than Vogue).
6. Form a support squad
This can mean any number of things, depending on the severity of your body-image issues or disordered eating. Many cities have EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous) meetings and the website eatingdisordersanonymous.org is a great resource for online meetings. There is also plenty of great literature available. Do what I do and get yourself a library card- that way you get check out as many books as your head and heart desires.
7. Choose your circle wisely.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of this one. I’ve been fortunate to have tremendously supportive people in my life (these last several years in particular) that have loved me when I couldn’t love myself. They have allowed me to reveal and heal from my tortured relationship with my body and I am forever thankful.
Make sure you surround yourself with individuals that uplift you and see your light. They will save you time and time again.
Even if you don’t suffer from any eating disorder—and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone–I hope something I’ve mentioned here resonates with you. The fact is, we’ve all got our hangups and mental hiccups. And gosh, I’m grateful for mine.
It might sound odd, but if I didn’t have a history of alcoholism and bulimia and a couple other -isms thrown in there, I don’t know that I would have gotten to know God and a rich inner life I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Most days (these days) when I look in the mirror, I see a tender and radiant women: complete and flawed rather, not completely flawed and there’s nothing more beautiful than that.
I would love to hear how you honor the skin you’re in—let me know in the comments below. Or if you’re feeling hung up in some way, share that too. Peace, beauties! xo