body image

4 Small but Powerful Benefits of Eating Disorder Recovery

If there are two things I know I love in the world, they are:

  1. Recovery from an eating disorder, and
  2. Numbered lists.

And when you do a quick Google search of “signs of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder,” your search results will list the main, clinical diagnosis points: weight stabilization, less rumination and disordered thoughts, etc.

But recovery doesn’t always work in broad strokes.

Sometimes it’s the little things you didn’t realize were messed up — until, all of a sudden, they’re not.

These are just four awesome items on my list of recovery benefits, but they’re ones I didn’t really think about until much later. They weren’t the reasons I chose recovery, but hey, I’m sure as hell happy they’re here.

As always, these reflect my personal experience: Your personal mileage may vary.

But if you’re wondering what life in late-stage recovery actually means in concrete terms…

And if you, like me, have an ever-abiding passion for lists…

Well, this one’s for you, my friend.

1. Better Sleep Patterns

In the midst of my disorder, my sleep schedule was whacked all to hell. I’d sleep maybe 45 minutes a night — but would spend a full nine hours in bed, tossing and turning.

This wasn’t because I was ruminating about what I had or hadn’t eaten that day, although I certainly had nights when that was the case.

I was just laying there, staring at the ceiling, exhausted, but totally unable to fall asleep.

Why? Because my ED had screwed up my body’s internal workings so much that it didn’t know when to sleep, or for how long. I’d trained it not to listen to its innate signals, and as far as I can tell, it extrapolated the pattern all the way to sleeping.

I don’t have the science to back this up — scientific method is not exactly my forte — but I do know that after a few years of recovery, nine out of 10 times I’m sleeping about thirty minutes after my head hits the pillow.

As someone who loves sleep like Pitbull likes listing city names, this is no small benefit.

2. Functional Digestive System

TMI warning: I’m gonna talk about poop real quick.

My ED really did a number on my digestive system. I never used laxatives (for obvious reasons, my support team shot that option down), but the effects of not using them went on for weeks at a time, which was kind of awful.

Now, keeping my system regular really isn’t so hard.

And for y’all who are wondering how awesome it is to have a digestive tract that actually digests things the right way, let me just say this:

It’s fucking glorious.

//end poop talk.

3. Enhanced Creativity

I didn’t really think about this one until recently. I was a creative writing major in college, and when I was working on cranking out a short story a week, it seemed to me like my creative juices were flowing pretty regularly.

But I flip through old notebooks from time to time (a dangerous endeavor, not to be attempted by the faint of heart), and I can see the difference.

My characters are more developed now. They’re more confident. More interesting.

And my scribblings in the margins of my school and work notepads reflect a mind considering more than food.

My college notebooks boast wordless scribbles, black squares, mindless doodlings, the occasional frustrated outburst on a bad day.

The notepad on my phone now features marginalia like:

Did Renaissance Jews wear hats?

Villain’s personality: Artful Dodger + Ursula + Loki 

Cross-pollinating a hangover with an exorcism

What does the early modern tradition think about the bottom of the ocean?

Now, maybe these examples say more about the nonsense that goes on in my mind than any rise in functional creativity. But I think the point stands.

And in case you were wondering, yes. Renaissance Jews did generally wear hats.

4. Fearless Media Consumption

I went through this phase — OK, it was like two years — when I read almost every piece of fiction about eating disorders I could find. I would pour through books looking for mentions of people with anorexia, and then reread the passages over and over, without really knowing why I was doing it.

I wrote eating disorder fiction myself, and for all the wrong reasons. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.

There are plenty of theories about why people dealing with EDs fall into these patterns, but whatever the cause, I fell hard.

In early recovery, I veered in the opposite direction. Nothing that mentioned eating disorders made its way into my purview…

Or dieting.

Or weight.

Or bodies.

Or food.

I just wasn’t equipped to handle it, and it was easier to push it to the side.

Now, I can flip on the TV and see a preview for a Biggest Loser–style show or new diet pill without feeling the need to hop on the treadmill, or to turn off the set and engage in a healthy coping mechanism.

With every day my recovery grows, it’s easier to watch and read content that used to trigger the living shit out of me.

And it makes it easier to work in an office where diet talk is practically a daily thing, too.

Sure, big-picture recovery is the end goal. But sometimes it’s worth it to celebrate small victories — however they show up for you.

So, fellow recovery warriors, what are some of the small but kickass benefits of recovery you’ve noticed in your own journeys? Let me know in the comments!

Advertisements

Good Days, Bad Days

Sometimes I think I’m over it.

That it doesn’t matter how I look, or what size I wear, or what I grabbed to go from Chipotle on my way home from work because I’ve been pulling 13-hour days a few too many times this month, and sometimes you don’t even care that guac is a dollar more.

But sometimes I feel like I’ve been lying to myself all that time.

It can be any number of things that set the feeling off.

A glance down when toweling off after a shower, which even after all this time I studiously refuse to do, because the wave of sadness I get from looking at my new Buddha belly hurts more than I usually feel comfortable admitting.

Another goddamn rejection letter, when for some reason I really thought we were going to get somewhere this time.

Another lunch break sacrificed to a meeting or a project I don’t feel like I understand, or that I’m good enough to do. Hello, impostor syndrome, my old friend.

Whatever it is, it usually ends the same. Lying flat on my living room floor, staring at my bookshelf without any intention of picking up a book, wondering why my current lifestyle refuses to let me lose weight.

Yes. Yes. I know.

I know that diet culture is a cruel cocktail mixed by capitalism and the patriarchy.

I know that before I chose recovery I was no happier, in fact much less happy.

I know that I still reap the benefits of thin privilege in about a million different ways, and that my health is not in any way connected to the way my body looks.

I can rationalize my way through that. Most of the time I do. I can hit you with a Health at Every Size–based rant at the drop of a hat, literally or figuratively. Like, if you actually throw a hat at me, I will catch it and say “$20 billion annual profits of the US weight loss industry” in the same breath.

But some nights I don’t want to.

Some nights I want to wallow a little in the self-pity I try not to allow myself too often.

I want to acknowledge the weight of a small creature perched on my chest, pressing the breath from me and keeping me here on the floor, this small creature that does not feel exactly the same as my eating disorder did, but is close.

Quieter.

More subtle.

It is the whisper in the back of my mind that says “You failed at being thin. Just exactly the way you fail at everything else.”

I wish I weren’t writing about this. I realize that it isn’t helpful. But maybe the admission that I don’t always have it all together, that I’m not always here to be helpful, maybe that’s worth something. I don’t know. I’m not convinced my thoughts make sense, and I think it might be important to admit that, and edit a little less. Radical honesty does not always make for lucid prose.

But that’s all theoretical. What matters is tonight.

Tonight, I will let these feelings hang there, for the amount of time it takes to write this blog post. Because they are real, and they matter.

And then, also tonight, I will stand up, close my computer, and go do something else. I don’t know what. Sing along loudly to the Sweeney Todd  original cast recording, or finally start the latest Toni Morrison novel, or watch the rest of Season Two of Orphan Black. Anything else.

Because my residual ED feelings are part of my life, but so are all these things.

And they are real.

And they matter, too.

The Art of Not Thinking About It

blank-page

Ask me three years ago what recovery looked like, and I’d have painted you a fairy tale story that would have made the Brothers Grimm shake their heads and mutter about “suspension of disbelief.”

I simultaneously wanted a world where food was delicious and abundant and unrestrained, yet in control and socially acceptable and restrained and guilt-free.

I wanted a life where my body and my fears didn’t hold me back, and yet I never wanted to let go “too much.”

If you’d offered me a bag of magic beans to go along with it, God knows I’d have taken you up on that offer.

Well, here I am now, summer of 2015. Out of college, full-time employed in corporate America, wielding my English degree like a weapon. Suddenly I’m worrying more about figuring out health insurance than the homoromantic subtext of Twelfth Night. (Although let’s be clear here: I still think about that a lot. Sebastian and Antonio are a love story for the ages. I just also need new glasses.)

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about my recovery, it’s that 98% of the journey is an exercise in “not thinking about it.”

Yes, I still wish Starbucks would stop posting calorie counts on their menus so I could get a damn latte in peace. And I wish I could learn the art of short runs, instead of waking up far too early before my 8 a.m. shift starts so I can get my workout in on its designated days.

But those moments used to dominate my long- and short-term planning. Now, they’re occasional nuisances.

No, not quite that. They’re like a fan you turn on before you go to sleep. The longer you lay there, the more used to the sound you get, until eventually you forget it’s there at all — except for those weird moments you jolt awake at 3 a.m. and snarl at the wall, “Has that fan always been so goddamned loud?”

But gradually — gradually — you start to notice you’re sleeping through the night.

That one of your best friends comes up to visit and you’re in the living room eating gelato out of the container while watching Voyage of the Mimiand you genuinely aren’t nervous.

That you go for a walk not because you’re anxious about burning calories, but because your legs got antsy after sitting at a desk for hours, and going for a walk is a great chance to listen to the latest episode of Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars.

That you sit down in front of your computer and start to write, not about your eating disorder, but about what would happen if the Fates started accidentally bringing people back to life instead of killing them, and how Zeus would feel about that. (This is a half-apology for my less-than-stellar posting schedule, for those playing along at home.)

That those painful, infuriating, scream-inducing moments drift back at the worst possible times, and while it hurts like a mother in the moment, you know it’ll be better in the morning, or in a couple mornings, because you’ve felt this before, and it does get better.

That you’re genuinely angry sometimes about the years you spent studiously avoiding broccoli cheddar soup, because broccoli cheddar soup, guys. There is no way I’d have made through this frozen hellscape of a winter without broccoli cheddar soup.

That you still feel the nagging urge to ask family members, when they visit, “Do I look different to you than I did at Christmas?” but you catch yourself, sometimes, most times, because what would the answer matter anyway?

That I’m reading articles submitted to us over at Adios Barbie, my Internet home-away-from-home, and I no longer have to pass ED-related pieces to my co-editor every time, because I will not always be triggered.

And that I know and trust myself enough to ask for help when the opposite is true.

This is not a one-size-fits-all recovery blueprint. Your mileage and experience will vary.

I can’t pretend to be an expert on anything but my own life, and even that feels like a poorly dubbed foreign film nine times out of 10.

But I’m gradually getting better at the art of not thinking about it.

And for what it’s worth, most of the time “not thinking about it” is a pretty comfortable place to be.

The Myth of the “Perfect Recovery”

Want to know a secret?

I run a recovery blog. I bring conversations about sexism and gender equity to places they aren’t wanted, from my fiction writing workshops (“Are you really sure ‘attractive’ is the only adjective you need?”) to the movie theater (“Seriously, why is Kiera Knightley’s role always to stand around in a corset and look confused?”). The constant fat-shaming in Game of Thrones is about to give me a tiny heart attack.

Basically, what I’m driving at is that body positivity isn’t a throwaway for me. It’s a big deal.

And this evening, I’m sitting on my couch, looking at the wall of my apartment and wondering Why the hell can’t I just lose XXX pounds? I’d be happy then. And tonight isn’t the only night recently this has happened.

Some days I’m desperate to change my body. My wonderful, badass body. The one I put through so much in college when recovery was a project for after finals, or after I passed physics, or after I got just thismuch skinnier. The body that got me through a half marathon in September, and a full marathon of all four seasons of Blackadder two weeks ago.

That body. Sometimes I still hate that body.

Part of me thinks this makes me a fraud. A failure. The voice in the back of my mind, the one that sounds eerily like Lord Tywin Lannister (in the film version of my life, my eating disorder will be played by Charles Dance), that voice always has something to say.

Aren’t you the one supporting others?

Aren’t you supposed to know better?

Fraud.

Stop pretending you know what you’re talking about.

If you read that to yourself in Charles Dance’s voice and aren’t at least a bit intimidated, you’re braver than I am.

Am I allowed to call myself within spitting distance of recovered and still occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t go on a three-day cleanse to make my old pants fit like new pants?

Of course. Of course. It’s okay.

The whole point of body positivity is taking outside standards about how you should present yourself for a nice long walk off a short pier. That includes any bullshit notions of perfectionism or infallibility. That means being okay with yourself, just as you are, right this minute. Triggers and doubts and days almost-seriously-considering diets and emotional experiences with your jeans and all.

Recovery and life after would fail any “walk this straight line” DUI test. It’s a nonlinear cycle that doubles back on yourself when you least expect it. There’s no such thing as a “perfect recovery,” and mine is no exception. Progress isn’t when bad days stop happening  — as far as I’m concerned, they might not ever stop completely. But when the good days start outweighing the bad, and when life begins to revolve around something other than what / when / how to eat …

That’s still something to celebrate.

But coming to terms with a perfectly imperfect body-positive life — without the guilt of “failure” — is easier said than done. Here are three things I’m trying to make it through the rough patches, and back into the light.

1. Check Out Those Dark Shadowy Places

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 8.13.35 PM

(You knew this was coming. If a day ever comes for an obvious opportunity to quote The Lion King and I don’t take it, send help. I’ve probably fallen and I can’t get up.)

There are certain situations I know will still spark my inner negative monologue. Pants shopping, for instance. Or eating a meal at a different time than usual. Although I know, logically, that there’s nothing at all wrong with eating a bigger lunch one day, that doesn’t always make the residual discomfort go away. But leaning on logic gives a reliable handhold to turn back to.

Figuring out the root cause of an ED-related reaction — and eight times out of ten, that cause has nothing to do with food — is a crucial step for regaining a sense of understanding and power.

There’s a world of difference between “I hate my body because it’s ugly / gross / terrible” and “I’m feeling uncomfortable about how I look because the people in the cubicle next to me are talking about their 30-day cleanse / I have a big presentation tomorrow I’m nervous about / final exams are coming up and I don’t feel adequate / I didn’t sleep enough last night.” One places the blame on your body; the other shifts focus back to where it belongs. One feels dispiriting and impossible; the other makes sense. And recovery is making sense out of the chaos, and putting anxiety and discomfort in their place.

That place, by the way, is way the hell off on the sidelines.

So get up there on Pride Rock the next time the voices start. Everything the light touches is your recovery journey. Once you figure out what’s really going on in those dark shadowy places, it might not be as overwhelming and confusing as it seemed.

2. Catastrophize for a Reason

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Fat is not a feeling” as a rallying cry before. And while it can be tough to take that statement at face value when you’re absolutely sure you’re feeling fat right then and there, grammatically it’s just fact. “Fat” is a noun, describing the necessary collection of cells and tissue that protect our organs and let our bodies move through the world.

Would you argue that on a bad day you feel “muscle” or “cartilage”? Because that’s what I’m hearing when you say you feel fat.

But “fat” is also an adjective describing a certain body type. The fat acceptance movement is rightfully returning this word to its original meaning, removing the moral and value judgments society put on it and calling it for what it is. For the record, even though fat is a body type, that still doesn’t make it a viable feeling. You can’t feel “blonde” or “high cheekbones” emotionally. That’s not how emotions work.

I keep this as a kind of mantra for when weight panic sets in. It cuts the anxiety out of ruminating on weight, little by little, step by step.

I feel fat I’m so fat I’m gaining so much weight I’m so fat —

Okay. So. Maybe. What’s the worst that could happen if I was fat?

Am I going to hate or love my job any more? Are my friends going to care about me any less, and will I care about them differently? Is the sunrise on my commute down 55 going to look any less beautiful? Are nachos going to be any less delicious? Is the sexism on Netflix’s Marco Polo going to make me want to punch a hole through my wall any less?

Nope. Literally the only thing that changes is that I would be fat.

Any other negative consequences that might arise are a direct result of society’s fatphobic underpinnings, which my panic about weight gain is (albeit unwillingly and painfully) perpetuating.

Will this knock off the thoughts once and for all? Almost certainly not. But it helps stop you in your tracks for at least a moment to see the larger picture.

And the big picture is almost never as scary as the close-up, particularly when the close-up is that distorted.

3. Lower Your Expectations

tumblr_mrzy4qIdoi1qftbz5o1_500

Ah, Amy Poehler. Speaking the truth my soul needs.

I’m not saying “don’t expect recovery.” I’m not saying “don’t expect you’ll ever feel completely happy and in control of your life ever again.” Of course I’m not saying that. I believe it’s possible. I’ve seen people do it. It’s what’s keeping me going. Recovery is possible, and we can do it.

But no one expects you to have it all together all at once. And telling yourself any differently reveals a whole different problem that has nothing at all to do with your weight.

If you haven’t read this article by the amazing s.e. smith about impostor syndrome yet, go read it. It’s cool. I’ll wait.

For the click-averse, impostor syndrome is the feeling that, despite all evidence to the contrary, you are inherently less-than. You’re not living up to others’ expectations of you. You don’t deserve to be where you are. You aren’t qualified. You’re just faking it, and everyone around you already knows it. Even when you know, objectively. 0% of this is true, that doesn’t help.

This summed up so much about my life, both personally and professionally, when I read it that I needed to take a step back and reframe. No one expects me to have it all together. No one is scandalized and horrified when I make a mistake at work, or when I have a lousy body image day and call my support system to vent and yell a little. No one, that is, but me. I’m holding myself to standards that I’d never impose on anyone else.

It’s not fair. It’s doing me way more harm than good. And it’s not easy to stop.

But I’m working on it. I’m cutting myself some slack. Lowering my expectations, so to speak. I’m trying not to feel totally deflated when something goes badly, because things go badly for everyone all the time, every day. Even the most active body image activists need support, help, self-care, and a little slack now and then.

That Amy. So wise. One more piece of wisdom for the road:

tumblr_n6rgr82Vbt1toqbz4o1_250

 

And so we keep on. I’ll keep trying. And on the bad days, I’ll take a shower at a weird time, curl up in bed with a book, and wake up in the morning to try again.

And again.

And again.

Until, maybe next week, maybe in fifteen years, one day I wake up and never need to think about trying again.

But today is not that day.

Today, I’ll keep working.

Photoshop: A Downloadable Public Health Crisis?

 

There’s a new dystopian sci-fi event coming soon to screens near you—and no, I’m not talking about The Hunger Games. I’m calling it Photoshop: The Final Frontier. And, unfortunately, it’s taken the leap from speculation to reality.

For something that comes standard in an expansive set of computer utilities, Photoshop (when used with reckless and patriarchal abandon) has been proven to have negative social effects on the very audiences it’s targeting as potential consumers. Among these, as a very partial list…

  • Artificially slimmed-down bodies are impossible without the magic of a cursor, but these bodies are placed in women’s health and fitness magazines (okay, Women’s Health and Fitness magazines) and advertised as the totally obtainable “after” image. We go to more and more drastic lengths to obtain these fantasy results, crash dieting or engaging in unhealthily intense exercise regimens. Which, as we know from research into orthorexia, exercise bulimia, crash dieting, and the fact that diets don’t work, is wildly detrimental to health, whatever the magazine covers say.

So if studies, facts, statistics, and general common sense all tell us that Photoshopping our bodies into vaguely alien-looking plastic-people is a generally terrible idea, why is it standard business practice for the advertising industry? Because… well, not to get too Econ 101 on you, but because capitalism.

You know, capitalism? That handy economic system where profit is driven by a free-market economy in which whatever sells can be distributed at incredible prices to support the accumulation of wealth?

Here’s the thing: in our world, shame sells. Body hate sells. The diet industry (weight loss plans, pills, supplements, shakes, surgeries, and all the rest) sells, and sells, and sells, to the tune of $60 billion every year. Yup, every year.

Wonder why you feel worse about yourself after looking at endless images of tall, thin, white, symmetrical, pore-less models? Then notice, every time you open your browser or turn on the TV, the promo for the latest root/flower/seed/unicorn blood that melts fat like candle wax. Bam. That’s the one-two punch.

This isn’t to say that all advertisers are deliberately driving a Photoshop-sized hole through our self-esteem for profit. There’s our screwed-up, one-dimensional, stretched-to-the-breaking-point beauty standards to consider, too. Advertising firms are made up of humans, and it’s hard to find a human completely unaffected by the social pressure to slim down and shut up. (And be five foot nine, able-bodied, and white. You know, if possible.)

I’m not blaming any one company, firm, or person for this phenomenon. We aren’t responsible for how we’ve been socialized, just like we aren’t responsible for certain levels of cultural privilege we may or may not be born with. But, just like with privilege, we are responsible for the impact of our actions, and of our inaction. Faced with a sociocultural monster like this one, it’s that inaction that’s most destructive.

So what can we do to fight inaction with activism? A few suggestions to get you started…

1. Understand When a Product Invents the Flaw It Fixes

Show of hands: how many of us even knew what our pores were before those commercials convincing us we could shrink them with expensive creams (and Photoshop, to hide the fact that said creams invariably do nothing)? Same goes for forehead wrinkles, vaginoplasty (yes, really), or whatever can be the hell wrong with our underarms now.

Women make 85% of all consumer purchases in the US. However gender stereotypes make you feel about that, it’s a fact. If we decide we don’t want, need, or even have the ability to look like Photoshopped models, companies will have to adapt their business models to thrive in the new consumer landscape. And even if the change isn’t immediate on a cultural scale, it will be on the personal. I can’t begin to tell you how much more progress I’ve made on my writing when I decided time spent worrying about my uneven skin tone could be better spent on revisions of Chapter Twelve.

2. Take Political Action

Don’t let my Econ digression scare you; I’m not asking for a total dismantling of the capitalist system by tomorrow. (Though people always seem to say “dismantling the capitalist system” like it’s a bad thing…) But there are political actions you can take, in addition to voting with your dollar.

Sign the Truth In Ads petition, urging lawmakers to support H.R. 4341, the Truth In Advertising Act. This proposed legislation would require all advertisers to indicate when substantial, body-altering Photoshop has been used on an image. Substantial changes, mind. We’re talking shaving off ribcages or manufacturing thigh gaps, not smoothing flyaway hairs or shopping Benedict Cumberbatch’s Oscar photobomb into great moments of history. Think of it as a Surgeon General’s Warning for the body image of America.

Sign the petition and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. Urge companies who claim to support “real beauty” to do the same. Modcloth is already on board, but companies like Dove and Aerie could stand to put their cursor where their mouth is. Put the pressure on: email, Facebook, Twitter, anything. Just make your voice heard.

3. Promote Media Literacy in the Children in Your Life

We grew up in this twisted, exploitative beauty system. We’re already pretty messed up by it. But there are kids right now who could maybe, possibly, learn a different way. So share every critical thinking muscle you’ve got.

Encourage others to call out Photoshop alterations when they see them. Give airtime to celebrities like Lorde and Lady Gaga who push back against our culture’s obsession with alteration.

Compliment young girls—and boys—and everyone—more about who they are and what they do than what they look like. Who wouldn’t want to be valued for what they had some control over, verses some genetic fluke?

Prompt kids to find the subliminal messages in ads. “Why do you think they’re selling this product?” “What is this ad really trying to say?” “Why do you think all models look like this?” Make media literacy as important as any other school subject, and kids will get better with practice.

—–

Photoshop: The Last Frontier might be approaching quickly, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit down and accept it. Stand up. Push back. Agitate for change. Because if we don’t, who will?

Four Ways to Put Body Image Issues in Their Place

Trying to live a body-positive life can feel like a full-time job. Add the demands of daily life, from your day job to stressors like friends, family, and relationships, and sometimes it can feel like you’re pulling 90-hour weeks. No wonder recovery isn’t linear. No wonder sometimes we feel burned out. No wonder some days are better than others.

If we were allowed to take a break from life and focus exclusively on coming to terms with our bodies and our selves, maybe the process would be faster and less painful. We’d all hike into the woods, climb a mountain, and look out over a beautiful valley into a clear lake, where we would think about those things that need thinking. After a time of self-reflection, we would all discover peace.

Yeah. That’d be excellent.

Life never chooses one thing to toss at us. It’s a juggler, not a MLB pitcher. Weight or body discomfort come simultaneously with fights with friends, family illnesses, financial worries, or unemployment on a longer term than you’d planned on. (*quietly raises hand*) All too often, these added stressors only make body discomfort worse.

Not that I’ve figured out a foolproof way to separate external stressors from internal body-image problems, but here are four tips that might help get through a rough patch.

1. Compartmentalize

Easier said than done, I know. But on a day when you’ve shouted at your significant other for thirty minutes, totaled your car, or discovered you didn’t get that promotion you totally deserve, realize that negative thoughts about the way you look can be a reflexive reaction. It’s what you’ve been doing, possibly for years, without thinking. Getting angry with yourself because you’ve gained/lost/maintained/[insert verb]ed a few pounds is easier and more familiar than trying to manage new, external problems.

Realizing that you’re deploying a destructive reflex isn’t going to make those feelings go away instantly. But it helps take the edge off if you can think rationally about what’s going on. Feel your feelings, but realize where they’re coming from and why.

2. Find the Distractions You Love

On bad days where body image is a symptom of another problem, I like to shine a spotlight somewhere else. Hopefully that spotlight lands on a piece of aluminum foil or a disco ball or something. Because the point of a distraction is basically to find a shiny object to look at instead.

To stop thinking about body discomfort or job-search stress or whatever else, I like to have a long-term project on hand. If it’s large enough, there’s always something there to occupy me for an hour. I don’t need to think about it. It’s the go-to that replaces destructive behaviors or brooding with the door closed. I’ll open up the draft of my novel and hack away at revisions of Chapter 14, again. (Why must you resist me, Chapter 14? *shakes fist*) I’ll curl up on the couch and watch the beginning of season 4 of Game of Thrones. Anything to turn my focus somewhere else.

Does this solve the underlying problem? In a way, kind of. Running away from your problems sounds like the cheater’s way out, but if your problem has dissolved a little or feels less manageable from four miles away, isn’t that a solution?

3. Find Something You Can Change

It’s been said probably a million times before, but the idea that eating disorders are an effort to assert control has something to it. When your boss gives you a scathing performance review or your best friend betrays you in a way straight out of a soap opera, you want to know that the world isn’t spiraling totally out of control. There’s something you can do. There’s something you are good at. For me, that something was food. Or rather, not food. I was really good at not-food.

But we all know where that kind of controlling behavior gets us. Nowhere good. That’s not a place we want to be. So how can you get the feeling of being back in control without damaging your health, physically or mentally?

It doesn’t have to be huge. So what if you can’t stop climate change or create world peace before 5pm? Start small. Empty out your email inbox. (If you’re like me, an out-of-control inbox is like walking around all day with a sharp rock in your shoe. The worst.) Cook a few days’ worth of delicious, recovery-approved meals and put them in your freezer, so you don’t have to think about it for a week. Finish up that homework assignment that’s been nagging you. Call your mother/father/grandparents. They miss you.

However crazy life might seem, remind yourself that you took charge of and accomplished one valuable thing today. Sometimes, one is enough.

4. Remember How Kick-Ass You Are

I used to think there was something about looking in the mirror and saying, “You’re smart and strong and gorgeous and clever and awesome” that belonged more in Zoolander than my daily life. And personally I’m still not big on mirror affirmations. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t try to pump myself up every so often.

Our minds have become wired to replace negative thoughts about things happening in our lives with negative thoughts about our bodies. Not much of a replacement. It’s not easy, but a real substitute would be a positive thought. And this takes practice.

My goal is that when a negative thought pops up, I’ll counter it with a positive one. My strategy while it’s still a new process is something like the improv technique of “Yes, but…” – that is, take what comes before it without questioning, but immediately counter it with another thought. Example:

Negative thought: I’ve gained so much weight, and now my pants don’t fit.

Response: Yes, but you had a really nice text conversation with a friend last night, which objectively is more meaningful than what your butt looks like.

Maybe someday I’ll advance to the point where instead of “yes, but…” I can counter with “nope, bullshit.” But for now, any movement towards a positive response counts.

***

Have you ever caught yourself on a body-negative day and known that those feelings were a symptom of a larger problem? How did you cope on that day? How do you cope going forward?