I’ve struggled with accepting my body the way it is now, and at times I still do. It can be hard for someone with an eating disorder to see and feel their body changing. This is made worse when I feel full after eating, if I wear clothes that feel a little too tight, or if I am having a bad day and look in the mirror.
‘Body exposure’ is a term used to describe the process whereby patients learn to accept their bodies. A while back I wrote about how I do not LOVE my body – I simply accept it. This is normal for many people, but more so with those with ED. We do not need to love our bodies, as this is highly unlikely. With that, I think that we need to appreciate how much our bodies allow us to do. However, we need to accept our bodies as being healthy and appreciate how much they enable us to do. Patients with ED, myself included, struggle with this acceptance. It is made worse when we try to avoid our bodies. For example, some do not wear swimming suits so that they do not see their bodies or skin. Others avoid mirrors, or dress in the dark. It sounds drastic, but this goes to show how extreme this hatred or fear of the body might be.
Body exposure can be done in many ways. Some suggest staying in front of a mirror and staring, while avoiding making negative comments. To be honest, this does not work for me. I think that aA mirror should only be for looking to check how you look before going out, nothing more. So, staring in front of a mirror actually makes me a lot more uncomfortable. However, this leaves me stuck without a solution to my body image issues.
One way that has helped me tremendously is massage therapy. I absolutely LOVE getting massages, as they really make me relax. It makes my muscles feel calm and it helps me to forget about all the troubles in this world. Interestingly, research actually shows that massages are helpful in the treatment of EDs. The reasons for this may vary, but generally, massages help a person relax. For me, this makes me appreciate how tired my body is and it helps me understand just how much my body has done for me throughout the day. When I get a massage, I do not feel pain like before when I was too thin and all my bones ached as people touched them. Now, my muscles and bones are strong. It also helps to take my mind off the day and it puts me in a calm mood.
Why is body exposure important? Technically, I can live my whole life hating my body. And a times, I really DO hate the way it looks and all the weight I have gained. I do not know if I will ever truly love my body, but I am trying to make myself become used to it. In other words, I am trying to desensitize myself to my new body. Massages are a great way to do this. Different people may find different methods of ‘body exposure’ that other things work for them; for example, swimming, using their bodies to exercise, stretching, yoga, etc. What is amazing is Wwhen I was too thin, I could not do any of this. People (family, mostly) did not allow me to move/exercise/stretch because they were so worried that any extensive movement could hurt me. Now, with my body back in shape and my weight healthy again, I can safely do anything I want! I can run, jump, skip, hop…I am free. Recovering from ED has therefore not only helped me get a healthy body and mind back, but it has also helped me to do more with my body than ever before. I do not need to worry anymore about hurting myself because of my small size – my muscles and bones are strong again and they help me do wondrous things. So, I might not always love my new body, but I certainly love the amazing things it helps me do. I suppose it is, again, like other things in recovery: it is so hard to get used to, and often, I want to give up. But the more I work at it, the easier it becomes. And sometimes, I can see the positive side of things. I can see how much recovery has changed my life and has helped me to grow – physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
Marina Abdel Malak is a student in Nursing with interest in mental health and eating disorders. She is recovered from anorexia nervosa. She has her own blog at http:www.anorexiarecovery1.blogspot.ca/