Eating disorders, just like us human beings in general, can be present in a vast variety of forms. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, orthorexia, with each sufferer having their own unique experience and symptoms. There is definitely no one size fits all.
Similarly, the individuals who suffer also come in many different shapes, sizes, weights, ethnicities and even social positions
Contrary to the popularised stigma, you do not have to be stick thin, white in ethnic origin or even a perfectionist to have an eating disorder, nor should being a certain ‘low’ weight be the main qualifier of feeling worthy of recovery.
A key issue is that such stigma around eating disorders, for a long time, has acted as a barrier for many individuals with an eating disorder to view themselves worthy of recovery. Myself included.
For for too long, there has been a myth that we need to be ‘sick enough’, a ‘low enough weight’ or on deaths door to even take recovery into consideration.
But let me tell you, openly and honestly, you don’t need to hit rock bottom to feel worthy of recovery. You don’t need to be a certain weight, and you certainly don’ t need to meet any typical standard of what someone would classify as having an eating disorder in order to make recovery feel like a worthwhile ambition.
As I mentioned right at the beginning of this post, eating disorders happen at all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and social positions. Eating disorders also appear, not only when someone continuously starves themselves, but also when they malnourish their body through binging and purging on food, engaging in obsessive exercise to burn off food, or in the way they feel about themselves when eating certain types of food.
Eating disorders are not a matter of appearance, or being in a situation of life or death. They are apparent in the whole relationship a person has with food, whether that be how they apply certain meanings to food, or how they feel and act before, during and after they eat. For these reasons alone, it makes no sense that anyone has to lose a significant amount of weight before they can be diagnosed with an eating disorder, or feel worthy enough of recovery.
Fact of the matter is, any disordered way of thinking, feeling or acting around food can significantly and very negatively impair someones quality of life - especially since food holds such strong significance in our complex social human lives.
Placing this issue into the context of your own personal experience, if you have ever experienced an eating disorder, or some form of disordered eating, chances are you may have felt you needed to look a certain way or get to a certain state of health in order to embark on a journey of recovery.
Alternatively, no matter what you weigh or look like, you may still feel undeserving enough to experience optimal wellbeing. In your own eyes, becoming ‘healthy’ might feel like a foreign ideal, or even something to feel guilty about pursuing.
That is another complex issue with identifying and treating eating disorders - the problems individuals are facing do not reside in food, but in the whole relationship they have with themselves.
For example, with low self-esteem, a lack of self-compassion and several anxiety provoking issues going on in an individuals’ life (mostly non-food related) are an underlying driving force for many people to turn towards food as a way to cope.
Self-compassion is absolutely crucial to eating disorder recovery, because it empowers us to learn that we are worthy enough to experience love, and also go out into the world to find and fulfil our purpose. Its just the unfortunate case that many clinicians and treatment programmes solely revolve around the food issues alone, so only the surface is scratched in terms of achieving full recovery.
My own recovery from anorexia nervosa and orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating) only really manifested when I learned the art of being self-compassionate, which allowed me to learn that I WAS WORTHY of recovery, no matter what my weight. Even when reaching a so called healthy weight, knowing that I still had some remaining negative issues around food, being self-compassionate allowed me to continue working on myself.
This is a fear I have come across among so many individuals who have ever experienced an eating disorder - the fear that getting to a healthy weight means that no one will no longer care about their wellbeing, even though on the inside they feel like they are battling a familiar war with food and their own bodies.
For example, they may now be a ‘normal’ weight, or not engaging in binge-purging behaviours, but still have a need to count Calories, obsessively read nutrition labels, cut out certain food groups, make certain foods off limits, or only eat ‘treat’ foods when they feel they have done enough work or exercise to deserve them…
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. I too used to fear that being a healthy weight or not engaging in very typical eating disorder behaviours meant that I couldn’t receive any more help and support. I can completely understand the resistance we feel towards recovery when we don’t feel we need it or deserving anymore.
However, with a self-compassionate tool kit at hand, I was able to plough on - conquering food fears that remained after weight restoration. That meant making it completely ok to eat cake, biscuits, and almost anything I used to not allow myself, because I knew that the healing process still needed to continue.
To me, full recovery becomes possible when you authentically believe that you are worthy of it. Self-compassion is key, and I would like to also remind you of some compassionate pointers that make you completely worthy of recovery RIGHT NOW - no matter what you currently weigh, eat or look like:
- Being able to develop a positive relationship with food was what you were born to do, and anything less than this does not deserve to be part of your identity or lifestyle
- The world made you completely unique, and the world needs you to be fully well.
- Without a full recovery, you may never be able to be aware of all the opportunities that open up to you in order for you to find and fulfil your purpose and dreams
- You deserve to go through life experiencing the pleasure, social connection and positive opportunities that a healthy relationship with food offers
- You were born as a compassionate being with the capacity to show self-compassion and nourish themselves in a way that allowed them to live life to the very full while showing compassion to others and the planet
If these reasons aren’t enough, I can guarantee there are at least one hundred more that make you worthy of full recovery.
Even if you have been led to believe that a full recovery isn’t possible, or something you are deserving off, rest your faith in developing a more self-compassionate attitude and investing in your own self-compassionate tool kit.
Of course eating disorders don’t disappear overnight (I only wish they did !), but it is your right to know that you were born to live in harmony with food, at any weight at any size. Anything less is a reason in itself to journey on a path that leads to a more positive relationship with food, which starts with the vital nutrient of Vitamin C - Compassion