How to Deal With “Body Talk”
Last Thursday, I was volunteering at the front desk of a local food pantry, when a client approached me and unabashedly said, “You’re teeny”. I attempted to brush the statement off, and replied, “Yes, I’m actually working to put on some weight right now”. Her response surprised me. She said, “well you’re teeny, but you don’t look anorexic or anything.”
I smiled, chuckled, and continued on with my day. Once I had time to process the interaction, I realized that my response to this comment, and the comment itself, was a huge recovery win.
As one progresses through recovery, inevitable changes occur to the body. This experience is bittersweet, necessary, and scary. Additionally, these changes are frequently accompanied by comments (usually well-meaning!) from family, acquaintances, and (in this scenario) even strangers. These seemingly innocuous comments can become triggering threats to one’s recovery.
I’ve received other potentially triggering comments in my time home.
- “Your legs look fatter”
- “Your face is fuller”
- “You don’t make my eyes water anymore”
- “You have a butt! And it’s rounder!”
Being prepared for comments such as these is crucial when recovering from an eating disorder. One must have their “armor” to curtail any regression (or as my mom says, “backsliding”). Here are some of the tools I have found useful so far:
- Reframe the comment: I mentioned this strategy in my post on limiting beliefs, and it’s equally appropriate in this scenario. For instance, no longer appearing anorexic can be reframed to no longer looking sick, and therefore looking healthy. Isn’t health what everyone wants? Similarly, the statement that a particular body part “looks fatter” can be reframed to “looks stronger”.
- Remember why you’re recovering: Initially, I chose recovery solely because life in my eating disorder was miserable and unsustainable. As I’ve progressed through this season, I’ve identified so many additional reasons, such as a desire to help others/share my story, increase awareness, become a wife and mother, fulfill my full potential as a pharmacist, go on outdoor adventures, and play with my puppy Hope. The changes that have occurred only support these desires. For instance: stronger legs=sustenance for hiking, having a butt=the ability to support life, and a fuller face is indicative of more fuel for the brain, allowing one to perform one’s job and share one’s story in a more successful fashion.
- Tell the person that the comment triggered you, or even better, suggest a more appropriate comment to make in the future: This tool works best when the comment was made by someone you’re close to. I couldn’t very well tell the woman at the food pantry that I am in fact recovering from an eating disorder, but often these body comments are made by family and friends. I believe it’s best to just tell the person why the comment is unproductive, so they know not to say it again. To individuals without eating disorders, all of these comments sound like compliments! After all, logically, you are trying to gain weight, so corroborating comments should be compliments! When I was told my legs looked fatter, I frankly told the person that this statement was not okay. My family is extremely supportive, and always asks me what they should say instead. Some of my favorite “appearance” adjectives:
- Write down what you like about yourself: So often one becomes caught up in the negatives, or what they dislike about oneself. Reminding oneself of one’s attributes belittles any negative thought that may enter. For instance, I like that I’m educated, empathetic, decent at art, flexible (yoga flexible, currently working on being “life” flexible 😉 ), and that I have long eyelashes.
Ultimately, your body is your friend that will support all the fun that life offers, so do your best to take these comments as compliments. I hope that these tools are as helpful for you as they are to me.