Eating disorder recovery comes with many challenges, one of those is navigating potential body changes. In a society that idealizes thinness, gaining weight can be distressing and feel shameful. In addition to physical changes, recovery comes with mental and emotional discomfort as well.
It is understandable to have feelings about body changes in the recovery process. It is ok to feel sadness, grief, even anger. And it is possible to make space for those feelings while also committing to overcoming the eating disorder and finding acceptance for your recovered body. There is great healing to be found when you learn to live at peace with your body and the changes it experiences across your lifetime.
If you are struggling to accept body changes, here are a few tools that may help:
4 tips for navigating body changes in eating disorder recovery
remember your why
When you find yourself in the midst of body changes, looking back with longing to your old body, remember why you chose recovery in the first place. One way you can do this is to discover your core values - the things that are important to you and guide your priorities and how you live your life. You can find several value lists online to identify the top 3-5 values that are most important to you.
After you’ve discovered your core values, maybe get out a journal and reflect on these questions:
- What are your values?
- How does my eating disorder keep me from living out your values?
- What does recovery offer you? What freedoms and joys are you looking forward to experiencing?
- What choices can you make today that align with your values?
Coping with body changes, although part of the process, can be very stressful. This heightened state of stress can impact overall nervous system functioning. Working on grounding techniques is a great way to give your nervous system a little love.
Finding a technique that works for your individual body is the most important. Some options might include: box breathing, 2:1 breath, nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), humming or singing, mindfulness or meditation (via Headspace or Calm app), especially loving kindness meditation, gentle sway, slow head movements, massage, bathing, joyful and connected movement, viewing nature or animals, listening to music. We encourage you to explore some of these options with your treatment team further!
challenge the eating disorder
Remember, your eating disorder wants to keep your attention on controlling food and your body. Your eating disorder wants to keep you small and will oppose anything that promotes your healing, including the changes that accompany treatment.
Talking back to your eating disorder reclaims the power of your own voice. You might not be able to control negative thoughts about body changes from intruding into your mind, but you can choose how you respond to those thoughts. You can choose to either engage the thought or challenge and reframe the thought to be more aligned with your recovery values.
Here’s an example of an intrusive thought: I feel very uncomfortable with the weight gain I’ve experienced in recovery. I miss my old body and the compliments it would receive.
And here’s an example of how we might reframe that thought: I can miss my old body AND also enjoy the freedom and peace I have without restriction. I can choose to be in and care for this body even on the days when it is hard to like the way it looks. I am more than my body.
Recovery reframes help you access your values and are an investment in your healthy self.
If you are struggling to know how to reframe a thought, ask yourself “What would I say to a friend who spoke to themselves in this way?”
Work to cultivate body acceptance
With self-compassion, we can acknowledge that going through body changes is difficult and perhaps painful, and we can meet ourselves where we are with kindness. It is appropriate to grieve a past body size. And you can also choose to respect, care, and nourish the body you are currently in. You don’t have to love your body to be kind to it and commit to no longer use harmful behaviors to control it. Over time, with acceptance comes freedom and a fulfilled life that is about so much more than your body.
Practical ways to support body acceptance include:
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and fit well
- Address and work to reduce body checking behaviors
- Journal gratitude for your body and all that it does for you every day (like breath, carry you where you need to go, etc)
- Lean on your support system - your friends, family, and treatment team - as you navigate all the ups and downs of recovery and change.
Remember, without change, there isn’t growth.
interested in learning more?
At NourishRX, we understand that finding the right treatment for an eating disorder can be overwhelming. We are here to provide the right support, nutrition education, and guidance you need to reach your goals. If you're concerned about how to take a step forward with your eating disorder recovery, please don't hesitate to reach out. We offer virtual nutrition counseling for those in Massachusetts and beyond. If you're interested in working with us: