Body acceptance and self-love in eating disorder recovery

September 2022

Guest blogger Molly writes about her own experience of an eating disorder and taking one day at a time

In terms of body acceptance and self-love, everyone is on their own path, whether they’ve experienced an eating disorder or not. We’re often told that we should ‘love ourselves’ but, in reality, this is a long journey with different stages, challenges and achievements.

I have experienced an eating disorder and I found that in recovery, accepting a healthier version of yourself can be challenging. However, the most fundamental mantra on the most difficult days, is ‘I don’t need to love myself to respect myself’. No matter where you are on your self-acceptance journey, you should never stop respecting yourself, and your body always deserves constant nourishment, regardless of weight.

For people struggling with eating disorders, calories being put on menus, diet culture, and the emphasis put on looking a certain way can be extremely challenging. But I want to tell you that you’re not alone and it’s important not to focus on the things you can’t control - calories are always going to exist.

Every time you give into a disordered thought, you’re spending a little longer trapped in the grips of an eating disorder which will only harm you

Instead, put your effort into focusing on the things you can control, like changing your mindset and thought processes. Although, I understand that for people with eating disorders, thoughts can be so powerful and detrimental. With eating disorder-related thoughts, you must acknowledge them, counteract them and move on (easier said than done).

Don’t let your thoughts dictate your mood, they are just thoughts after all, and you have the power to knock them down. The truth is that every time you give into a disordered thought, you’re spending a little longer trapped in the grips of an eating disorder, which will only harm you.

I distinctly remember a birthday I had once before I started recovery and I was too scared to eat any cake. I thought if I ate it, I would be losing control. In fact, it was the complete opposite – I was out of control. A year later on my birthday in recovery, I said that I wanted two slices of cake to make up for last year’s birthday, and then after that, I had another slice because I felt like it. That’s control.

The recovery journey can literally look like a mountain, but the best piece of advice I was ever given was when everything seems too much and overwhelming, to simply take one day at a time, or indeed one hour at a time. Don’t think about the next day, or the next week, just focus on the present and do the best you can today.

In addition, it’s important to recognise that your motivation to recover won’t be linear, but it’s essential that your commitment to recovery is.

In a world completely consumed by diet culture, and a society where physical appearance is deemed as important, it can be difficult to love yourself and your body, and to stop the thoughts of 'I’ll be happy when I look like X, Y, Z'. But you won’t be happy when you look like X, Y, Z, because by then, there will be a new unattainable beauty standard that there will be pressure to meet. Don’t give in!

Diet culture is there to cause guilt and shame and sell products for profits, and no matter what size or shape you are, your body isn’t the problem. It works tirelessly to keep you alive and deserves love and respect. We only live one life, and you don’t want to spend it avoiding situations to stay on a certain diet or to look a certain way. Food is a part of our culture and unites people.

Take time to notice how amazing your body is

It's equally important not to spend your one life being unhappy with your body. So take time to start noticing how amazing your body is and how it has literally supported you every day of your life, and how it has allowed you to create memories, laugh, dance, walk, sing and do all the things you love. You and your body have an interdependent relationship.

When I say you’re more than the number on the scale, I don’t mean that your body isn’t a part of who you are. Bodies are beautiful, and it’s the diversity in appearances which makes them beautiful. I mean your physical appearance is the least interesting thing about you.

Your body is a vessel for your personality, a bundle of cells that carries laughter, memories and so much more. Your arms can comfort a person in need, your personality can make someone smile. People love you, not because you are perfect, but because you are a light.