Mending the severed relationship with our bodies is a vital yet difficult aspect of eating disorder recovery. There is great truth in the common saying that “body image is the last to go.” As our symptoms pick up momentum and take on a life of their own, our bodies become the battleground upon which the self-doubt and loathing play out. Intensely dislike yourself for a month, 1 year, 5 years, a decade, or half your life, and it’s no wonder that body image is the last to go in recovery. “Body disgust” becomes deeply ingrained in the brain, thoughts, and emotions. It becomes the narrative we live by, and often the one that defines us and locks us into unhappiness.
Based on my own healing path and what I’ve observed as an eating disorder professional, I believe that negative body image is a trauma. Every time we stand in judgement of our bodies—criticizing, hating, pinching, despairing, wishing to be different—we widen the divide between feeling safe and unsafe in our bodies. We doubt them. Mistrust them. Worry they will turn on us. That they will disappoint us. Abandon us. That no matter how disciplined, we can never be certain that our body won’t betray us.
So often, in the frustration of not feeling at peace with our bodies, we bash ourselves by blaming our body image struggles on vanity. Or we compare our own strife with others’ stories of heartache and hardship, as if self-loathing isn’t a valid enough pain for one to carry. I assure you it is. That pain is traumatic. That divide within yourself is traumatic. And it takes time to heal.
Rebuilding trust with our bodies is essential to strengthening body image. It’s only through establishing trust that we can begin to feel safe in our bodies again and experience a sense of peace and wholeness. In the same way we don’t wake up one morning and automatically love our bodies, we also don’t magically begin trusting them without practice and commitment.
I’d like to share with you 6 ways to work on building trust with your body. These may seem small and insignificant at first glance, but if you proactively integrate them into your life little by little, they will make a difference.
No. 1. Talk kindly to yourself. Watch the way you speak to yourself. What words do you use to express how you feel about your body? I challenge you to call yourself out when you are being mean and talk back with kindness. Tell yourself you are working on feeling better in your skin, that you are working on building trust with your body. If it feels right, you can even apologize to yourself. You don’t need to say things you don’t mean, but it is important to verbalize your efforts in making a shift in your relationship with your body. Doing so will be a tangible reminder to yourself.
No. 2. Remove what reinforces distrust. Old pictures, scales, mirrors, social media pages and websites—get rid of anything in your physical and mental space that reinforces bad feelings about your body. It will be impossible to rebuild trust with your body if the first thing you do in the morning is read Thinspiration memes or look at old pictures of a different and probably very unhealthy time in your life. Those items are cluttering your recovery and personal space and reinforcing the “unsafe” feeling. Free yourself of the limitations those things symbolize.
No. 3. Limit mirror and closet time. It’s so easy to lose track of time inspecting our bodies in front of the mirror or changing our outfits over and over in the fury of trying to find one that looks “ok.” Time is precious. Your time matters. Filling up time with self-doubting thoughts and expending energy on frustration, disgust, and other strongly negative feelings sabotages your trust with your body. Put limits on how long you will allow yourself to get dressed for the day. Start with small reductions in time and slowly increase them as you feel more trusting of your right to be in your body and in the world versus trapped in distress front of the mirror.
No. 4. Be with people who raise you up. Choose to spend time with others who are not obsessing over their bodies or food. Trust me on this: be with those who raise you up rather than keep you down. Those people are not wrong for their own struggles, however, as you are building trust with your body it is imperative that you surround yourself with people and energy that uplifts your hard work.
No. 5. Let others in on your body image goals. If it feels right, share with supports that you are working on building trust with your body. Consider how they may be of help to you throughout the process. We don’t have to go this road alone, and you deserve support.
No. 6. Remind yourself why often. I strongly encourage you to journal, list, draw, or vision board all the gifts that will result from having a trusting relationship with your body. I also encourage you to remind yourself of these gifts daily. On hard days, you can use your what you wrote or drew to reinforce why you are choosing to persevere and why all your efforts are worth it and truly necessary.
Remember, healing the trauma of negative body image takes time, patience, and determination. Work at your own pace, but don’t give up. With every effort to rebuild trust with ourselves, we mend a severed connection. We become less fractured and more whole. I believe such peace of body and mind is possible with trust.