By: Gabrielle A. Morreale M.A. LPC C-DBT.
New year new you..right? WRONG!!! Your body is not a project under construction. It is inherently good, just as it is and YOU are inherently good just as you are!! When it comes to eating disorder recovery, body image is a complex issue. As people who have been through it, we know this is a tender topic; we know that and we promise you don’t have to hate your body forever. Healing is possible!
What is Body Image?
Body image very simple can be defined as one's personal perception of our physical appearance, and we know that is vastly simplified. In today's society- where beauty standards are often unattainable- many of us both in recovery and not in recovery struggle with negative body image. However, it's essential to recognize that a neutral body image is achievable and plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. In this blog, we'll explore practical and empowering strategies to improve body image and foster body tolerance and neutrality. Please note that if these concepts do not align with your own personal values or are not how you choose to discuss and embrace body image, that is more than ok!
First, let’s talk society! The way you view your body and some of the negative narratives you have are absolutely not your fault! Society is filled with diet culture, wellness culture, and all the other BS that tells us that’s better! I am here to remind you today, and always, your body is good just as it is. Being thin is not a prize or something you have to hurt your body to attain. Being thin is not better. Today our lives are filled with social media and unrealistic beauty standards, thanks to filters and all of the things, of course, you struggle especially if you’re in recovery. Society almost sets us up to fail with its unrealistic expectations.
Now let’s talk: How do we challenge this? What I typically tell clients is to ask themselves why changing their bodies would make their lives better. Yes, we can acknowledge there are things called thin privilege and pretty privilege but come on…it’s pretty awful that it even exists. Are there things if our bodies were smaller or prettier or younger that would make our lives easier I can’t deny it, but is it worth our well-being? That is what I often come back to with clients. How long are you going to allow people and society’s expectations to keep you sick? Personally, that realization was truly healing for me. I had to come to a place where I could no longer allow what society told me to be true or what other people expected of me to keep me sick. Nothing is worth your well-being. your body is good.
Another thing I will often talk about with clients is when I came to a place where I no longer wanted to take out my pain on my body. Your body is not a punching bag. Your body is a miracle. You are a miracle. A skill that we often try to teach clients, and that I know I had to learn, was how to use language instead of hurting myself. Is this hard? Yes. Is it possible? Also yes. There are other ways to heal while embracing, or at least tolerating your body.
What is Body Tolerance?
So, let’s talk body tolerance. This is typically where I like to start with clients. My goal for clients and for myself is body neutrality. If you end up loving your body post-recovery, that is amazing, and I am here for that 1000%!! But let’s keep it real … that’s not how most people feel about their bodies due to societal and cultural expectations as well as narratives we may be taught throughout our lives. Body tolerance helps us to accept our bodies as they are, even when we may not feel the best about them. Tolerance also helps us come to a place of respect for our bodies. The concept of working towards respect often can help us heal from the deep-rooted pain around our body and it leads up to body neutrality.
What is Body Neutrality?
I believe body neutrality is the next step after body tolerance. Again I totally accept that this mindset may not be for everyone and we are always happy and honored to meet clients where they are at. That said body tolerance, and neutrality, take a lot of work, especially in eating disorder recovery and in life.
Body neutrality can be defined as the ability to respect your body and make peace with it even if it’s not the way that you necessarily “prefer it”. However, neutrality not only helps us to continue to grow in respect for our body, it also can help us learn to embrace our body as it is. Again, I totally acknowledge, and at Recovered and Restored we acknowledge this is not easy. However, it is possible. Healing is possible. Once someone has been able to gain some body tolerance and has learned to sit with some distress or discomfort around their body at times, they can start to gather some respect towards their body. Your body is incredible it keeps you alive its many functions are a true marvel. I recently gave birth (HOLY SH*T), our bodies are amazing!!
Anyway, one activity that still helps me today is holding space for what each different body part is able to do for me. For example, do I love my legs no, but do they help me walk and run and move and dance and keep up with my beautiful daughter… yes! Therefore, I can hold space and have respect for them. Being able to find respect for what our bodies are capable of helps us build tolerance, and eventually neutrality. Give it a try!
Maybe take one body part at a time or talk about your body as a whole. You can do this as a journaling activity, or just in your brain. Do whatever feels safe and comfortable for you. In addition to this activity, an important coping skill to have is to speak about our bodies differently. We start to discuss language around our body in a way that feels neutral, not good, bad, or indifferent. We have a body, so how can we learn to talk about it in a way that is more factual, less harsh, and non-judgmental? I like to have my client write down all of the judgmental feelings they’ve had or are having toward their body. In therapy, we process and hold space for all of the things. This is hard this also healing! We promise you are capable!! Then I’ll sometimes have them crumple up or shred the piece of paper. I have them get rid of it because they don’t need to be held back by those narratives anymore. Again, I acknowledge all of this takes time, but I will say both exercises can be incredibly healing, and I would encourage you to try this with a therapist or trusted friend. Body neutrality is possible. Yes, even for you, of course, if this aligns with your recovery goals.
Improving Body Image is a Journey
In conclusion, improving body image is a journey that requires self-reflection, self-compassion, and a commitment to embracing your whole self. By challenging societal ideals, building a support system, and cultivating positive habits individuals can embark on a path towards a healthier and more positive body image. Remember, you are deserving of love and acceptance just as you are.
Other Mental Health Services Offered in PA, NJ, DE, SC, and FL
We offer a wide variety of services related to eating disorder recovery including trauma therapy! We offer Weekly Support Groups, Nutrition Services, and Family and Parent Therapy as well as Coaching, all tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual. We offer our services for Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, and Orthorexia online in New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, and Florida! We are here to offer our support and understanding in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
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Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview