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How to Develop a Positive Body Image During Eating Disorder Recovery

An eating disorder is a mental illness.

It is characterized by unhealthy and abnormal eating behaviors, which put a person’s life at risk. An individual has an eating disorder when he or she has an unsafe preoccupation with their appearance and weight, to their own detriment.

They may have serious health risks even as they continue to harm themselves through dangerous weight loss methods, like starvation, bingeing, or purging. While twice as many women have eating disorders, they can affect men as well.

The Severe Health Risks of Eating Disorders

The two most talked about eating disorders are bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Both bulimia and anorexia are defined by their unsafe eating behaviors. All variants of eating disorders have incredibly dangerous risks, especially if someone continues harmful eating patterns for a long period of time.

Living with an eating disorder creates a severe distortion in thought patterns, feelings, and reality. Through this altered state, people are driven to act in ways that may seem absurd or foreign. Eating disorders can become so severe that a person becomes so underweight, that they are unable to walk or participate in daily life. This is when a mental illness has reached dangerous limits. If left untreated, or if the individual received unsuccessful treatment, a person’s behavioral pattern can become irreversible. And according the American Journal of Psychiatry, anorexia is the most fatal disease out of all mental illnesses.

Eating Disorders Influences

If an individual has a pre-existing mental illness, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, that has to be treated along with their life-threatening eating disorder. Depression, anxiety, or other mental health illness may contribute to eating disorder development.

While genetics may play a role in eating disorders, the large number of people suffering from eating disorders today proves that psychological and societal influences are just as powerful in their connection. Treating an eating disorder is about more than just getting someone to change his or her attitude towards food. To begin to heal this dangerous disease, you have to get to the underlying cause.

Eating Disorder Cures

While there is no definitive cure, there are treatment programs, which work to uncover the underlying issues for a person’s particular eating disorder. When an individual addresses deeper issues, whether it’s low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, depression, or another issue, the individual can then find lasting peace and improved health. The first place to start is in treatment.

Primary treatment programs offer medical assisted therapy, nutritional consultations, in addition to a firm focus on recovery. Individual and group therapy, twelve-step meetings, and family sessions are all used to further treat eating disorders. Residential recovery centers are incredibly helpful in monitoring people with dangerous health risks.

In a recent article in the New York Times, N.F.L executive, Paraag Marathe, was interviewed about his younger sister’s battle with anorexia. In the article (which recounts a personal story connected to a fatal disorder), he spoke about the shame and hiding that occurs within families, when a family member suffers from an eating disorder. “He never heard his parents talk openly about what was happening to their family. And he hasn’t figured out how to break the silence. ‘You don’t talk about your feelings. There’s no such thing as mental illness. You don’t want to bring shame on the family by being put in an inpatient facility.’”

Recovery after treatment is more than possible. And by fully engaging in post-treatment options and talking openly and honestly, eating disorder recovery becomes more certain. Sharing your story provides the best chances of removing shame and secrecy from the disorder. This helps the individual, the family, and others who may be suffering.

Developing a Positive Body Image

With the Internet providing information at the click of a button, anyone can access people and sources. This was previously impossible. Now, fans can interact with celebrities and readers can reply directly to newspaper publishers, with no waiting. In many ways, it feels like there are no limits.

There are downsides to this. Alongside the rising popularity of social media, people have access to others’ images of perfection, rather than moments of realism. This can be incredibly dangerous for people suffering from weak body image or other mental health issues. These images of alternate realities can severely impact eating disorder recovery.

The current cultural climate at the moment is incredibly harmful. Anyone who does not fit within the rigid norms of what is dictated by modern culture is suspect of being of lesser worth, which could not be more wrong. All bodies are beautiful and powerful and should not be shamed, ridiculed, or abused. However, with eating disorders, individuals sometimes do the negative work themselves. The healthiest thing a person can do, especially if they are in recovery for an eating disorder, is to begin to practice radical self-acceptance.

So how does someone accomplish this? Independently, individuals can start by practicing a low-information media diet. Limiting social media accounts or deleting them altogether can be helpful in recovery. While this may be easier said than done, it is possible. Discuss this with a therapist, a family member, or a recovering peer. Use blocking software or entrust your phone or computer over to someone who can hold you accountable. Unfollow anything or anyone that does not positively contribute to your goals, health, or well-being.

The next course of action would be to confront present body images, in depth, with a therapist. Developing stability and confidence does not happen overnight, but it can grow step-by-step, with the support of a compassionate mental health professional and fellow peers. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment approach that is often used to target harmful and incorrect thought patterns. CBT then reverses them and replaces them with positive thought patterns.

Practicing self-acceptance through positive body image is a radical act in a culture that is constantly telling people that they don’t measure up. This is a tool for healing eating disorders, and can also be a solution for how you can rise above a negative, body phobic landscape. Don’t let recovery end once you leave a group meeting or your therapists’ office. There is so much you can do to free yourself from your eating disorder and take control of your life.