How to Love Your Body - Overcoming My Eating Disorder
Photography by Kerry Anne
I never felt like I was enough.
As a little girl, I compared myself to my friends who were more outgoing, popular, stylish, and thinner. I was quiet and shy, and believed I would never measure up or be successful because of it. My self-loathing magnified when I hit puberty and started noticing changes in my body. Emotions were at an all-time high, and I felt completely out of control of my body and life. I remember crying about my body and thinking I would never marry or be successful because of my body.
The summer between fifth and sixth grade, I decided to take matters into my own hands and become healthier. This seemingly innocent endeavor quickly transformed into an obsession. By the end of the summer, I had lost so much weight I was hardly recognizable. I barely ate, and I obsessively exercised. Even at my lowest weight, I saw a chubby girl in the mirror. My mind and body had been completely taken over by anorexia.
Early into sixth grade, my parents intervened and helped as best they could. I may have been saved from starving myself, but the next seven years were filled with disordered eating, obsessive exercise, and a distorted view of my body. I was terrified of gaining weight and created ridiculous rules to ensure I didn’t gain any weight. On the outside, I looked like the healthy girl, but inside I was miserable. I didn’t really understand how sick I was, and even when I sought treatment after graduating high school, I worried that they wouldn’t think I needed help. Looking back now, I see how the eating disorder had taken over my perception.
My eating disorder stole away so much of my middle school and high school years.
I lost friends; I missed out on opportunities like late night ice-cream runs or movies with popcorn; I didn’t have the mental energy to love others and be present. My eating disorder was my drug. I was addicted to the high I experienced from being hungry. I loved my discipline to workout and say “no” to certain foods. I thrived off the attention I received from being so thin and disciplined. This was how I stood out and how I defined my identity, and I didn’t know how I could live without it.
Senior year of high school, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was miserable and desperately wanted freedom. I took a year off between high school and college for treatment and worked on healing my relationship with food, exercise, and my body. Treatment was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I had lived so many years in black and white, and I now had to be okay living in the grey. Instead of always being just under the recommended weight for my height, I needed to find peace with being at a normal weight. Instead of eating the same amount every single day, I had to trust my body with different amounts. Instead of following a strict exercise regimen, I had to take a break. And above all else, I had to address the underlying beliefs that I was not enough as I was.
Fast forward almost 9 years later.
I am a completely different person physically, emotionally, and mentally. Recovery has been a slow process as I’ve learned to find peace with my body, challenge limiting beliefs, and believe that I am worthy and beautiful because I am Katherine. In a culture obsessed with weight, diet, and appearance, it is hard for women to not give into messages that they are not enough. We are all bombarded with messages that we have to look and eat a certain way and accomplish certain things to be worthy. It may not be explicit, but underlying all the magazine headlines and fitness and lifestyle programs, we’re implicitly told that we will be happier and more successful if we do “x, y, z.”
Body image has been the hardest area to find peace for me.
While I have have made peace with food and now eat intuitively, I have days where I want to crawl out of my skin. In the 9 years of recovery, my body has gone through many changes. Each time, I have to find peace with my new weight, curves, and size. It’s been hard, yet I’ve learned that body changes are a part of life. Women are not meant to stay in their teenage body. Being married has opened my eyes to the beauty of a womanly body. While I may have felt more beautiful when I was leaner and smaller, my husband loves my body more now that it’s fuller and curvier. And I’m learning to embrace this womanly side of me as well.
I’ve come to believe that positive body image doesn’t mean you have to love your body, but instead it’s about appreciating your body. Loving something means you’re preoccupied with it, while appreciating means you are grateful for what your body can do for you and you treat it with care. This shouldn’t be a downer, instead it should give us women the freedom to accept and celebrate our body at all stages of life. Preoccupation with making my body perfect only stole joy and experiences from my life. Now, I would much rather live life and take care of my body, than try to control it.
Living in the grey with our bodies is hard. It’s so much easier to follow diet culture and go with the crowd. However, I truly believe freedom comes when we let go of the black and white of body image and eating, and live lives in the moment at every shape and size.
4 Ways to Appreciate Your Body
1) Reject the diet mentality.
Diet culture is all around us. It places value on a certain size, weight, and way of eating. It labels certain foods as good or bad and uses food and exercise as a way to manipulate our body. Let go of that mindset and focus on what feels good and makes you feel at peace with your body.
2) Surround yourself with positive messages.
What we surround ourselves with influences what we believe and think about ourselves. What magazines do you read? What blogs and Instagram accounts do you follow? I’ve become extremely critical of the media I consume because I know how it affects my body image. If whatever you consume makes you feel worse about your body, unfollow. I’ve found many accounts and blogs that encourage me to love who I am and have a healthy relationship with food!
3) Listen to your body.
Sounds basic, but through my own journey, I’ve realized how many people don’t listen to their body (myself included). In my eating disorder, I learned to completely ignore how my body felt - exercising when I needed to rest, not eating when I was actually hungry, etc. Listening to our bodies means slowing down enough to recognize when we’re hungry and full, what we want to eat, and if we should move our body or rest. Caring for our bodies this way teaches us to respect and care for them.
4) Own your values.
Take some time to write out your values and evaluate how your thoughts and actions line up with those values. One of my values is living a joyful life in the moment. When I am tempted to restrict foods or follow a form of dieting, I go back to how that lines up with my values. I know that life trapped in restriction and fear of weight gain is not free, so I’m willing to let go of control so I can enjoy life. Identify your values and let those be the driving force for your actions.
Appreciating your body is a process.
There will be ups and downs, but keep at it. Be patient with the process and above all, give yourself grace. You are beautiful because you are a women. Speak that to yourself and believe it’s true, because it is!
It’s time to embrace yourself body, mind, and soul with OPEN arms. No more negative self-talk, body insecurity, and self-doubt. Download our FREE e-book, EMBRACE, and start taking action towards releasing the doubt and claiming your truth today.
Katherine is a consultant with Beautycounter and lifestyle blogger with a passion to inspire women to boldly embrace themselves and pursue their dreams. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and kitty, and loves spending time in coffee shops. After spending 3 years post-college in 9-5 jobs that left her feeling discouraged, she took a leap of faith to start her own business with Beautycounter, which has been one of the best decisions of her life. Through her blog and Instagram, she openly share her messy journey of recovery and intuitive eating, as well as her passion for non-toxic, safer beauty. Katherine hopes that her own story will inspire women to find true beauty and confidence, and live life to the fullest.