It was inevitable. The first step in recovery from anorexia nervosa is weight restoration. I knew that I had to gain weight and that it eventually would be noticeable. I often wanted to crawl in a shell like a turtle during the early stages of my weight gain because I felt so different. So much larger. I took up too much space, and I still wanted to hide.
I wasn’t entirely comfortable in this new body. However, I slowly grew used to my body with its feminine curves, and several times I would look in the mirror and think how much better I looked than when I was emaciated and skeletal.
But I knew what was coming…
One day I was in the bathroom with a friend. She commented that the new weight looked good on me. Unfortunately, she didn’t stop there. She then went on to point out the slight roundness of my stomach, and helpfully suggested I could wear looser clothes if it bothered me.
It hadn’t bothered me until then. But this seemingly innocent comment reverberated throughout my mind days afterward.
Navigating triggers while recovering from an eating disorder can feel like walking through a corn field — you can walk and walk for miles without finding your way out, and you are covered in corn silk and dust when you finally do.
First, I should define what I mean by triggers. Triggers are comments or other things that almost instantly make you uncomfortable with yourself and shake your belief in recovery. Triggers can make you scrutinize every inch of your body and find it lacking. Finally, triggers can make you want to ditch recovery and dive right back into your eating disorder.
I have spent a lot of time looking at my stomach since that remark. I have peered at it sideways, stared at it full frontal, and gazed down at it while taking a shower. I have wondered if my stomach is too large, and perhaps I should exercise or eat more healthy foods so my stomach won’t be as round.
That is the danger zone. Eating healthy can easily morph into not eating at all for me. It helps me to be aware of that and not move backwards in recovery. I look at the foods I eat and know that in reality, most of the time I do eat healthy.
Triggers come from all sorts of unexpected sources. A relative or friend who says you look great when you are at your lowest weight and was just told by your doctor you need to gain. A magazine article that states that certain foods are fattening and not good for you. That television advertisement that admonishes you join a gym to shape up for bikini season.
I thought the medical profession would be more sensitive to this, but I found my new gynecologist repeatedly telling me the other day that I am a thin woman as if that were the greatest thing to aspire to. This was after I had told her about my history of anorexia, and I didn’t understand why she had to emphasize this one part of me.
This sounds like no one can win. Point out my roundness and I am terrified I’ve gained too much weight. Point out that I am still thin and the feminist in me wants to shout out that I am more than my body size. I realize that I am still early in recovery, and I am easily triggered.
The thing about triggers is there are so many and different ones for each person in recovery. But whether you are in recovery from anorexia, bulimia, and/or binge eating disorder, the world is filled with triggers that can’t be avoided. There will be people who will ask what you weigh and the size you wear. There will be people who just can’t help mentioning weight or diets or body size in a conversation. There will be innocent comments not meant to hurt, but somehow touch something inside you.
We live in a society that still values thinness in women, and increasingly a certain look for men. We live in a society still obsessed with body size. Finally, we live in a society that so often does not look beyond the surface of a person to see her true worth underneath.
The key is to navigate through the maze of triggers, and come out on the other side and continue to be healthy. I finally had to tell myself my stomach looked fine. I had to see that I have a slender, yet feminine figure. I had to accept the shape I have, realizing it is part of my inheritance like my blue eyes and dark brown hair. I had to let go of my past; the scary-skinny body that might be valued on the boardwalk, but knowing that being that size ultimately would have killed me.
Take each trigger and exam it. See what it might have to teach you about society’s unrealistic expectations and turn it around into a way of accepting yourself. Don’t allow triggers to derail you, but instead let them become another tool to use in your recovery and your acceptance of life and freedom from your eating disorder.