The feeling of never being good enough is the birthplace of eating disorders and it is a sentiment that I know intimately. I suffered from a serious eating disorder years ago which, at its lowest point, resulted in my admittance to a partial-hospitalization program. When I finally realized that learning to love myself gave me more joy than changing myself, I recovered and never looked back. Here’s how I rebuilt my broken self-esteem and began living the healthy, balanced lifestyle I lead today.
You are what you think
In the same manner that failing health can stress our minds, our negative thoughts can make us feel physically unwell. According to the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH) poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions. Some good habits to nurture the mind+body connection are practising positive thinking, exercising for pleasure, and consuming enough food to nourish our minds and bodies. My personal favourites are reading daily positive affirmations (like the French one pictured above), making sure I step away from my desk at lunchtime, and inviting friends over to try out fun new recipes.
Throw away your “goal” clothes
Getting dressed in the morning used to be one of the most anxiety-inducing parts of my day because my closet contained piles of clothes that I had bought when I was underweight. I would often try on those clothes and feel disgusted with my post-recovery body. Then, my therapist advised me to only keep my healthy weight clothes and put away the rest. With time, I noticed that my weight stayed the same but my body image improved drastically – something I thought would only happen if I lost weight. It made me see that I blamed my body for making me feel bad when the real culprit was constantly trying on clothes that didn’t fit me.
When you contemplate the qualities in people you treasure the most, how many of those are based on appearance? Very few, I presume. Use this knowledge to stop fretting over your physical insecurities. Don’t put your body down in front of others, especially your loved ones. People who love you think you’re great just as you are, and when you complain about your body, others will also begin to self-criticize. When you hear appearance-based commentary, try to direct the conversation elsewhere and resist the urge to join in.
Nurture your self-esteem
Get into the habit of making deposits into your “Self-Esteem Bank” by doing something for yourself that you never thought you deserved. Examples include decorating your home for your own enjoyment, taking a class you always wanted to try, and reading a good book. With continued investment in doing things that bring you joy, you will find that you are worthy and deserving of the same care and attention you give to others.
Comparisons are toxic
I’ve admired an individual’s physical attribute on many occasions, only for them to complain that it is a nuisance to them: those who are taller than me have trouble finding shoes in their size, those who are naturally thin can only fit into unfashionable children’s clothing, etc. Another thing to keep in mind is that magazines telling you how to ‘score the perfect body’ airbrushed in their editorials would lose readership if they replaced the diet and fitness plans with Photoshop tutorials. It brings to mind my favourite quote by Naomi Wolf, “We as women are trained to see ourselves as cheap imitations of fashion photographs, rather than seeing fashion photographs as cheap imitations of women.”
Understand your motivations
I always wondered where my inextinguishable fire to look “perfect” originated. I hoped that if I understood it, I could put out the fire. I learned that it’s in the best interest of marketers to make us feel deeply unhappy with our current appearance. After all, if you felt good dressed the way you are, in the body you were born in, you wouldn’t purchase products with the aim of adapting to society’s unattainable beauty ideals. When I realized that this pressure existed so that corporations could earn money and not because physical perfection was a true measure of worthiness, I began to accept myself as I was.
Give yourself a break
Deconstructing the eating disorder mindset and building your self-esteem is no simple feat. I often found myself questioning all the effort and energy I put towards my goals because sometimes improvement came so slowly. When you feel defeated, remember that you’re not necessarily in a downward spiral – there is such a thing as an upward spiral! Focus on what you learn from your setbacks and use it as an opportunity to gain new tools of self-discovery. I consider all my setbacks as upward spirals, which lifted me towards a complete recovery.
It is my sincere wish that these reflections will help you re-evaluate how you feel in times of low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. Taking these lessons with you and practising these habits will inspire those around you who are in need of a positive body-image role model. In a society that rewards improvements on your outer shell, cultivating your inner spirit is a challenging task, so give yourself credit for attempting to shift your perspective.