Question # 12 comes from Stella. It’s one of two questions she posed, but the second one will come later, as this post is quite lengthy. She asks,
“How do you react when you feel hate for yourself and your body? What do you do when you feel overwhelmed, instead of hurting yourself or restricting?”
As a woman who loves her body now (or at least likes it most of the time!), trust me when I say that you can in fact learn to stop hating yourself AND your body. This is one of the main things people struggling with eating disorders (especially those who are women) think is impossible. What I hear a lot is, “It may be possible...but not for me.” Let me tell you, ladies (and men), cut that way of thinking right out of your brain. Carve it out of there and throw it away. It IS possible for you...if you LET it be possible. And if you realize that you may have to garner an extreme amount of patience in order to wait for this sort of self-hate to dissipate.
Are you with me?
The first thing you need to ask yourself is: What are the circumstances surrounding my feelings of hate for myself and/or my body?
-Did you just discover you’d been rejected in some way by a person, a program, etc?
-Were you unsuccessful in an endeavor you had hoped to master/finish/etc?
-Did you just eat (whether it was too much or too little)?
-Did you just weigh yourself and not like the number?
-Did you just attempt for a long time to choose clothing to wear and were still unsatisfied with the choice you made?
-Did you just endure a hurtful/stressful/
These are just a few of the circumstances that can play a part in how you are feeling about your body. They affect why you react the way you do (to yourself) and the way you look. You have to pose questions to yourself in order to analyze what you are feeling.
You know how people chart anything and everything these days? Their menstrual cycle, their meals, their ovulation, their money spent, etc? Well, chart your self-hate. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you feel self-hate all the time, so how can you chart it? Well, look at this question above from Stella. It’s obvious that even if you generally don’t like yourself, you feel particular instances of self-hate or body hatred that make you want to restrict/binge/purge/cut/etc. It’s THESE times to which I’m referring.
You’re also probably thinking: Wow, Arielle just told me to chart my self-hate. What the hell? But think about it. If you keep a journal page or a chart specifically to record each time you feel the urge to restrict, purge, or self-harm in some way, you will begin to see the patterns. You will begin to realize what it’s all about. You learned about cause & effect in school and this is it, guys. You already KNOW the effect (your body hatred and behavior of choice)—it’s time to figure out the cause.
So mark it down. Mark down the date, the time, what you’re feeling, and what just happened in your day. You’ll begin to see a clearer picture of what’s going on. You may also begin to see that you tend to feel worse on a particular day of the week because of something, or during a particular time in your cycle, or on days you see a certain person. These are good things to discover because you will learn to be more aware, more prepared, and more ready to combat them.
You will know from the moment you wake up on a given day that it’s probably going to be a hard day for you (for whatever reason, based on your “chart”) and you can give yourself extra boosts of encouragement, have a plan already in place for what to do if you feel the urge to act on a behavior, and above all, not be caught off guard when that self-hate starts to rage inside you.
Another question you want to ask yourself is: Is jealousy/envy/comparison part of my feelings of this self-hate/body hatred?
-Did you just watch a TV show/movie/commercial that made you feel badly about yourself? That triggered you? That caused you to compare yourself to the person or people?
-Did you spend the day with a friend you envy? Does being with this friend make you feel badly about yourself?
-Do you feel “not sick enough” or “not thin enough” or “not pretty enough” based on something you saw or something someone said?
The last question you might want to ask yourself is: Does this time of year affect me more than others?
-Many people have seasonal depression or even just feel less comfortable during particular months of the year.
-Summer can be a trigger for people who constantly worry about being seen in less clothing, like tank tops or bathing suits, or because they continue to see other people in tank tops or bathing suits, which causes them to get down on themselves or wish they looked different.
-Certain months can be a trigger for people because of holidays, like an impending Thanksgiving with food and family...or the month of December because of Christmas, Hanukkah, etc...or even the New Year, because it often causes people to reflect, berate themselves, or make unhealthy resolutions.
Awareness is KEY.
So, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed instead of hurting yourself?
-You make a Plan B. You list a whole bunch of things you can do instead of the behavior when you have an urge (or make a Coping Bank, which is essentially the same idea). That way, when the urge happens, you have options at your fingertips and don’t have to rely on your overwhelmed mind.
-You find a support person. Tell somebody as soon as the urge hits you. Example: Eat your meal and then when you’re dying to go throw it up, text someone, call them, whatever. You can text to say, “I just ate and I’m having a really hard time not throwing it up.” Sometimes the act of just telling someone how hard you’re struggling in that moment helps a lot. You know someone else is rooting for you. You know someone else wants you to stay strong. When you know someone is on the other end, they’re holding you accountable. Maybe it’s something you need for now.
-You take your pain and anger out on something else, other than YOU. Punch a pillow relentlessly. Have a couple of notebooks on hand in which you can tear up whole handfuls of pages when you’re frustrated and have the urge to take it out on yourself in some way. Cry, if it helps. Scream. (Trust me, it’s a lot less silly than harming yourself.)
-Try to do something to distract you WHILE you are eating. For example, watch TV while eating dinner so you’re not looking down at a plate and only focusing on what you’re eating. If you do something really engrossing, you may find that you’ve eaten your dinner and haven’t had the urge to purge. You could also talk with someone on the phone while eating (if that doesn’t make you too uncomfortable) to take your mind off what you’re doing and allow you to eat a healthy amount without stopping and denying yourself...and keep the conversation going after you’re done so that you can’t go throw up, if that’s a behavior you’re trying to avoid. Hopefully the feeling will pass before the conversation is over. Read a book while eating. Or do some kind of hobby while you’re eating. Might take you a little longer, but it’s helpful. One bite at a time is still a meal if you do it long it enough. :)
-I’ve also found that eating very small amounts multiple times (opposed to eating one regular sized meal) can help you feel like you are not eating a lot and therefore feel less likely to want to throw up or stop before you’ve actually had enough (i.e. restrict). You could eat a very small something, then half an hour later, eat the next bit, then a half hour later eat the next bit. It’s a little bit of a pain in the ass, but if it helps curb the feeling of wanting to throw up or helps you to get more nutrients because you're not restricting, it’s worth doing for a little while. It’s less scary than eating a whole dinner-sized portion at one time if that’s something that bothers you.
-For those who purge: You can put a picture of your child or your best friend or even YOURSELF as a child (very effective) on the underside of the toilet seat, so that when you go to purge, you see it. It’ll make you stop and think a second before going through with it. Even if it doesn’t stop you entirely, it will make you pause and hopefully the longer it is there, the more likely you will be to second guess what you’re doing and stop before it happens. The key is to put up a picture of something really meaningful, something that is reason not to purge. But just putting it up on a mirror won’t do. And just looking at that person or that photo throughout the day won’t do either. You have to strategically put it where it’s going to hit you the most. Where it’s going to make you feel sad about what you’re doing to yourself. It can be motivation in the right direction.
Really good question, Stella.