Let’s switch up the narrative of body image in eating disorder/diet culture recovery

I remember with clarity the first time I heard from a provider that, “Body image is the last thing to get better.”

This was in a residential eating disorder treatment center in Westlake Village, California. Those of us in treatment were settled in the group room in a circle. One girl was picking at her nails, one was organizing and reorganizing colored pencils, and I was obediently clasping my clipboard, trying to do that day’s activity. I don’t remember what preempted the question, but I remember the response as clear as day.

I wasn’t supposed to worry about my body image for years to come.

If you’ve never been to eating disorder treatment, then you’ve likely never been hit over the head with eating disorder facts from a girl whose eating disorder has taken “eating disorder facts” as her new form of control. I say this facetiously, but it’s actually quite true. Because within the first week of residential treatment, I learned that it takes “on average 7 years to recover from an eating disorder.” and far too many other facts.

And if body image was the last to get better, strap me in for 6–7 years of hating my body until…I guessed one day I’d just like myself? I wasn’t sure how it worked.

And that’s the thing. No one did. We were the unsuspected being led by unknowing providers in many senses of the word.

It wasn’t until years later, after realizing the trauma done at the hands of that treatment center and a handful of providers afterward, that I learned that body image did not have to come last. I realized that she, personally, just hadn’t known how to help me with my body image, and so she’d used the most typical phrase that treatment providers lean on…“Body image is the last thing to get better.”

As in, don’t ask me; save that for someone else.

I know it may not seem like it, but this article isn’t actually about hating on treatment centers. It is actually about highlighting how treatment centers can do better, really, almost all eating disorder treatment providers can — by addressing fatphobia, anti-fat bias, and body image upfront for their clients.

Not only would addressing the rampant fatphobia running wild in a room of [most often] thin, straight-sized women benefit those women, but it would also benefit any plus-size/fat person they encounter later in life.

Sidebar: I want to acknowledge that not only thin/straight-size, able-bodied, cisgender, white women get eating disorders, far from it. The majority of people suffering and living with eating disorders are BIPOC, Fat/Plus-size, and/or live in a marginalized body of some form.

Why does this sidebar even matter, though? Because oftentimes one (or two people) person of that majority end up in a room of white, thin women, and the fatphobia contained in that room is enough to convince that person to get up and not come back to treatment — and seek help elsewhere if it at all.

This cannot happen because until it is people who look like me, BIPOC, transgender, fat, disabled, etc., getting the support they need, we are not doing nearly enough.

*Steps off of the soapbox for a moment*

By addressing the fatphobia in these treatment spaces, we will be able to make places safer, more progressive, and actually treat the issues at hand — for everyone included.

In direct opposition to what this provider told me years ago, body image needs to be one of the FIRST things we tackle. It needs to be up there with renourishing people’s bodies and minds. Giving them a chance to tolerate and love their bodies which is a much-needed skill set that isn’t just found on the street corner.

I will be back soon with my top three steps for fighting back against anti-fat bias in diet culture recovery, but for now, I leave you with this…

If you have ever been told that your body image was too difficult or too big or too hard for the moment of recovery you were in, they were wrong.

Would it have been challenging? Possibly.

Would it have been difficult to tackle? Most likely.

But that doesn’t mean it was best put aside for someone else to deal with. You are worthy of being worked with now, today (and then).

📚 If this article resonated with you and you are feeling ready to do the work over divesting from diet culture and rooting out your own internalized fatphobia, then I have something for you!

📆 On November 14th, 2023, I am realizing my debut book, “What’s the Story?” A Guided Walkthrough of the Stories You Tell Yourself About Your Body. I highly recommend preordering it now in paperback, as it is a write-in-it journal! But if you’re a diehard Kindle person, here’s the link to pre-order the Kindle version, too!

👥 And if you’re looking for a community of like-minded folx who get what it’s like to be in a plus-size/fat body and are also looking for hands-on support, I am opening up spots in Breaking Body Barriers, my group coaching program, in the upcoming weeks! If you’d like more information and the program deets, get on my email list here 🔗. Or if you’d like to ask a private, quick question, shoot me a DM over @thefriendineverwanted.

Additionally Published on Medium.