Every once and a while those in recovery from an eating disorder have to go shopping for clothes. It happens. And when it does, it involves mirrors, misery and meltdowns. What follows is yet another edited compilation of my responses over the years on this topic.
Your jeans don’t fit anymore. You cannot get them past your kneecaps. In fact they might not have even cleared the edema-laden ankles given how much water retention dominates the recovery process from an eating disorder. And in this way an opportunity to be curious has just presented itself to you.
What of yourself have you transferred into that inanimate piece of clothing? It’s not a piece of clothing to be recycled or donated; it’s likely a horocrux to you. A horocrux, in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, is an object used to store a person’s soul, protecting that person from death. But horocruxes can be destroyed and the person’s protection is destroyed with it. So creating horocruxes out of your inanimate stash of things is a delusional way to believe you have resilience and control.
You need to reintroduce the piece of your soul that you placed in that pair of jeans back into your living self and let the jeans find a new home. Maybe you felt sexy, powerful, in control, invincible, competent, pulled-together, mainstream, acceptable, sassy, calm, resilient, flexible, clever, and/or brave in that pair of jeans. You’ve likely noticed that the subject of that entire last sentence was “you”—the jeans don’t have feelings and they don’t transmit feelings to your brain either.
There’s a difference between a talisman and a horocrux. An unusually high number of front line emergency professionals have everything from lucky underwear, socks and coffee mugs to pre-shift and on-shift rituals that look to outsiders like pure helpless compulsions. 1, 2 However if someone is foolhardy enough to say “It’s sure quiet right now,” or the good luck coffee mug has gone astray and the floodgates of medical mayhem are unleashed, everyone still deals. Talismans and rituals are about a desire to control the uncontrollable. A horocrux is about the delusion that the uncontrollable is controllable.
When you have perceived control over your weight what does that mask that may need to be dealt with? Controlling your weight is often a placeholder for the fact that starvation flattens emotion (usually the distressful and negative emotions). Those with eating disorders often equate that flat effect with feeling better. Surprising isn’t it that your soon-to-be discarded jeans hold so many dark secrets that have kept you a slave to your eating disorder?
Now let’s imagine for a moment that your fears are well founded and you will, in fact, never stop gaining weight. Would you end up in the Guinness World Book of Records as the only living creature on the planet that never stopped getting bigger? Would you become planetary-sized? Cause the cataclysmic end to our galaxy? Are you the embodiment of some Goddess of Death and Rebirth?
Grab that panic by the arm and walk it through its paces until it has to come face to face with the absurdity of its “logic”. Sure, we may all be gods and goddesses, but your size is still bounded by the laws of physics in your 3-dimensional world I'm afraid.
All the ridiculousness of endless weight gain aside, your weight is never in your control and when you force it to be in your control, you harm your body and your life. You are using weight as a proxy for things that are truly in your control.
You do get to choose how you feel. And when you cannot choose how to feel (because that too is actually not entirely in our locus on control) you can always choose how to act and react to that feeling.
Imagine you were taking your best friend shopping and she is fat. She hates shopping. She feels everyone's judgment in the store and they almost never have anything that would fit and the store clerks end up treating her as though she's the problem.
So now I'll jump in here and tell you what I would do for her if she were my friend and she'd asked me to go shopping with her for moral support.
Well the first thing I'd do is research (yes, a rather obvious go-to for me I realize). I would want to just absorb some good fattitude so that I will be her staunch shield maiden, so to speak. I'd visit a lot of body positive and fat style sites: there are hundreds on Pinterest plus bust.com and check out this list too.
Next, I'd want to do my homework and figure out what stores are going to carry something beyond a size 00 because she has to be able to actually try on great clothes. I might even call ahead to ask about sizes in stock.
And on that shopping trip I'll be reminding her constantly that if it doesn't fit, it's the clothes and not the body. Moving on.
You have to be that best friend to yourself. You have to show yourself some self-compassion.
While you cannot be the planetary-destroying ever-expanding size your panic would have you believe, the space you take up through recovery and in remission is your birthright. It the shape you must take to be the person you are destined to become.
Those jeans from your restricting days shouldn't fit you because they represent the falseness of pretending you have control to the detriment of your health, wellbeing, sanity and life.
You will be just fine. You don't need to control your weight to be just fine. You can weather the panic and choose not to react to it with the former habitual go-to of restriction. It takes practice for sure. But you can do it.
1. Mandell, D. L., M. L. Claypool, and D. J. Kay. "Superstitions among perioperative nurses." AORN journal 81, no. 5 (2005): 971-4.
2. R. Jan Gurley. “Superstitious Doctors Part I.” Doc Gurley Posts from an Insane Healthcare system, (blog), September 13, 2007, http://www.docgurley.com/2007/09/superstitious-doctors-part-i/#sthash.QGZ6ZAY5.dpbs.