Body Size and Shame in Recovery

The markers of success in our society are fairly clear: money, power and education all rank high on the list. But to a large degree, the people who are successful are most often born into that world. Realistically, movement into and out of that world is very limited. 

The powerlessness of daily life has reinforced a new marker of success: thinness. For people without any indication that life can change, dieting and creating an enviable body has become a way to mark accomplishment and then display it to the world. 

Although the eating disorder epidemic began in a wealthier, more successful class, all indicators show that these illnesses no longer discriminate. The generalization of dieting throughout all first world communities opens the genetic door for all people to develop eating disorders.

One consequence of the drive for thinness, ironically, is the increase in obesity, in part from binge eating disorders. Chronic dieting triggers overeating and binge eating for many people. Being overweight is seen as the antithesis of thinness, not only in terms of body size but as a sign of success or failure. 

Meanwhile, the reality of dieting and overeating is that they are flip sides of the same coin. As I have written many times in this blog, longstanding restriction triggers a very powerful hunger response which often leads to binging. In addition, slowed metabolism from restriction triggers the body to react by storing energy as fat to preserve against future limited food intake. In other words, thinness and being overweight are two of the body's reaction to not feeding oneself properly. The opposite to both of these is normalized eating. 

This thought process confirms a crucial part of recovery from binge eating disorders, eliminating the shame. Society may impose harsh criticisms about weight, and a necessary step in treatment is to quiet those voices. The reality is that one's body will handle the effects of disordered eating to survive, whatever that means about weight.

Facing any source of shame or negative feelings needs to be a cornerstone to therapy while also trying to separate the personal feelings from the societal sense of blame. Inevitably, recovery includes finding a sense of personal peace irrespective of body size. Health and wellness means both normal eating and psychological well being. A strong focus on body size will only reinforce the illness. 

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