The Path through Body Image in Recovery

Body image thoughts constitute the most stubborn and tenacious symptom of an eating disorder. For most people, the ultimate goal of the illness is to lose weight and reclaim their body in an idealized form. The result is a wish, a panacea. Life will be wonderful and the world will somehow be good once the magic weight is attained. 

When a fantasy is imbued with an overarching expectation, the desire is doomed to fail. Logically, no weight can fix an entire life. No body shape solves all of one's problems. But the most common implied thought of an eating disorder is just that. 

Two realities ensue from this eating disorder thought. First, no one wants to give up the goal of weight and body because it means giving up the wish for an easy fix to life. Second, negative body image thoughts have little to do with body, as shown in the study from the last post. When a supposed visual about one's body actually reflects all the ills of one's life, there is no negotiating with the power of these thoughts. Moreover, if body image reflects the negative feelings about oneself, those thoughts have no chance of a fix in the eating disorder paradigm. They will remain forever elusive and only cause misery. 

Healing from these critical, negative thoughts means engaging with the actual issues in life. The negative thoughts stem from feelings about life, relationships and emotions. The supposed easy fix of the body image thoughts is to translate the negative emotions about external realities into negative thoughts about body. Then trying to fix one's body stands in for trying to handle the emotions of life, to no avail. 

It is a tough sell to help people face those feelings. The emotions are scary, and the automatic reaction is to turn to the eating disorder for help. Acknowledging and experiencing the feelings is challenging and unpredictable. Each person needs help to manage the intensity and confusion of the emotions and to know things will turn out ok in the end. This process can be very effective. The hard part is helping someone see the value in ignoring the body image thoughts and instead facing the emotions of life.

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