Tips for Recovery Series :: (1) Develop Empathy for Your Body

by Ashley Solomon

I was recently asked by Justine Hoepfner, an author and speaker who is currently developing an eating disorder recovery book, about the “top tips” I had related to eating disorder recovery. I’m planning on sharing with you some of what I shared with Justine during the next few weeks. I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on these topics, so leave feedback in the comments section below!

Tip 1: Develop Empathy for Your Body

Traveling and feeling the coolness of the ocean are gifts of the body.

In the midst of an eating disorder, one’s body can become nothing more than a receptacle of hurt, shame, and self- hatred. The body is scrutinized, deprived, and abused. Most of us would never think of treating another person in this way. And yet, individuals with disordered eating do this every day.

One of the most powerful exercises I have learned and now use with patients is this:

Take your most loathed body part – your butt, your stomach, your arms – and give that body part a voice. Close your eyes and begin to think about that part of your body, as if you are that part. Then tell “you” what it’s like to be that body part – how it feels to be criticized and hated and cut down, what it’s like to be constantly belittled and complained about. And try to truly experience what it’s like to be that part of your body. The point of this exercise is to begin to develop some empathy for your body and particularly the parts that are hard to love. It may help to do this with a therapist, particularly to process any feelings that arise.

One of the most important things that I believe individuals in recovery need to do is to begin to appreciate their bodies as not just ornamental, but instrumental. It’s important to think  about all of the amazing things our bodies allow us to do – to run races, to sleep (yes, sleep!), to swim in the ocean, to climb trees, to open new doors, to walk along side our grandmothers, to look at the stars, to hug our children.

Personally, thinking about how my body provides me with so many amazing opportunities and experiences that I cherish makes me feel guilty for treating it badly and for depriving it of the nourishment it needs to do those things. Nutritionists often emphasize food as fuel, which is a useful way to think about what we put inside our bodies. Fueling our bodies is the gift we give in return for all of the amazing things we are capable of doing. It’s much easier to fall into the trap of seeing our bodies as something to be looked at or adorned rather than used and appreciated, because that’s what our culture focuses on. However, every time we walk up a flight of stairs or cuddle up with someone we love, we need to remember that our bodies allow us that particular joy.

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5 Responses to “Tips for Recovery Series :: (1) Develop Empathy for Your Body”

  1. I love this. Particularly the last paragraph. Until I read the whole thing, I was going to mention something I did in college that used to make me feel better about my body. But now I’m not sure whether or not I should share, because it still frames the body as “ornamental” instead of “instrumental”…

    • Kristan – I’m intrigued… If you feel like sharing, it might be helpful to others. Anything that makes us feel good about our bodies is usually a good thing!

      • Okay. Well it’s nothing special, but I got the idea from a friend who started taking self portraits (a) b/c it was easier than finding a model whenever the mood to practice photography struck, and (b) she said it allowed her to explore the parts of herself she wasn’t always willing or eager to share. The “ugly” parts. Literal and figurative. And she said it made her feel better, to give her more confidence and pride in herself. So I started to do the same thing. I just used my digital camera to take photos of myself — never meant to be seen by anyone — and trying to make myself “model” in a flattering way. Basically, the idea is to make something beautiful out of yourself, your own body, to prove that you can. (Because we *are* ALL beautiful in our own ways.) And my friend was right: it was nice to look at photos of myself — of my face, or my shoulder, or my ankle — and think it was artful. Artsy. Beautiful. Even if no one else could see and agree. Or maybe *especially* because no one else could see. 🙂

        {shrug} That’s all.

  2. I think that the exercise you suggest sounds interesting and intriguing. I have often felt that I would never treat anyone else as negatively as I treat myself. I must say I haven’t thought of it down to the level of a single body part. But I think I just might try the exercise with, you guessed it, my arms. You have been very instrumental in helping me to start to accept and love myself just the way I am. Maybe this is just the next step in that long process.

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