National Eating Disorders Association
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Recovery

How many of us who struggle with binge eating and/or weight management have been given the guidance to simply eat less and exercise more? Well, if you’re anything like me and my clients, this is not the solution; rather, it is a setup for a cycle of deprivation and demoralization. 

A diet and exercise plan alone will not suffice for someone who binge eats. Those who are struggling are typically best served by a treatment plan that addresses the complexity of the behaviors, thinking patterns, and relationship with food.

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I remember being really young when I first became conscious of my unhealthy relationship with body image. It was the classic "being in elementary school" kind of thing; I was bullied for being a little chubby, having to take my shirt off in locker rooms, and being profoundly uncomfortable with day-to-day pressures. I quickly developed this false narrative that my self-worth was directly related to how skinny I was or how I looked. I couldn't imagine anyone else felt this way and didn't even think to be open about it as a teenager. 

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A few years back, I read The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Hadley Richardson’s marriage to the famous American author Ernest Hemingway, by Paula McClain. I’ve been in love with Paris ever since visiting that magical city for the first and only time (so far) in 2010. Admittedly, I was much more interested in reading about Paris than Hadley or Hemingway. This book offered me an escape to the beauty, charm, and poetic existence I imagine of Paris. Never did I expect, however, to find the essence of what would become my personal “Recovery Call to Action.”

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I grew up in a very athletic family. Every morning, the first thing we did was go for a run and lift weights. After that, we typically took walks and went water skiing. We were always busy working out and being active. 

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I’ve struggled with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) since I was nine years old. Or, at least, that was the first time I remember using food to push away what I was feeling. I would sit in the pantry while my parents fought. The chewing sound drowned out their screams. Most times, I didn’t turn on the lights, so they didn’t know I was there. 

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When I was younger, I knew I was different from other people. I never understood why, and this led me to try to amend myself to “fit in.” I mirrored appropriate reactions and behaviors and ended up trying to “look like” everybody else. I changed my appearance in ways involving weight and style, becoming obsessed to a level where I made myself sick, counted calories extensively, and exhibited restrictive behaviors. 

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Once a year, the grocery store checkout magazines come out with their “Half my Size!” issue, featuring people who have dropped a significant amount of weight. They stand in one leg of their old jeans or flex in trendy athletic wear, smiling like “happily ever after” has finally arrived for them. 

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“Monthly Matters with Melody” is a monthly advice column by Dr. Melody Moore, a clinical psychologist, yoga instructor and the founder of the Embody Love Movement Foundation. Her foundation is a non-profit whose mission is to empower girls and women to celebrate their inner beauty, commit to kindness and contribute to meaningful change in the world. Dr. Moore is a social entrepreneur who trains facilitators on how to teach programs to prevent negative body image and remind girls and women of their inherent worth.

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Often, stories related to recovery and self-acceptance, whether it is about eating disorder recovery, dealing with trauma, or body acceptance, focus on the individual. These stories often celebrate the individual actions and decisions a person has made in their journey. While recognizing individuals for their actions is important, I believe that these stories often erase the importance of community. 

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"Dear KJ" is a monthly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012).

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