Topic Tuesday: Body Image

“Bikinis, Body Image, and The Beach” (By: Emily Murray, RDN)

2 years ago.

That was the last time I walked across the sandy shores of the beach in Destin, Florida.

It was also only a couple of months after I started treatment for my eating disorder.

When I think back to that trip, I honestly don’t remember much. My mind was still very much consumed by my eating disorder, counting calories, and manipulating my weight.

I don’t remember what we did during our days at the beach, what the water was like, what movies we watched, what games we played, what restaurants we went to…nothing. I spent a week with my family and cannot remember most of what we did together–that’s a hard pill to swallow.

That’s what eating disorders do, they take away your life from you.

I do very specifically remember feeling incredibly lonely and unlovable on that trip.

I was unable to separate myself from my eating disorder. Everything felt like it was my fault, and I didn’t know how to break free from it. I felt a lot of shame about the situation that I was in, and guilt about how much treatment was costing my family. I wanted to recover, for everything to go back to normal. Yet at the same time, I didn’t. I didn’t want to restore any weight. I didn’t want to eat a normal amount of food. I wanted to exercise again for hours upon end. I felt like no one I personally knew was facing this battle, and that others couldn’t possibly understand what was going on in my head. I wanted to hold on to my eating disorder without facing any of the negative physical and psychological consequences that accompanied it – which I now know is impossible.

I was a few sizes smaller than I am now but my body image was severely damaged. Funny how that works, isn’t it? One would think that the smaller/more “socially acceptable” one’s body is, the easier it would be to have self-confidence. That’s not the case.

I constantly thought about what I wanted to change, how I was going to change it, and what I needed to do to make it happen. I restricted my intake and overexercised to maintain a weight that my body was never intended to be – and I was completely miserable.

I now know that body image isn’t based on what you look like on the outside. I thought that if I lost weight and changed my body that I would be happier – but it was the opposite. Instead, I was lonely, insecure, and fixated on losing more weight. Enough was never enough. The body that I desperately wanted was stealing my peace and costing me a lot.

It’s impossible to cultivate a positive body image while simultaneously dieting and engaging in eating disorder behaviors.

It takes gratitude, self-compassion, and time to get to a place where you accept your body for what it is and trust that it will do it’s best to take care of you – regardless of what your weight is.

After two years of solid recovery, painful progress, cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, growth, victory, and transformation, I am now in a much better place.

Last week I ventured off to a beach town just outside of Destin with my husband and his side of our family.

This trip was different.

I didn’t feel the constant urge to body check in the mirror and criticize my body.

I ate what I wanted when I wanted it – honoring my hunger and fullness while still enjoying a wide variety of foods, from chips and burgers on the grill to freshly cut watermelon.

I was able to incorporate mindful, joyful movement – from walking on the beach to playing volleyball.

I was able to be still and relax.

But most importantly, I was able to be fully present with my family – fully free from my eating disorder. And that is something I won’t ever forget.

About the Author

Emily Murray is a practicing Registered Dietitian in the Greater Nashville Area. Emily completed her undergraduate degree at Tennessee Technological University, earning a Bachelor’s in Human Ecology with a concentration in Nutrition and Dietetics, Summa Cum Laude. Upon graduation, Emily completed her 10-month dietetic residency program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Emily is interested in providing medical nutrition therapy to individuals who struggle with eating disorders/disordered eating. She is a regular guest contributor for Renewed’s recovery blog. In her free time, Emily enjoys writing, reading, watching Netflix, and spending time with her friends and family. To read more posts written by Emily, visit beautifullybroken.live.