Everything has changed. But even in the midst of massive layoffs and unemployment, a life-threatening pandemic, and so much more, many retain a laser-like focus on our own bodies, trying desperately to retain their shape, stunt their growth. Despite the consequences surrounding us, our own changing bodies seem to be the hardest thing for some of us to accept.
I know, too, the deep desire to control your body. My own eating disorder looms largest in moments when I’ve lost control: the loss of a job, of a loved one, or in this case, of physical contact with the people I love most, and sequestration from a city that now feels like a ghost town. I know what it’s like to be faced with the impossible decision of managing your mental health or fighting a body that changes against your will. Many of us are faced with that choice every day we’re in self-isolation, left only with our own toxic thoughts.
For those of us with eating disorders, our homes can feel like minefields, full of prompts to eat, to stop eating, to regret eating, to hate our bodies, to disassociate. Under self-isolation, we are confined to those minefield homes, and the growing fear that we will become casualties of them.
It can be difficult to remember, but our bodies are miraculous things. In this moment, some of us will eat more, some less. Our bodies may change in ways we struggle to understand and embrace. But they are doing the quiet, miraculous work of keeping us alive. Our task, herculean as it may seem, is to let them do just that.
The way through this trying, troubling moment is deceptively simple: to extend ourselves as much grace and compassion as we can. Eating disorders whisper vicious messages about our worth, our intelligence, our capacity to be loved. They present an enticing and false sense of control, mastery over an unruly world in a frightening moment. And when those messages slither into our minds, they grow and grow and take up more and more of our thoughts and hearts.
For those of us with eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder, self-love can feel like an impossible mandate. But self-compassion is something gentler, more attainable. It is not a mountain to climb, not a destination to reach, but a regular practice of exploring the parts of ourselves we wish were different with curiosity and understanding. Self-compassion allows us to radically accept the changing world around us. It is the discipline of a tender inquiry into the real pain and trauma that leads to our reactions to that changing world—even when those reactions are maladaptive.
Remind yourself of what is underneath those disordered thoughts—the real concerns that precede such a looming fear of simply eating a meal or having a body. What, precisely, are you afraid of? Does your fear of fat rest with a health concern? If so, according to epidemiologists and health care providers around the world, staying at home is the best thing you can do for your health right now. Are you afraid of becoming unattractive to your partner? Talk it through with them directly, and stay mindful of what you’ve heard from them explicitly, and what you might be projecting.
If you haven’t got the emotional capacity or energy to look beneath those thoughts in the face of your eating disorder, extend yourself some compassion by doing things that bring you comfort, and that pull you out of the closing-in walls of disordered thinking. Watch a movie you love. Schedule a video call with the people you love most to talk about anything but food and bodies. Reread an old, beloved book, or start a new creative project. Extend yourself enough compassion to give yourself a break.