The Body, Perfection and Acceptance
By: Theresa Garcia I really struggled with figuring out what to write about in this blog post. There are so many things that I want to share, but maybe that is why I’m going to write a book. The first hurdle to writing is getting past perfectionism…reminding myself that there is no such thing as perfect. No perfect topic to write about. No perfect blog post.
This is extremely relevant to my diagnosis of anorexia and my recovery. Perfectionism has long been a challenge of mine, but there is no such thing. Most importantly, there is no perfect person. No perfect body. No perfect meal. When we have an idea of what perfect is, how do we know when we are there, anyway? What are we striving for? When I truly think about it, what I am striving for at the beginning and end of each day is being authentic, loving, and making a difference in other people’s lives. It is natural to have high expectations for ourselves, and probably healthy. However, it is also necessary to find a balance between being in the present, hoping for certain outcomes, and thinking about past experiences. Many times what I fear will happen in the future does not actually happen, and then I ruin a “present” experience due to fear. We cannot get those moments back.
I work as a school psychologist, each day hoping to be a positive moment in a child’s life, or help families help their children. In recovery, the big picture is always what has helped me. What do I want people to remember about me? What WILL they remember? They won’t remember things, looks, or what you ate. There is an unfortunate emphasis and even an obsession about objects, appearance, money… etc. things that are not permanent. I read an article about self-love and body image and there was a striking comparison between how Americans view their bodies and how women from a small village in Africa view theirs. The researcher asked the African woman if she loved her body and she said, “What do you mean? Of course I love my body. That is like asking me of I love the trees. I love my body like I love the trees, like I love the earth.” She almost seemed shocked that he even thought to ask that question.
We love trees because there is no judgment of them. We love when we can accept that there is no perfection. Why cannot we look at other living things with similar acceptance? I have done a lot of reflection on the body. When I was first receiving treatment for anorexia, I started to realize that I did have an issue with body image. I never thought I did, but I had an issue of what I feared would happen in the future with my body. Now, I try to appreciate my body and be grateful for it. I appreciate the space that my body takes, the amount of gravity it takes to keep me on this ground. I appreciate all of its functions and its ability to carry me to places I want to go, to show affection for those I love.
Why do we also judge food? Good food or bad food. The judgement gets in the way of listening to what our bodies need. Unfortunately, when we judge a food or a type of physical appearance, we then transfer that judgement to ourselves – judging ourselves for eating a “bad” food or not reaching our expectations. Additionally, it seems typical to judge a food as good or bad based on the amount of calories it has. Calories are not the enemy. Nothing about food is bad. Calories and the components of food provide us with energy to live. We need calories – carbohydrates, fat, and protein in order to walk, blink, pump blood through our body, digest our food, kiss, hold a baby, throw a ball, and use our brain to make decisions. Remember how we thought of calories as a kid? We didn’t think of them. We thought about delicious food, enjoyed it, and then went back to enjoying life, using up the energy while playing with others. I was an intuitive eater all the way through high school. I remember eating BBQ potato chips after school because I was hungry and they tasted good. I remember loving pesto pasta and going back for seconds and not feeling guilty. I remember wishing my mother packed me white bread because I didn’t like the seeds in the whole grain wheat bread. I remember loving Capri Suns after soccer games. I was non-judgmental about food. I was carefree, ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full, and ate things that tasted good.
During one of my sessions with my old therapist, I learned a new perspective that was helpful, something valuable. When a food is “good for you”, it does not necessarily mean it is what I need in that moment. Maybe another piece of fruit isn’t good for me today – maybe I need a slice of cheese. If I don’t have the cheese, maybe my body will not be able to absorb the wonderful vitamins a piece of fruit has to offer. That hardest part is accepting this reality and practicing it.
I’ve learned a lot about radical acceptance during my treatment, which involves accepting who you are, what you feel, other people, and life as it is with compassion and curiosity. It means accepting life without repression or grasping an emotion or thought. I have been working towards radically accepting my experience, relationships with friends and family, old relationships, and my emotions. I have one life. And one body. I cannot change that. But I can change the way I live my life and how I think about my body. It has taken me a long time to accept certain things, and once, a person in a therapy group told me “it is what it is” and I hated that he said that. I wanted to tell him he was wrong and I could change what happened. But he was right, and that is why I hated what he said so much.
When we are resisting our thoughts and emotions, we are not loving ourselves and our experience. “Our self-wroth is precious” a friend once told me, ”You have to guard that shit." When people say the wrong things, when people make judgements about food or bodies, whether their own or yours, we need to be sure of ourselves and be strong in our own truths. We cannot let negative comments deter us from fighting. If anyone doubts my ability to overcome anorexia, I show that I believe in myself and I am making small, big, and very difficult steps in the recovery direction. When I forget that I can do it, I remember all of the times when I HAVE done it and I take myself to places that remind me of the bigger picture: nature, someone’s arms, and my painting studio. What places or activities remind you of the bigger picture? Go there…
About the Author: My name is Theresa and I am from Walnut Creek, California. I am currently earning a Masters in Counseling with concentrations in Marriage and Family Therapy and Clinical Child/School Psychology. I work in a school district and provide mental health support for students K-12 as part of my full time internship. I also assess students for disabilities and collaborate with other professionals. At Project HEAL, I am a former grant recipient, and am determined to give back by sharing the lessons I've learned from living with an eating disorder. I am passionate about nature, therapy, and art. I can often be found hiking with my dog, painting, or working! (since my work right now is my passion).