We’ve all heard it a million times before: comparisons are the thief of joy. And for people trying to recover from an eating disorder this phrase rings especially true. I’ve talked in some of my earlier posts about my struggles with comparing myself to others, but I’ve found myself falling into the trap more and more recently and when that happens I know I have to write about it.
For as long as I can remember I’ve compared myself to others. Sometimes less often, sometimes more. But it’s almost always about size.
When you have an eating disorder, the urge to compare becomes much stronger. Thoughts like “She is littler/thinner/prettier than me” become a constant buzz in your mind and it’s almost impossible to ignore. At times it’s been so bad that I can’t go out in public or watch a movie or TV show without comparing every part of my body to just about everyone I see.The compulsion to compare yourself to others is linked to self-confidence. We compare “up” (to people who we believe are better than we are) and “down” (to those we feel superior to). Neither of these are helpful—in fact, they’re both incredibly harmful and it makes me feel sick and embarrassed to know I’ve done (and still do) both of these.
Of course, the eating disorder is never satisfied with the comparisons. I’m never close enough to someone I compare up to, or better enough than someone I compare down to. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s never-ending.
For a while, as I focused on ticking off goals related to reintroducing food groups and eating more I was so distracted by the effort that took that comparing myself to others took a back seat. Now as I move into what I hope is the tail end of my recovery journey I’m spending less time worrying about eating enough and more worrying about what effect it’s going to have on my body. The tool the ED uses to keep me anxious about this is judging my appearance against others.
Poor Matt has to deal with my non-stop nagging as I ask questions like, “Am I as big as her?”, “Do my legs look like that?” and “Do I still look attractive?” He always lovingly responds, but recently we’re practising disengaging from comparisons and trying to ask, “Does it really matter?”
I’ve heard stories of people recovering to the point where they no longer feel the need to compare themselves to others and I can’t wait to get to that stage. Sadly I’m not there yet. I can’t help but automatically compare myself and I tell you it is absolutely exhausting! Because the truth is there will always be someone to compare myself negatively to.
But you know what? I’m not going to play that game for the rest of my life. That’s not living in freedom. It’s not helping me be a good wife, a good daughter or a good friend.
So I’m making a commitment (and I want you all to help keep me accountable). From now on when those comparison thoughts come creeping in I’m going to cut them off as soon as possible, replacing them with something positive about who I am and the way God made me. It’s a simple step but if I’ve learned one thing from my recovery so far it’s that the biggest journeys always start with a single first step.