I may not have shared this on the blog before, but I'm Cuban and Italian. While my appearance may be considered by some to be what a stereotypical Latina person looks like (brown hair, brown eyes, olive skin), I'm often on the receiving end of assumptions about what ethnicity I am. Greek? Jewish? From the Middle East? Sometimes people don't think I "look Cuban", and I have to say, "This is what Cuban looks like."
In my recovery process, the same thing is true. For one thing, I don't "look like" I have an eating disorder to a lot of people. Even though we are making progress on raising awareness about Binge Eating Disorder, I'd guess that the majority of people still think that what an eating disorder looks like is a young, extremely thin, white female. And in some cases, that is what it looks like. But ED doesn't discriminate. You can be young, old, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, male, female, gay, straight, plus-size, straight-size...you name it. Like any other disease, eating disorders affect all types of people from all walks of life. Even plus-size Latina girls like me.
What bothers me more, though, is that the longer I am in recovery, the more pressure I feel to "look recovered". I'll say how happy I am with myself and my body, and I get these looks that I read as: "Surely you can't be happy with that..." "You're not DONE recovering, are you?" Because, you know, it terrifies a lot of people that someone who shops in a plus-size store could actually be HAPPY with her physical appearance. The HORROR.
And then, of course, there's the question, "Do they still think you'll lose weight?" They meaning my treatment team. That question both wounds me and angers me like no other. It hurts me when I open myself up and discuss my recovery and the progress I've made, only to be met with that question. I've actually sat with people, rhapsodizing about how I don't binge anymore, and I am healthier now, and I take care of myself, and my weight has stabilized (which has NEVER HAPPENED in my LIFE until this past year), and what I get is something like, "Uh huh, uh huh, great. So when are you going to lose weight?"
It hurts so much to know that there will always be people for whom weight loss is the ultimate sign of BED recovery. Those people are missing the entire point. Believing that is like being given a present that is beautifully wrapped, looking at it, and saying, "Wow! This is amazing! It looks fantastic! There must be an incredible present inside of this box!"...and never opening it. What actually matters about recovery is what is going on internally, not externally. It's about the behaviors that change from unhealthy to healthy. The self-esteem that rises. The day when you look at the DSM criteria for your eating disorder and realize that you don't actually meet them anymore. Each meal when you choose to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Each time you decide to exercise not for the sole purpose of burning calories, but because you know you deserve to feel great physically and mentally as the result of moving your body.
Recovery is a lifestyle. It's a daily choice. It's a 180 degree shift. And none of it can be measured by a scale. I feel genuinely sorry for the people who have someone with an eating disorder in their life who are sitting and waiting for the transformation to occur before their eyes. I used to be like that. I used to criticize myself and think, "If I'm not changing physically, am I doing something wrong?" My dietician and therapist could tell you about the many sessions I had with them when this was the topic of conversation. The tears I shed. The frustration I felt. It wasn't until I moved past the idea of weight loss being the measure of success that I was able to see everything I had accomplished, and the beauty of each day of this process. I couldn't see my progress until I let go of everyone else's expectations and started focusing on my own.
I am still recovering. I have many years ahead of me in this process. But I have done so much work and come so far in two and a half years. My recovery is the most important thing I have ever done for myself, and it is my greatest accomplishment. Every day, I see one more reminder of how I have changed for the better as a result of it. No, I am not thinner. Not being thinner no longer matters to me. I trust this process. I trust my body. I respect my body. And when you look at me, just remember one thing:
This is what recovery looks like.