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My body image issues are back

I beat anorexia once, but now that college is looming, I’m worried about falling back into old habits. What can I do to stay grounded?

Ask for help when you need it, says our elder. You know you can do it.

Dear EWC

I am becoming concerned about my body image once more and it is beginning to affect my mentality. Going into my freshman year of high school, I decided to lose weight because I was concerned about my body. I never was considered the gorgeous, popular girl, guys (or girls) would be interested in or go for. To me, all I felt I had was my personality and book smarts. By September, this obsession with losing weight developed into an eating disorder, more specifically anorexia nervosa. It got so bad to a point where I had to miss a month of school my freshman year and lost a lot of my social life to food. I luckily overcame it and was back at school for finals and the second semester. I am now a senior in high school and will be going to college next fall. I have begun to worry about my body image once more and afraid that I may fall back into old habits when I am in college and alone/away from my family. My question for you is… Is there ever a point in life where body image no longer matters, and what can I do to stay grounded and not uncomfortable in my body?

Scott replies

Thank you for writing in and trusting us to help you with your dilemma. First of all, congratulations on turning things around with anorexia nervosa. Overcoming that must have been a difficult thing, and not something a lot of people are able to get on top of.
Reading your letter, I noticed that the first time you seem to have had problems with your body image was when you were going into high school – which is an anxious time for most people. It is somewhat of a “rite of passage” from middle school, and people like to be accepted and do well in that circumstance. Living in our culture, a lot of pressure is put on females to look a certain way – which is very thin. Very few people look that way naturally.
Now you are going into college and some of these old concerns are surfacing again. And, again, it is a time when you are transitioning from high school to college – another “rite of passage” that many people associate with becoming an adult. You will be starting out in a new place and no doubt want to put the right foot forward.

Since you have a history of body image problems, it may be something that you will deal with at different times of your life, especially when you are feeling stressed by the expectations of others and of yourself.

The fact that you are having some of these thoughts and feelings resurface tell me that you are feeling uncomfortable with the changes that are coming, and you are hoping to take control of them so that you do well. The thing is, controlling how you look is not necessarily going to control how you feel. If you were able to get through your first time with anorexia nervosa, you know what it takes to do it again. It won’t be an easy fight, but you know you can do it.

You didn’t say if you consulted with a mental health professional the first time, but if you did, this would be a good time to check in with that person again – or another mental health professional if that one is not available. It would be helpful to find someone who understands the disorder to help you through.

If the problem persists as you begin college and are away from home, it would be especially helpful to find someone there to help you. Many colleges and universities have counseling available to students. Check it out.

The fact that you are concerned about falling back into old patterns is a good thing. It says that you have some self-awareness and are able to identify some of the things that indicate you may be in trouble.

As for your question, “Is there a point in life that body image no longer matters – and what can you do to stay grounded and comfortable in your body?” Again, living in our culture, body image is always probably going to be lurking somewhere in the background. For you, there has been a time when that became an extreme. That doesn’t mean that you will always be wrestling with the extreme. How do you stay grounded and comfortable in your body? It is probably oversimplifying things to say that you should focus on being healthy – eating the right kind of foods and getting a normal amount of exercise. You should also put energy into the things that really make you who you are. Your personality, the things you set as priorities in your life – and living to be the person you believe you are meant to be. And last of all, if the body image feelings become so intense that you are getting into trouble – seek help. There is no shame in doing that. It is a sign of a wise person who is able to reach out for help when they need it.

I hope you enjoy college and that it is a fun adventure for you. College was one of the most fun periods of my life and I look back on that time as a really good time. Not that I didn’t have problems or issues I had to deal with – but is was a time of being away from home for the first time and having a chance to explore who I wanted to be and what kind of person I wanted to be.

You sound like a pretty self-aware person, so I bet you do well.

Feel free to write back to us if you have questions or things you want to bounce off someone!

Letter #: 449886
Category: Self-Improvement

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