The Thin Ideal, How It Hurts Us, and How to Heal From It

The Thin Ideal, How It Hurts Us, and How to Heal From It

“How to Lose Weight in 30 Days and Keep It Off”, “Avoid These Foods to Get A Flatter Stomach”, “What You’re Eating that Contributes to Your Belly Fat”, “Try This Diet”, “Cut Out Carbs and Sugars”, “Keto”, “Atkins”, “Paleo”, “Losing Weight = Better Life”, “Beach Body”, “How To Get Your Revenge Body”, “Make Him Jealous”, “Thin Is In”, the list goes on and on, we are all familiar with the headlines in magazines, on social media, following our favorite celebs and what they do to “look good”, what they will and won’t eat, how models prepare their bodies to look their “best” before a fashion show. This is The Thin Ideal. The idea that being thin is the most attractive look, the only look and only way to be confident, well-liked, and get all the attention. It’s everywhere from movies to television shows, even media, our society is obsessed with thinness and encourages us to be obsessed with it as well. Everywhere we look we only see one body type, “the hot girl” in these movies/shows is almost always very small, unattainably small. When I’d watch TV, I always wondered why I never saw people that looked like me, none of the girls I looked up to had a similar hair type or skin color, they definitely did not have an average body type, like my own. I was always bigger than the models and actresses I saw, I thought I must be the problem. 

At the age of 8, before I could consciously even realize it, I started skipping breakfast. I thought if I started skipping meals, it would make me skinny. I’d finally look like those girls on TV. I’d be pretty and people would like me. And so it began, in 3rd grade, I no longer ate in the mornings. It didn’t bother me. I convinced myself for years, I didn’t even like breakfast, I didn’t have time in the morning, I wasn’t really even that hungry. Eating less means losing more weight, right? The lies crept their way in unnoticed. Throughout my teenage years I dieted and by dieted I mean, I was only allowed to eat one small salad a day, with the lowest calorie dressing. No more than that. I used to chug water and diet soda to make myself fuller. It worked. I’d lose the weight then gain it all back again due to the deprivation my body was suffering from, from weeks of restriction. I only felt worse about myself each time, determined the next time to do better and lose more and keep it off. My disordered eating became an eating disorder. Studies show that at least 25% of individuals who diet, will go on to develop a full-blown eating disorder and that percentage is much higher for those who participate in more extreme kinds of dieting. 

All because we buy into The Thin Ideal and its lies. We have all been subject to these ideas and they affect us all differently and in their own ways. For those with eating disorders, it becomes an extreme, we develop a rigid way of thinking and belief system, a set of commandments if you will, and live by them religiously. Carolyn Costin talks about these in her book, “8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder”. We will be exploring these commonly held beliefs among people with eating disorders and how they relate to our culture’s fixation on thinness.

Thin Commandment #1

If you aren’t thin, you aren’t attractive.

The Thin Ideal and our culture that perpetuates this ideal, make us believe that the only way to obtain attractiveness is to be thin. We see all these thin models and actors and try to obtain that ourselves in unnatural ways, going against our natural predilections and cravings, forcing ourselves into sizes we were never meant to be. When we look up to these celebrities, we are not getting the full story and are not seeing that their way to obtain thinness more than likely is also deeply rooted in diet culture and disordered eating. This way of living is not beneficial to anyone and can in no way guarantee your happiness or someone’s attraction to you. Think about it, when you find someone attractive is it a number that attracts you to them? Or is it their laugh, their bright and bubbly personality, the way they care for you, the way you can spend hours talking to that person and never run out of things to say. How important is someone’s weight to you in order for you to be attracted to them? Does the same go for them if they are attracted to you? Looks are fleeting, bodies change, bodies grow, but a true connection can last forever.

Thin Commandment #2

Being thin is more important than being healthy, more important than anything.

A healthy body will make you much happier than a sick one ever will. If your way to achieve thinness is through starvation, laxative abuse, over exercising, bingeing/purging, your body is suffering. You will feel those effects, maybe not at first but surely over time. Once this has taken its toll on your body, you will no longer be able to do the things you enjoy. When you do try to enjoy things, your mind will be preoccupied by incessant body checking and food thoughts. You will not have the energy to do the things you love because you will only get weaker and weaker. When you look at what is truly important to you, I doubt a number will be high on that list.

Thin Commandment #3

You must buy clothes, cut your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, and do anything to make yourself thinner. 

Again, laxative abuse and starvation wreak havoc on your body. Not only physically, but mentally as well. Yes, you may be thinner, but you will also be weaker, more irritable, less energetic, more unhappy, and most importantly, less “you”. All of these things strip you of who you truly are. What is the point of being thinner if you can’t even be yourself anymore? 

Thin Commandment #4

Thou shall “earn” all food and shall not eat without feeling guilty.

Food is not made to be “earned”, your body needs food everyday. It is fuel, it is energy, it is joy. It is life. When you develop this relationship with food and your body, it can complicate every aspect of your life. Your favorite foods become things you won’t allow yourself to eat anymore. If you do eat them, and then feel guilty about it, you then feel you must compensate for it. Your eating disorder distorts your natural enjoyment of food and makes it far more complex than it needs to be. It is for you to combat these thoughts around food guilt so that you can enjoy food again without feeling the need to “earn” or “pay” for what you have eaten. 

Thin Commandment #5

Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterwards.

You deserve to eat whatever your heart desires. There is no need to punish yourself for something you enjoy. It is quite difficult to escape the toxic messages you hear labeling foods as bad/good and fattening/healthy. However, it is through allowing yourself to have them, sitting with the uncomfortable feelings associated with eating those foods, without punishing your body through the use of purging or other means, that you can truly make peace with these foods and yourself for a more fulfilling life. 

Thin Commandment #6

Thou shall count calories and fat and restrict intake accordingly.

When you count calories, you are taking yourself away from a pleasurable, enjoyable experience that you deserve to have. Food is so much more than percentage signs and fat intake. If it tastes good, eat it. If there is a certain food you find comforting, savor it. Counting calories has never made anyone happy. In fact, it forces us to view food as numbers and measurements instead of flavor and fuel.

Thin Commandment #7

What the scale says is the most important thing.

Weight has nothing to do with who you are. In fact, it is the least interesting thing about you. The most important thing is how you feel in your body and your aspirations in life. When you have an eating disorder, it steals what is important to you, it morphs your desires into arbitrary goals that have nothing to do with anything meaningful or with what you truly want. If you are restricting your food intake you are also restricting your life, your happiness. Numbers going down on the scale may make you feel better and accomplished temporarily, but it won’t last. And if the number stays the same or goes up slightly you will feel even worse. A number should never determine your worth. 

Thin Commandment #8

Losing weight is good, and gaining weight is bad.

Although losing weight may feel good initially, if it is being accomplished through harmful behaviors, it will not feel good in the long term. Once you have lost a significant amount of weight, you may no longer be at a weight that is sustainable for a busy, productive life that you may want to lead. When you restrict, limit your food intake, or overcontrol anything related to food to lose weight, your body is being forced to be something it is not. If you do decide to change some of your eating disorder behaviors and gain weight as a result, it is because you are no longer doing things to your body that you were never meant to do. This is not bad! It is through this process that you can finally realize how damaging it is to manipulate the body’s innate wisdom and needs, and then come to a place where you can allow your body to find a weight that supports what it needs to function. When you come to this point, and start making changes that will sustain the lifestyle you want, your body will find where it needs to be whether that is through gaining or losing weight, but you have to trust and accept where it will go and allow it to go there.

Thin Commandment #9

You can’t trust what other people say about your weight./You can never be too thin.

You may not trust people when they say comments such as “You’re so thin, you don’t need to lose any more weight… etc.” because you look in the mirror and see something totally different. However, your visual interpretations are unreliable. Your eating disorder wants you to think that you still need to lose weight and could never be “too thin”, if anything that would be considered a good thing to you. But this thinking will keep you stuck, your eating disorder wants to control your life and have you keep on losing and losing, but no weight will ever be good enough and you will never be small enough in this mindset.

Thin Commandment #10

Being thin and not eating are signs of true willpower and success.

Although your eating disorder may make you feel this way, especially because you may already have an inherent need for drive and success that fuels your disorder, you can channel these needs in alternative ways that are not damaging to you or your overall well-being. When you look at all you have already achieved has it been because of your ability to starve? Or because you are a driven person? True willpower is fighting for what you really want out of life and challenging these negative thoughts. 

Our brains take shortcuts, they become wired to associate thinness with attractiveness, success, and happiness from what is shown in western media. We attach these same interpretations when we look at ourselves in the mirror and give thinness a meaning it never deserved to have. We compare our bodies to what we see in magazines and blame them for not looking like those models when in fact, those models don’t even look like the pictures displayed on the front covers. It is no wonder why we take such drastic measures in an effort to lose weight. The problem is that all of these things have nothing to do with weight and all to do with the mind. Happiness is a mindset not a body size. However, we still buy into the idea that changing our bodies will change our lives, that losing weight will make us feel better about ourselves and/or boost our confidence. Once we lose weight and find out that that is not the case, this distortion implodes, leaving us not only confused, but hurt that we’ve sacrificed so much of ourselves based on lies and misinformation. There is no evidence that being thinner ensures we will have happier lives, with less problems, struggles, or failures. There most certainly is evidence that doing the things we love, setting goals and accomplishing them, being around loved ones, can lead to happiness. Since The Thin Ideal is so deeply ingrained, it is difficult to think that it won’t give us what we want. These beliefs were never ours to take on but they are for us to challenge. No longer should we base our value or our worth on such an antiquated, faulty, and unreliable set of beliefs and allow them to affect our lives.

Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels is a Lie

Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels is a Lie

“I can’t be lying on my deathbed, at 30, or 88, and be asked ‘did you accomplish everything you want to?’ and the answer being no, because all I had done my whole existence was avoid pizza and chocolate and peanut butter. Because taste is part of the five senses and it’s part of being alive. Because I’m not going to be dropped down six feet on a rainy Thursday when I’m afraid of having a bowl of ice cream with the people I love because the voices in my head have reduced Ben & Jerry’s to nothing but numbers and percent signs which, when you really think about it, never actually meant anything at all.”

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Except when your answer to being skinny is rooted in self-hate and starvation. Then skinny feels exhausting, then skinny feels weak and lethargic, then skinny feels like you can’t think straight, then skinny feels alone because in order to make up for the meal you ate today, you have to spend 4 hours on an elliptical, instead of going out with your friends. That is what “skinny” felt like to me. A quote revered by many in the pro-anorexia community, I used to repeat this over and over in my head, when it became especially difficult to resist food because of my extreme hunger. No matter how many times I said this, no matter how many times I did refuse food and lose weight, it did not promise me the freedom I desperately sought for. What is freedom when you have to run to the bathroom to throw up the food you’ve just eaten? Not caring if anyone can hear you. What is freedom when you have to calculate how many cough drops you’ve had in a day to soothe your aching throat? What is freedom when you pass up things you used to enjoy because you’re past your calorie allotment for the day and you know you can’t be in any place with food because you can’t handle temptation? What is freedom when you have to weigh yourself multiple times a day? What is freedom when all you feel is pain? When starving yourself doesn’t make you feel better but worse? With my journey to freedom, I only became more limited. 

From the time we are born, we are inundated with pervasive messages about food, shape, and weight, and we believe them. In order to be attractive, you need to be thin. In order to be happy, you need to be thin. In order to be successful, you need to be thin. THIN is the answer to it all. It is the remedy for low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. These are all myths! It is the belief in these myths that will perpetuate your disorder. From a young girl who loved life, enjoyed food, looked forward to when I could go to my grandmother’s house and eat rice and beans that tasted like no other, my relationship with food became steeped in guilt. It was no longer a source of energy and fuel to me, but a system of bartering and balancing. One misstep, a few calories over my allotment meant not eating the next day, meant working out double, meant throwing up foods I was not “allowed” to have. You pay for what you eat quite literally. There was always a cost simply by just eating. In my mind, eating was earned, not deserved. Full of confusion and resentment, a jumble of self-destructive thoughts and animosity, I took even more drastic measures to quiet the voice in my head that said I didn’t deserve to eat. Losing weight became my sole purpose for existence. I gave it more of a place in my life than it ever deserved to have. Think about how important losing weight, being thin has become to you. If all the energy you have is solely devoted to losing weight, what does the rest of your life look like? Have you accomplished anything else? Or has this kept you from achieving what you truly want? Maybe all you want is to be thin and then what? A therapist I had once asked me, “Did it somehow gain more space than it was entitled?” Years later, that has stuck with me ever since, because I know the answer is yes.

Think about your life currently. All the things you want to do, all the places you want to travel to, all the foods you want to try one day. Is your eating disorder keeping you from doing those things? With the current state of the world, we are limited in what we can do at the moment, but what about when this is over? This will be over soon and I want you to remember that this is only temporary. So when restrictions lift and we are able to return to school/work, will you still feel limited in what you want to do and achieve? Think of the negative impact your eating disorder has created in your life. Think about where it gets in your way. Think about the effect it has on your loved ones, on your physical and mental health. It may be difficult to consider how it has affected you and the people around you. I acknowledge this. Maybe the very thought of how it has changed your life feels like it’s too much to bear. When you have been stuck in the same mindset for so long, it is hard to recognize how it has impacted you negatively. If you feel this resistance, push past it and reflect on your worst days with your eating disorder. The times you’ve felt anxious around food, the times you’ve felt weak, the times where you’ve studied for a test or tried reading something and literally could not concentrate or make sense of the words because you felt like your brain was in a fog. These are all symptoms of starvation, deprivation, and malnutrition, signs your body is not getting what it needs. Consider all of these things and get curious about how you truly want to live your life. 

Now that you have looked at your eating disorder in a different way, does this align with what you want out of life? Be explicit in what you want. If your eating disorder has kept you from achieving those goals and dreams, it may be time to change some of your behaviors. Do not think of it as giving up, rather letting go of the hold it has over you, letting go of the negative emotions that are tied to this, letting go of all the restrictions and limitations your eating disorder has put you under. This did not come out of nowhere and it did not happen overnight. In ways, you have developed your eating disorder to protect you from something else. It may make you feel safe, calm even. However, the very thing you have resorted to for comfort, is now harming you. These behaviors may have made you feel special, may have made you feel in control, may have made you feel like you could finally be “good enough”.  Maybe you have used your eating disorder to understand yourself better, to find out who you are and be comfortable with that person. You may have not even realized how much you have used this to cope with other experiences in your life. If you suffer from a restrictive eating disorder, you may have viewed your body in relation to everything else by understanding it through food rules and over-exercise, it may have felt like the only way to feel good about yourself. But is that truly the only way to feel worthy, to deprive your body of the very thing you need to survive? Does that make sense to you? Or could you challenge those views in some way and allow yourself other possibilities? Appreciating your body will take you a lot further than punishing it will. This has warped your sense of self and has tied it to the superficial. Is that how you want to define yourself? Through your appearance? Not the way you make people feel? Not the way you are caring, or funny, or an intelligent person? Where do those go on the list? Are those not important to you? 

The eating disorder makes you think the only thing important about you is how well you can restrict, how many hours you devote to exercise. Look at all the accomplishments you’ve had in life in the body you have right now, were they not achieved whether you weighed x amount of pounds or not? Was weight a contributing factor in any of those accomplishments? There is more than just one way of doing things, there is more than just one way to view and value yourself that does not include appearance. Not saying that it shouldn’t be on the list at all, but it should not take precedence over everything else. Is it a body size that draws people to you or something else about you? Still, the eating disorder voice is loud. It is powerful and relentless and it’s not going to give up without a fight. “How will you ever feel attractive? Admired? Special? Safe? Powerful? Proud? How will you ever feel accomplished again? If you don’t workout for hours a day, use laxatives, purge, etc., you will get fat. You will gain so much weight. Starving is the only way to achieve the level of thinness you want.” Your eating disorder thrives off of your fears and insecurities, it is entrenched in them. The fear of not being good enough, the fear of failure, the fear of gaining weight, all of these fears keep you stuck. 

In order for you to be ready to change, you first need to acknowledge what this has done for you. What purpose has this eating disorder served in your life? It may be difficult to think of it in that way. However, it has served some purpose or else you wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder in the first place. Maybe this has become a coping mechanism for you. Feeling bad about yourself? Start losing weight. Count calories and you won’t feel stressed, worried, or guilty. Not feeling like you are unique? Starving yourself is a special skill that not everyone can do. This is your talent, this sets you apart from everyone else. Now you can compete, no need to feel inferior, you can be the thinnest now. The eating disorder voice acts as if it has an answer for everything, as if all of your problems can be solved by losing weight. This is magical thinking. No matter how much you weigh, you will encounter problems and if anything an eating disorder just creates more. Even though it has served some purpose, think of the pain it has caused you. Think of when you may have gotten to a goal weight and still felt no different about yourself. How defeating it is to sacrifice so much for so little in return. As difficult as it may be to acknowledge these things, you can work to change these thoughts. Disrupt this thinking pattern because you are just enough as you are, despite the voice you hear that tells you you’re not. “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Except skinny is not a feeling. The feelings most of us are truly trying to obtain are happiness, peace, joy, love, acceptance. Those feelings can all be achieved without the need to be “skinny”.



For years I’ve spent countless hours thinking about food, counting calories, skipping meals, working out to make up for what I had eaten, hating my body, hating myself, I’ve gone days without eating nothing but a granola bar and lettuce with no dressing. The hospital trips, the panic attacks, passing out, feeling weak, sick, lethargic, irritable, I told myself this was the journey towards self-acceptance. I thought I was on my way. I thought by changing my body I could finally love and accept myself. I put my body over my mind, over my well-being. I didn’t care how I felt, only how I looked. We live in a society that tells us to do so. Its importance on physical health rather than mental health only further reinforces that notion. Rather than focusing on how we feel, we focus on how we look. We are told if we are not happy with our bodies, change them. Shrinking your body will not shrink your insecurities or self-doubt, in fact, it will only expand them.

If you restrict, binge, purge, over exercise, or engage in any other related behaviors, then this blog is for you. You don’t have to have a diagnosis to seek help, you don’t have to look a certain way, or be sick enough to want to improve your life. Just by reading this blog, you are taking steps towards a journey of self-discovery and self-love. I am starting this blog to write about my own personal experiences with an eating disorder. I’ve wanted to start a blog for quite some time, now is as good a time as any, especially during this difficult time.

In this blog, I will talk about mental illness, how to keep fighting, how to reach out, how to challenge thoughts around food, shape, and weight. I am still learning and fighting. This is the best way I know how to continue to get better. I don’t know why we are all going through what we are going through right now. All I know is, I’m here to help, to share my story, my thoughts, my experiences, my insight, to give a voice to many who are ashamed to speak. We are rooted in the beliefs that speaking up about our struggles is shameful and embarrassing. It leaves us vulnerable, true, but it also shapes us into who we need to become. I will also discuss how to not lose hope, how to fight the battles before you, how to deal with your most harmful enemy, yourself. 

Being Over Body is not just a blog but a mantra to live by. We are conditioned to believe our physical body is more important than who we truly are, our being — that is our laugh, our talents, what makes us, essentially us. Sure, physical health is important but not at the risk of our sanity, of our mental health. We’re so focused on our bodies, what they look like, how much they should weigh, it all means so much to us because we’ve been taught that it should. What about our love for travel, our affinity for art, the way our eyes light up when we talk about our passions? I want to explore the myths surrounding losing weight, challenge the “Thin Ideal”, ambivalence towards change, body acceptance, Health at Every Size (HAES), how our society views people in larger bodies, diet culture, and much more.

Christy Harrison, host of the podcast, Food Psych® refers to diet culture as the “life thief”. Think of all the hours spent agonizing about how many pieces of bread you had at dinner, instead of the fun you had with your friends. These thoughts take you away from your experiences, essentially robbing you of the joy you deserve to have. In light of recent conditions, this is especially important to remember, now that we are under quarantine and unable to leave our homes, I can’t help but think about all those times I allowed my eating disorder to control me, to steal my joy, and the missed opportunities in fear of eating food, in fear of gaining weight, and getting fat. I missed parties, dinners, precious time with loved ones that I will never get back. I spent time in the bathrooms of restaurants, of people’s homes, in my own home, “compensating” for what I just ate. Instead of laughing and enjoying myself with my family and friends, all I could think of was how fat I was and how I’d get even more fat if I didn’t throw up the food I’d just eaten. If I didn’t “make up” for it in some way. Those thoughts consume you if you allow them to. Imagine how different you would be if you didn’t have those thoughts surrounding food and weight, if it wasn’t the most important thing in your life, if you had more time, space, and energy for the things you truly love. 

Initially, I lost weight because I thought it would make me happy. I thought for once, I’d finally feel comfortable in my own body. I couldn’t have gotten further from obtaining that. Being thin = happiness right? Thinness = success, attractiveness, desirability, etc. “If I just lose x amount of pounds, I will be pretty, I will be happy, my life will finally make sense… Losing weight will help me keep things in order. I can’t control how I feel, but I can control how much I eat. Eating less/restricting/starving myself makes me feel powerful, special even, I’m not good at anything but this, so why give it up? It’s not that bad. I’m not anorexic. There are others far worse than I am, so why stop? This is my life and I just have to accept that. I’m not thin enough. I’m not sick enough. How can I even claim this as my struggle? Who would even listen? No one understands. I am alone in this. I don’t look like those other girls so I don’t warrant that kind of worry. I don’t deserve food. I am fat. Everyone who tells me I’m not is lying”. The list goes on and on, these thoughts impinge every facet of your life, every facet of your thinking, in turn they affect your feelings. The self-loathing continues and is in no way mitigated by losing weight, which only makes you feel worse and makes you want to lose even more weight and so the disastrous cycle continues. 

How do you make it stop? You can’t control your thoughts, right? It’s not like you want to be this way but you can’t help it, so why bother trying to change things? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret, just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true. All of these feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame, disgust, they are all valid. Allow yourself to feel them. However, these thoughts, you can challenge them. Your brain runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it doesn’t mean every single thought is fact. In fact, a lot of them aren’t. We will use tools to combat those types of cognitive distortions (and we’ll get more into what cognitive distortions are exactly). An eating disorder does not promise hope, only pain and sickness. Again, you may be thinking “I’m not sick enough, so this can’t be that harmful, right?” If it is not destroying you physically, it will destroy you mentally. This is by no means an easy or short journey, but it is a rewarding one. So stick with it and I’ll be here to guide you along the way.