Improve Your Body Positivity While Managing Chronic Illness and Eating Disorders

This co-occurring struggle is complicated, real, and there are very few resources available on the topic.

Several years ago I was preparing for a talk on digestive disorders and eating disorders.

I stumbled on a qualitative research study exploring the themes related to body image for people with chronic digestive health conditions. I was struck by what the researchers learned because the themes were so similar to what I hear about from my clients all the time:

  • Difficulty trusting one’s body
  • Feeling out of control in one’s body
  • Unpredictable body function as a massive source of stress and anxiety

I could easily see how these themes applied, not only to individuals with a chronic digestive health condition, but to my clients who struggled with two things at once: a chronic health condition + an eating disorder.

We, as providers, know that this co-occurring struggle is complicated, real, and there are very few resources available on the topic. Anita Dharwadkar, who works with me, is passionate about working in this space. Below is a quick note from her on what she’s learned from her own lived experience, alongside her work with her clients when it comes to body image, chronic illness, and eating disorder recovery.

A Note from Anita

I work a lot with clients that are in eating disorder recovery but also struggle with one or more chronic illnesses. Despite my clients being different and unique, they all have one thing in common…a complicated relationship with their body. Body image is not easy for any of us, but throw in eating disorder recovery and a chronic illness?! Things go to next level complicated.

Eating disorder providers often point to body positivity as an approach to help people heal their relationship to their bodies and body image. But in my experience, this approach hasn’t always helped people with chronic illness. And here’s at least part of the reason.

help with the struggle of managing a chronic illness while in eating disorder recovery

One aspect of body positivity includes celebrating and focusing on what our bodies can do (it’s referred to as body functionality) on the INSIDE rather than what their bodies look like on the outside. This reframe might be helpful for some people but for those struggling with a disability or chronic illness, it’s often not the case.

For some people, developing a chronic illness means losing bodily function and capacity over time. Facing the reality that simple tasks that a body “should” be able to do without a challenge or used to be able to do (e.g. taking a shower, working a full-time job, managing a commute) is unspeakably painful. The accomplishment of such simple things are often taken for granted by many, yet they are daily struggles for people with chronic illness.

Common questions I hear from my clients include:

  • How do I put a positive spin on a body that seems to constantly betray me, no matter how perfectly I follow my doctor’s recommendations?
  • How can I make peace with a body whose body size is often changing due to medications, prescribed diets, and/or mobility challenges?
  • How do I think about my body positively when it acts so out of control?

If any of this is resonating with you, I want to tell you that I see you, I hear you and everything you are feeling is valid. Whether you use a mobility device, have surgery scars or an ostomy bag – you are worthy of living a life not filled with body hatred.

If body positivity has felt out of reach or just never resonated for you, I get it. It makes sense and you aren’t alone. And you also aren’t out of options.

Here are 3 strategies for you to consider to help improve body positivity while managing chronic illness and eating disorders:

  1. Pause and consider all of what you have lived through and overcome. Chronically ill people are amongst the strongest folks I know and I’m proud to be part of this community.
  2. Validate and offer compassion for the ways your body makes life hard. This might sound like, “My body is not feeling well and it makes me sad that I can’t go out with my friends. I will do what I can to help myself feel better.”
  3. Connecting with other people who share similar challenges can ameliorate some of the isolation chronic illness typically brings.

If you want to share what has helped you navigate your complicated body image, we’d love to hear about it, post a comment below or message me (Anita’s IG) on Instagram. I feel fortunate to be right alongside you.

xoxo, Anita

Both Anita and I have some resources to offer you, your loved ones, or your clients who just can’t get on board with the body positivity train.

Free Guide: But I Hate My Body: Cracking the Code on Body Acceptance​

This guide offers you a collection of resources; it includes a list of What to Watch, Read and Listen to on your journey to Body Acceptance. Click here to download your copy now.

Support Group: Resilient Voices – Strategies for Navigating Chronic Illness and Eating Disorders

This is a program we offer at Marci RD Nutrition, led by Anita. It is a virtual support group for folks looking to have a community and safe space to talk, to share, to learn, and to LIVE …with your Chronic Illness, while managing your Eating Disorder recovery too. Click here to learn more about the group and to add your name to the wait list.

We genuinely hope one of these feels useful for you and/or those you care about. If you have any questions, please reach out and let us know.