Eating disorders & what I learned from my “skinny clothes”

I just took a big step in eating disorder recovery and got rid of the last of my “skinny clothes”. I’ve only ever been able to fit into these clothes during the times when I’ve been doing something extreme to reduce my weight. They’ve been lurking in my wardrobe for years, taunting me, whispering, “What a failure you are. If you only worked a bit harder, you could get into us again”.  “Skinny clothes” is a euphemism really, it would be more honest to just call them my “eating disorder clothes”.

About a year ago I was getting really tired of the morning panic attacks and decided to dispose of all the clothes that were making me feel miserable about my body. I began the process of removing them, starting by bagging up the worst offenders and putting them out of sight for a few weeks, and then taking them to a charity shop when I felt ready.

The last bag, the one that was the most difficult to get rid of, contained several items which my late grandmother had altered for me. These clothes had the sentimental value of being linked to my grandmother, but I realised that there was another reason for my resistance. This is really hard to write about and I feel guilty saying it, but my grandmother was one of the strongest supporters of my dieting and weight loss. We had a complex relationship and this was probably the only area of my life where she gave me overt approval and praise. Getting rid of the clothes felt like saying goodbye to one of the few things about me that my grandmother really approved of, as if I have finally failed her – If I couldn’t be straight, or successful (as she understood it), at least I could have tried to be thin. It wasn’t just my grandmother though; I got enormous praise and approval for losing weight from most of my family and friends. I think I hung onto the “skinny clothes” because they represented the possibility of getting this kind of approval again. Of course the need for approval that made me vulnerable in the first place is down to low self-esteem, but that’s a bigger issue and I won’t go into it here.

As I got down to the last few items, something else began to happen. The ED voice in my head ramped things up, screaming at me that I couldn’t get rid of the clothes because to do so would mean, not only accepting failure, but also accepting the totally unacceptable thing that is my body in its current state. “Without the clothes to remind you to try”, it said, “You will be completely out of control, on the rampage, eating ALL THE FOOD”.

My partner says that the main emotion I exhibit during my ED panic attacks is terror and I now realise that this fear of losing control has always underscored my eating disorder. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. My family has been riddled with eating disorders for at least a couple of generations. The belief that food is dangerous and needs to be controlled through the imposition of rules has just been normalised for me. Both my parents were deprived of food as children. My mother became an emotional eater who claims to be perpetually on a diet, while my father had a restrictive eating disorder his whole adult life. I don’t think it ever occurred to either of them that it didn’t have to be this way.

So it was a hard thing to do, but the process made me more aware of the roots of my eating disorder, particularly in my desire for superficial expressions of approval from others and in my belief that the eating disorder is in some sense protecting me from myself.

I’m also feeling much better about my wardrobe and hoping I’ll be able to develop a new sense of style now that I’m not hankering after those clothes and putting off getting anything nice until I’ve lost weight again.

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