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Yeah…Immaeatthat

Jun 15

When someone tells you, you look good after you were sick.

Last week was my birthday, so I decided to try out a float tank for the first time. I first heard about float tanks when I was on a residential eating disorder treatment facility tour and was introduced to some new research on how float tank (aka sensory deprivation) may help improve how those with eating disorders experience their body size. I wanted to try out the tank before I recommended it to any clients so I went, stripped down (you get into the tank naked), and stepped into the mega salty floating water. 

The Float Boston website summarized the theory behind float tanks and forward progression in ED recovery concisely, so I included it below:

I’m not a person who practices meditation regularly and I struggle with being still and quiet, so I found the tank pretty emotional and overwhelming. Not because of body image struggles, but because of other life struggles that were floating around my head. I decided I wouldn’t recommend a float tank to a client unless their therapist had said that it’s okay for them to be alone with their thoughts for an hour.  I think, for me, it would’ve been nice if the music they played would’ve been a guided mediation rather than just music or if I would’ve eased into an hour long mediation by practicing shorter meditation intervals first.  But this post isn’t actually about float tanks, it’s about what happened the day after the float tank…

I woke up at 6am the morning after and had a headache that I quickly realized was a migraine.  I ate something right away and drank some coffee, because low blood sugar can often be a trigger for my migraines and caffeine, sometimes, can help push the migraine away. But then the pain got so intense I threw up 5 times within the span of 2 hours until I finally was able to fall asleep and sleep the pain off.  When I woke up 2 hours later the pain was gone (Andrew stayed home from work to care for Jojo) and I immediately drank a gatorade to replenish my body and went to Chick-fil-a for lunch.

While I don’t know if the float tank triggered my migraine -this is a classic causation vs. correlation dilemma- I do think it’s likely that it did because I’ve always had inner ear issues that used to cause me a lot of vertigo.  But anyways, something triggered my migraine which lead to me throwing up. As I went throughout my day, 2 people in my life (who didn’t know about the morning migraine + throwing up) asked me if I’d lost weight.  When I get that question I still don’t have a go to answer that doesn’t come off too attacking.  I usually just say something like, “oh I don’t weigh myself, I just take care of myself, so I don’t know” and leave it at that.

I talked to Andrew when I got home that night about how people can unknowingly reinforce unhealthy behaviors and contribute to the progression of someone treating themselves inhumanely if that person chose to continue vomiting up their food and engaging in food restriction.  It reminded me how the dream of being a certain size usually doesn’t consider the realities of the disordered behaviors you’d have to engage in to achieve and maintain that body size.

 

I’ve heard from many clients that their disordered eating developed in part after they had the flu/food poisoning/a sickness and then received praise for how great their body looked. This post is to say that…

If you get praise for thinness after you’ve been sick, you don’t have to give up taking care of yourself in pursuit of a body size you aren’t meant to be. Realize the disconnect between being told you look good and the behaviors you engaged in to look that way being bad.  Also, realize that to maintain that “good” body you’d have to cause yourself to suffer with extremely unhealthy behaviors.  The whole experience reminded me again how, for many, achieving and pursing thinness may be at the expense of health.

28 comments on “When someone tells you, you look good after you were sick.”

  1. The same thing happened to me! Right before I got married I found out I had an ovarian cyst. I was devastated to find out that I might need surgery right before or after the wedding and I stayed in the hospital for a few days. An acquaintance who knew that I had been hospitalized told me that I was lucky about the timing becaus it meant I lost weight before the wedding. It felt horrible and I never forgot it 7 years later. 

  2. This may not be totally related, but…a couple weeks ago I had a stomach bug that lasted about 48 hours. All I could keep down during that time was ritz crackers and Gatorade. I remember afterwards noticing I felt thinner than I had in a long time. But then for at least a solid week after I recovered, I was hungry CONSTANTLY! I was eating pretty much every chance I could get. It was like my body was making up for the fact that I couldn’t eat for two days and it was going to get those two days’ worth of food back!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. Reading this made me feel less alone in my story. I had a similar experience which sort of catapulted my disordered eating. While I wasn’t sick in the form of throwing up, I had a condition that led doctors to prescribe me an extremely restrictive diet where I could only eat the foods from a very short list. With this diet, I lost a lot of weight. I even started getting concerned and asked the doctor if I was under weight. I was then praised by the nurse for losing so much weight. Did I mention I was only 18? And not “overweight” by their standards to begin with? I also received many affirming comments from family and friends around me, not only for my body size but for my “willpower” that they wish they had. Now, I still fight the urge to return to this restrictive diet when my body image is at its worst. I know that therapeutic diets have their benefits for people with certain conditions, but they can be so harmful if you’re not careful or not armed with anti-diet and body positive teachings. 

  4. Robyn over at The Real Life RD actually mentioned this in her live instagram q&a yesterday! How to handle when people comment on your body size (no matter how it’s changed). I think she said she talks to clients about saying “comments like that don’t really help me have a healthy relationship with food or my body.” I think that’s a great idea, but I don’t know if I would ever have the nerve to say it! Personally, over a 10 year period I had an eating disorder, gained quite a bit of weight in the years afterward, and then eventually balanced out and lost it again. After I lost the weight, I honestly dreaded seeing people for the first time because they would comment on it and it would make me SO UNCOMFORTABLE. I remember CRYING after people told me how “great” I looked because it was just so confusing and overwhelming and I hated the idea that people were thinking about my body at all. I’m due with my first baby in 3 weeks and am already thinking about how to address people commenting on my postpartum body changes…Wow that was long. Sorry. Just commenting to say that your post resonated with me today and I love your blog!!

  5. I remember as a little girl, probably 10 years old, I was in dance and I had people comment on me being the “big girl” because I was tall and not teeny like most girls my age. I got the stomach flu once and was able to wear one of my leotards I usually didnt fit into and got compliments on how thin looked. Very sad but true reality, even for little girls.

  6. Yes, 100%. This is how my eating disorder started–I had the stomach flu one summer during high school, lost some weight, decided I was on a good trajectory, and just kept going. Terrible.

    Fortunately, I no longer have an active eating disorder and have done a lot of work to heal the years of disordered eating that followed it. But I also still struggle with what to say when people ask if I have lost weight. Last year, I had some medical issues that resulted in some weight loss. It was a really horrible time, mentally, physically, and emotionally. But I repeatedly got comments along the lines of “you look great, have you lost weight?” I wasn’t weighing myself, but I knew that I had lost weight just by the fit of my clothes, etc. However, it certainly wasn’t something I wanted to celebrate. I usually just awkwardly would say something like, “Oh, I don’t know,” and change the subject. Even as someone who had progressed a lot in recovery from disordered eating, it was really hard to experience those comments.

  7. Yep. I used to be pretty unhealthy, I used to have a shitty appetite probably from anxeity, and I was constantly smoking pot, and I was really thin. People would tell me all the time how “great” I looked. Now that I’ve put on about 20 pounds, no one says I look great anymore, even though I’m MUCH healthier. It’s pretty messed up. 

    • Glad you shared, Colleen! Yep yep yep. Pretty messed up.

    • Your comment really resonates with me… Now that I am healthier and happier and a little heavier I no longer receive any positive comments about my body whereas I did when I was thinner, but a lot less healthy and a lot less happy. It really bugs me some days and then I have to be strong and smart enough to remember it doesn’t matter what other people think…

  8. This is such an important post. I have crohns’ disease, which went undiagnosed for several years because when my Dr saw a young woman losing weight, he assumed an ED. Ironically, I then developed an ED, because having lost so much weight, I kept getting compliments, and I was afraid of eating anyway because I was so unwell. Getting diagnosed a few years down the line caused its own set of problems. Treatment for flare ups is often steroids, which cause really rapid weight gain, which I found tough. People will assume they can read your health from your weight whatever happens, I find. You look ‘great’ when you are sick and thin. You look ‘well’ when a steroid IV has caused you to gain a stone in a week. It’s *really* hard to tune this all out (especially when you add in all the recommendations around food restriction that people give to crohn’s suffered – all medically unproved), but I’m getting there. Thanks for this post. 

    • Reading this made me feel not alone. I too have Crohns and have had several people say how lucky I am to be able to lose weight so quickly when I am flaring.  My face must be something when they say this because they always end up awkwardly taking it back and saying “but I know it’s gotta be hard to be sick.” Yeah no kidding… I look forward to being healthy and putting on weight because it means my body is stronger and healthier. 

      • Aww, I’m so sorry you both have Crohn’s disease. My husband has it and was very sick for about three years. He has thankfully been in remission for four. Even as a man once he put on some weight (which he so desperately needed to do) people made comments like, “Oh, you must not be exercising/eating well these days.” Uuuhhh no, his gut is finally healthy and he’s absorbing nutrients and he’s no longer throwing up everyday so…actually he’s healthier than he has ever been…People say the most ignorant things.

      • I have Crohn’s as well, and like Alice, I developed an ED after being so sick and losing weight and then receiving compliments on it. Oh, but then it was “too much” weight lost and instead of complimenting me, people would blatantly say, “you need to eat something, girl!” It was a vicious cycle.

  9. Such a great and much needed post! I remember in the thick of my disordered eating, a good friend got pneumonia and lost a lot of weight and I remember being JEALOUS. How awful but made total sense given my struggle back then. This isn’t talked about enough, thanks so much!

  10. Yes! I also hate the underlying implication (or sometimes people just downright say it to your face) that, at least if you have to be sick for a day/week/month/whatever, you get to lose weight along the way. I’m like…WAIT, if losing weight is your body’s response to being ill, doesn’t that imply that it is unhealthy for you to be at that size? That the weight you’re at when you are sick is a bad thing, and that gaining back the weight would indicate you’re healthy again? This winter it was especially bad with the extreme cases of the flu going around…I can totally see how praise for losing weight when sick would feed an eating disorder/disorder actions, since our society praises people for losing weight while sick. Thanks for this post!

  11. I was at my lowest ever wait when I was in my most depressing cruelest job. I see pictures and I know something was wrong. Coincidentally my husband was at his smallest he was in an abusive relationship. I never talk about someones weight because of this. I thinm it happens to so many if us

  12. Thank you for this post, Kylie. This reminds me of last year when I came to work one day where I worked the entire summer and out of nowhere, one of the girls says, “you look skinnier today. did you lose weight?” And that comment just made me feel so freaking self-conscious. I mean, how do people consider that a compliment? Now I was in a spiral of wondering how in all heck I was being perceived by her before. This was thankfully after I had done A LOT of work in intuitive eating and accepting the weight gain that came with that, and I am at a place where I truly love and appreciate my body. Even so that comment still knocked the wind out of me. It just bothers me that people don’t think about what they say or how it could affect someone.

  13. What in intense post! I’m so glad you said all of this though, you’re right. Needs to be said. And I’m glad you’re feeling better. 

  14. Oh my gosh I hate this. I remember I had a peer in my master’s program, a woman who’d been a fantastic high school English teacher for many decades, and she came down with a terrible stomach bug. I remember I brought her some soup and she said something like: “Well the best part of this is that I’m down 5 pounds.” I didn’t know what to say–I probably said something like “Hope you get feeling better soon.” It’s scary to me that we live in a culture where illness is talked about in this way. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

  15. I hate it when people comment on my body. I am in recovery and my weight has stabilized, but may need to put on a little more in order to get pregnant. My husband’s extended family always comments on my petite size and then talks about dieting. I am still working on a response that isn’t rude but also doesn’t just play into their disorder thinking. Also, 11 years ago when my weight was the lowest and I was so sick I was working at a department store. I used to get comments from women all the time asking how I stayed so thin and how lucky I was to have such a fast metabolism. I looked like a cancer patient, in no way did I look healthy. That really showed me how f-ed up society’s expectations of women’s bodies are.

  16. “It reminded me how the dream of being a certain size usually doesn’t consider the realities of the disordered behaviors you’d have to engage in to achieve and maintain that body size.”

    I haven’t read a more true statement in a very long time. <3 Knowing this is gold.

  17. This resonated with me so much. I struggled with this last year because I was very sick and was only able to eat very few things. I was eating way less than I should which led to a lot of weight loss quickly. Being someone in a larger body my doctors didn’t seem concerned which sucks but the comments that I looked amazing were also really hard. It really bugged me that people were praising something that was so unhealthy! I know people were just being “nice” but I also knew that this was temporary and my body could not sustain this because I was not eating. As soon as I was able to eat again my body gained back the weight and those comments then really get in your head and it took me a while to fight the feeling that I needed to get back to my “sick” weight. I also ended up gaining more for a while because my body was being smart and trying to protect itself after not eating for 2 plus months. Thank you for sharing this post. It made me feel a lot better.

    • Hi Emily! People just really suck at interacting sometimes and say the most unhelpful things. I’m glad you were able to realize getting back to your “sick” weight wasn’t healthy!

  18. Can I just say thank you. Seriously, thank you. I battled an ED about 6 years ago and although I have a much better relationship with food and my body now, there are still days I struggle. I have one “friend” who makes everything about being skinny. Every time I feel sick or have some type of stomach bug she always says “but think about how skinny you are going to be!” 

    To which I reply, “why on earth would I ever want to throw up a bajillion times and barely get out of bed in order to be skinny”?? and why do I need to be “skinny” ? why can’t I just be me.

    anyways… this post really hit close to home at this time in my life.

    you are amazing. that is all. <3 

  19. “If you get praise for thinness after you’ve been sick, you don’t have to give up taking care of yourself in pursuit of a body size you aren’t meant to be.”
    WOW–Amen!! What a great reminder! Thank you, Kylie! :)

  20. Love the message in this post! I suffer from ulcerative colitis and for the past 4 years have been severely underweight (have been thin my whole life).  I’ve had so many people (usually strangers, most people that know me know I am sick) tell me how great and thin I look and how jealous they are of me.  If they only knew how much pain and suffering I go through daily and what I would give up to be able to eat normally and be a healthy weight! Ever since going through this myself, I never comment on others’ weights (large or small!) unless I KNOW for a fact they are trying to be healthier.  You just never know what the other person is going through, if they’re stressed or sick or anything else and their weight is fluctuating.  Thankfully I can usually brush off the comments from others as well-intentioned, but I am grateful to have learned a life lesson for myself not to comment!

  21. Yes, yes, YES to this! I have had this happen to me a number of times, as well. I can actually remember when I was in my disordered brain, thinking that being really sick and dehydrated from vomiting/diarrhea was possible a GOOD thing because it meant I would probably lose weight. I mean, how messed up is that?! And I love what you’re saying about reminding ourselves that the “dream” of the thin body doesn’t consider the “reality” of the behaviors. Absolutely. So many times when people have seen old photos of me or something and commented about how thin I was then (like it’s a good thing), I’m quick to point out and tell them it was literally taking ALL of my energy to stay a size I clearly wasn’t meant to be. Great info! Sidenote: I also agree with you about the pod thing. I think if I had to be alone with my thoughts for an entire hour I might come out more frazzled than I went in!

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