MEDICAL ADVICE DISCLAIMER:
Being in recovery from an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, can bring a host of challenges along the way.
One aspect of eating disorder recovery for many individuals who are healing is learning body acceptance and feeling comfortable in one’s own body.
Along with this comes clothes shopping and learning how to dress in a way that allows one to feel positive and comfortable in their skin.
Clothes as Part of an Eating Disorder
Clothes shopping can be difficult for many different reasons when in eating disorder recovery. For countless of individuals who have suffered from an eating disorder, clothing items or clothing sizes may have been used as part of the disease itself.
For example, a person with an eating disorder may use certain clothing items as a way to “body check” or determine if they still fit in a certain size. It is not uncommon for a person to base how they feel about themselves or their body on their clothes or how they might fit.
As another example, if a person with an eating disorder is used to fitting in a particular size of clothing and suddenly feels like this size may be getting “too small” or “too tight,” this may trigger panic and anxiety.
Experiences like this may trigger a person to further engage in their eating disorder, as clothing often becomes an extension of control. An individual with an eating disorder may also measure “success” of their maladaptive behaviors with clothing sizes or a decrease in clothing size.
All of these examples are part of the eating disorder, and part of the recovery process is learning to renegotiate clothing in one’s life.
Embracing Body Acceptance
Developing a more positive body image is often the most challenging aspect of eating disorder recovery, but it is something that can be changed little steps at a time.
One of the most powerful steps toward embracing body acceptance is to change your perspective with your wardrobe and how you chose to dress on a daily basis.
Many people struggling with an eating disorder often wear clothes that are far too big or too small, which can negatively impact how a person feels about themselves. In addition, hanging on to clothes that were used as part of the eating disorder can be burdensome, making it more difficult to progress forward with body acceptance.
Clothes shopping is something that many individuals in recovery may avoid doing or procrastinate with due to fear, anxiety, and/or stress about the situation.
Work with your treatment team and eating disorder professionals to determine when you may be in an appropriate place in recovery to take this step, and check out the following tips to keep in mind when clothes shopping in eating disorder recovery.
Top 10 Clothes Shopping Tips
1. Always Have Support
Clothes shopping alone can be triggering and bring up unexpected challenges. Bring your trusted friend, family member, or mentor who understands what you may be experiencing. You may even consider asking your therapist/counselor if this is something you can do with their support as part of exposure therapy.
2. Start by Going Through Your Closet.
Before purchasing new clothes, it is important to go through your existing wardrobe. Determine what items no longer fit, are not necessarily your style, or may have been used as part of your eating disorder.
Gather these items and consider donating them. Having a closet clean-out can feel incredibly liberating and help you be motivated to shop for new items.
3. Figure Out What You Need to Purchase.
Once you have cleaned out your existing wardrobe, take an inventory of what you need. Building a staple with core items can make it both easier to shop for needed items as well as get dressed on a daily basis. This may include undergarments, jeans/slacks, blouses, dresses, skirts, etc. Start with the current season you are in, as well as the versatility of items needed.
4. Determine Where You Will Be Shopping.
Entering a mall with many shopping options can be overwhelming, as can shopping for long periods of time. Plan to go to 2, maybe three stores at the most so as not burn out or find yourself in a potentially triggering situation.
5. Plan Out Necessary Breaks.
Make sure you continue to fuel your body as needed and stay on track with your meals and snacks! Shopping on an empty stomach or without adequate nutrition can trigger feelings of frustration.
6. Make Time to Debrief.
Rather than going from one store to the next, give yourself some time between stores to process what you are experiencing. Get some fresh air, do some deep breathing, and/or considering talking with your support partners.
7. Check in with Yourself Regularly.
Be sure to keep tabs on how you are feeling throughout the process. If you notice urges intensifying or feelings becoming overwhelming, it is important to care for yourself. This might mean taking a break or leaving the store entirely and coming back at a different time.
8. Try on Clothes That are Appealing and Feel Good.
Typically in eating disorders, clothes are often chosen that hide the body or based on size. Only purchase items that you feel good and comfortable in, without necessarily judging based on size.
9. Keep Your Coping Skills in Mind.
If you find yourself thinking critically about your body or catastrophizing the shopping experience, be sure to engage in your healthy coping skills from your eating disorder recovery. This is where all that CBT/DBT training can come in helpful!
10. Remember There is Always Tomorrow.
Eating disorder sufferers often fall into black and white thinking, and it can be easy to approach clothes shopping in this manner. There is a middle ground, and you need to go at a pace that feels right for you. Some things are trial and error in recovery, and if clothes shopping feels like too much for you now, remember you can revisit this at a later time.
About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.
Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.