**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
by Maia Polson, a woman in recovery
The word “normal” is one that holds a lot of power in our society. It seems to be the thing to strive for and run from at the same time. If you stray a bit too much from the mainstream, you become a misfit—abnormal, strange, the odd woman out. But try too hard to fit in and achieve normalcy, and you walk a fine line between the acceptable “normal” and the socially feared realm of mediocrity. We are constantly getting messages from society, our peers, and the media, about what kind of normal is the most acceptable at any one time. It can be easy to forget that the true definition is different for each of us and can only be determined by ourselves.
We get all kinds of messages about what’s normal for our bodies. The medical profession has even defined many scientific ways to define “normal”: there are standardized ranges for heart rate, blood pressure, body mass index, white blood cell count, cholesterol, etc. If it’s a physiological or chemical function of the body, chances are pretty good that someone has defined what is expected for the average human being. The problem is this: no one is actually “the average human being.” Every person’s body has its own set of numbers and measurements that work for it, and no textbook (or website, like one that calculates BMI or metabolism) can give us the formula to figure them out.
The concept that my body has its own definition of “normal” has been a hard one for me to wrap my head around in recovery. I worked hard to get to a weight that my dietitian told me was normal for my height, eat a normal amount of food on the meal plan that was supposedly normal for my body. I didn’t realize that this whole time, it was my body telling both me and my dietitian what it needs, where it wants to be, and how it functions best. For a while, my dietitian was the only one of us who could listen to it. Now I’m learning to listen to it, too.
It takes a lot of patience to learn what “normal” is for my body. I have to find out what my normal hunger levels are, how much food, and what kinds my body needs. I have to let my body tell me what kind of activity makes it feel powerful and energized, and how much it wants to do.
These are the kinds of things that people probably take for granted if they haven’t had an eating disorder to tell them what normal should look like. Perhaps many people without eating disorders allow the media and cultural pressures to tell them what their normal should look like. But for all of us, the answers can only come from within, and the only “normal” way for your body to exist and function in the world is the way that it wants to. The good thing is, our bodies know. All we have to do is listen.
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