“Learning to Love Myself after an Eating Disorder,” Ensign, August 2019
When I was younger, I struggled with anxiety, body image, and eating disorders. I remained active in the Church and even served a full-time mission, but recovery and healing took years. A pivotal moment in my recovery happened as I spent a weekend by the ocean. It was the beginning of my journey—the realization that although fears and anxieties come and go like waves, God’s love for me is steady and constant.
My friends and I were zipping down the highway, buzzing with excitement and enjoying our togetherness. At the time, I was still learning to process, accept, and understand my emotions. Many of my feelings came in waves. Their ebb and flow wasn’t innately bad, I had realized. In fact, it was a part of me I was learning to embrace.
In the past, I had distanced myself from any emotions I felt about my body. Those emotions would roll in, like a wave of the sea covering my feet, but I didn’t ever enter that water and fully process what I was feeling. I feared that if I faced the reality of my struggle, it would consume me. By ignoring those emotions, I had allowed myself to believe that I could control my emotions and my body. I didn’t realize that I had actually created a life of fear and anxiety. Later, I would learn that the validation of emotion is not only healthy but also necessary for true healing.
As we arrived at the beach, I felt a longing to be alone. I parted from my friends and made my way down the beach, bracing myself for a wave of anxiety. What came instead was one of peace and warmth. I was surprised. There was no anxiety, no fear. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was happy being alone.
I didn’t fully understand this feeling yet, but I let the wave of peace come, engulfing and washing over me. I felt gratitude and began a prayer to my Heavenly Father. I told Him everything I was feeling. I told Him I wanted to change—that I wanted to love and understand myself. I felt the calm reassurance that He knew me. He knew my struggles. I realized that although I had always felt alone in this trial with my body, I truly never was. My Father, the maker of that very body, wanted to help me love it again.
Over that weekend, I continued to listen to my emotions. On the last night of our trip, my friends and I walked down to the beach one last time. The others rushed ahead, laughing and talking, but I continued down the shore away from the noise. I heard the rushing of the waves flowing in and then out again. The first wave that washed over my feet sent a jolt through my system. It was cold and icy. Within minutes my skin had adjusted and the water felt warm and inviting. I felt connected in that moment—with the sea, with my emotions, and with God.
I thought back to when I was a little girl, laughing and playing here on this beach. I remembered that there was a time I hadn’t felt ashamed of my body. I closed my eyes as the surf washed over my bare feet again. I wrapped my arms around myself and realized that my body had become a stranger to me. I finally understood there on the beach that I had been disconnecting from my body for years. I had always thought I could love God, even if I hated my body. I hadn’t realized that by hurting my body, I was also hurting my spirit and my mind. And I realized this must have brought so much sorrow to my Heavenly Father.
“I didn’t know,” I prayed aloud, “I didn’t realize all the effects of my actions.”
My body yearned for love. It yearned to be healed and reminded of its divine nature. All my life I had called my body the enemy. I had starved it, misused it, and disconnected from it. But my body, broken and bruised, was still loved by God. I wanted to love it too.
As the last light of the sun flickered away, I made my way back to my friends. I looked back at the waves once more and asked my Heavenly Father what my next step toward healing should be.
“I’m ready. I’m here now,” I told Him.
His answer washed over me: “That’s all I need.”
Heavenly Father, like so many of my family and friends, had been there all along, waiting to embrace me. Later, as I began the long road to recovery, my sister echoed my thoughts on the beach. Like many family and friends witnessing an eating disorder, she had felt helpless.
“I never knew how to help,” she said. “I’m here now.”
“That’s all I need,” I replied.
Now, with a degree in psychology and addiction recovery, I see how my battle with body image has made me stronger and more empathetic. I still feel connected to my Father in Heaven every time I am near the beach. To me, the ocean is like God’s love. It will always be there, ready to give and to heal, even though waves of struggle still come and go. Taking the first step can feel impossible, but your Father—the maker of your body—loves you. He wants to help you heal. All He needs is your willingness to begin.