Within the eating disorder recovery community there is a large following of the ‘strong not skinny’ movement and a focus on this in terms of recovering from a restrictive eating disorder.
Being the naive person that I can be at times, on first hearing the term ‘strong not skinny’ when it was used in relation to eating disorder recovery, I thought it referred to gaining mental strength and resilience over the eating disorder that had left us physically depleted and weak and mentally vulnerable.
So I was really quite astounded when I discovered what this movement is all about….
“Strong not skinny..”, a focus on, not the previous perception of a few years ago that a size 0 was what all women should be aiming for, but instead women striving for a ‘strong’ body that is made up of as much pure muscle as possible, while still remaining slim. It is merely a means of society focusing on one form of unhealthy body as the ideal and taking it to a different but no less unhealthy level that every breathing woman should be striving for.
This is not eating disorder recovery in my eyes.
This is taking a restrictive eating disorder that has left us malnourished, depleted and sick to another form of damaging disordered eating and exercise. It is still using unhealthy and disordered behaviours to manipulate the body weight and shape, so please don’t dress it up as eating disorder recovery.
I know there are a lot of eating disorders out there screaming back at me right now, but seriously… if you are aiming for recovery by following the ‘strong not skinny’ movement then you are doing yourself the biggest disservice.
Don’t fall into the whack a mole trap of swapping one form of eating disorder for another.
In order to fully recover from an eating disorder, I truly believe we have to let go of all ambitions to fit a certain body image, shape or size.
Strong not skinny might mean you achieve weight gain and that is key in restrictive eating disorder recovery, but it is also still aiming for ridiculous body standards that are far from healthy (and even less so when coming from a place of starvation).
Strong not skinny is putting conditions on your recovery and recovery needs to be without conditions.
‘I will recover and gain weight if my body is lean and muscular and looks a certain way’ is not a condition in recovery that will ever lead to full mental and physical health.
Manipulating the body to fit a ‘strong not skinny’ ideal is still not truly trusting and respecting our body and it is not allowing ourselves to reach and then adjust to and accept our natural weight and shape.
There are also very real health reasons to avoid the strong not skinny movement in eating disorder recovery. When coming from a place of malnutrition and starvation, to heal fully, the body needs to do a lot of internal repairs that we cannot see or even know are happening.
Even when we are a ‘normal BMI’, the heart can still be very weak, the other organs still repairing and all our body processes slowly healing and gradually starting to function optimally again. To reach this point, the body needs to store more than ample fat stores first, so that it has sufficient stores to use them to do all the internal works that are waiting attention. If we start putting pressure on the body to build unnecessary excess skeletal muscle, just to look a certain way, before this internal healing is fully achieved, we will be taking much needed nutrients from the work the body is desperate to do to get fully healthy again.
People die from eating disorders when they are at a ‘normal BMI’ because they have not allowed internal repairs to happen and have put too much pressure on their body in terms of exercise etc far too soon. Aiming for a ‘strong not skinny’ body is risking death… and no, that is not an exaggeration.
The body images depicted in the ‘strong not skinny’ movement are also of very ripped people with muscle and very little fat.
This is NOT healthy.
The body needs fat…. a body that does not have sufficient coverings in terms of adipose tissue is not a healthy body, even if it is a ‘normal weight’!
And, the final thing I want to address in this
rant post, is the issue of exercise compulsions with eating disorders.
More of us than care to acknowledge it come from a place of exercise and movement compulsions in relation to the eating disorder we are aiming to recover from. Aiming for ‘strong not skinny’ in recovery is not addressing the exercise component to the illness.
Those of us with exercise addiction in relation to a restrictive eating disorder are proven to have even higher levels of depression and anxiety than those without the exercise side. To recover from the exercise component, it needs to stop, not merely be targeted in a different direction.
So, at the end of the day, why not first and foremost allow for real recovery?
Join me in avoiding the ‘Strong not Skinny’ movement that is just another form of diet culture and society working its magic to keep us mentally and physically screwed up and let us instead rebel and actually recover!!!
We need to learn what our natural body weight and shape is with NO manipulation in the form of food restrictions or exercise. We then need to come to accept that body and give ourselves time to adjust to it and in so doing we let our body and ourselves heal fully. This is in physical terms and by letting mental rewiring happen, for that is what I understand full recovery to be. And that is my plan for my recovery at least!
Later, when we can say we are truly fully recovered for a good amount of time – then if we want to exercise for joy… well, sure we can but along the way, I reckon we will have found freedom from so much more than anyone falling into the ‘strong not skinny’ trap ever will.
One reply on “Why I Won’t Be Joining The “Strong Not Skinny” Craze In Eating Disorder Recovery”
Very good article and an interesting point of view.
You wrote, that you think still exercising has no place in recovery, because it is not helpful.
I am 100% aware that exercising is/was a part of my eating disorder. I restricted extremely and went to the gym exessively untill there was nothing other than muscles on my body and the physical problems started. I am male by the way.
But I still love exercising very much. The feeling in my body and muscles after lifting wheights… do you think continue with excercising, but much less than before and more relaxed and flexible than before, for joy and not as compulsion, will also not work? With this approach i still would take away so much stress off of my body and mind. What do you think?