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May 18, 2017

How Nutrition & Exercise Can Contribute to Positive Body Image

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Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Representative for Timberline Knolls and Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation

“Eating disorders are not only about food and weight.” This is a truth repeated over and over by families battling eating disorders, as they try to help those who have never suffered to understand that the illness is much more complex and deeply rooted than simply a feverish desire to control one’s body shape and size.

However, due to an eating disorder’s unique manifestation of underlying emotional issues, the food and weight must be addressed at some point – usually early on. One cannot recover from an eating disorder by ignoring the very physical aspect of the disease. This is why a treatment team is needed, which will include a physician (who preferably specializes in eating disorders) and dietitian or nutritionist. The disease is not just about food, weight and exercise, but these issues must be addressed in concert with the emotional, psychological roots, or else full and lasting recovery is impossible.

One of the biggest hurdles, psychologically, for individuals to overcome is negative self-talk and body image. Those in recovery can actually utilize nutrition and exercise to be empowered and develop a positive body image. In fact, it is essential.

Body Image and Seeing Yourself with New Eyes

One of the great benefits of weight restoration and properly nourishing your body is that you get new eyes. One of the great lies of the eating disorder is that if you finally reach that goal weight or “look,” you’ll finally be happy. Yet, our eyes, which are still sick, never see a body losing weight; in fact, no matter how the body changes, the eyes always see the body as “fat.”

Paradoxically, while re-nourishing the body, the brain starts to work properly again and you see yourself in the mirror with new eyes. Although you technically are gaining much-needed weight and health, the mind can now properly see and perceive. The mind-body connection begins to reassert itself, and the brain can truly start to respond to therapy.

Nutritional therapy and weight restoration not only provide you with new and stronger bones, muscles and cellular energy, but you now have new eyes to see and honor those gifts.

Learning How to Cook in Recovery

Portrait of happy mother and her daughter cooking in the kitchenOne of the best “real-life” skills I learned in recovery was how to cook. And I am still learning! However, really getting an education about the chemistry involved in cooking, the fascinating ways the body breaks down and uses different macronutrients, and the beautiful subtleties of flavor combinations were all very exciting for me. In fact, I started to see cooking as a very therapeutic, and creative, process.

At the beginning, I had many arguments with my mother (as I was still an adolescent at the time) about my meal plan, and yes, some “additions” to the menu were more difficult than others. But learning about nutrition and cooking a meal for myself was very empowering. To this day, I still love to cook for myself and for others, and enjoy learning about and tasting new flavor combinations, cooking ethnic cuisines, and experiencing satisfaction without guilt for loving food.

It really is possible; I am living proof.

Healthy is the New Skinny

Group of 3 women doing yoga at sunsetThere is a pendulum swinging on Instagram and other social media feeds from “thinspo” to “fitspo,” and neither are healthy. The new obsession with looking “cut,” “ripped,” or otherwise noticeably “fit,” has indeed gone to extremes.

However, there is a new kind of young woman taking over Instagram; in fact many young women are now posting pictures of their proud weight gain, after pushing themselves too far in an exercise program. There is a healthy balance to be found, and recovery is that time when you learn to accept the “you” that God made, instead of dieting or exercising yourself into submission.

The mantra “Healthy is the New Skinny” is taking over the exercise and fitness world, as instead of punishing their bodies, instructors, trainers and their students are celebrating them. Exercise should be seen as something to be enjoyed. And if it is not? Stop that and find something to do that you love.

Proper nutrition and exercise are an important part of a healthy, balanced life, even though for those struggling with eating disorders, this is easier said than done. However, with a good treatment team and support system, there are major benefits and even joys to be discovered through rediscovering how to respect and have gratitude for your body and all it can do.

Celebrate the cornucopia of foods God has created and your strong, beating heart that drives every step. A grateful heart accompanied with a curious mind can make nutrition and exercise a worthwhile and even exciting part of rediscovering your true, and whole, self.

Community Discussion – Share Your Voice!

How have you reclaimed nutrition and exercise in a way that supports positive body image in eating disorder recovery? Connect with others to discuss further on Eating Disorder Hope’s online forum today!


Kirsten+Haglund+HeadshotAbout the author: Kirsten Haglund continues to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on numerous college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders. She is also the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.


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.


Published on May 18, 2017.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 15, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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