Shopping for recovery

When, in the course of eating disorder recovery, it becomes necessary to purchase a whole new wardrobe because you've outgrown everything you own, bring patience, a bottle of water, a snack, a credit card with a high limit, and a support person because it's going to take a while.

With the weather hitting the 90s today, I tried on some of my shorts from last summer (that had fit me pre-relapse) and realized that basically nothing fit. My treatment team had increased my target weight slightly since I tend to lose weight very quickly, which I was aware of. But I also overshot my new target by about 10 pounds. I flipped out when I realized that I weighed that much but after a LOT of CBT from TNT (how's that for acronym hell?), I've started to accept it. I don't like it, and I do want to restrict and lose the weight, but I also realized that weight loss is how I got into this mess in the first place. I don't have to like my weight and appearance--and believe me, I certainly don't!--but I have started the long, slow road to accepting them.

Body acceptance, however minimal, still didn't leave me with much of anything to wear. So off to the store I went, accompanied by my mom and my Blackberry. I think I tried on every pair of shorts that Kohl's had. No joke. And nothing seemed to fit right. I have the Arnold Family Thighs, which can make clothes even the best of times. But today seemed to bring out the world's most oddly designed shorts I have ever seen. The legs would be tight, but the waist was so huge that I just pulled the damn things off without unbuttoning them. I don't have that freakish of a shape!

But I did find three pairs of shorts and two pairs of capris, so I should be all set. The irony is that I found a bathing suit with the least amount of melodrama. It's a black and white tankini- I have a long torso and always end up with a wedgie from one-piece suits and I can't even imagine getting in a bikini. And the bottoms have a little short wrap skirt over them, which helps cover a) my ass and b) my scars from cutting. I hate wearing a bathing suit for all of the usual ED reasons, and I also hate wearing one because I'm extremely self-conscious of my cutting scars. I feel like my thighs are freaky obvious not just because they're the source of local seismic activity, but also because they're covered in scars. But the tankini bottoms covers the worst of them up, so that makes me happy.

I hated this experience. I hated that my ED sucked half my first paycheck. I hated trying everything on. I hated having to try bigger sizes than I'm used to. I've never really been fond of shopping, and having to shop for new clothes and feel like a fat failure, well, that just sucked. I'm trying to use the experience for good instead of evil. I'm trying to tell myself that if I stick with recovery, I no longer have to empty my bank account for new clothes once a season and then clothe every skinny kid who shops at thrift stores with the cast-offs. I won't have to approach clothes with trepidation because I no longer know if/how something will fit. Getting dressed may one day cease to be a drama worthy of a Lifetime TV movie.

Don't get me wrong- I still think I look fat and hideous. I still avoid looking at myself in mirrors. That hasn't changed. But I'm starting to reframe the problem: it's not my size/weight, it's my hatred of my current size/weight. It's my inability to let go of whatever it was the AN gave me. My problem isn't that I'm a fat fat fattywad (or I think that I'm a fat fat fattywad), it's that I let this define me.

I don't want to give away all of my old shorts and cute t-shirts. I have sentimental attachments to some of them (souvenirs from Irish festivals, college giveaways, etc.), but maybe I'll make a quilt out of the t-shirts and hope that the girls in my town enjoy their new wardrobe. I am NOT doing this again. It's uncomfortable and expensive. So I'm saving my receipts as a motivator for recovery.

And after all the shopping is said and done (though before the credit card bills come due), I'm actually feeling okay. It was a necessary step, and I took it. There's not anything more I can ask of myself.


Lauren said...

Congrats on getting through the shopping trip -- and actually finding some new clothes! This is such a tough, tough thing. I myself just had a jeans victory after searching high and low for the better part of a year. (Why do all the cute jeans have to be made by companies that think women have men's bodies???)
I also know how hard it is to part with sentimental stuff from years past -- or stuff that you just really, really liked! I made myself give away all my old tiny pants and shirts but can't quite let go of a gorgeous black dress I adore. :(

Jane Cawley said...

Sorry it was un-fun, but good for you for handling it all so well (and you made me laugh with "CBT from TNT.")

Anonymous said...

Good on you for perservering and finding some clothes that fit!

I've got a question from the other end. At what point when you are losing do you buy clothes that fit? It's a change of season here on aus too ... And none if my jeans fit, and look silly even with a belt. If anything they draw more attention to the weight loss, which is not helpful and reinforces the voice that says I am a far greedy pig that needs to lose more.

So do I buy new jeans or not? I'm scared that to buy new jeans will make that the new standard that I can't go above. I think my therapist calls it the minimum becoming the maximum!

jadedchalice said...

Really very happy to hear that you took this step. I look forward to taking the same step soon hopefully.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post!! I have just reached my goal weight and after a sobbing trying on session realise I have about one pair of trousers to get me through the summer...I haven't been a "Normal " weight for about 13 years so nothing fits whatsoever...I don't have anyone to shop with me or support but will keep your words in mind when I head to the changing room...enjoy your new wardrobe!

Cathy (UK) said...

I'm glad you survived this shopping trip Carrie :)

I did a similar thing recently. I 'slop around' most of the time in sweat pants and sweatshirts because they're comfortable. Plus, there was no point in buying new clothes when I was gaining weight because I had such a lot of weight to gain from an emaciated state.

After being told by a forthright friend that I would "look much better if I got myself some decent clothes and wore make-up" I agreed to go shopping with her. I have a cupboard filled with kid's clothes, which was all that fitted me 4+ yrs ago. They won't stretch over my bum/ass - because for the first time in my life I have some 'wobbly bits'. Those clothes will go to the local charity shops.

The shopping experience was strange, because the current style of jeans seems to be 'skinny'. They look totally gross on me (in fact many women), and are so narrow around the bottom of the legs that it's difficult to get even my feet through them! I was really pleased to see that finally the top half of my body looks more human: i.e. there is flesh on my arms and my chest.

I have never attributed my anorexia to body disatisfaction, or to body image distortion, but I have to admit that I found that shopping trip a little surreal. Nevertheless, I will emphasise that my normally sized, non-eating disordered friend had far more concerns about her body image than I did. And, I could overhear A LOT of women being hugely self critical and anxious about their body size. For these reasons I would suggest that body image concerns are not confined to people with EDs or a history of them.

Nearly all women have body image concerns and tend to over-estimate their body size, yet this observation is always emphasised as a key/causative feature of EDs.

James Clayton said...

Two thumbs up and congratulations!

From a male perspective I'm not sure if it's harder or easier to do the whole clothes shopping recovery thing. Maybe there's more pressure on women to focus on their wardrobe.

Body image, anxiety about weight/shape, concerns about cost, indecision over what looks good and bad, worries about wasting time - it's a nightmare. It takes resolve to put yourself through it so, again, good for you.

Anonymous said...

After losing a lot of weight and getting too low, I had gained back 12 lbs in the last 1.5-2 months. My pants (all clothes really) are getting and are too tight. Today was actually the sticking point. My pants were SO uncomfy and I have to go to work. So this post hit home for me and now I do feel so less alone. Thanks for sharing, really!

Kiersten said...

Even though it was a crappy experience, good for you for getting through it. It's funny that you posted this...recently I've also had to come to terms with the fact that a)I gained weight and b)none of my pants fit. It bothers me a bit too, especially when I am trying to put something on and I can't get it buttoned. I'm going on a big shopping trip this weekend too. I am not the best clothes shopper(thank you ED), so I am not really looking forward to it. Your post reminded me though that I am not the only one who has to deal with this. Thanks.

Amanda said...

My goodness, you are one brave girl. I am so proud of you! After returning from inpatient last summer, I immediately got rid of my pre-treatment clothes without trying any of them on. What's the point? I knew they wouldn't fit. But I haven't replaced that summer wardrobe, and my closet is looking dang sparse now that warm weather is rolling around. I've been wondering what to do about that problem. Shopping, of course, but that's a battle I really don't want to face. I am so proud of you for your courage and wisdom regarding the whole situation. I know it was freakin' hard, but you got through it in the best possible way. Keep your head up. You've come a long way.

jessa said...

Congratulations shopping, and furthermore, finding things to buy. (I find it hard not to give up 5 minutes into the process.) It seems silly, from an outside perspective, for this to be such an accomplishment, but it is, and you can take pride in that.

I hate shopping generally, all kind of shopping. And clothes shopping just makes me regret my life, I get so defeatist and demoralized over it. Everything I try on fits weird and it makes me feel like I am deformed. And having an ED, that just makes it worse. I hated shopping before it became a body image showdown to buy a pair of pants.

I want to sew my own clothes, that is how mush I hate shopping. Learning to sew won't be a problem. Time might be a problem. Body image--I'm not sure. I think it could be really good--it would be a motivating factor toward getting to a stable weight and accepting that weight, I could have my therapist help me measure myself in all the necessary ways, and once I've fit myself I won't want to ruin that by losing too much weight again, so it might motivate me to keep my weight stable in the long term. But might I just end up freaking out and making a mess? Does anyone know of anyone who has done this--sewn their own clothes after having an ED?

A:) said...

I. Love. This. Post.


I need to shop for summer right now -- and lets just say that I am still wearing my winter clothes despite the warmer weather and I am freaking HOT. Still, it has been a very long time since I have been at a weight this high and braving the malls is not something I am looking forward to with my new shape.

I also have the family thighs -- I can sympathize when everything is loose in the waist and tight in the thighs or super tight in the thighs and fits in the waist -- clothing designers need to realize that women have more than one shape!

I hate shopping.

Em said...

I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago. What a brave and intelligent endeavor, one which provides empathy and hope for others! This is my first official comment...
I am 1) recovered from an e.d. for many years and 2) absolutely love clothes and fashion. I tell you this to provide a framework for my comment: I believe the "body image issue" to be one of the most pernicious challenges of an e.d. as well as for millions of women who would not fit full diagnostic criteria for an e.d. The e.d. provided me with years of the same struggles you and your readers describe. For a long time, I saved a large box of tiny clothes which more and more came to look like doll clothes or childrens clothes to me. I just couldn't give them up. What I did give up though, was the need to fit into them. Clothes are not to "fit into", they are to fit you. Now I believe that if I try something on (even if it belongs to me!) and it doesn't fit, it is the wrong pair of pants for me, I am not the wrong body or the wrong size for it. I have several sizes of jeans in my closet so I can be comfortable as my body naturally fluctuates over the seasons of the year. And yes, I do sew some of my own clothes as my first degree is in design. I make things not to "fit into" but which fit me. Plus, it's creative and satisfying. Courage for the journey!

Lauren said...

"Clothes are not to 'fit into,' they are to fit you."

I LOVE this sentiment from Em. I'm going to remember it every time I try on a piece of clothing, whether it's in a store's dressing room or in my own closet: It's not ME, it's the clothes.

IrishUp said...


elizabeth said...

It is so awesome that you went and bought new things. It is always desperately hard to make it through an entire shopping trip without wanting to cry in the dressing room. It gets easier-ish every time though ( I think). Sometimes with shirts that I really like for sentimental reasons, I turn them into other things with crafty skills...
anway, congratulations on shorts/bathing suit shopping!

Tiptoe said...

I had a feeling your shopping trip went something like your tweet yesterday. Glad you took the trip, survived, and did indeed find a few things.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with clothes shopping. There have been times I've really enjoyed it, and other times where I've loathed it. In the next few weeks, I have to go shopping for khaki pants for work. I totally dread it, but it's just one of those necessities.

Carrie Arnold said...

Thank you all SO MUCH for your support. I think the biggest shift for me was that I was ranting and raving about the stupid clothes and the stupid designers for not looking at, oh, I don't know, real women when they proportion things, and I like the F-bomb fly a few times. But the difference was that I wasn't so angry at ME for not fitting them. I realized that it was a clothes thing, not a "me" thing.

And I must tell you, I bought a pair of red capris that look so freaking adorable, I'm wearing them to see TNT on Saturday (since she was the one who put her foot down and helped make this happen).

Harriet said...

Even "ordinary" women (whatever that is) can wind up sobbing after a shopping trip.

So welcome to the world of ordinary, my friend.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

I had to do this last year after I was weight-restored, and am not looking forward to do it again once I get back to my acceptable weight (which I am still arguing about with my doctor - he says one number and I say it should be lower.)

The most telling part this year is that I had to go shopping for a bathing suit (I'm most likely going to a treatment center for 30 days and one of the 'fun' outings is going to a beach; hence, the need for a bathing suit.) It was an eye-opening and not in a good way, although I guess facing reality about how much weigh I have lost is a good thing.

I also extremely sensitive about my arms and wearing short sleeves now that summer is approaching for two reasons - they look scrawny (thank you, oh kind person who said my arms looked "anorexic") and the slight scars from cutting that still show. I told my husband that I would never again cut where it would show, in which he replied that wasn't exactly reassuring.

But I want to know how you got through the refeeding process? You wrote about in your book (the first time around) and the memories of my doing it last year is why it so hard to start.

Anyway, congrats on your recovery and also the fact that you sound very certain that this is it - that is reassuring! :) Maybe you could post a pic of you in your new red capris - I've never been brave enough to wear anything colorful like that!

(I'm saving my Kohl's Christmas gift card for clothes shopping after I'm weigh restored - it's the carrot )


Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

P.S. You are right about the clothes and fit. And shorts seem to be the worst; that's why I usually stick to capris or short skirts/sundresses in the summer.

@EM - I was like you; I couldn't bear to get rid of some things and they were starting to look too tiny. Unfortunately, they now fit again. I wonder if keeping the clothes was a trigger?

Peregrine said...

You are awesome. Has anybody told you that yet today?? Seriously. Awesome. That was the best post--I think that one thing that unites many image-conscious or eating-disordered women is the almost-universal hatred of trying on clothes in a tight change-room with ugly lighting, horrible mirrors that you can't avoid, and literal, physical external vices (er, I mean skinny jeans) to point out all the wobbly and/or bony bits. And bathing suits!! ugh, don't even get me started.

I just wanted to comment on the "pile of small clothes" conversation--because I seriously had the best wardrobe ever when I was at my most unhealthy, tiny weight. (But really, Zara, Pimkie, Jacob et al, that should NOT be taken as a compliment to your clothing.) And yes, one of the saddest things about gaining weight back (and then some) was not being able to fit those clothes anymore--my cute green hoodie, my phenomenal assortment of skirts, the t-shirts sized for 8-year old boys...sigh. It was a big step for me to start throwing them away, and really, I do believe that out of sight = out of mind--when they're sitting around, they're just ammo that your mind will use to beat you up with. YOU are worth more than that--as Em so fabulously put it, the clothes are meant to fit YOU. And the "favourites" you have to throw away will be replaced by new favourites--they will. I PROMISE.

But I wanted to cast a ray of hope out there for us hardened multi-sized-wardrobe-owners. This spring, for the first spring in a *LONG* time, I don't actually have to go shopping. My weight has stabilized for the first time in about 7 years, and my clothes from last summer Actually Fit Me. (This is insane.) I won't lie, it scares the part of me that is always thinking "I should be losing weight" to see that my pants etc. from last year fit--but after about 8 years of spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year re-fitting my fluctuating frame and feeling horribly self-conscious the entire time, it's GREAT. Please believe me when I say that I am much more comfortable in my medium-sized clothes from last year, at a weight I would never have *imagined* in my worst nightmares, than at my lowest weight when my clothes were (in memory at least) way cuter. It can be done! Do NOT give up. But yeah, the credit card bill afterward sucks.

Meanwhile, my thoughts are with anyone facing down mental demons and shopping excursions at the same time. Tell the mirror to f*** off. And hooray for cute red capris!

Carrie Arnold said...

I'm so glad you went and conquered and survived. Big hugs to you, my friend!

Libby said...

OOPS. Ummm... you were still signed into Blogger on my computer and I didn't realize it! That was me leaving that last comment, not your alter-ego! Though, it wouldn't be a bad thing for an alter-ego to say! :)

Cammy said...

I LOVE the quilt idea to put those old clothes to good use, that could be a really meaningful project.

And remember, there is always a period of adjusting to your "new" seems like periodically through recovery I hit a milestone weight that freaked me out, made me feel disgusting, etc...and then after a while, you couldn't have paid me to go below that weight again, because I was able to realize that I felt/looked much better than before. Just takes time, although I know that's cliche. You are one amazing lady, Carrie!

Crimson Wife said...

Does anyone know of anyone who has done this--sewn their own clothes after having an ED?

I have to put out a word of warning about this idea. First I should tell you that I've been physically recovered from my ED for over a dozen years but mentally I'm still struggling with body image issues.

Last summer my husband bought me a sewing machine as a gift. After making some basic projects, I decided to sew myself some basic skirts. I didn't realize when I first got this idea that it would wind up triggering all the old negative feelings.

The reason? Pattern sizes were standardized back in the 1970's and have not been "vanity sized" the way clothes you buy in the store have. So if your measurements are 36-28-38 your sewing pattern size is 14 whereas in stores you're probably a 6 or an 8.

Crimson Wife said...

The really sad thing is that I've had the cute fabric I bought sitting in a box for 10 months all because I got depressed over the stupid number on the pattern. The number that nobody in the world is going to know except for me- how pathetic is that?

jessa said...

Crimson Wife - You bring up a good, and sad, point. I knew sewing pattern sizes were different, but I was hoping it would be like buying European shoes when I am used to US sizes: the sizes are so different that the number is meaningless to me. There are a lot of things about sewing my own clothes that I think could actually be helpful body-image-wise (all the measuring and figuring out what alterations I need and the motivation to not lose much weight because I would ruin the fit I worked so hard for), but only after my body image has already drastically improved. Until then, it probably will be a thousand kinds of triggering.

No More Thinspo said...

God, do I relate...

Anonymous said...

I can't thank you enough for this entry. I have recently recovered from an ed to find my natural body always a shock. It's ok, but the extent to which my clothes don't fit me is alarming. Clothes that I used to call on for a 'fat day' would now definately be a thin day! I am about to go shopping and am terrified as my body is alien and it's summer-eek! But this post made me feel less alone so thank you

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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