“Out with the old, In with the new: Cleaning ED out of the closet – through an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) perspective”
By Kena Watson, LPA
“I’ll fit back into these jeans someday”; “But they are so cute, I’ll never find clothes that will look as good with the size I’m in”; “I spent a lot of money on these clothes.”
No matter what your body image looks like or whether or not you struggle with the effects of an eating disorder the beforementioned statements often ring true for most. Clothing is often more than just fabric to cover up with – it is seen as a reflection of our identity. Our clothes tell stories that often speak louder than words, it speaks to our style in the same way it speaks volumes about how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve come.
One of the many layers to eating disorder recovery involves letting go of clothes that don’t fit anymore. In so many different ways the letting go of clothing is symbolic of letting go of the hold that the eating disorder has on and individual – by getting rid of clothing that no longer fits one moves into the direction of body acceptance and/or neutrality; this directly challenges thoughts related to societal expectations that people should strive to fit into certain clothing sizes in order to find happiness or success in life.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy a huge part of fostering psychological flexibility is to be able to identify ways in which we tightly hold onto thoughts and feelings (cognitive fusion) even when it goes against our values and the ways in which we want to be living our lives. The act of holding onto items, such as clothing is an example of cognitive fusion. This can manifest in ways of holding onto clothes that do not fit anymore with the hopes that one day we’ll be able to fit them again, measuring weight and/or worth with regard to how well these old clothes still fit or even continuously wearing clothes to hide behind such as baggy clothing so as to not have to deal with or work towards acceptance of whatever our bodies look like. Holding onto clothes that no longer serve you can come at the cost of recovery values that support clothes serving as a representation of your personality, style and comfort rather than size.
Another aspect of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy involves moving into a place of acceptance. Pain is often associated with acceptance. Letting go of clothing can be a painful process, it often can feel like a person is losing a part of their identity. We usually try our hardest to avoid intentionally doing something that we know is going to be painful- however on the other side of pain we are able to gain a step in the direction of things we truly value-often times this can be considered “clean pain.”
“Clean pain” is a part of acceptance- it’s going to be hard to get rid of the clothes, it serves as a grieving process with regard to the emotional ties to the eating disorder but by doing so it moves a person closer to a more accepting place with body image- remembering that a person doesn’t have to “like” things to accept things are they are.
The opposite of “clean pain” is “dirty pain.” This would look like continuing to hold onto the clothes that no longer serve a purpose- in this scenario it is still painful because it gives room for the eating disorder to creep back in and continue to live there thus taking a person further away from recovery values of moving towards body acceptance. Letting go is painful but it leaves room to create new experiences, in this case with clothes.
Making the choice to move forward with cleaning out one’s closet is a huge step in eating disorder recovery- shopping for clothes that fit is another feat. Below are some helpful tips for clothes shopping in eating disorder recovery:
• Bring a close friend that will help you focus on what feels right for your body or have someone on-call while you are shopping
• Bring multiple sizes of a particular item into the dressing room with you
• Don’t skimp on style- let your personality do the choosing rather than the sizing (“I can’t wear this type of outfit because it looks better smaller”)
• Bring Post It notes that you can put up on the mirrors of the dressing room or even bring a sheet with you to cover the mirror if it is hard to look while trying things on
• Shop at places that advertise they are weight inclusive (ex. Aerie clothing stores)
• Order your clothes online- ship them back if they don’t fit or buy clothing in stores but try them on at home
• Be knowledgeable about how sizing differs from store to store- remember this is not a reflection on you
• If you like the way something fits buy a couple of them in different colors
• Bring resources and self-soothing skills with you- (ex: fidget toys, aromatherapy, music etc.)
Stoddard, J.A.; & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of Act metaphors a practitioners guide to experiential exercises and metaphors in acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Contributor: Kena Watson, LPA is a psychologist in private practice, co-founder of Kalon Collective LLC and proud member of the iaedp™ African-American Eating Disorders Professionals (AAEDP) Committee. Kalon Collective’s aim is to provide quality and comprehensive culinary services in order to help all clients feel confident in the kitchen and comfortable around all foods. Their mission is to educate, support and empower clients in their recovery and fill the gap between planning and practice. One of Kalon Collective’s planned community outreach initiatives is hosting clothing drives which involve providing a safe space to donate unwanted clothes. If you would like to partner with Kalon Collective in their clothing drive initiative please send inquires to email@example.com
AAEDP Speaks is a collective committee effort of iaedp™’s African American Eating Disorders Professionals (AAEDP) under the leadership of Co-Chairs Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS and Paula Edwards-Gayfield MA, LPCS, CEDS, NCC. In keeping with the mission and efforts of iaedp’s African American Eating Disorders Professionals Committee, we are proud to provide a collective of voices sharing our unique, complex societal and cumulative challenges impacting eating behavior and African-Americans including racism, sexism and classism which often combine, overlap and/or intersect.
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