Shopping may not always feel like the mall scenes in coming-of-age classics like Aquamarine or Clueless when you’re struggling with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, negative body image, or learning to accept your weight restoration. Personally I have always loved going to the mall both as a social activity and as a place to find something new to wear, but early in recovery when my body was changing the most it was more exhausting than exciting. Having a hard time knowing where to start, not knowing how to make the experience less triggering, and struggling to find ways to enjoy shopping again (if you’re a shopping enthusiast like me!) are all normal. It’s also important to remember that, eating disorder or not, most people have probably felt frustrated in a dressing room at one point or another. Here are my tips for a successful shopping trip:
Before You Go…
1. Have a clear objective
Is this day at the mall for social reasons, buying clothes for school, or do you need a whole new wardrobe? Ask yourself why you’re going shopping as well as what you want out of it. If you are only going to hangout with your friends it’s going to look a lot different than having to find five pairs of jeans on a time crunch for school starting up. If your goal is just to have fun, focus on staying present and try doing something to offset your anxiety, like seeing who can find the craziest outfit! If you need to start picking out a new wardrobe due to seasonal or weight changes, think of a few stores that have styles you would enjoy browsing in or feel the most comfortable shopping at. Having a clear objective or goal will help you to plan for any triggering scenarios.
2. Bring someone else along
Shopping with someone you love spending time with but also trust, like a sibling or close friend, can make the outing more fun while easing your anxiety. If having someone with you is enough to take your mind out of a negative space and make it fun, great. If not, talk to them before getting to the mall/store about what they can do to help you. This can be anything from asking them to refrain from making body-related comments, joining you for a snack break, or waiting for you outside the dressing room. Not only can having someone come with you be more fun, but it can also take the pressure off everything being on you.
3. Have a mantra or coping strategy ready
Negative and/or eating disorder thoughts can go from zero to a hundred- quickly. Having something in your personal arsenal of tools, such as a mantra or worry stone, is a must. I like to tell myself “Bodies change, and so do we” as a reminder that a changing body is just as inevitable as a changing and evolving/recovering self. Using more therapy based coping skills, like noticing five things or breathing exercises, are great strategies to utilize as well. I also have a worry stone, but I will admit I’ve broken a few from dropping them out of my purse- so this tip is definitely one that needs to be tailored to what works best for you!
While You’re There…
If there is a single normal human being on Earth who can say the variations in sizes across stores makes their shopping trip more fun-
Just kidding, that person doesn’t exist!
Contrary to what my eating disorder told me, and I’m sure many people can relate to this, clothing sizes are completely arbitrary. You could be two completely different jeans sizes while trying them on in the same store. A lot of time the size of clothing can represent something for the disorder, though. I often felt feelings of success, pride, and adrenaline when my ED “liked” the size I was fitting into. This isn’t something that goes away overnight!
Not everyone finds the same things triggering, frustrating, or disheartening, but below is my best advice for clothing size and trigger related issues while shopping.
1. Try on multiple sizes
Trying on multiple sizes not only ensures you will find the best fit, but also will likely prove that there isn’t a super significant difference. A “large” may fit almost identically to a “medium” in shirt sizes and with jeans you could find that one style in a size 10 runs small in another style! If you’ve tried on multiple sizes that fit similarly and are wanting the smaller size that fits you, ask yourself if it’s because it actually is the best option for you or if it’s ED calling the shots.
2. Have your shopping buddy help
Your shopping buddy can help you both in and out of the dressing room. While looking at clothes they can not only help you pick styles out that either fit your style or challenge you, but also to pick sizes. If you aren’t totally sure where you are size-wise (which is totally normal during/after weight restoration) the second pair of eyes can help you narrow it down to a few options versus getting upset when there are too many options or your estimate was wrong. Inside the dressing room or fitting area they can either be just a calming face and someone to talk to, or you can give them a more active role. I like to have someone with me for opinions when I’m in between styles or sizes, but also occasionally to keep my focus off of the labels. If you can try to avoid looking at sizes and think that’s what is best for you at this point in time, having someone there can keep you accountable but also help you out when it comes to the final purchase so you don’t get mixed up.
3. Purchase one thing that is NOT in your comfort zone
Buying something that you don’t consider “you” or a “safe” thing to wear can make stepping outside the box less uncomfortable. Plus, you might actually end up liking it! It doesn’t mean you should purchase something you genuinely hate or could lead to behaviors, but it does mean challenging some body or eating disorder related rules. This can look different between individuals as well as at different times during your life. A few ideas to help inspire you are buying a pattern you usually avoid, choosing something in a color you usually wouldn’t pick, or purchasing a specific style you shied away from in the past.
Once You’re Home…
Yay, you did it! It’s important to know that trying on clothes will more than likely get easier as you progress on your recovery journey. My first shopping trip after I was fully weight restored was intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect, I was still coming to terms with my body, and I hadn’t learned what kind of support to ask for from my family. Each shopping trip got a little easier and now I’m able to not only enjoy my time at the mall, but also know how to make it easier for me in my recovery. Don’t be too hard on yourself if thoughts sprang up that you thought you were “over” or the trip was more challenging than expected. If it went great, be sure to take a moment to appreciate yourself and thank your shopping companion if they helped you out. No matter what the results were, make sure to reflect on it personally or with your therapist! Let me know what shopping tips you’re going to try or that you like to use in the comments or on Instagram @recovroad.
All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.