This picture was snapped on Christmas night; presents had been opened, dinner was over, jammies were on and I was getting ready to paint my sister’s toe nails. This is when my precious two-and-a-half-year-old niece asked if I would paint hers too. I said of course (with mommy’s approval) and took this quick photo. This moment, which may seem so small to most, meant more to me than any present under the tree...
You see, three Christmas’s ago, I was about to enter treatment for my eating disorder for the second time. I look back on pictures from that Christmas and rather than seeing what I was wearing or who I was with, I see the lifeless look in my eyes and my fake “holding it all together” smile. I remember the fear of gaining “unnecessary” holiday weight. Even though I was hopeful about treatment, deep down inside I still didn’t believe that recovery was really possible.
Three years ago, my sister was pregnant with my niece and on bedrest after going into labor at 26 weeks. All of our Christmas traditions were put on hold. We all held our breath every time the phone rang wondering if it was a call from my sister saying she was back in the hospital. A huge reason I was attending treatment again was because of my niece. For so long I wanted to be thin more than I wanted anything in the entire world, but I finally found something I wanted more than that. More than anything, as my niece grew up, I wanted to be a good role model for her. I never wanted her to ask why Auntie Amy wouldn’t eat Christmas cookies. I never wanted her to know me in my eating disorder.
I was able to spend this Christmas IN recovery AND with my adorable niece! I’m going on three years in recovery and have experienced more JOY in those three years than ever before. This Christmas season I enjoyed eating fun treats with my family, and not worrying about the so often advertised “holiday weight gain”. I took lots of photos and didn’t pick apart my body piece by piece when I viewed them. I didn’t go on a diet in preparation for Christmas, nor will I go on a diet for the new year or ever for that matter.
The time I spent with my niece was no doubt my favorite part of Christmas. I found joy in each moment, such as listening to her sweet laugh or watching as she left cookies for Santa and carrots for Rudolph. I was blessed with energy to chase after her, and strength to carry her around, neither of which I would have been able to do while in my eating disorder.
If you look closely at the photo, I used my old “Body Image Workbook” as the backdrop for painting my niece’s nails. Why you might ask? Because I no longer need it. If I ever need a reminder of why I need to continue choosing recovery, I can look at this picture, and see my niece. Thanks to her, I will never go back to my eating disorder. I’ll also see the workbook and remember how far I’ve come, and thanks to a lot of hard work, the book is no longer needed.
Written by Amy Sullivan
Emily Estes lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her Goldendoodle pup, Miss Adley Mae. Recovery from her own struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has led Emily to create community and resources to empower others on the journey. Emily owns Sage Nutrition, LLC where she serves as a Registered Dietitian. Her work revolves around her motto that "food is meant to nourish our bodies, not nurture us."