Here is part two of my interview with Mara, who writes one of my favorite blogs, Medicinal Marzipan. It’s a blog about body image, healthy living and learning to love our bodies. Mara is always honest and insightful, and I’m so grateful to share her wise and inspiring words with readers.

Below, Mara talks about the hardest parts of overcoming disordered eating, the anger that once consumed her, refusing to wish for something she doesn’t have and so much more.

Q: What have been the toughest parts about overcoming compulsive overeating and how do you get through them?

A: The most influential step that I have taken in my personal battle with compulsive eating is to simply pay attention. When food is an addiction, it consumes your thoughts, and it becomes the type of thing that puts you into a total tailspin because your behavior is out of control, so whenever you think about it you feel out of control.

The hardest and most important part for me is remaining present with my eating and with in my body. I have a fantastic ability to retreat into my brain, relying on my overactive imagination to keep me safe when I am panicking.  Throughout my life I have utilized my imagination and the safe reaches of my mind to house me when my current reality is too much to handle, or when my buttons are being pushed.

Every single day, I struggle to stay in my body, in my skin, and to resist escaping when things feel scary or out of my control. Enormously important was teaching myself, first and foremost, to say no. Say no when I was uncomfortable with the situation. Say no when I was already full. Say no when the scenario is too much for me to handle. Say no to my inner desire to please others, and put their needs ahead of my own. Since learning to say no, I have found that I am much happier and am able to trust my instincts, knowing that I am acting in my own best self interest and not because I am afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings.

Q: What insights have you taken away from your struggles?

A: I am really grateful for every single horrible thing that has happened to me, and it took me a really long time to be able to say that. I was angry for many years. I was angry for things that happened to me when I was a child, and was too young to defend and protect myself. I was angry about the horrible things that people said to me, because of my body. I was angry that I allowed them to say those things, because I thought I deserved them. I was angry that I was so reckless with my body, and my heart. For the first twenty-two years of my life, this anger consumed me.

But the absolute minute I started sharing my stories, this anger began to dissipate. Every time I press “publish” on a blog post that is personal and heartbreakingly honest, I feel the terrified and isolated little girl in my heart relax a little bit more. And then I found out somewhere along the way, that sharing my stories was having a ripple effect throughout the communities that I travel in, both online and in real life. I found that people were nodding when I spoke, commenting when I posted. I found out that I wasn’t alone. The horrible part about having a damaged body image means that you feel like you are the last, most disgusting person on the planet, and that no one understands you. Upon sharing, and realizing that 95 percent of the people I knew understood exactly what I was saying, I was blown away.

I used to think that saying these stories out loud would tattoo a huge, red FAT across my forehead, but now, I’ll be the first to tell you: I am fat. You have got to own your body, no matter what, and stand up for yourself. I hate it when people sit around talking down about their bodies, because they are nervous or don’t know what else to say. I also hate how this has becomes a socially acceptable way to communicate: I hate my thighs. I know! I hate my thighs too. No, your thighs are so small, MY thighs are gigantic. I want to help people feel comfortable talking about their strengths as small talk. I want to say: I am smart and sexy, and my awesomeness is not reflected by the size of my jeans.

And I’d like to encourage you to say those things too. Women are conditioned not to talk in that type of way, and instead relate to one another through fat-bashing their bodies or talking about their weaknesses. We are taught to be modest, and not to brag about our accomplishments. This has been one of the biggest patterns that I have had to re-learn: It is OK to say good things about yourself, no one is going to think that you are narcissistic just because you refuse to dumb yourself down or speak ill of your body.

Your words have a huge impact on the way you view yourself. If you’re constantly belittling your body in public, no amount of loving your body in private will contradict that – you become what you repeatedly say that you are, even if you are just doing it to make others feel more comfortable.

You are amazing! You should tell yourself that over and over again, because you deserve it. Treat your relationship with your body the way you would a relationship with a close friend, be kind, be respectful, and above all else, love yourself despite any flaws you may be able to identify.

Q: You wrote a fantastic guest post on Voice in Recovery about wanting to have a perfect body and all the wonderful things that the prospect of having a perfect body represented. In the process, you spent 20 years yo-yo dieting. Your story is also the story of many others. How did you finally relinquish your desire for perfection?

A: First, thank you. You know, one day, it just sort of hit home: I am not perfect. I probably will never be perfect. I didn’t want to waste a single second more of my life, wishing for something that I didn’t have. Instead, I try to focus on the things that I do have, such as: my legs are strong enough to support me while I train for a 5K, or my hips are perfect for dancing in ruffled dresses, or my face shines radiance and health.

I have so many amazing things to live for and to smile about, and I try to focus on them instead of worrying about whether or not I fit into the beauty ideal. The truth is – people will find you either attractive or unattractive based upon their personal preferences, and throughout your life you will encounter many in each camp.  It is not your job to convince others that you are good enough, because people will naturally gravitate towards you and like your energy if you are confident and full of self-love.

The truth is – no one is perfect. We are filled up with neurosis about our appearance and successes, and that is true regardless of your size. I guess it is also a matter of what you choose to spend your time worrying about. Now, I have so many amazing things going on, dwelling in my imperfections seems like a drain of energy and a waste of time.

Q: What can families do to help a loved one who’s struggling with compulsive overeating or body acceptance in general?

A: Interacting with my family and loved ones about this struggle has been really hard, for a really long time. The number one piece of advice that I could give someone for dealing with it is: follow their lead. Do not ignore the issue, but don’t harp on about it either. Allow them to open up to it, and create safe spaces where they can feel at home enough to talk about their fears and their shortcomings and their disordered thought process. Please remember, this is terrifying, and also – much like other addictions – very selfish. They may not be able to immediately see how their compulsive eating impacts you, which of course it does.

The thing about my struggle with both compulsive eating and overall body acceptance is that when I make my recovery and feeling good a priority, I am a much better partner, sister, friend and daughter. When I am in the deep throws of a dark, deep spell of self-loathing, I barely want to be touched. Then I feel all out of sorts, uncomfortable in my own skin, grumpy, eager to take out my hurt on whoever is close to me.

I acknowledge that this made me a very difficult person to be around. I took out my pain on loved ones because I knew that they were always there for me, no matter how mean I was to them. One of the reasons that I knew I needed to work on this was because I wanted to be kind to those people. I wanted to love myself enough that I was able to love others as well. I wanted my girlfriend to get the best parts of me, not just the constant brunt of my bad mood. But it’s a process, and it takes time and loads and loads of patience – from all parties involved. With patience and love, I really believe that recovery from anything is possible.

Thank you, Mara! Stay tuned for part three tomorrow!

Today’s favorite post.Choose Three Things That Inspire You” by Therese Borchard at Beyond Blue. You can easily adapt this post to body image or disordered eating.