I’m not exactly sure when I became aware that my body wasn’t all that I wanted it to be. Growing up I was a gangly kid who cared little about appearance or fashion or showering every day. Why on earth would I need to get that clean every day? There were so many other things I was interested in doing. Like pretending to be quarantined in my tree house while some disease ravaged the rest of the world.
I know in high school I became more acutely aware that looks mattered. I laughed along with the jokes about myself and pirates having “sunken chests” in common. But it bothered me that I didn’t have the curves other girls did. Over the years I became more obsessed with it – inwardly criticizing my relatively undefined body – thinking that I would be beautiful and loved and complete one day when I could get implants.
It wasn’t until after high school that I actually remember actively trying to lose weight, swapping out diet shakes for lunch. But I couldn’t stick with it, the shakes left me hungry. I hated the gnawing feeling of hunger. But worse was the recognition that I didn’t have the willpower necessary to go on a proper diet.
In college I joined a gym and began to build muscles which made me feel like I was accomplishing something. And back then I discovered I could deny myself a meal here and there or eat less than usual for a week and drop five pounds without much effort. It felt empowering. I knew I needed to lose weight but at least it was something I could attain.
I remember telling a college boyfriend that I was thinking of trying to gain some weight. In my mind it was ludicrous, of course I wasn’t actually going to. But it was a test. I wanted to know if he would say, “Yeah, you really should put on a few pounds”, or “Why would you want to gain weight?” I remember doing this often, checking in with people to get their response. Something to confirm what I already knew. That my body needed lots of improvement.
As I matured I grew into what I now jokingly call “Hagey hips”, a genetic trait passed through my family. But they didn’t feel like a joke. I felt trapped by them, my big thighs and perpetually flat chest.
Aside from when I was a child, my relationship with food and my body have never been a healthy one. And It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen my reflection properly in the mirror. It’s gotten much worse over the last couple of years as I’ve gained steady weight and can’t lose it no matter what I try. When I try on clothes in a dressing room I’m hit with it. I see myself in that lighting that hides nothing and I feel shock and disgust at my body. Is that my body? I ask with distain. What have I done to myself? When I see myself in a photo all I can see is my poochy stomach and flabby arms. Have my arms always looked that fat? I ask repeatedly. I hate being in photos.
I have a steady stream of criticisms that run through my head. My favorite seems to be whats wrong with you? But I’ve introduced some new ones lately. They come to me when I stand in front of a mirror. You’re disgusting, I tell myself, you have NO self-control, You keep gaining weight and you’re not doing anything about it. You need to try harder. Do better. It’s not enough. You’re not enough.
I’ve been seeing a nutritionist who is a naturopath and also does reiki. She is an amazing women and being with her is so healing to my heart. I started seeing her initially because of my rapid weight gain. And I was suffering from heartburn that wouldn’t let up and had been going on for months. She explained to me that the body deals with things when it’s ready. I wasn’t too concerned about that. I knew I was ready for some magic weight loss so I just needed her to tell me how to do it. She asked me to keep a food journal and assured me (repeatedly) that there was no judgement in the journal. It was simply a tool to see what foods might be bothering me.
I have hated keeping the journal. With a passion. On days when I eat good, I fill in the journal. On days when I slip, I omit certain items from the journal. And on days when I do really bad, I don’t fill it out at all. All the while knowing how ridiculous it is to present a false picture of what I’m eating to my nutritionist. How is that helpful? But I haven’t wanted to face it. Clearly I have no self control! I just knew that she would take one look at that journal and use it as a weapon to judge me. She would confirm to me that I couldn’t even get eating right.
It’s become this horrible game. On days that I eat good food, I pat myself on the back. I can do this. No problem! Losing weight should be a breeze! Then I go to bed hungry because I haven’t had enough to eat. Or on the good days a voice says you deserve a treat for doing good… here’s a candy bar, and two bowls of ice cream and three servings of pirates booty. I can’t seem to stop. And then I felt bad. With every extra treat I add an extra serving of shame.
On days that I eat bad food, I punish myself with all the ammo I have. Using special care to use the word disgusting when looking in the mirror. And remind myself I have failed yet again. I find that there’s no in between. I deny myself or binge. There’s no in between. I don’t know how to stop. It’s felt like I’m trying to fill a bottomless void.
It all finally came crashing down. It was bound to. I was at a friend’s house, telling her about a book I was reading. I was telling her from an informational standpoint about this woman and how she hated her body and how she had a dysfunctional view of food. My friend and I have been trading dieting tips for a while now. We tell each other how disappointed we feel in our progress and in our bodies. We’ve been feeding it to each other. This lie that our value lies in our appearance.
But talking to my friend that day I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. It was like a spotlight had finally been shed on all my self-hatred and all the ways I’ve been robbing my body. I burst into tears and told her, “I don’t want to live like this anymore!” I felt desperate. I had come face to face with my demon. I had a problem. And it was wreaking havoc on my heart.
When I broke down in front of my friend it was like a spotlight was shed on all the hidden parts. I’ve heaped shame and guilt on top of shame and guilt and tried to call it self-improvement. I’ve spent years criticizing and detesting my body. I’ve believed the lie that I only deserve love when I look a certain way.
Reward and punishment. This is what food has become for me. At some point I decided that food can only be one of two things, good or bad. And because I’m the one choosing to put it in my mouth, I am also good or bad based on my choice. I haven’t seen food as something to nourish and sustain me or something that can be delicious and enjoyable. Instead, food has had a value system and I use it as a formula to see how I add up.
My body, instead of being my cherished habitation; my only true traveling companion for the rest of my life, has been instead a burden. Something that weighs me down, makes me feel embarrassed and un-lovable. I told a friend recently that I didn’t think I was getting asked out on dates anymore because I had gained so much weight. And I really believed it.
Several months ago I put an old picture of myself on the fridge as motivation to lose weight. Back then is when I looked good. That’s when I was pretty, I told myself. As I look at that picture now two things stand out. One, that I am completely underweight in that picture. I don’t even look healthy. And two, back when that picture was taken I was trying to lose weight. I wasn’t happy even then.
I’m relieved to finally see the lies for what they are. And heartbroken at the state my mind and body are in. How can I possibly reverse the damage.
I know I have a long road ahead. It took years to construct the lies I’ve lived with and may take years to deconstruct them. I owe it to myself to do the work. I deserve to believe that I am loved and beautiful and perfect. Just as I am. I owe it to my kids, who look to me as their example of how to love and be loved. I owe it to my friend because she deserves to live in the truth too. When I see it all, the lies I’ve held firmly to, I feel so ashamed. But when I let go of that, even if it’s just momentarily for now, I feel so very loved.