Polarized

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From an early age, girls are exposed to images that help them formulate their beliefs on how they should be, how they should look, how they should behave. I remember being very aware that some people were fat, and fat was bad, but the long-legged blondes on TV were an ideal every woman should aim to emulate. Our moms talked about dieting…counting exchanges on whatever Weight Watchers plan was around at the time, attending Jazzercise classes, carefully measuring out every bite they put in their mouths.

I grew up thinking I was fat. I look back at pictures of myself and know that I was not, but by the time I got to middle school, my impression of my body was that it was bigger than everyone else’s, and that was bad. By high school, I was dieting. Also by high school, according to the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder in the DSM 5, I had an eating disorder. I would not be diagnosed with an eating disorder until I sought therapy after my divorce five years ago. By that time, I had had this unrecognized eating disorder for twenty years.

I wish I could say that having a diagnosis made things better. I am a nurse. I believe in medicine. I believe that the treatment following a diagnosis can lead to a cure. Therefore, when my therapist first suggested I might have an eating disorder, I was relieved. I was not just fat and lazy. I had an actual illness. And if I had an illness, I was sure it could be treated.

So it has been five years. I have binged. I have restricted. I have purged. I have exercised compulsively. I have stayed in bed for three days at a time. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and OCD is also on the table. And during this time, I have tried to use the experiences of others to help me make peace with my body. I have read every book that Geneen Roth has written. I have read Jenni Shaefer and Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton. I have read scientific journal articles about the relationship between compulsive shopping and binge eating and shame. I have read about hoarding and chronic disorganization and shopping addictions. I have racked up over $40,000 of credit card debt (and have paid off over half of it so far). I have been searching for something…I don’t know exactly what it is, but I certainly haven’t found it yet.

Here’s the thing…when does weight loss stop being about how you look and start being about how you feel? This is where I can’t get on board the body positivity train. Do I like the way I look right now? No. But more importantly, I don’t feel well with this body size. My knees hurt, and the foods I eat don’t always agree with me. I get heartburn, and I sometimes lack energy. I don’t sleep well. And my brain is always on, reviewing what I ate that day, deciding if it was a good day or a bad one, resolving to do better tomorrow.

For most of my adult life, I dieted whenever a relationship went south because I always thought it was because of my weight. When I was rejected, I would decide to become my best (thinnest) self so that I could show him what he was missing. I did this in college. I did this in my first serious relationship after college. I did this with the man who became my husband and then my ex-husband. I am happily single now…I don’t know that there will ever be a man in that role in my life again. I don’t have anyone to stick it to. So where is my motivation to come from?

In my ideal world, it would come from a place where I want to take care of me. A place where how I feel is more important than how I look. A place where my eating disorder would STFU and stop messing with my head and take all the power away from food and restore it to me. I would eat vegetables because I liked the way they made me feel, not because they were a trade for some later “sin.” I would avoid processed food because they make me bloated and give me heartburn, instead of having them make up the bulk of my diet because that is all I am worth, anyway.

The body positive activists are trying to help. I get that. They are trying to normalize all body sizes and teach women (and men) that diets don’t work, and how we feel inside our bodies is more important than what we look like on the outside. And so many of these body positive activists are not the women who look like me. They don’t feel pain every time they stand up from a chair (some do, I am sure…there are plenty of overweight body positivity activists who are living in larger bodies and seem to practice what they preach). It’s all well and good to say it is not about weight. But don’t we all deserve to feel our best every day? Shouldn’t self-care be motivation enough for eating in a way that makes you feel good and healthy and strong?

I continue fighting this monster. But I can’t say that weight loss will not continue to be a goal. I want to participate in life and do big things and go to bed at night feeling like every day has been a good day. And the way I feel is getting in the way with that. My health is important…but my eating disorder keeps trying to make me forget that.

 

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One response »

  1. I agree that weight loss should be about how you feel and not how you look. I also think it is unrealistic to believe we will ever get to a point where we don’t give a shit about our looks. We all want to look the best we can. What I DO think is realistic is that we can continue to work towards being more loving towards ourselves and, as an extension, our bodies.

    I have been on one weight loss program or another for years — and then I go off of them and gain back a bunch of weight, feel crappy about myself, and then start the cycle all over again. I take meds for my depression, but sometimes I’ll have periods of time where I just feel down and I’m unmotivated.

    However, I’ve been working on being more accepting, kind, and loving — towards others and towards myself. When I catch myself telling myself that my thighs are enormous or my stomach will never be flat and toned — I remind myself that I would never speak to a friend that way. And shouldn’t I at least treat myself as well as I would a friend? I try to substitute positive, encouraging self-talk instead — focusing on something I like about my body or the way I look (my eyes, my hair, any new muscle I might see). I remind myself that, just like my mental health, my physical health is a process. I’ll have challenging days and I’ll have better days — and the goal is to have more better days (BTW — I think it is self-destructive to define a day as “good” or “bad” — because that puts all the “blame” on you and your choices and leads one to beat themselves up because they had a “bad” day.. It makes you a “good girl” or a “bad girl” — and no one should define themselves that way. We are only human — with challenges and victories — and a lot of between. It doesn’t make us good or bad, it just makes us human, living life).

    I will tell you something that helped me tremendously — I decided to go to Spain and hike the Camino de Santiago trail (a 500 mile trail that many pilgrims travel as part of a religious experience. I’m not religious — I’m doing it because I love Spain, I want to see more of it (up close), because I enjoy hiking, and because I’m trying to take myself out of my comfort zone — I’m going with no hotel reservations, no itinerary (I’ll walk until I’m tired and then I’ll find a place to sleep), and I’m going alone. As a person whose whole life was wrapped up in others (and who got a lot of my validation that way) and as a control freak who couldn’t travel unless I knew how far I was going, when I would arrive, where I would be sleeping and eating, and what things there were to do there — it’s very different for me. And that’s exactly what I want, because I don’t want to be that girl anymore).

    Anyway — once I decided to do this, and I started taking concrete steps to make it happen (getting permission from my boss to take two months off, figuring out how much PTO I would have and how much time I would need to take unpaid, buying a guide book) I knew that I needed to start hiking more and losing some weight — not only so my knees and back would not have as much extra weight on them, but because I have to carry everything in a backpack — so every pound I lose is like a free pound in that backpack. It has been much easier for me because I have this specific goal in my head all the time. I realized I had never really had any goals before — my goals and needs came last because of my ex-husband and my kids (who are now all grown). I did what had to be done, whether I wanted to or not. I don’t want to live that way anymore either.

    This is not to say I don’t have challenging days sometimes. If my auto-immune disease flares up and I feel crappy, all I want to do is to eat and sit on the couch watching television because I’m so tired. BUT, I’ve also discovered that my auto-immune stuff flares up when I’m NOT exercising and if I’m eating a lot of sugar and stuff. So, to feel as healthy as I can (and to reach my Spain goal), it is important for me to keep on track as much and as often as I can. If I have a setback, I don’t castigate myself or give up because of it — I just pick up and start again — and I make progress, even if it slow. And I continue to work on reminding myself that I’m making that progress, that I’m not as winded as I was the week before, that I have 8, or 12, or 30 (someday) pounds less I have to carry on that trail.

    I don’t know if any of that helps you (and I’m sorry for writing a novel).

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