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.