I used to hate my body.
This was my typical self-talk. I would never talk to anyone else this way, but this was my internal dialogue, and I engaged in it without even questioning it.
It Started Innocently Enough
It wasn’t always this way. As a child and teen, I felt confident enough in my body. I didn’t really care how I looked, or if my body was good enough. I accepted it, “good enough” or not. I didn’t dwell on it too much.
But then something changed. I was about 19, and I gained a bit of weight one summer. Nothing significant—only 10 pounds—but it was enough that I didn’t feel content in my body anymore.
My goal was innocent enough: to lose the pounds I had recently gained. So I started going to the gym and cutting back on my portions, and I started losing the weight I had gained. I was on my way to achieving my goal.
And Then It Became Toxic
But then something interesting happened. I started to become obsessive. That focus on my appearance and my weight became all-consuming. I lost the 10 pounds, but it suddenly wasn’t enough. I thought: If I could lose more, I would look so much better. So I started exercising more and more. Eating less and less. Playing food mathematician. Weighing myself sometimes several times a day.
That innocent desire to lose a bit of weight turned toxic.
I lost the 10 pounds, and then I lost 10 more. But it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to keep going.
I Was On a Downward Spiral
Somewhere along the way my periods stopped. I always felt achy and exhausted. I was irritable, moody, and miserable. But I didn’t want to stop. “What if I lost just a bit more? And then a bit more? How much better I would look!”
The thinner I got, the fatter I looked, when I looked in the mirror. I was so focused on the weight, that that is all I saw. I ignored my prominent ribs, and instead focused on the “fat” that wasn’t really there. It’s all I saw. And it took over my life.
My goal became to occupy as little space as possible, and, failing that, I kept up an inner dialogue of self-loathing and shame.
Funny thing: I was successful with my weight loss goals, but I felt like a failure nonetheless. And I didn’t just lose the weight: I lost me.
But Then I Woke Up
My turning point was an attempt at bulimia. In the bathroom one day, after what felt to me an epic binge, I tried to make myself throw up. It seemed the perfect, most rational solution to the binge; I had overeaten, and I didn’t want to gain an ounce from it. So I jammed my fingers down my throat. Fortunately—and I am so grateful for this—I just don’t have the knack. I couldn’t do it—not for lack of want—I just didn’t have the skill.
And that experience woke me right the fuck up. It was like I was looking down on myself from above, seeing myself for the first time. Seeing what I had become. And the shame was profound.
I came to feel this enormous gratitude for that moment. My inability to vomit saved me, from what was sure to be a continuation of my downward spiral.
My Behaviours Were the Problem
I still hated myself, but I saw what I needed to do. I needed to stop this bullshit. I needed to stop dieting, and to gain some weight back. And I needed to stop using my weight and appearance as the yardstick of my self-worth.
I started reading about anti-diets and undiets. The dieting was the problem, I realized. There was nothing wrong with me. I had never had an issue until I embarked on that first diet. The behaviours in which I engaged—measuring my portions, counting calories, weighing myself, and ultimately judging myself based on all of these criteria—these were the problem. The eating was disordered; I was not.
And thinking of it in these terms was incredibly liberating. It freed me to separate my identity from my dieting behaviour. I was not an eating disorder. I was not my disordered eating. This was just something I was going through at the time.
It took an incredible amount of work, but eventually I healed from it.
I Now See These Thoughts as a Gift
This was a long time ago, over 20 years now, but it is still an important part of me, and those thoughts do still occasionally resurface.
But now, when those thoughts do come up, I see them as a gift. You see: it never was about food. And it was never about my body. What I ate, how much I weighed: these things were incidental. What it was always about was control; these thoughts always surfaced at a point in my life during which I was experiencing stress, or trauma, or a difficult transition of some kind. Diets were a distraction, and easier to deal with in a certain way. Life is unpredictable. That diet/binge cycle however? Total predictable. That cycle was familiar, the path to weight loss measurable. It gave me a sense of control, during a period of time in which life felt unstable or uncontrollable.
So now, if those thoughts come up, I welcome them. A desire to step on the scale? Oh, something else must be going on. Beating myself up over food choices? Hm. What stressors am I dealing with in my life at the moment? These actions and urges have become useful sources of information for me. An opportunity to delve deeper, and uncover the real source of my stress.
So it does come up, but I no longer beat myself up over it anymore. I don’t beat myself up over beating myself up. I accept it, use it as an opportunity to look inward, and let it go.
I No Longer Need to Hide
And I take selfies now. A lot of them. Gratuitous selfies. If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed this about me. They’re kinda dumb, and yes, they certainly do support a certain body aesthetic, and a focus on appearance, but I find them really liberating. Cheesy af, stupid, narcissistic, but they have allowed me to come out of hiding. To say, here I am! 45-years-old, and I’m not ashamed to show it off. I have scars, grey hair, wrinkles, age spots, cellulite, a weird bellybutton from hernia surgery, stretch marks…. I’m not perfect, far from it. And that’s ok. That’s fucking awesome, actually.
By revealing my deepest insecurities, by showing all of me to the world, I am effectively taking away the power of those thoughts to control me.
And I refuse to allow these to be the measurement of my worth. I am just a bag of meat. But I am also far more than that. But I am also just a bag of meat. I need to get over myself.
I’m proud of my body for surviving all the bullshit. For thriving despite the myriad ways in which I tormented it, and disrespected it. For becoming stronger and fitter despite my doubts, despite my insecurities, despite my self-judgement.
I love myself now. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. And I no longer need to hide.
This is a heavy topic, and I realize that not everyone is comfortable sharing their stories. But if you are comfortable doing so, I encourage you to do so in the comments below. Perhaps you have found some technique or coping skill that can be helpful for others to hear. If not, that’s okay too, and I hope that my sharing can be helpful in some way. 😊
This is an excellent book on disordered eating. This book was invaluable in helping me get through my eating disorder: “Losing It” by Laura Fraser.
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