Trigger warning: eating disorder, body dysmorphia, diet talk
Before all my other diagnoses of fibromyalgia, PMDD, etc. I was diagnosed with something that has shaped my life in ways I never thought possible. I haven’t talked about it before, which is strange considering I have an entire blog dedicated to talking about my chronic illnesses, but this one feels just a little more personal than the others. This diagnosis predates any of my others, including depression and anxiety, though I’m sure they’re related. I am currently 5 years in recovery from an eating disorder.
I’m not sure how it’ll feel after I tell all the intimate details to strangers on the internet (and admit a lot of this to my mother, who is a faithful reader of the blog). But I’m saying all this to make a point. So here we go.
I’ve always been chubby, and I’ve pretty much always been aware of that fact. I’m not sure exactly when the world’s views crept into my consciousness and I started viewing my body shape as ‘bad’, but I know I was young. Why else would 8-year-old me bemoan my size to my fellow 3rd graders? (Side note: the best response I received, and the only one I remember, is one girl telling me that if the apocalypse struck tomorrow, at least I wouldn’t die immediately. As bleak as it sounds, it made me laugh, and it still does.)
I spent the end of elementary school and my first year of middle school praying for a height growth spurt so, as all of my relatives kept reassuring me, I would ‘even out’. I was destined for disappointment however because at my tallest, I’m 5’2”. Damn you, scoliosis! Take inches away from people who have some to spare, why don’t you?
My first three years of high school I played on the junior varsity field hockey team. (I had neither the talent, nor the drive, to try for varsity.) This should have been a time where I cultivated my competitive drive, made friends with the older players, or learned what constitutes a foul inside the 25-yard-line. (I still don’t know, and at this point, I’m not going to Google it. It’s a pride thing.) Instead, I was too busy worrying about the fact that the jersey numbers directly corresponded with their size, and that my number was one of the highest on the team.
My eating habits changed during middle school, but in high school things got dangerous. In middle school, I found myself eating only parts of the lunch packed for me. In high school, I threw it all away. In middle school I would skip dessert most of the time. In high school, I convinced my parents that I hated butter so I would have an excuse to have as little of it in my diet as possible. Every calorie counted, and I did just that. 1500 a day is recommended? Let’s try 1000. No? 800. Still fat? 500 it is. Eventually my ‘cravings’ as I called them then, but what I now recognize as my instinctual human need to eat food and survive, would kick in and I would have something to eat. The guilt that followed me after ‘indulging’ in a second serving of dinner, or something I deemed ‘too caloric’ led to more extreme self-policing. I started wearing a hair-tie around my wrist, and when I found myself craving food, I would snap it hard against my skin. When that stopped working, I’d allow myself to go crazy for food for the next 12 hours, but force myself to vomit it up after. This is usually the part where families start to notice something is off, but I hid it well, and I was grossly proud of that fact. I was always a sickly child (surprise, surprise, I know) so it wasn’t a stretch for my parents to believe I had the flu again. When I couldn’t stand the idea of shoving my toothbrush down my throat for the nth time, I would allow myself to chew food, and enjoy its taste, but not to swallow. I would cover up the trashcan evidence with paper towels and move on with my day.
Then it finally happened. I began to lose weight. To me this was just proof that my methods worked, and while I knew that what I was doing was not healthy, I told myself I would stop once I reached a certain number. I weighed myself daily in my parents’ bathroom. I had this obsession with weighing 100lbs. Not healthy at all, but to me, it was the perfect number, and I’ve always strived towards perfection.
Once my weight dropped, due to my body entering starvation mode and using fat deposits as energy to stay alive, I was temporarily happy. But I wasn’t the magical number 100, nor was I blissfully happy and content as all the models, magazines, and diet advertisements had promised me would happen once that number started going down. People noticed I was losing weight, but to them, this was due to my finally ‘evening out’ and ‘exercising properly’. Let’s not get into the fact that when I wasn’t playing field hockey, my exercising looked like running on the treadmill until I reached 400 calories burned, or my legs gave out, whichever happened first.
By my junior year of high school, I was completely miserable. I’d gained back the weight I’d lost previously, plus some, and was a complete wreck. I managed to keep up in my classes and put on a brave face for those who cared about me, but inside I was dying. When my therapist moved, I cried. I lost it completely. She was the one lifeline I felt I had, and now, she was gone. I felt abandoned. I felt confused. I felt alone. She and I hadn’t discussed my fucked up relationship with food and my body, but when she left I felt that any chance I had to get help left with her.
Then one night, my senior year of high school, I finally lost my grip on the carefully sculpted mask I had been wearing since I was 11, and sobbed hysterically that I needed help. My sister had never seen me lose control like this (outside of in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2, when Buffy was forced to kill Angel, and the sword went through him right as he got his soul back. I cried so long about that.) so when she had mom come and talk to me, she correctly assumed I would need some time, and went upstairs. I don’t think I’ve ever told her how much that moment of space to talk to our mom alone meant, but it meant a hell of a lot. (Now she should know, if she’s reading this blog post. And Sydney don’t even pretend because I get a country-by-country map out of readers, so if nothing pops up from The Gambia, I know the truth. Love ya!)
That year I started taking medication for my depression and anxiety, and when I left for college, the first thing I did was find a therapist nearby and make an appointment. I am in a much better place now. I don’t restrict my eating, or binge and purge, and I point out when I’m categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I have an open dialogue with a therapist whom I love and trust, a bomb ass support system, and an appreciation for all my body has done for me, and continues to do for me, that grows every minute I’m still here.
So, why am I bringing all this up now? Because, it’s almost 2020.
A new year! A new freaking decade! New opportunities await, and what better way to get a head-start on the life of your dreams than through the most popular new years resolution, ‘getting in shape’?
I have said many things about diet culture, and I will continue to do so. I’ll rag on diet culture and weight-loss companies until my face turns blue. Because no matter how ‘healthy’ they claim to be, no matter how many of your favorite celebrities they get to endorse them, they’re still just a corporation making money off your dissatisfaction with your own body.
I’m not here to drag people for wanting to become healthier. Health is something that we should all strive for. But a weight-loss program is not how you get healthier. If you want to be healthy, and you think part of that involves shedding a few pounds, before you do anything, go see a doctor. And I don’t mean reading some sham Dr. Oz type diet book. I don’t care if that man has a ‘Dr.’ in front of his name, he has dollar signs in his eyes because he’ll endorse anything if they pay him enough. True, healthy, or just rat piss in a bottle, he’ll get on tv and tell you to drink up, piss babies, because this is how you lose that weight for good!
I recently stumbled upon an article discussing the merits of the latest health trend, intermittent fasting. Normally when I see titles like this, I keep on scrolling. I’ve got pictures of baby corgis to squeal over, thankyouverymuch. But this one, I clicked. Because it’s that time of year, and I wanted to see what ammunition the bigwigs at You’re Not Good Enough Incorporated were going to throw at us. And boy, this one’s a doozy.
If you don’t know what intermittent fasting is, it’s exactly like it sounds. You deprive yourself of food for a set number of hours so your body goes into starvation mode and eats into those pesky fat deposits there to be used in case of survival emergency, then once the allotted time has passed, you can go back to eating. How long is this time, you ask? Oh, just 16 hours. Jesus Christ on a cracker you have got to be kidding me.
This article even offers helpful tips for people who find this diet ‘a little tricky’, like starting your fast before bed so you get through the majority of it while you sleep. Do you know why the first meal of the day is called breakfast? Because you break your fast! That’s the whole point. Some people get sick if they eat too much in the morning, not because your body wasn’t meant to have breakfast, but because your body doesn’t have time to adjust to the sudden influx of food right as it was entering starvation mode.
Another helpful tip is to do the every-other-day-method, where the article encourages you to “eat nothing, or very little one day, then eat whatever you want the next”. Buffy, stick that sword through me, because I don’t want to see another word.
(Note, I am purposefully not citing my source here because no one else should be subjected to that rubbish someone had the audacity to publish. And, despite the subheading ‘What science says’, this article didn’t give a single medical source, so, fair is fair.)
This has quickly become the longest blog post I’ve written to date, but I feel it is also one of the most important. Before you try out the latest diet trend, or make that resolution to lose those pounds, make sure you think hard about your reasons why. Are you exercising to keep up with the grandkids? Or to fit into that pair of pants in the back of your closet you try on every so often just to be filled with self-loathing?
This New Year let’s try resolutions that are about health, not about weight or size.
How about spending less time on social media? Or journaling every day for a month? Or drinking the recommended amount of water so your doctor stops saying, ‘you drink like two tablespoons of water a day, how are you even still alive, Alex??’How about doing one thing that scares you a month, or spending an hour outside every day? That seems a lot healthier than worrying about your bodies relative gravitational pull, if you ask me