This past month has been a complete and total nonstop freight train of stuff to do, and I, for one, am exhausted. My house is a disaster and I need to write this post, but really all I want to do is sleep for 48 hours straight. Of course, last night as I was trying to fall asleep and quiet my mind, my brain only wanted to think about one thing – how in the hell my eating habits and thoughts about my eating habits have gotten so totally screwed up over the years.
While I have never and probably will never have a full-blown eating disorder, my relationship with food has been rocky and tenuous for as long as I can remember, and is directly tied to what degree of horribleness I happen to feel about my body at that particular moment. (hint: it’s never good.) Lovely, right? I’m taking a wild guess that most, if not all of you reading this right now have struggled with some measure of wonky feelings about food or your bodies at some point or another in your lives. It’s incredibly sad that the thing that unites us all is something so insidious and detrimental to our mental and physical health.
I’m in a place right now where I’m unhappy with how I look, and am 4 days away from a beach trip. There is literally nothing I can do in that amount of time that will make me be happy with myself, and yet I still find myself struggling with wanting to restrict my calories to a ridiculous 800 a day (my previous magic number when I’ve wanted to lose weight). I see my mind trying to rationalize it with dangerous falsehoods.
“Oh, you’re not even hungry. You don’t need to eat if you’re not hungry!”
“Those lemon juice cleanse things are totally healthy, right? Right?”
“If you just don’t eat anything AT ALL until Saturday, you could probably drop 10 lbs by beach time!”
Ugh. Typing all of that out makes my skin crawl, but these are all ACTUAL THOUGHTS THAT I HAVE THOUGHT in the past 24 hours. But, instead of giving in, I am trying very hard to manifest confidence in my body and who I am as a person because I am so tired and exhausted and my body needs nourishment and love, not restrictions and vitriol.
How did I even get to this point? I’ve had an average body type of 5’3″ and have been hovering around 120 lbs since I was a teenager. I’m certainly not fat. But I’m also decidedly not skinny either. I’m just… normal. I first remember feeling self conscious about myself when I was 10 or so, when growth spurts led to a little weight gain and a relative pointed out mockingly that I’d acquired a double chin. When I was very young, I was so picky about food that I was teeny tiny and underweight. As far as health is concerned, it should’ve been a good thing that I put on some pounds, but in that moment, weight and food were instantly transformed into the enemy.
I always felt like I was chubbier than my friends in highschool, but what I didn’t understand at the time (because youth and naiveté!) was that my perceptions were skewed because of the way my clothes fit on me because I was carrying around breasts that were way too large for my frame. I look back on photos of myself and I was a string bean, though I didn’t feel like it.
I can still remember exactly where I was and what I was wearing, and how hot my face and crushed my heart felt when this person who was supposed to love me poked fun at me for having a double chin. Hoo boy, do I still feel it. I have a lump in my throat as I’m typing this. I was a super shy and timid kid, and had no way of defending myself. When crap like that happened, I just let the words wash over me, and would later cry it all out to my Mom and Dad, who did the best they could to comfort me and provide a safe place where I could vent and express myself. I was also blessed with grandparents on my Mom’s side who were the source of nothing but pleasant, happy, loving memories, and to whom I owe my not being a complete basket case these days.
Barbs about my weight coupled with weight loss “advice” from various relatives continued to ebb and flow over me for years. The “solution” was always to just not eat. “Have a half a banana for breakfast, a few crackers for lunch, and half a portion of dinner” is what I was told.
I finally stood up for myself when my late grandmother told me with a smile that I could stand to lose a few pounds, and that the way to please my man would be to make him dinner, feed him his portion as well as mine, and suffer in silence at the dinner table while eating nothing. There are so many things wrong with that statement that my brain short circuits trying to make sense of it. I broke ties with her at that point, because my mental health just needed a break, and I didn’t know how else to send the message that this was not okay.
We eventually mended fences, and in the last six months of her life, my Grammie was supportive, sweet, and loving without any criticism. I wish I had more time with that version of her. I look back on memories of my grandmother fondly, even though our relationship was so often marked with strife. She was a tall, regal, strikingly beautiful lady who was smart as a whip and always pushed us kids to be better.
She had thousands of little sayings that I still think of with a smile when I remember her voice as she said them.
“Always think of a better vocabulary word [when writing], a more clever way of saying something.”
“A turkey is done. People are finished.” (In response to someone saying, “I’m done.”)
“In response to someone saying, ‘Thank you,’ never say, ‘No problem.’ Why? You’re implying that helping them would have been a problem. Instead, say, ‘It was my pleasure.'”
I credit growing up in that environment with my transformation from a girl who was scared of her own shadow, to a woman who will stand up for herself and others, and honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. My grandmother loved me fiercely, and she wanted me to be happy. She thought being thin would make me happy.
But even at my thinnest, I was never satisfied, never happy, and I must conclude that thin is not the answer. I feel like healthy mind and healthy body have to be the magic bullet. But what does that even mean? How do I get there? Does it mean working out every day, or does it mean eating my favorite pasta recipe with old friends? Is it both of those things all the time, or everything in moderation? Does it mean just letting go and doing what I want? Because I’ve done that for the past couple of months and what I want ≠ what my body needs to function properly. I’m rundown and undernourished and I don’t have a plan and I feel somewhat lost. Am I supposed to fake confidence in front of others or give in to insecurity?
I’m not really sure how I can get to the point of actually feeling happy, or if I ever will feel totally satisfied with the way I look. I seriously doubt there’s a switch that would magically flip when I’ve reached that point. For now, all I can do is take baby steps. Exercise. Eat healthy food when possible. Meditate. Follow my dreams. Not feel guilty over indulgences. YOLO, etc.
I’m sorry if you were expecting some sort of transformative twist or advice at the end here. I’m afraid I’m just as lost as anyone else. I can say that sharing all of that has helped me feel a lot less anxious and frustrated about things, and I hope that in turn you’ll reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if this resonates with you or you have your own stuff going on and just want someone to listen.