One of my earliest childhood memories is looking into the mirror after a shower, pinching my “belly fat” and feeling upset, alarmed and disgusted with my 6-year-old self. I decided to go on a “diet”.
Fast forward to junior high, age 13. Flipping through the pages of my grade 7 yearbook, I marked each of my friends with a small heart. The heart didn’t just mean “friends” though – the heart meant I was “fatter” than that friend. By the end of the destructive “exercise”, I decided (with horror) that I was the “fat” friend.
By the time I entered high school, I had walked right off plank of healthy body image standards, falling head and heart first into the murky, treacherous waters of more than one all-consuming body image and eating disorders.
My body image/eating disorder history has been a tangled web weaved by poisonous thoughts and behaviors, which have plagued me for over two decades. I haven’t been shy about sharing my struggle with bulimia, but I’ve also recognized over the passed few years that what I identified simply as bulimia was so much more than just that. Adolescence and young adulthood (hell, adulthood too) can undoubtedly be woven by struggles and insecurities as you try and navigate who and what you are, all the while facing judgement, questioning and backlash disguised as bullying. It’s hard. Whether or not you have a solid foundation or support group, your level of sensitivity and the ability with which you are able to recover from negative situations are all factors that can seriously effect and/or trigger negative mental health reactions. And as I have learned, those issues are often not as easily diagnosed as a cut-and-dry case of bulimia, and that’s it. Often we are dealing with numerous afflictions without even realizing it.
Mental disorders official recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which can have a negative effect on body image and health:
- Anorexia Nervosa -a psychological and emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat.
- Bulmia Nervosa – a psychological and emotional disorder involving distortion of body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression and self-induced vomiting, purging, or fasting.
- Binge Eating Disorder – a disorder that is defined by regular episodes of binge eating accompanied by feelings of loss of control, and in many cases, guilt, embarrassment and disgust.
- Pica – a psychological disorder characterized by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive, such as ice, hair , paper, drywall or paint, metal, stones, soil, glass, feces and chalk.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder – a psychological disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with imaginary defects in their appearance.
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food-intake Disorder – similar to anorexia in that both disorders involve limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness. Ie/ A person who refuses to eat any carbs, ever.
- Rumination Disorder – an eating disorder in which a person brings back up and re-chews partially digested food that has already been swallowed.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations (obsessions) and engage in behaviors or mental acts in response to these thoughts or obsessions.
The bold ones are the ones that I have dealt with at some point in my lifetime. Crazy, huh? The convoluted nature of dealing with all those things (in some capacity) have made it all the more tricky for me throughout my recovery. Although it’s been many years since I stopped the actual act of regurgitating my food post-binge, it took me a long time to realize I needed to invest time and effort into other aspects of mindset in order to truly become healthy. Dealing with my obsessive tenancies when it came to my eating habits and reducing the onslaught of emotional terrorizing I was doing to myself by continuously reminding myself that I was “not good enough” were two key things I needed to seriously work on if I wanted to achieve my goal: living a balanced and happy life.
Here’s a few more fast facts to help you gain some perspective as to just how serious this issue has become:
- 91% of women are unhappy with their body image
- 1/5 people will suffer from some kind of disordered eating issue at some point in their lifetime
- 58% of women feel pressure to try and change their body
- Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness (including major depression
- 52% of women are on some kind of “diet” at any given time
- Up to 90% of teenager are regularly on a diet
- Body dismorphia affects 1/50 people
- 95% of people who lose weight on a diet regain it
The first and last points on that list are both the most, and least. shocking to me.
That fact is, Every. Body. Is. Different. As I’ve said before, I will probably never have the long and lean body of say, Kendall Jenner. But Kendall Jenner (or a similar body type) is never going to have a (natural) butt or strong legs like mine. Neither is better than the other, and some will appreciate one over the other, but it shouldn’t matter. All that should matter is that you appreciate what you have and treat it with love and respect. Is having Kendall Jenner’s body worth not living your life fully? In my opinion, fuck no.
They key to all of this, is education. Learning how to live a healthy, active, balanced lifestyle where which you can realistically and happily maintain a healthy body weight and image, all year round. Knowing that too much exercise can be just as dangerous as not enough, that avoiding entire food groups is not going to keep you skinny and is actually doing your body a disservice and understanding that one cheat meal or bad day isn’t going to make you gain 20 pounds. Opening up about about any struggles you have been facing, identifying your triggers, finding the kind of support that works for you is key.
I learned the hard way. A good five years were spent completely consumed and obsessed with my body, while still managing to hate every inch of it. I ruined relationships, missed out on great memories and wasted years that I will never get back – all because I was petrified that I would gain weight. I didn’t take the time to learn, didn’t take the time to stop, consider what I was doing to my body and recognize that, not only was it not working, but I was deeply unhappy. So what was I doing?
These days, I still am careful about what I eat and often have to actively tell that nasty inner voice to STFU when it attempts to tell me that I look “fat” or “disgusting”. But you know what? The voice has become quieter as my confidence and self-worth gains momentum. I no longer tolerate negative thoughts to take up space inside my thoughts, and I am constantly reminding myself that food is not the enemy and balance is key. And guys, guess what? I drink regular Coke (fuck dat sugar-free shit), eat some variation of chocolate almost every day and if I miss a gym day (or week), I simply remind myself that rest is just as important, if not more so, than another leg day.
Lots of days are a struggle. Lots of days I feel insecure. But every damn day I remind myself that I am more than what I look like. And every damn day gets a little easier.