I’ve always wondered what it would be like to look at myself and see what’s actually there. When I stare back at my reflection in the full-length mirror that hangs from my bathroom wall, I don’t see what you see.
The eating disorder community calls this body dysmorphic disorder. I call it my every day.
I’ve also wondered what it would be like to not compulsively obsess about my appearance. Because I’m not vain but my eating disorder would tell you otherwise. And even though, I’m not “active” in it anymore, I find that it still creeps up.
Because when I wake up each morning, I run to the scale. Depending on what reads back will, in fact, tell me how good of a day I will have.
So let me get this straight. If a certain number appears on my scale, I’ll be happy? But if that number is a little higher than I want it to be, I’ll be sad? That can’t be normal or healthy. And I know it’s not. Why does a number have such control over my quality of life? Truthfully, I don’t have an answer. But that’s what it’s like having an eating disorder. Because it’s all-consuming and rather confusing. I know it makes no sense. I wish I could be rational. I wish I could think, well —you gain some, you lose some.
And if you get off track, you get back on. What’s the big deal? Because at the end of the day, everyone has to be mindful about what we’re eating and how much we weigh for health reasons —regardless if you live with an eating disorder or not. It’s just, for me it’s not that simple. It never was. Most of the time, I think I look OK to others and even to myself. But when I don’t get the result I want after compulsively checking certain parts of my body, I feel gross. It’s hard to even find the words to explain this thing called body-checking.
But this is me trying.
After I a big meal, I have certain body parts I have to touch. I’m feeling for fat, muscle and/ or bone. My love handles or lack thereof have to feel a certain way. If not, like I said, for some reason I feel gross. Next are my thighs. Normally, I’ll sit Indian style and check for cellulite along the sides of my legs. It’s really weird because I’ll feel better about myself if there’s none. But if I have just a little bit of pinched skin, I automatically feel disgusting. My head knows otherwise but my body would tell you a different story.
Because I’ve always had a thing with collar bones. I like mine to stick out a little more than they probably should. So yeah, I check them too.
Part of me doesn’t want to do this anymore. And I don’t. But sometimes I still do. And I’m trying to stop completely. Because I know it’s not normal or healthy. I’ve always known this. But I can’t help it. It’s an automatic thing. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. In fact, I only recently learned that what I am doing is actually a symptom of my eating disorder.
By definition, body-checking occurs when someone compulsively monitors his or her body, weight, or shape.
Scrutinizing your face in the mirror, measuring body parts, and feeling for fat, muscle, or bone are all examples of body-checking. Like many other checking behaviors, this phenomenon occurs on a continuum. There are practices (like regular weighing) that are fairly common. But at the extreme end of this continuum, some of us obsessively check for the smallest perceivable changes. Because if my pants don’t fit the same way they did yesterday, I’ll obsess about it until they do.
For those with an eating disorder or body dysmorphia, like me, maybe you participate in frequent weighing? When you look in the mirror, do you see things that aren’t there? Perhaps you pinch or wrap your hand around certain body parts? Because in your head (mine as well), you’re trying to reassure yourself that you haven’t gained weight since eating —even though that’s not how it works. Because you won’t gain 12 pounds after one freaking meal. But it’s nearly impossible for an eating disorder to grasp that concept.
I’ve also heard of people asking others for reassurance.
Do I look fat? Do I look any bigger today? I used to do that. I used to do all that multiple times a day. Because that reassurance is temporary. And it’s usually followed by a shit ton of anxiety and fear. Yup. I did and felt all of that too. It’s just, instead of providing relief, it provides increased dissatisfaction —greater feelings of loss. And if you can’t relate (but are reading this anyway), maybe all of this shit sounds vain or absurd or stupid and you think there are more important things to think about, which there are. All of that is true.
It’s not rational. Because most of us know it sounds crazy. Hell, it is crazy. But it’s real and we simply can’t help it. We can, however, control it or at least attempt too. Because I’m not lying when I say I don’t see what you see. I never have. And for some reason, I still fear getting fat, even though I’ve never been overweight a day in my life. So without further ado, here are three reasons why I shouldn’t fear any of that. And for the record, neither should you.
1. It’s fucking unhealthy.
I know this and yet every time I eat more than I originally planned for, I still somehow fear that I’ll wake up fat. You are what you eat, right? I mean, yeah but not literally. Because a part of me understands I could use a pound or two. In fact, that’s literally what my doctor told me. But there’s another part, probably larger than I’d like to admit that won’t let that happen. I’m trying. But it’s hard. Because I also know this fear of gaining weight isn’t doing my body any favors.
Because I can’t really live to my full potential if I have this looming fear permanently over my head.
Because the number on my scale isn’t going to make me happy. Skipping meals just so your body-checking results end up how you want is anything but helpful. Obsessing about it isn’t either. Instead, I suggest you use this fear as motivation to drive your fitness routine. That’s what I do today —in a healthy way. And I still have my moments. I’m not trying to be preachy and I definitely don’t want you to think I’m the healthiest person ever. Because that’s just not true.
All I’m saying is that when you gain weight, you aren’t losing any of your beauty —despite what society may tell you. Instead, you’re gaining back your life. Unfortunately, though, this irrational fear of gaining weight can turn life-threatening —if it’s not recognized and treated. Did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the National Eating Disorders Association? And that 30 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life.
Because even though I’ve gone to therapy and know most of the tools out there, the scariest thing for me is still getting fat.
2. At the same time though, gaining a few pounds is going to help you more than it will hurt you.
Because muscle does, in fact, weigh more than fat. And 120 pounds of nothingness looks way different than 140 pounds of muscle. It’s just, the whole reason, at least in my opinion, we put so much emphasis on weight gain in the first place is that we’re taught some pretty contradictory shit about beauty and fitness. Because according to society, weight gain equals laziness. We associate fat with being bad and weight loss as disciplined and good. It’s no wonder we’re constantly wondering what other people think about us.
Slowly, I’m learning that our value and self-worth doesn’t change when or if our weight does. If anything, I think you become smarter when you finally see all of the lies about body size equaling happiness. I mean, nothing about gaining a few pounds will stop you from doing shit you love. In fact, when I was at my smallest, I did almost nothing. I stayed indoors crying about my body, anxious about the unknown, and dwelling in my own isolation.
3. It’s just, when you do gain a few, I promise you’ll work out harder and become stronger —physically and mentally.
Because gaining weight is a crucial part of the recovery process that can take you out of your bedroom and into the world. Because during the height of my eating disorder, I had no energy. It was my obsessive-compulsive disorder that made me work out —even when my body was screaming not too. Because I was lacking vital nutrients and I wasn’t actually doing anything good for myself. Because I wasn’t lifting weights or even working out properly. I’d count and move but not really. Because I was weak and everything hurt.
It’s just, my eating disorder would condemn me for not doing enough. It told me that I had to burn more than I was eating. And this shit effects more than you might think. Like back then, I didn’t menstruate for five years, which is fairly common in young women with anorexia. I also couldn’t sleep without some type of medication. My digestion system was a nightmare. My mood swings were unmanageable. My bones were frail, and my skin bruised like a peach.
The truth is, you probably won’t have the energy to do the things you love. To do the things you need to do. Because you’re weak, cranky, and tired. For me, I had alarmingly low levels of energy —so low I could barely stay awake. But it all seemed worth it because I wasn’t gaining weight. Was I happy? No. Not really. Not in the least. So I decided it was time to see a therapist. Timeline-wise, this was during my South Florida addiction days. So yeah. I was a bit of a hypocrite. But you gotta give me some credit because I was trying.
Anyway, when I talked to her about all this, she told me that in order to heal my distorted thinking, I had to eat.
Because our brain is an organ and it needs food just like the rest of our body. She emphasized that if I wanted to fix the shit going on in my head, I had to eat. Period. I remember thinking, damn. I never thought of it that way. Because as long as you keep depriving yourself, you’re going to continue obsessing. You’re going to stay stuck in your fear. It’s only when you feed yourself by giving your brain the nutrients it needs can you heal —physically and mentally.
And don’t worry. Gaining weight is not all on you.
Yes, you need to try your best in order to eat and work out properly —in order to gain weight; but it’s OK to ask for help. In fact, I suggest you do just that. Start by calling a doctor or specialist. Because a professional can help you decide what’s best for your body —depending on how much weight you need to gain. Because there are factors such as age, height, and metabolism that will make your plan different from mine. Typically, you’ll start with a full-body physical. He or she needs to know the state of your insides.
Let me add, there is at least one good thing about the world we live in and that’s a little something called modern medicine. Because there are prescriptions out there that can help rebalance your body —that can help jumpstart this process for you. Chances are, your metabolism is pretty messed up from whatever starvation habits you’ve inflicted upon yourself. As a result, certain medications can help bridge the gap between hurting and healing.
If you’re still scared, that’s OK. I was too. And as you know, I still am. All you need to do is accept recovery and agree with whatever he or she plans. Don’t fight it like I did for so long. Embrace it. Because today, I’m more than OK. And I think I owe a lot of that to my medication because I went to the doctor. So yeah. I take birth control for this hormonal imbalance I have —that concurrently will help me gain a few. And for the record, it’s not the actual pills that make you gain weight. It’s that they give you back your appetite. I’ve been on mine for only a few months and already, I feel a difference.
It’s like you actually want to eat and when you do, you’re not freaking out (as much) afterward. For example, a few years ago, after I ate anything, I’d have to do a certain amount of crunches before I felt OK with myself. But today, I can take a nap in lieu of working out like a crazy animal. Because deep inside I know that the number staring back at me on my bathroom scale won’t make my day any better. Because losing weight will not magically make anyone happy.
In fact, in a recent study, it’s been proven to actually make people more depressed.
Because getting skinny doesn’t solve our problems. Because true happiness comes from within. Because some days, I eat healthy AF. I work out and I feel good about myself. While others, my motivation isn’t really there. Like when it’s raining outside, I want to be lazy. I want to eat comfort food and stay in bed, which is perfectly OK. Because even though I don’t always see what you see, I finally understand that life is all about balance. Because eating won’t kill me. But not eating will.