I’ve struggled to maintain health since my early twenties — because that was when I realized that my relationship with food and my body was extremely unhealthy. I was weight-loss focused and food restrictive in my teens when I weighed less than 125 pounds. In an attempt to over-correct my anorexia, I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, because I’d wrecked my body’s hunger signals entirely.
By the time I was twenty-five, I was well over 165 pounds. By twenty-eight, 172. It didn’t matter how I exercised or worked around the house, my body refused to respond to the punishment I dealt with it. And because I was weight-loss focused, but my body weight didn’t yo-yo up and down, there was absolutely no way for me to get out of dieting. Compulsive exercising comes with its own issues.
Back when my only access to the internet was dial-up and bare-bones infrastructure, the only real information out there were physical copies of books and naturopaths because normal doctors never gave out weight advice. Mine certainly didn’t. At 5'2”, I was in the obese BMI category, and whenever I’d ask if I needed to lose weight, the doctors stared at me like I’d grown an extra boob out of my forehead.
They either didn’t want to answer the question or they weren’t sure of the answer. I never found out. To this day, only one medical person has ever suggested I should lose weight, and bless her heart, it was for a disease I no longer have.
A friend of mine told me to read “The Leptin Diet.” I scrubbed fast food, soda, and hydrogenated foods from my diet and lost thirty pounds in a month. Not something I’d recommend anyone do, as extremely fast weight loss causes terrible issues.
For one, my teeth earned eight cavities as my body literally refused to take in nutrients properly. The added bonus of flushing all the absorbed toxins out of my system caused my body threw itself into the worst form of detox mode, complete with fatigue and feeling awful. I’d been an exercise fanatic since I was a kid and could do both sides of a Richard Simmons record in one go — and now exercise depressed me thoroughly as my hormones struggled to find homeostasis.
And I was happy to lose weight. I look back now and can’t imagine why I’d been so focused on such a foolish thing. Because weight-loss does not guarantee happiness or health. It is merely a reduction of number and sometimes clothes’ size.
I went from a size US14 pants to a size US6, then as my body finally hit a moment of, “YOU CAN’T BE THIS SMALL!” I regained about ten pounds and landed at a size US8.
I ate better (more fruits and veggies), and exercised less (three times a week) on my treadmill as I gamed. For once in my life, I felt better and thought I looked better. And like most women looking back at their former selves, I was ashamed by how I’d let myself go. The truth was that I’d done the best I could with the faulty information and access to food that I had.
Then I got sick. Really sick. You can’t walk when you’re too dizzy to stand. When you have upwards of twelve seizures a day, you can’t recover. It’s an uphill battle. It’s epic. And it’s a war you can’t win on your own.
I started gaining weight again. I watched the scale creep towards 150 with terror. Because of news and media, everyone around watches and judges you watching your weight. Bystanders notice fluctuations in size like they’re the self-appointed weight-gain Gestapo. People demand your bodily accountability, even when you’re too sick to deal with basic things like showers without help.
I foolishly slipped back into old habits, because the truth is if you’re ever anorexic, it’s an easy pattern is to fall back into. I calorie counted, and my weight dropped and stayed at 140, but I wasn’t happy about it. Instead of focusing on food as fuel and wellness, I sabotaged my well-being by caring about other people’s perceptions and my false self-image and self-worth revolved around an arbitrary number.
It took three years to painstakingly drag myself out of the pit. The minute my hands reached safe ground, I ditched calorie counting and started to enjoy life again. And yes, I’ve gained weight.
I still struggle to be healthy. I struggle to stay away from the false promises of healthy weight-loss from anorexia.
But I no longer struggle to be me.
Sometimes, I have moments where I catch a glimpse of my body in the mirror, and I want to run away from the image. I force myself to look myself in the eye, dragging my stare downwards. For every negative thought that goes through my head, I force myself to think of a positive one. It’s not always easy to do when I see my spouse going through his own health evolution, weight loss and all, without dieting. And sometimes I’m envious of the health gains he’s made but happy he made them so we can be together for longer than he expected to live.
My body can never be the imaginary ideal of “health” that bombards all of us constantly. Self-acceptance doesn’t come from any pill or fake diet plan or restricted calories. At the end of the day, the only thing that I can focus on is whether or not my body will pick me up and move me.
I can’t stop the questions in my head. How long will it be until I can walk a 10k again? Can I still dead-lift a hundred-pound bag? And I consider with some dread — when will my next seizure be, and what can I do to get myself more healthful to weather that storm?
It’s an uphill battle when you feel that your body constantly betrays you.
I may not move with grace and poise, and I may not enjoy seeing that “magic” number on my scale. But I can feel the wind on my face. I can taste the tartness of fruit on my tongue. I can choose to enjoy the moments I spend with others or by myself. I can create amazing things with my mind. And no matter what space I inhabit, it’s my own.