(TW Eating Disorder)
As I’m sure anyone with a history of disordered eating can attest, pretty much every moment where food or my body is on my mind at all is a struggle. There’s a constant stream of worry and self-hatred.
On the rare occasions that I look in the mirror and don’t absolutely loathe myself, I start searching for imperfections. Hating my body is my comfort zone, and anything short of that is so far outside of my comfort zone that I can’t really comprehend it. Obviously, I would love to have a better relationship with my body, but that’s not going to happen overnight. I’m working on finding the best ways to gently get myself to the point where I feel comfortable in my own skin.
There was a time, back when I was really in the throes of my eating disorder, that I kept telling myself to postpone my happiness until I reached a certain weight. Once I was my “goal weight” or “goal BMI” or “goal body-fat percentage,” then I would truly be happy. I would be able to wear what I wanted and feel fulfilled. As it turns out, I will never make it to that “goal weight” because it doesn’t take into account that I have bones. Getting down to my correct BMI would mean starving myself and looking emaciated. Knocking off percentages of body fat takes time, and there’s no sense in spending that time being unhappy.
When I actually lost a bunch of weight, I found myself more miserable than when I started. Not only was I still unhappy, but my self-hatred had spiked, because I knew the awful things I had done to my body to get to that point. It had become apparent that my happiness wasn’t tied to my weight itself, but how I thought about my weight.
So I decided not to postpone my happiness anymore! I stopped waiting to wear crop tops and bikinis. I stopped waiting to take pictures with my friends. I just decided to live my life. Are health and wellness part of that life? Yes, of course! But I am trying to separate myself from the idea that health and weight are the same thing. As I mentioned in my post Rethinking My Relationship with Food, I have recently started working with a dietitian. When I started my wellness journey a few months ago, I realized that I was only standing in my own way if I didn’t use all of the tools at my disposal to get myself on track, both by understanding what “healthy thoughts” around food are, and understanding what “healthy food” is for my body.
The more I talk to my dietitian Kelsey, the more I learn, not only how I should be eating, but what my internal monologue should sound like. So instead of my internal monologue sounding like me saying, “How could you eat a cookie, you fatass?”, it now sounds like Kelsey saying, “Wasn’t that cookie delicious and satisfying?” Which is nice because Kelsey is the one of the two of us who knows what she’s talking about. Plus, she’s nicer to my brain than I am.
While I now have Kelsey in my corner, it’s still up to me to become happy with myself and my body as well as to gain some confidence. Even though I may wear what I like and what I feel I look best in, that doesn’t always mean that I love my body. I’m working on finding ways to help me become comfortable in my body. One of the things I am currently trying is something that I did back in college — getting rid of my mirror.
My fall semester of my junior year of college was undoubtedly my busiest semester. I was working 4 jobs, taking 5 classes, and dealing with emotional distress just thinking about leaving my support system behind and going abroad in the spring. This meant that I was up and out of my room early and back to my room late (and I was a constant emotional wreck). I was living in the sorority house that semester, and I had a roommate. So in order to keep from waking her by turning on the lights, I got dressed and left the house in the dark almost every single day.
This may sound like a dangerous color-matching game, but when you’re into your clothes as much as I am, getting dressed in the dark is actually pretty easy. While I may not be the most fashionable person ever, my clothing is one of the ways that I really use to express myself. I’m too much of a chicken to get tattoos and I don’t wear makeup, but my clothing is one of my most defining outward characteristics. Clothing is the one thing that I really splurge on — I have a full bureau, a built-in closet, a mobile two-tiered closet, and several bins that are full to bursting. I love all my clothes, I just don’t always love myself in my clothes.
It was also easy to get dressed in the dark because I was in college, so I was basically rotating between 5 different tops and a single pair of jeans.
When I came home from college on break, I was back to using mirrors again while getting dressed, and I was so surprised by how much better I felt about my body. Without looking into the mirror every day, I was just assuming that I looked good in whatever I was wearing. I didn’t spend my time staring at myself in the mirror, criticizing my body, and reinforcing the idea that my body is disgusting.
In an attempt to recreate this experiment (and the subsequent body-positive vibes), I removed the mirror from my bedroom about a month ago, and so far, it seems to be helping. Obviously I still see myself in bathroom mirrors, but when I’m in the bathroom, I’m not taking the time to view myself from every angle and complain about every part of my body. It’s nice to be able to get up and go in the morning without hearing that internal monologue of self-hatred and carrying it with me through the day. Plus, now that I’m not spending time in front of the mirror, I just get up, get dressed, and go! I’ve found that the less I look at myself in the mirror, the less I’m obsessing about my weight, and the less I’m obsessing about my weight, the more time and mental energy I have to be happy and live my life.
My next step is to get rid of my scale. I already don’t use it that often, but when I do, I berate myself for whatever number comes up. Honestly, if I am exercising regularly, eating well, and staying hydrated, I don’t know what an arbitrary number could tell me about my health that I don’t already know. I also recognize that numbers games are dangerous when it comes to eating disorders. When I assign numbers to any part of my eating experience, I will automatically try to get that number to 0.
Be kind to yourself and to your body, because that’s more important than any arbitrary number you could assign to yourself. If you can, hide your mirror and scale for a few days and see how you feel. Sometimes, all it takes is a break from that self-degrading voice to make you see yourself a bit more clearly. And please, please don’t postpone your happiness for silly reasons. You’ll regret it. I know I did.
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/