If you are anything like me, you grew up going on diets, reading toxic articles about food in magazines, and learning to despise your body while confusing hunger with weakness. I remember the first time I felt shame around my body, and it was when my grandfather told me, “You are what you eat, and you are no broccoli,” and then told me to go run around the block. The embarrassment flushed my cheeks, and from that moment on, I have carried those harmful words around with me, tucked deep into my body. The dieting came a few years after that; Jenny Craig, with its blueberry muffins inside a wrapper and its meatloaf with veggies in a tv meal container, became what I ate for many months of my pre-pubescent life. It was as if you were not even allowed to eat real food. You were subjected to this fake food wrapped in plastic.
The message I received was, if you are still hungry after eating your allotted calories for the day, something is wrong with you; you have had all you need, so what is the problem? The problem was clearly my hunger. This turned certain foods into “good” and others into “bad.” The good was the food allowed in my caloric intake for the day; the bad was what I ate after I ate all the good. It was profoundly discouraging.
I learned these four things before my 13th birthday.
My body is bad
Experiencing hunger is wrong
I am not enough
People will not love me unless I am thin
So it is no wonder I grew up until around 33 with a distorted view of my body, hunger, food, calories, and worthiness. I am sure you have a similar story if you are reading this, one that also included getting super excited about starting a new diet on Monday, whether it was The Zone, Atkins, or Weight Watcher (count those points, honey!) Maybe even an appetite suppressant! That Monday represented hope, the hope of being thin and fitting into size 6 jeans and not crying when trying on clothes at Nordstrom dressing room with my mom. Fast forward to losing and gaining 40 pounds many times, having a drug and alcohol addiction that stemmed from the wound of unworthiness, always being extremely conscious of my body at all times, in every situation, and thinking about my body and how it looked almost 24/7, I picked up a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. I had owned the book for months, maybe years, before it was my time to be called to it. I remember getting to a point when I found myself profoundly sick of hating myself, sick of the horrible thoughts I had and my constant, life-altering obsession with my weight and how I looked. I got to a point where I could not live like that for one more second. I was so over the hamster wheel thoughts and believing I was not OK being a human in the world at my size and weight. This experience of reading this book, along with “Eating Under the Light of the Moon,” changed me because I was ready. I was ready to experience how I could feel an ounce of freedom from this horrible existence between my ears. And if you have experienced disordered eating of any kind, you understand. Food was my savior, and it was my enemy. Now, it is my neutral friend. The process of undoing decades of thinking in a way that poured shame into every cell of my body was not easy, but neither is dieting and counting calories!
My freedom came from a deep longing to live differently and a commitment to changing my thoughts about food and my body. This looked like repeating affirmations every morning while I journaled. It came from choosing with every might in my body to release any shame around anything I ate and from reacquainting myself with my body, looking at her like my divine vessel instead of a blob of fat I was stuck in. I was relentless in loving my body, showing her something I had never given her before. I learned about my hunger, what it felt like to be hungry and honor it, and honoring when I felt full. My freedom came from therapy, from EMDR, and working through those moments when my body was commented on in a cruel way. But changing the way I thought of myself, too.
I committed to myself that I wasn’t ever going to ask someone again if they thought I had lost weight or if it looked like I had gained any either. My validation and healing needed to come from me, not anyone else. While, at times, it can be helpful to speak to someone about your weight or the frustrations associated with it, I realized when I did that I wasn’t willing to look any deeper at what I was experiencing. I wanted validation to come from others on whether or not my body was okay. I wasn’t looking at the trauma or the reasons I had gained weight in the first place. It was like giving a Band-Aid to another person and asking them to perform surgery on your soul. Today, there are good and bad days, but on none of those days will I ever restrict my food, say something bad about my body, or complain about my weight. The process of healing wounds associated with your body, eating, and food are extremely deep. Treat them as such. An ineffective way of loving yourself is through punishment. You are worthy of loving your body and having a beautiful life, celebrating and not punishing yourself. I have learned that self-love and body love (or body neutrality) cannot be conditional; if it is, you will always find a reason to be unhappy.
Find a therapist who understands disordered eating, and make a commitment to healing the wounds that have led to weight/body/food obsession. It is a debilitating and limiting way of living, and you deserve to be free from it. Perhaps some of the things I did will also work for you, but maybe they look a little different; whatever you figure out, I hope you find some relief from that way of life and commit to the relentless pursuit of healing and experience the fullness and magic that comes from it.