Most of the influential women in my life either thought they were fat and said so day in and day out, or exercised obsessively, or both. My childish logic told me that if all these fabulous women were fat, then I must be too. Until high school, these thoughts didn’t manifest as anything other than thoughts, but with the pressure of adolescence I began to severely restrict my food intake and work out obsessively. This phase lasted for almost two years and I managed to make myself really skinny and unhealthy. I ate less than 1000 calories a day and would “run off” more than that. Luckily I liked running so much that I joined the cross-country team (read more about my relationship with running here), where I was more worried about performance than weight loss. Many people feel pressured to lose weight in competitive sports, but for me it was the opposite. Starvation wasn’t going to win me any races, so I began to feed myself with the purpose of running faster. The girls on my team had healthy body images in general, which helped a lot. Surrounding myself with people who are comfortable with their bodies has improved my own self perception and how I feel about my body.
While my struggles with body image have diminished greatly, (I am grateful that my body is still working and fighting for me to stay alive) I still have moments of self-criticism. As women, there is usually a nasty, little voice in the back of our brains telling us “I am sorry, you are just not good enough.” Women in the US are taught from a young age that being small is equivalent to being sexy and even healthy. We are surrounded by positive reinforcement when we lose weight. When I first got sick people would compliment me on my weight loss and I wasn’t a big girl to start with. I remember feeling frustrated that people thought that I looked good, instead of seeing that I was suffering. I told my husband at one point that I wished my bleeding ulcers were outside of my body so that people would understand what I was going through and believe that I was really sick.
Having Crohn’s disease has caused me to shift up and down in weight a lot. As I explained in my health history post, I have gained and lost the same thirty pounds multiple times. For a while I was skinnier than my wildest adolescent dreams and it was no fun at all. When my mom came to help me shower at the hospital, I remember looking down at my skinny legs and feeling alienated by my own body. I began to cry inconsolably. Where were my muscles? When I started to recover, prednisone caused me to gain weight in the most uncomfortable places. My face and stomach became swollen and the rest of my body remained malnourished. In my periods of relative health, I quickly gained weight and again felt uncomfortable in my own body. Yo-yo weight loss and gain is hard on a psychological level whether it is because of dieting or illness. It is hard to be comfortable in your own skin, when your skin is constantly changing.
The way that I have coped with these negative voices in the past was by exercising. I loved working out (running, hiking, lifting weights, yoga…you name it, I love it)! Seeing what my body was capable of doing made me feel proud and not so worried about my weight or size. How could I criticize something so amazing? Intense exercise became a healthy, joyful hobby rather than a means to an end. At this point in my healing however, I can’t do many of the aforementioned activities to the level that I used to enjoy. I have been struggling with this a lot recently and wanted to share my current thoughts with you. Right now healing is my priority. I refuse to compromise my health to fulfill an ideal that was imposed on me by others. I am determined to become comfortable in my own skin. All of these things are really easy to say, and not so easy to do. We really have to believe them, because those “last five pounds” are in our heads. Having been both “skinny” and “chubby” for my own body, I can tell you that the voice in your head won’t be quiet no matter what the number on the scale says. What we have to do is learn to value ourselves no matter what.
After being abroad for a few years my mom came to visit me. I was able to look at her objectively after not seeing her for so long. All of a sudden I realized that she wasn’t fat at all. I only had this image of her because she herself did. This is the root of our problem. We think these negative thoughts so hard that we convince ourselves and everyone around us that they are true. We become what we think of ourselves.
Tell me something amazing about yourself, or your body!