Getting back to blogging, I miss reading my own writing. So here I go.
First of all, America’s definition for thin is not something that is achievable for my body, in any way that is healthily sustainable. I am of strong Irish and German stock. I am trying to figure out what to title this post, and I almost named it, “Renee’s Irish Back” just to be funny. But I wanted something that it is descriptive to me, but also respectful of the community of people who suffer with Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphia and Orthorexia (Just to name a few).
I decided to write this because while driving to work today I thought to myself, listening to the Love, Food Podcast (so good), I haven’t really been thinking about food very much anymore. The thought went off like a light bulb. And when I say that, I mean not thinking about it in a negative, all consuming, life depending kind of way. And this also leads me to believe life is full of small and large miracles. You see. I love food, but it used to be my enemy and secret lover at the same time. Now it’s more like, “Oh cool. We’re having pizza tonight? I don’t have to do the dishes.”
I haven’t been waking up in the middle of the night listing everything I ate that day. I haven’t been staring at food not allowing myself to eat it for the first 20 minutes it is there, and then eating it all because I know I will not “allow myself” to have it later. (Oh how well that worked when I was eating in private and in shame.) I haven’t been talking about my new diet, or off limits foods to my friends and family. I haven’t been so obsessed with food prep, and cooking (which I love but it was also part of my disorder for me). So it was eye opening today to think to myself that I have been eating whatever I want, without shame or disgust with myself, for the last few months. I have not been scared of the restriction that come with diets and lifestyle changes. I really do not care about food. Other than that it tastes good and my body tells me what I am hungry for. But with that came a lot of mental work and it has taken years and years to even take small steps.
I haven’t been a totally committed bulimic for a few years now, I have dabbled, but always pulled out quickly. But just because I was not actively throwing up 3 meals a day, does not mean the sickness goes away. But bulimia it is easy to think about for me. And it would be easy for me to go back to that life. For someone who has never been there before, it may be hard to understand. It is physically disgusting. But to me it feels like sliding into something familiar. I am not romanticizing it, and I will not talk about details that will help someone else live the private life I lived for 10 years. What I am saying is the familiar emptiness of my personal disorder is always appealing. It linked up with my brain somehow and made me feel empty in my mind and heart which is really hard to achieve for an empathetic person who never stops feeling EVERYTHING. And sometimes that clear mind is something I need in a world that is so hard to navigate.
What has come with my personal eating disorder though, are things I struggle with often and will forever. The strain I have put on my heart and my mouth, my persistent high blood pressure, stress on my body and brain, sore and sensitive gums, permanent soreness in my knees. Years of quiet shame. My fear of the dentist has not dissipated nor has my avoidance of the doctor’s office. My chart will reflect “overweight” or “obese.” And my blood pressure will be scrutinized and I will be advised to lose weight. Oh the shame.
But even though these doctors know me, they do not know what that sentence written on my chart costs me. Even writing that sentence makes me cry because it cost me so much for a long time. I don’t let them weigh me at the doctor’s office any more, and it takes courage to ask them not to, but it really helps.
I also understand that when you look at me you might not call me fat. Someone might, but usually not. At least not right now. They may someday. (I use the word fat respectfully and lovingly and as a neutral descriptor.) I also understand I do not look like someone who would have an eating disorder.
But what we do not understand is that every day we generate and discuss entirely different emotions about Eating Disorders based on what someone LOOKS LIKE, which is probably the most unimportant thing about our lives here on earth. These different emotions range from being concerned and scared with someone’s eating disorder when they are too thin (who are we to say they even have one), congratulatory of someone’s eating disorder when we deem their body perfect (keep going, what is your secret, you are doing it right!) or disgusted with someone’s eating disorder when we judge their body for being Fat. That last person we actually prescribe them the road map to an ED through dietary restriction, if they do not have a problem already. Just pay attention to the radio and TV. Ladies, these ads are targeted at us.
Obviously not everyone has an eating disorder. But there are enough of us, many flying below the radar, many still looking for congratulations for following Diet Culture’s rules. This is important for us to talk to our daughters, nieces, sons and friends and our partners about. We must not teach this to our children. I used to even say, “I just feel uncomfortable at this weight,” when it really was just the fact that I didn’t want to buy jeans that were a size up. Which is ridiculous because when my pants fit, I am more comfortable and happier. Adios low rise jeans of my 20’s.
All in all, I have been thinking about the “seasons” that my life has taken. I like the word seasons because it signifies change, but I also think it indicates mercy. We know winter is a little more desolate than spring, but we accept it and some of us even love that season. So in this vein I am trying to love all of my physical and mental landscapes. If I can love and be gentle to myself during my “winters,” I can peacefully make it through this life. When I sleep late I tell myself, “you are allowed, your body needed it.” When I feel full from eating and have to unbutton my pants I say things like, “you were hungry. You were nourishing yourself. Don’t wait so long to eat next time!” Or even, “that fullness doesn’t feel great, but I needed it for some reason. I feel soothed.” When I make too many plans, I will cancel when I need to and know that it’s OK. I’ve stopped making myself into the person everyone needs because I am the one that needs me. I am the main person that needs to be alright with me.
I am Renee. I can wear my husband’s jeans. Sometimes they are too tight. I love cookies and spaghetti with cheese and I used to pretend I had a dairy allergy so I would stop eating it because I thought it was bad. I thought I had a bad reaction to gluten and sugar. I didn’t. I was vegan for years. This is partly because I love animals, partly because it was easier to starve myself and stay under a certain amount of calories if I could not eat anything. My body did not change so much that people worried about me. I was not deathly thin. In fact, I was never ever what Hollywood would deem thin. But I was really sick mentally. But I could pass so well… I could help you with your life, throw parties, be a great friend and partner. But I only read the “health studies” that supported diet culture. I never looked toward the people, studies and research that would actually help me heal.
Please do not congratulate me. Please do not tell me I am beautiful no matter what I look like. I do not want any of that. I truly do not need those words, however well meaning they are. Please just reach out to me if you want to change the stigma in this world, if you want to move toward body neutrality, or if you suffer. I will send you literature. In the meantime, start looking at beautiful photography taken of all bodies. It really helps redefine what you perceive as normal, large bodied or small. Who are we… you or I to tell someone else that they are not beautiful, normal or “healthy.” Because when I looked my “healthiest” I was in fact the most sick, and suffering silently. And it took me a long time to realize that diet culture is normal in our America, but for me it is not OK.