Thursday, July 26, 2012

ED Talks #14: I don't want to lose weight--by Taylor


Last week I sat face-to-face with a BMI chart in a small, cramped exam room of the OB’s office.  I’m expecting my beautiful second child.  I studied it, even though it told me what I already knew.  Before I was pregnant, I was 50 pounds overweight.  I am overweight.  I’m pregnant now, and I’ve made a personal promise to myself that no matter what happens, I will not think, worry, or obsess over my weight while I’m pregnant, no matter how many times they tell me that because of my BMI I cannot gain the standard one pound a week from here on out.  I’m going to have to gain a less than that per week.  I hear it, but I can’t let myself hear it.  In the past five years I’ve heard a lot of well-meaning advice.  After training for and finishing a half marathon (I did not lose any weight, by the way, nor was that my intention. In fact I gained weight) someone offered that I read an inspiring book about a losing weight. I thanked them, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them that losing weight was not on my radar at the moment. Not even close.  When you’re overweight, people assume that you want to lose that weight.  Here’s why I don’t.
I was diagnosed with anxiety in 2003, a surprise to me and my family since I had grown up in ideal circumstances in a loving and safe environment.  What was there really to be anxious about?  Over the years my understanding of anxiety has grown and I understand how incredibly naïve my assumptions about the condition were. Looking back I can see that I’ve been anxious my whole life and a chronic overachiever, which incrementally contributed to my body-image issues over time. I have a wonderful family.  Eight siblings, all fantastic.  I come from a family of beautiful people inside and out.  My four sisters are confident, accomplished, and—well—thin.  Quite thin, actually, and naturally so.  I always knew I wasn’t built like them.  The comparison was never verbally made, but it was there.  It was obvious.  I was taller, broader, and in general more athletic.  I would have never called myself “thin”.  As a teenager I swam and played basketball (the only of my sisters to do so) and I liked being a part of sports.  But when I decided to quit due to an overly busy schedule (there’s that overachiever again), a well-meaning but misguided father asked me, “What are you going to do to stay in shape now?”  Me, a vulnerable teenage girl heard, “You can’t just not workout like the rest of your sisters… what are you going to do so you don’t get fat?” I was devastated.  That question stayed on my mind.  What are you going to do so you don’t get fat?  I covered up the insecurity about the way I looked with a sense of humor and tried to pretend I didn’t care.  I was above it.  And because I loved food, I’d never be “thin”.
 In 2003 my anxiety got so bad that eating made me nauseated, so ate very little.  I lost a lot of weight.  That summer, my mom was diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer, now terminal.  I lost more weight.  I didn’t care about the weight either way; I was too busy worrying about everything else.  In the mirror I still saw me:  broad, big, and anxious beyond belief.  But the switch flipped when the attention and approval started pouring in.  A woman at church, “Look at you, you skinny mini.” They guy at the cashier’s desk flirting with me (that didn’t happen before).  The comments about clothes I’d worn for years but were now for some reason, “So, so, cute!”  And the biggest compliment from my dad, “You’re looking great.”  What was happening?  It was so different.  I wasn’t used to it, but I thrived on the attention I got.  It was the perfect storm. At a time when so many things were out of my control—my anxiety and the continued worsening of my mother’s health—I found ultimate control and sense of approval in controlling my intake of food.  I put all of my remaining energy into the one thing I had control over and I took it to the extreme.  I stopped eating entirely. 
It was easy to fool people.  I was now 20 years old and on my own for much of the time.  I could go several meals without having to keep up appearances and eat when other people were watching.  I thought I was fooling everyone.  I started lying, telling people I’d eaten when I hadn’t, throwing away food when people made it for me, buying enough groceries so as to not raise suspicion from my roommates but never eating them. And I kept losing weight. A lot of weight.  Too much weight.  My hair fell out.  I was constantly exhausted.  My concentration suffered.  I fell asleep during class, and while driving.  People would ask me how I stayed so skinny.  I’d lie and say it was in the genes.  Then I’d go right back to starving myself to be that way.  I did a lot of lying just so I could fit into a body size that seemed to give me the approval I craved.  I starved myself for four years.  My mother passed away.  The anxiety never healed.  Life was turned inside out.  I avoided eating to avoid feeling. But I was very thin, so everyone thought that meant I was happy. 
I met my dear husband and I got married.  I was so good at hiding my starvation that even he didn’t know.  After a few months, however, I saw him losing weight too.  We were both very busy, and he just didn’t pay attention to eating regular meals.  But I knew what was happening.  If I didn’t eat, he didn’t eat.  I was making myself sick by starving myself, but I couldn’t watch him go hungry.  So I prepared food and ate with him to make sure he ate. 
I slowly started eating again.  My starved body rebelled, went into survival mode, and I gained weight so fast it was noticeable to everyone. The anxiety returned with what seemed like a new power over me.  I cried all the time.  People started commenting and even worse, started giving me advice about how to lose weight. My dear husband did neither, but instead thanked me for all of the nutritious meals we now had.  I was so grateful for him.  But I had a decision to make.
I decided to push back my obsession with food, and focus on getting mentally healthy.  I pushed aside all the thoughts about starving myself again only to put more energy into working through my never ending anxiety.  I ate healthily, I started running and training for a half marathon, which ironically had nothing to do with weight.  I continued to gain weight.  But I also gained a better understanding of what it means to live with and overcome chronic anxiety.  I was feeling better each day about who I was becoming.  But without that outward manifestation that people use to gauge happiness, in this case I mean being thin, people still expressed their sympathies, and worse, their advice.
Now, when I look at photos of me as a teenager I see a happy, healthy girl.  In fact, can you believe it, I was slim and fit, not big at all.  And when I see that, I realize I was seeing myself through someone else’s ideal, not mine.  Over time I’ve discovered that my ideal is not “thin”.  I've been thin, really thin, and it didn't make me happy.  My ideal is “healthy”.  Healthy can mean a great number of things at different times in our lives.  It can change with our changing circumstances.  While my weight and mental health are challenges I’ll likely be fighting my whole life, I’m grateful for the healthy things in my life.  And as I sat there nodding to the doctor as she explained what my weight gain should be over the next few months, I silently thanked God that I was able to have children at all, and I thanked my body for doing such a good job.  I have a beautiful two-year-old daughter and another wonderful little baby on the way.  I am healthy.  My children are healthy.  My husband is healthy.  And that’s all that matters.

4 comments:

  1. perfectly beautiful! I adore this, every word:)

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  2. you are such a strong woman and an inspiration to me of what really matters--health and happiness. I wish there were more women like you in the world. I hope that you work with the young women of the church and bring your insight and knowledge to them. Your perspective could change/save a lot of lives.

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  3. Isn't it so whack that we live in a culture that rewards and celebrates weight loss as though the individual had performed some life-saving research, or ran a marathon, or received a degree, or performed some notable service? There's no regard for HOW the weight was lost--by what means. MAYBE it was just a product of eating more veggies and taking up raquetball with your girlfriends. But far too often, the fat was starved out, puked out, pooped out, sucked out, and definitely hated out. What I find more often than not is that it comes from a place of self-disdain, disastisfaction and sickness--not out of genuine love for the body and a desire to strengthen and heal her (which is, to be fare, SOMETIMES where weight-loss comes from).

    But all of these things? They don't matter in a casual conversation about weight loss. Have you ever paid attention to what's actually being said? "Dang, girl! You look good! Have you lost weight?" = "I've noticed you are skinnier. I therefore proclaim you better." Why? Or in your case, Taylor "Have you tried losing weight by doing this?" = "I noticed you've put on weight. You are deviant. How can I help you back onto the path of acceptance and happiness?"

    I've found it's good to break these things down. Help people understand what they're really saying. Be courageous. Call folks out on thoughless, (and essentially meaningless) compliments regarding appearance. But that's for another blog post. I think I'll start that. Now.

    Anyhow. Taylor. I agree with what was said above. You go, girl. What a struggle, but you are winning.

    You have ALWAYS been an inspiration to me. I loved you for your humor, your intelligence, your creativity, but mostly for your kindness, acceptance, encouragement, and selflessness. THESE are the things that create happiness in relationships and in life. These are the things I ahve always loved about you (along with so many others) Not dress size.

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