When 'Ideal Weight' Becomes a New Obsession in Eating Disorder Recovery


After years in and out of treatment centers I have heard the phrase “ideal weight” more than I can count. It’s the idea your body has a set point it is supposed to be at. Now this is helpful when you are underweight and need a goal weight to get up to while you are clearly not eating “normally.” It is not however, helpful for me now.

It’s not helpful for me now because I am sick and tired of worrying about moving out of it in either direction. I used to live in recovery just waiting to hear each week if my weight went up or down. I used it as a measure of success. I thought it was different than when I was in my eating disorder because I was trying to stay healthy. But it wasn’t different.

It was an obsession nonetheless.

This obsession with maintaining a weight or losing weight is not unique to people with eating disorders. It is everywhere. For some reason the idea of having a weight that changes as we go through life has become confused as something bad instead of natural. Somewhere through the fatphobia and diet culture we have stopped trusting our bodies to tell us what they want and need. We tend to believe if we do not keep “control” over what we eat, we will overeat. This is a lie perpetuated by diet culture. We are not in fact, smarter than our bodies. As long as we are healthy mentally and physically, our body doesn’t need us to make rules for it. Our own ego is getting in the way of our health and happiness. The only time I have ever wanted to overeat was when I told myself I couldn’t have something.

Even more importantly, I have grown angry at the idea that one body shape or size is better or more attractive than another. I’m tired of hearing smaller looks healthier because there are more and more studies coming out about health at every size and how unhelpful a BMI chart is. I came to this headspace after a lot of conversations that looked like this:

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If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Me: I’m worried I ate too much this week.

Dietician: What would that mean?

Me: That I gained weight.

Dietician: Why would that matter?

Me: It would mean I didn’t follow my meal plan.

Dietician: Did you ever eat past the point of being full?

Me: No.

Dietician: So why are you worried?

Me: Because I think I gained weight.

Dietician: So?

Me: So I’m going to keep gaining weight.

Dietician: So?

I had this conversation many, many, times and at the end of each one I was forced to think about what gaining weight would mean about me. I was horrified at the idea of being an “anorexic” who got fat. I was terrified about what it would mean about me. Would people think I just lost all self-control? Would they think I looked better before? Then I had to think about these worries. Why was I having them? Why was I concerned about what people thought of my size? At the end of our conversations I always came to the conclusion I was miles happier than I was before. Why is there the idea that we need to have heightened self-control around food. Why do I still care about this?

The reality is it is so much harder for me to give up control around food. It’s taken strength to listen to my body’s needs instead of always focusing on the control aspect of eating. People have had an issue with this idea when I’ve expressed it before and I get it. It’s against everything we’ve been taught. We live in an era of diets and “cheat days.” However, I’m here to say you don’t need to wait for the next excuse to eat what you want. Listen for the cues. I win every single time I grab the bag of semisweet chocolate chips out of the freezer because they sound so damn good and then put them back when I’m full or have had enough of them and am craving something else. I don’t need permission from a calorie tracker, I don’t need permission from allotted points, I don’t need permission from anyone or anything besides my body.

I lived a life where I spent more time creating rules for myself and worrying about what I was and was not eating instead of doing the things I actually enjoyed. But I’m recovering. So I’ll say it again. There is no body size better than another. I am not here to be aesthetically pleasing. I am here to write, love, spend time with friends, make a difference and eat some damn good food.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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