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How Accepting My Body Exactly as It Is Has Given Me Freedom

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I used to be convinced I would find happiness once my body was “perfect.” For too long, I believed my body was flawed. I thought if only I could fix it, everything else would fall into place. I spent years trying to control my weight, hoping this sense of control would bring me peace of mind. I thought fixing my body could protect me from pain. I truly believed inner healing would occur once my body was the “right” size. I believed my anxiety would be cured if only I felt more confident in my body. I thought obtaining a smaller body would help me to solve all of my deep-rooted problems. I thought I would be more loved if I was closer to being “perfect.” And somehow I naively believed if I looked OK on the outside, the inside would magically fall into place.

So there I was, caught in a battle against myself and against the world. I couldn’t save my mom from dying of cancer, so I controlled my weight. I couldn’t handle the grief I felt ever since she was diagnosed with cancer, so I put all of my energy and thought into carefully counting calories and miles on the treadmill. I carefully measured my Cheerios and applesauce, somehow believing this was giving me a sense of control. My eating disorder was both my best friend and my most feared enemy. It gave me something to distract myself with, and it saved me from drowning in the pain I could have been feeling as I watched my precious mom slip away. But it also hurt me. My body was falling apart, and yet, somehow I persisted with my goal of controlling it.

My eating disorder stayed with me as I started school at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t force my introverted self into loving college, so I continued to work on obtaining a body I could love, a body I thought others would value. In time I did reach my goals, and I exceeded these goals by a long shot. I lost the weight I had wanted to shed for so long. I was small, very small. Looking back now, I was ridiculously too small. But when I looked in the mirror then, I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything. I didn’t feel any better about myself, and I definitely didn’t feel any better about my life. I didn’t love myself or my body anymore. I didn’t feel any more confident. I wasn’t more loved, and I didn’t have more friends.

Underneath the weight loss, I could still feel the heaviness of the grief I had pushed aside and hidden away for several years. It was an emotional weight I couldn’t lose. I felt the same self-esteem issues that had weighed me down for years. No matter how much weight I lost or how few calories I consumed, my life didn’t get any better. I was cold all of the time. I was moody. I was exhausted from running. I was struggling with insomnia, and I was simply burnt out. The truth is, I felt the same insecurities I had experienced prior to the weight loss.

It has taken me years to learn that my body was never the problem and my body will never be the solution. It has taken me years to understand that existing doesn’t become miraculously easier if I weigh less. I’ve learned that controlling my body won’t give me any more control over my life. Now I have finally started to realize and accept it doesn’t actually matter how big or small I am. It doesn’t actually matter what size clothes I buy or how I look in the mirror. What matters above all is I accept this body. What matters is I accept the softness and the stretch marks, no matter how out of place they may feel. What matters is I work on accepting that while this may not be the body I wished for, it’s the body I have been given. Truth be told, the real work I have to do is inside work. It’s mental work, not work to be done on my body. It has nothing to do with calories or scales. It has nothing to do with the size of my waist or the lines on my legs. The real work is accepting who I am as a person and understanding my body is just a body. Nothing more, nothing less.

This isn’t something that comes easily to me. I’m working on it, but I’m not there yet. If I’m being honest, sometimes when I get dressed I still panic, thinking my clothes make me look wide or bulky. I still occasionally have breakdowns and come close to crying in dressing rooms when I see my reflection in those daunting full body mirrors, with the bright lights and the reflections from every different angle. When I step out of the shower, my appearance in the mirror still startles me. I wonder — is that really what I look like?  Sometimes I can’t help but want to hide this “new” softer body from the world.

Occasionally I still have waves of anorexia nostalgia. I see pictures of how I used to look and immediately wish I still looked like that now. I still miss my smaller body and wonder if I would feel safer if I were just a few pounds lighter.  Sometimes I even consider starting to diet again. But deep down, I know I can’t. Because a diet to me is just the beginning of a disordered pathway. A diet to me is detrimental. It’s dangerous. I will say I just want to lose a few pounds, but as the pounds slip off, I know I will slide back into my old mindset. And in this old mindset, no amount of weight will be enough for me. So I can’t go back. I know I’ve moved too far forward to let myself fall back into this. I even worry people will think I have “given up.” I worry if I gain weight, or if I stay this weight, others will think I have lost control, or I no longer care about myself or my appearance. But I’m learning that gaining weight does not mean I am losing control. It does not mean I am neglecting my appearance or my health. It actually means quite the opposite. By gaining weight, or by letting my weight do whatever it wants to do, I am actually taking care of myself for the first time in years. I’m finally putting myself first. I’m advocating for my mental and physical health. I’m finally respecting my body and caring for it in the most nurturing way I can.

The process of learning to accept this body, exactly as it is, has given me more freedom. It’s given me more space to live. Now I know it’s OK to eat chocolate when I am craving chocolate, rather than restricting so much that I “accidentally” binge on something late at night. It’s OK to have a glass of wine while watching The Bachelor and to not feel any guilt about it. It’s OK to split an appetizer with my friends without freaking out about gaining weight. It’s OK to eat a hearty brunch out and then still eat two more “regular” meals the same day. It’s OK to exercise in a way that feels good to my body, and it’s also OK to take several days off from exercising if I’m just not in the mood. It’s OK to just listen to my body, for once in my life. It’s actually more than OK.

If you are struggling with your body image, know as hard as it is to hear, the truth is being smaller or losing weight won’t actually make you any happier. Losing weight won’t change how you feel about yourself deep down. It won’t change how others feel about you, especially the people who care about you and love you. Your body is the least interesting part of you. You don’t have to think your body is beautiful or perfect. You don’t have to be completely in love with your body for you to be OK. You just need to know your body is worthy of being appreciated and accepted at any shape or size. Your body is just a body. Your body is remarkable, but your heart, your thoughts and your beautiful mind are the most important. And the battle to lose weight is certainly not worth the toll it will take on your mental health.

Controlling your food and your body won’t give you control over your life. It won’t reduce your anxiety or heal your pain. It won’t protect you from hurt, and it won’t make you a better person. It won’t fix your life. But being in touch with your heart and mind? Honoring your thoughts and your emotions?  This is where the real magic will happen.

Photo courtesy of the author

Originally published: October 10, 2019
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