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The Journey to Loving My Body, Especially My Neurodivergent Self

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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.

This year, I have been opening about a past battle with loved ones, besides my autism. Restrictive eating disorder. Battle with body image. Self-loathing for not looking like the models you see in the magazines. Self-loathing for having autism because of the stigma. During that time, I thought I was protecting myself from further stigma when I masked my autism and restricted myself to diets in order to be thin. Instead, I was hurting myself more. I’m coming to a point where I’m understanding the connection between my brain and body and my battles with loving them.

When I was little, I was a picky eater. Macaroni and cheese and peas were practically the only dishes I would eat. In middle school, I eventually started trying new foods in school and ending up liking more foods. One of the reasons lots of kids with learning differences are picky eaters is because of sensory issues. After learning this, I thought to myself, this explains my picky behaviors. For example, I like the taste of oranges, but cannot stand the texture of it in my mouth.

The year of my autism diagnosis was the same year my body developed more. Gone was the flat chest of a girl. My hips widened and breasts grew. Hormones were raging. I felt a really uncomfortable physical and emotional weight. Physically because of the new body I did not recognize, and I was gaining more weight. Emotionally because of the autism diagnosis. I became painfully aware of the stigmas and how different I was from other kids. I was bullied in elementary and middle school. I thought to myself, “My autism was the reason why kids were nasty.” It was also the reason why I was the only kid excluded from a birthday party invitation. After becoming aware of my autism, I found ways to mask my stims and behaviors and observed that I was more liked in school when I did it.

I observed how female bodies were represented in magazines and television. I had a hollow feeling whenever I read that female characters were described as beautiful or sexy. I had a bigger head than the normal person. I was a little heavier. The scale was a nightmare, especially at the doctor’s office. Shopping and fitting into clothes I was going to grow out of were nightmares. It made me sad whenever I couldn’t fit into clothes my “size” in a clothing store. I asked myself why I had to have a brain and body like that? Since I knew my autism was never going away, I can change my body. I dreaded baked goods, carbs, and anything fried because I knew what they would do to my body. I tracked the calories I ate. I would not eat more than a certain amount of calories. Whenever I exceeded my limit, I would relentlessly exercise until I reached the number of calories I wanted to burn.

When I had these expectations of myself, I thought that I would be happy. I kept this unhealthy habit a secret. I did not want to worry my loved ones and cause drama. I also did not feel like anyone would believe me. I did not have the look of starving myself, so what was the point? My weight loss did not bring up any concerns, so there was no way I was going to set myself up for disbelief.

I joined the cross-country team when I entered high school. I was having trouble keeping up with my team since I was still restrictive with my eating habits. My restrictive eating habits resulted in drained energy and unpleasant headaches. I had to make choices to prevent getting caught. I added more protein to my intake and noticed I was focused on school and was able to keep up with running. Even though I was eating enough to fuel myself, I still struggled with thoughts of my body image.

For years, I barely thought about why I had an eating disorder. After receiving the information of my diagnosis, I questioned what was going to happen now and how it was going to affect my adulthood. Is my autism going to make me less attractive? Control was the biggest reason I had this body image battle. I could not control my sensory issues. I could not control my easily drained energy. Intense emotions. The battle between under and overreacting. But I could control my eating habits in order to attempt to be as skinny as the models in the magazine. I hated not being in control.

I am writing this to share this to validate myself. I also have been hearing stories about others who are struggling with their own images. When I heard stories about people not loving themselves, it broke my heart. It is a terrible feeling to be your own enemy.

When I went to college, I joined activities I loved and worked smarter in my studies than ever. I learned what it means to be healthy and love yourself. I was really putting work into my mental health recovery. I was starting to accept myself. I’m not autistic. I am a woman with autism who fought an eating disorder.

I am proud of the changes I made for myself. I am exercising because I love my body, not because I hate it. I choose exercises that I love, which are running, hiking, walking, and indoor rock-climbing. I enjoy food. It is OK to indulge once in a while. I ensure that I cook a healthy, but satisfactory meal like salmon spinach salad with quinoa, sweet potatoes and walnuts. I don’t wear makeup to look pretty. I wear makeup because it makes me feel empowered. I learned why I should love having a naturally large head. According to studies, people have bigger heads to accommodate the sizes of their brains. I view my brain as a kaleidoscope. My body is my home. My brain is my brain. The only acceptance I need is myself.

Originally published: December 22, 2022
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