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When Weight Fluctuations Due to Chronic Illness Affect Your Sense of Identity

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Weight changes. Something that, more often than not, comes with chronic illness. These weight changes can fluctuate in both directions, and in both directions they can be just as distressing to the person experiencing these fluctuations. As someone who has always been petite/small, and also having dealt with anorexia for seven years, I have recently (within the past year) undergone some changes in my weight.

Due to my eating disorder, I do not weigh myself. I avoid the scale like the plague, terrified of what I might see. These weight changes I have experienced I can tell by how my clothes fit – now compared to a month ago compared to a year ago. All of these weight changes, I am almost certain, are due to chronic illness. With my chronic illness comes fatigue. I used to be very active with skiing, sailing and running all before falling ill. Now, I am lucky if I can ski for an hour once or twice a season, same with sailing, and as for running, I can just forget about that now. I currently just started physical therapy for my illnesses, but that’s hardly enough to see improvements thus far, even in the muscle building department, at least to the point I would like.

I struggle with my body image, always have, and I probably always will. But recently, it’s been so difficult. I know I have gained some weight in a year, and lost some weight in a month. The losing weight is OK with me at the moment, because I am so uncomfortable at the weight I am now. I have a strong inkling that I might be at the high end of my goal weight, if not a little higher, which is a place I never thought I would be because of struggling with weight gain for seven long years. But my lack of exercise and the dietary changes I have had to make most likely contributed to this. I know many people with chronic illness struggle with weight loss as well as gain, and having an eating disorder on top of it, despite being in recovery, really messes with my mind and amps up my anxiety.

Last night I struggled. Every time I look in the mirror I get anxious, disgusted and feel as if I could cry. I do not recognize myself. Yesterday when I got home, I fell onto my bed in tears. I just want to feel beautiful, I want to feel comfortable in my body. I want to feel like me. And I know who I am as a person has nothing to do with my outer appearance. But as someone with both an eating disorder and a chronic illness, it is so difficult to separate who I am with how I look.

Dealing with comments is the worst. I lost some weight in a month, and my doctor asked what was going on. I told him I was on a new diet for one of my diseases where I am cutting out carbs. His response was “good, keep it up.” I like my doctor. He is caring, and I am sure he didn’t mean to offend me or make me feel bad – but deep down it hurt. When I told a family member I had lost some weight in a month, she said, “OK, well I do not think it is anything to be concerned about.” And I do agree. But comments on my weight or my body still hit a soft spot, because I do not have as much control over how I look as I once did. I can only do so much. I struggle to get my physical therapy exercises in each day. I struggle with what I can and can’t eat. I have gained, and lost, and gained, and lost, and this has been a pattern for a while. It is so difficult. I want to be in a stable place, and not only that, but a place where I feel comfortable in my skin and in this body.

So, to those of you struggling with weight fluctuations due to chronic illness, I get it. It is far from easy. Some of us struggle with weight loss, and thus, need to gain weight back, especially with diseases affecting the stomach. Some of us struggle with weight gain, maybe from being sedentary, or other reasons or diseases that may result in weight gain. But I want you to know you are not alone, and you are so much more than your body. It can be hard to see things that way, and I work on seeing it from that point of view each and every day. But you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You do not owe anyone an apology. You do not owe anyone anything. Your weight is your business, and so much of the time it is out of our control. Keep trying. Keep fighting. And know you are beautiful no matter what.

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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Photo via Archv on Getty Images

Originally published: December 29, 2017
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