As far back as I can remember, I attached my value to my size. I can clearly recall sitting at my desk in second grade ashamed that my arms were bigger than the kids next to me. At seven years old, I was already self-conscious about my weight, scrutinizing my reflection in the mirror though even then it lied. I couldn’t truly see myself. But I could see others, so growing up I constantly compared.
If I were small like my classmates they would like me. If I looked like the girls in Cosmo and Seventeen, boys would like me. If I counted every fat gram, did sit-ups in my bedroom, and walked up and down the stairs, my thighs would be thin and all of my adolescent problems would disappear.
But I loved to eat. I ate mindlessly while I watched TV. I ate to comfort myself. We always had treats in the house. I couldn’t really relax until I had tried them all. Being skinny seemed hopeless. In my teens, I believed I’d always be big and therefore never valued.
When I went away to college, I realized I finally had complete control over my diet. So control it I did . . . until it completely controlled me.
If I didn’t buy it, I couldn’t eat it. I’d spend $50 dollars a week on groceries, exactly enough food to eat in one week. Exactly the same groceries every week.
I’d work out in the morning before class. Have a tiny lunch. Every night I’d eat egg whites and popcorn for dinner. I started smoking to curb my appetite.
When I came home for the summer, everyone complimented me. I felt valued. I worked for my dad’s construction company to save money for school and learned manual labor is excellent for burning calories. I toned up even more and worked hard enough I didn’t have to count them so obsessively.
After graduation, my relationship between food, my size, and my self-worth worsened. With so much uncertainty in my life, I focused on controlling every calorie that went into my body including the sugar-free gum I chewed compulsively. Even though I was still working construction, I joined a gym believing that everything I ever wanted was a few pounds away.
But no matter how many pounds ticked off that scale, none of my dreams came true, and I believed the distortion in the mirror was to blame.
My fear of gaining weight and losing control held such power over me, I sometimes couldn’t hang out with friends. Going anywhere I didn’t know the menu caused me severe anxiety. If I ate anything outside my strict diet, I’d literally hate myself until I believed I’d burned it off. I binged sometimes too, then starved myself until I felt back on track.
It was easier to sit at home alone with my sickness than risk losing control. Because gaining a few pounds brought me immense shame. I’d feel like everyone noticed. Like that was ALL they would notice about me. The fear consumed me for years.
I’d mistaken a disease for discipline. Disordered eating. Body dysmorphic disorder. The problem with this type of sickness is I looked really healthy on the outside. I was curvy, toned, and trim. I was praised for my figure and rarely questioned about my unhealthy eating habits.
But I was cranky, exhausted, and hungry. And it had taken its toll.
I made an appointment with my doctor when I realized it had been over a year since I’d had a period. I wanted help but didn’t know how to explain what was happening. My doctor examined me and said I looked healthy and it was probably stress. Amenorrhea sounded convenient to him.
I was desperately unhappy. A lifetime of believing that being thin would solve all my problems had been proven as faulty as the reflection in my mirror.
It was another year before I switched doctors and decided there was nothing convenient about the way I had been living. I hadn’t really been living at all.
I wanted a life free of food’s control. Along the way it had occurred to me that never once had I valued a person in my life based on their size. So why should I believe that’s where they held their value in me?
Part of my journey to living a healthy life was discovering where that deep-seated and destructive mentality came from. I knew it had taken root young. I’m consequently very conscious of how I talk about myself and others in front of my own kids. I’m careful not to emphasize looks over character.
Maintaining a healthy weight will always be a slippery slope, but I never want it to get in the way of my relationships again. I don’t control it, and it no longer controls me.
Although I’ve learned to see my worth beyond my size, to this day I’ve never seen an honest reflection of my body. Anymore, it doesn’t matter anyway. Skinny, fat—I don’t see myself as a label. I see my real value reflected in the way I make people feel.