Looking at the bullet list of my life, it is obvious that I am accomplished, happy, and healthy:

-Ph.D.

-Happily Married

-New Mother

-Half Marathoner

But there is one item on the list that isn’t obvious to those who do not know me intimately: eating disorder sufferer.

Sufferer because I am still plagued by the impact of my disorder on a daily basis to consider it behind me. While my weight is healthy and my body functions appropriately, I wage a war in my mind every day to not concede to former, unhealthy lifestyle decisions. Here I sit over a decade later from the initial downfall into sickness and I am unconvinced that I will ever be ‘well’ and free of this battle.

Since I was a teenager, I have battled the same 60 pounds (give or take since I’m not entirely sure about the numbers anymore). At the bottom of that weight (in the midst of my eating disorder), I pass out frequently. I don’t have a period. I try to cover patches of my scalp because hair falls out from lack of nutrients. I live with food rules that make zero sense. Six saltines are fine, but seven means an extra workout.

At the top of those 60 pounds, I am a comfortable size 8-10. I enjoy craft beer frequently and it’s not unusual for me to satisfy my cravings for a hearty helping of biscuits and gravy or an ice cream double scoop. I workout three or four times a week. Some weeks I may not work out if life gets too busy or too fun. By all appearances, it seems I have a normal and healthy relationship with my body and with food. On the surface, I appear average at best.

But that just isn’t the case.

My preoccupation with food came raging back to me through pregnancy and the postpartum period. Pregnancy was difficult for me as I watched my belly grow and my feet disappear. I have avoided the scale for the better part of a decade and I was committed to that during pregnancy. Even at the doctor’s office, I am weighed backwards. This was especially crucial when I was pregnant because I didn’t trust myself enough to see the numbers climb higher and higher each week and not deprive my son of nutrients. That’s hard for me to say, but it’s true. 

While pregnancy was difficult for me, it provided me with a bit of an excuse. There is a baby growing inside me! I’m supposed to get bigger. I could rationalize my growing belly. By hiding from the numbers on the scale, I had shielded myself from an attack that could have turned my sickness into a huge concern for me and my son. But, pregnancy was not the hardest part.

With such intense social pressure on women to lose weight and bounce back to their pre-pregnancy jeans and look better than ever within weeks of birth, the postpartum period rocked my sense of stability unlike any other. The postpartum months have been some of the most challenging ones for me to battle my self-image. When I tried on my pre-pregnancy clothes after giving birth, it resulted in tears and self-loathing. And I did what I had not done in years. I stepped on the scale. In that moment, I contemplated again taking drastic measures to slim my body back into submission. In that moment, I almost lost all the strides I have gained.

I have learned to approach those types of moments with strategy. I have learned a lot about how to win the daily battle with my eating disorder:

  • There are big victories in the small battles. 
There are days, even now, I walk to the fridge for a meal and shut the door, wondering how long I could go without eating. But each time I approach the fridge and think about denying myself a meal, I make a choice not to find out how long I could stay away. It is in those moments that I win. It is in those moments that I choose to be healthy. 
  • Food and drinks are for fun, as well as fuel. 
Food and drinks have become social events that I have learned to look forward to. Dinner with my husband is the highlight of my day. Some of my favorite memories are sitting on our patio grilling while we talk and laugh over beer. After intense yo-yo of binging and denying, I have found a healthy balance for nights where I chose not to think about calories. Moderation is slowly becoming a practice that I am comfortable with. I want my children to see me make healthy decisions, yes. But I also want them to have a mother who strives for balance in all aspects of her life, especially when it comes to what’s on her plate or what’s in her glass.
  • I work out. I don’t have workouts. 
I limit my workouts to once a day. Period. It’s a new rule, if you will. I work out in ways that I enjoy. I stop when I’m fatigued. I hike. I do HiiT training. I train for half-marathons. Gone are the days where I work out up to three times a day, foregoing sleep or time with family and friends to burn extra calories. As a mother, I don’t want to miss important moments with my son and other future children because I couldn’t let go of that extra helping and felt I had to burn an hour of their lives and my own on the treadmill. I can’t miss their moments.
  • My son needs me to be well. 
Even at age 30, I still have anxiety about any situation that requires a bathing suit. When I think about my son toddling around and wanting to wade into a pool, I hope to respond with enthusiasm. When it comes time to wear next to nothing, I own a suit that I feel confident in and a cover up that makes me feel beautiful. My son doesn’t care what I look like in a bathing suit. He cares about the Mommy who is splashing next to him, making memories.

I take it one day at a time. I am only six months postpartum and my issues with food, exercise and my body are ongoing. I still suffer with the ramifications of my experience and practices that taint my self image and my relationship with food. But it is my commitment to living each day, eating each day, being healthy each day that I win every day. I have to win for myself. I have to win for my son.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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Tiffany Reiger

T.S. Reiger is a former teacher with a PhD who is now a stay at home mom to her children and German Shepherd. 

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