Content Warning: Discussion of Eating Disorder
The broken promises of weight loss
If you read last week’s blog then you already know that I suffered from an eating disorder for almost a decade. It was one of the most difficult times in my life, when I felt alone, confused, discouraged and flooded with anxiety. In this blog I will be talking about the ways that my eating disorder caused me significant suffering, despite being sold the idea that it would bring me joy.
I want to note that during this time I experienced a lot of thin privilege. Fatphobia and weight stigma make it very difficult for people living in bigger bodies to get support. I have so much to say about this topic, it will no doubt be a blog for another day.
Weight loss did not help my anxiety
I used dieting and obsessive exercise as a way to manage my anxiety. I was so consumed that I constantly talked about dieting, exercise and weight loss. In fact, some friends have shared with me years later that they didn’t enjoy being around me at that time because I constantly talked about weight.
I spent my entire day from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed thinking about what I was going to eat and how many calories I could burn. The deceptive thing about weight loss is that there is an underlying promise that living in a small body makes everything better. I was intoxicated with the idea that in a week or a month I could be totally different. But it wasn’t different, although for a couple years I did live in a much smaller body, the stress and anxiety never let up.
The breaking point
Shortly before I became pregnant for the first time, I hit a breaking point in my eating disorder. The day after our annual Halloween party, I had eaten so much food and was bawling to my husband, feeling so disappointed and disgusted with myself. Despite being the smallest I had been in my entire life, I was still distraught with the idea of putting too much food into my body, I was so anxious about it I could barely function. I wish I could say that breakdowns like this were uncommon, but the truth is my husband would support me through a similar breakdown monthly, if not weekly. But it was in the middle of this particularly breakdown that I said:
“This cannot be my whole life. I cannot live my whole life feeling this way.. This is no way to live. There has to be a different way.”
Little did I know that this would be a major turning point in my life.
First steps to getting help
The next day I made an appointment with a Dietician. She was absolutely lovely and kind. It was clear that she genuinely enjoyed helping people. She began by explaining different types of food and nutrition, all about carbs and the importance of protein (all of which I already knew). I told her “I understand all of the nutritional information about food, and what I am ‘supposed’ to be eating. That is not my problem. My problem is that I have a very unhealthy emotional relationship with food.” It took me at least four more years to realize what I was trying to say was “I have an eating disorder.”
However, the Dietician wasn’t a therapist or a social worker and therefore was unable to provide a direct answer to my problem. However she did recommend a book that changed my life. (Before I tell you the title of the book I want to begin by saying it is not a religious book whatsoever. The title actually held me off reading it for a month but I am so thankful that I did.) The book is called Women, Food and God, written by Geneen Roth.
*After being on my own body liberation journey for 5+ years, I have come to note that there are several opinions and ideas within this book that actually derailed my body liberation journey, and that I personally do not agree with, AND I am nevertheless grateful that it started my revolution.
The revolution of eat when you’re hungry
Within the book I found tidbits of information that changed so much of how I was living my life at that time. One of the simplest yet most profound concepts was “Eat when you are hungry.”
I kid you not, at 24 years old, I was flabbergasted at the idea of someone eating when they are hungry. In the depths of my eating disorder, food had turned into a strict regimen of eating “when” and “what” you were supposed to. It wasn’t about hunger signals or enjoyment. Instead, food was something that caused me stress and in my mind I was out of control with my relationship with food.
I’m up for a challenge
As the book title suggests, it was all about the relationship that women have with food and how and why there is so much suffering around it. One thing in particular that made this book so impactful, is that she basically calls you out at the end of the first chapter. Just as she begins to dive into the emotional connection women have with food she says something along the lines of ‘you are going to want to walk away from this book; ‘you are going to want to close this chapter and turn away from the discomfort you are feeling’. And it was so maddening because it was actually spot on.
Since I am wildly stubborn and competitive I took that as a kind of challenge. I wasn’t about to let this author get the best of me and so I kept going. But by continuing to move through the book it pushed the boundaries of what I had been letting myself feel, express or share. It was one of the first steps in helping me understand how I had been using food and exercise as a form of anxiety suppression.
Weight loss didn’t fulfill the promises
I believed that if I could just eat the right things, or do the right workouts then somehow I could escape the immense anxiety I had. But it never did. It kept me locked in a cycle of weight loss and gaining that lasted almost a decade. It never gave me the feelings that weight loss promised and never made me feel worthy, or loved or confident. Instead it left me off kilter, uncertain and self conscious. My disordered eating robbed me of so many years.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self the revolutionary things I have learned since starting my body liberation journey. I wish I could pave the way to make things easier for her, and reduce the amount of suffering she experienced. But the truth is that I doubt that I would have even listened; I had a ton of things I needed to learn, experience and integrate into my life before it would finally sink in. But if I could go back and leave some bread crumbs for her to follow to make it a smoother journey, I would start by recommending the list below.
The Body is Not an Apology – by Sonya Renee Taylor
You Have the Right to Remain Fat – by Virgie Tovar
The F*ck it Diet – by Caroline Dooner
The Food Psych Podcast by Christy Harrison
Watching Shrill – available on Hulu or Crave tv
Lizzo (need I say more lol)
This is just a small list of resources I really loved, if you would like to know others feel free to email me!
Anxiety’s new target
Looking back now I can see how my eating disorder was a form of coping with anxiety, a way to feel in control in a world where we don’t often get to feel that way, especially folks who identify as women. And I wish I could say that engaging in disordered eating was the last harmful form of coping that I developed, but after my eating disorder it moved onto a new and unexpected target; my business.
Next week I’ll share about my experience starting and growing my business. I will talk about the similarities between my fixation on my business and my eating disorder and how that realization prompted a huge shift in my life.
If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder click here for resources + access to a helpline.
Did you connect with any of the feelings in this blog? Have you experienced the broken promises of weight loss? Do you have any resources you want to share? Feel free to share your experiences/thoughts in the comments.
The broken promises of weight loss
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