The Impermanence of Body-Image, Jekyll & Hyde, and 10 Years of Before & After Photos

They say that love is a battlefield. Forget that. Self-love is the real battlefield.

 

I have been aware of my weight for the last ten years. I have been aware of the numbers on the scale going up and down over those ten years for a number of reasons including but certainly not limited to, and in no particular order:

  • being on ritalin for adhd
  • going off of ritalin
  • going on vyvanse for binge eating disorder and adhd
  • falling in love
  • being in a long distance relationship
  • being broken up with
  • ending relationships
  • my parents getting divorced
  • starting college
  • hating parts of college
  • putting on weight when starting birth control
  • counting calories and restricting my food intake to lose weight
  • learning a gym routine that helped me build muscle
  • ignoring that I was allowing myself to go back to my old eating habits as soon as I’d reach my goal weight
  • periods of time when I wouldn’t get on the scale for months at a time
  • beginning to recognize my binge eating as an eating disorder
  • working on understanding why I binge when it happens
  • going to therapy
  • going to acupuncture
  • beginning a mindful eating practice
  • going off of birth control after being on it for ten years

Needless to say, there have been innumerable factors that have taken me from one number to another on the life scale.

My body has gone through a lot of changes this year, which is no surprise given that it has gone through so many changes every year. But this year in particular I went off birth control, I started going to acupuncture, I started a mindful eating practice, and I fell in love- and that combination of things caused me to lose some weight that I had not set out intentionally trying to lose. Fitting into my old jeans has thrown me in a way that I was not expecting.

When I look in the mirror and I fit into jeans that I should have gotten rid of when I purged my closet of all the things I wanted to stop hoping I would someday fit into again, I’m filled with angst. I don’t know if I’ve ever written about this, but the thin and less thin versions of myself feel a bit like Jekyll and Hyde.

When I’ve been at thinner weights, I’ve gotten more attention from everyone. In the past I’ve liked that attention, and I’ve responded to it. Sometimes I’ve done reckless things because having that attention made me feel so powerful. I’ve learned a lot from that. People have assumed I was less intelligent when I’ve been thinner, which made and makes me angry. To this day, the gazes I get from men feel more predatory when I weigh less- and it’s hard to know whether I’m projecting that or not. When I’m thinner I see a younger version of myself looking back at me in the mirror, and the vibrancy of my inner child feels like it shines through more intensely. All of these feelings exist concurrently, even when at odds with each other. The times I’ve been thinner have corresponded with both self-hate (calorie counting, starvation, not going out with friends to avoid calories) and also times of self-love (working on mindful eating, listening to what my body wants and needs, responding to how certain foods make my body feel, etc). The fact that most people respond to you getting thinner in the same congratulatory way every time (not knowing what route you took to get there) feels abrasive against my heart and soul- even when they are trying to be complimentary.

When I’ve been at less thin weights, I have more anonymity within which to navigate the world. It feels like people take more more seriously- at least people who don’t know me. Maybe I take myself more seriously. I don’t worry about getting hit on, or attracting attention that I don’t want. Times of my life when I’ve weighed more have also corresponded with times of depression, and being so far into running away from my feelings that I would binge eat in a way that felt akin to blacking out. Thanks to Geneen Roth’s books in particular, I have made strides on working through my relationship with food (and yes, I had to eat a LOT of cookie dough, and gain about 15 pounds, to get to the place where I am today, some 25 pounds less). 

For the first time in my life I have a partner who wants to proactively communicate and support one another in our respective struggles and journeys in self-love. For the first time in my life I have someone else to consider when thinking about doing something that is long-term harmful to my body, as does he. That is a whole new piece to this that is already having a positive impact on both of us, which feels really, really good.

At the end of the day, whether I’m 138 or 168, I’m still going to have Binge Eating Disorder. It’s still going to be something that I have to work to keep in check by constantly gravitating in and out of my self-care practice. I sat down to write this piece many times, and it was hard. These last few weeks of confusion over why I’ve been able to fit into size 4 and size 6 dresses, struggling with the fear of re-gaining weight which leads to binge eating (see how this is a negative cycle?), before coming back to self-love, compassion, and acceptance, has all been a reminder that I’m on a journey with a body that will never be permanent. I’ll leave you with a piece from “You Are Here,” that I’ve been trying to keep at the front of mind lately. Hope it helps you too. * 

“Our body is not a static thing- it changes all the time. It is very important to see our physical form as something impermanent, as a river that is constantly changing. Every cell in our body is a drop of water in that river… We should train ourselves in this vision of impermanence. When we look deeply at the nature of things, we see that in fact everything is impermanent. Nothing exists as a permanent entity; everything changes. It is said that we cannot step into the same river twice. If we look for a single, permanent entity in a river, we will not find it. The same is true of our physical body. There is no such thing as a self, no absolute, permanent entity to be found in the element we call “body.” In our ignorance we believe that there is a permanent entity in us, and our pain and suffering manifest on the basis of that ignorance. If we touch deeply the non-self nature in us, we can get out of that suffering.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

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Tuesday Morning Thoughts on Feelings, Body Image, and Life

It’s not uncommon for me to feel overcome by my emotions. (I suppose this is the price that comes with being a cancer- lots of feelings, both good and bad.) Unfortunately my primary immediate response to this, the one I’ve unintentionally developed in the last 9 years, is to try to block out the sensation of any “negative” emotion as quickly as possible. I think this initially happened following my first breakup at age 16 (after a year long relationship). The first few days I didn’t stop crying, didn’t eat, didn’t get out of bed. Once I had to go back to school the pain of facing the unavoidable (our school had 200 students in the high school) required that I find a way to numb my feelings to make it through the day. It wasn’t long before I found my answer: eating. Food would become something I could turn to for both solace and pleasure, and by my senior year going to Stewarts’ for extra thick chocolate peanut butter cup milk shakes was a weekly activity. I switched from running track to managing the track team- preferring to abstain from trying to keep up with my peers and instead hanging out on the sidelines.

What I didn’t realize is that I had bought myself a first class ticket to the downward spiral that comes with eating your feelings while simultaneously accepting the message that only thin is beautiful.

I spent most of college alternating between binge eating and calorie counting, preferring to stay in while my friends went out to avoid the extra alcohol calories. Deep pain from my parents divorce at age 17 (something that was impending for most of my childhood but still devastated me) manifested itself with me throwing myself into a serious long distance relationship that helped me escape my day to day life and feelings.  (Ah the things we figure out in therapy).

My junior year of college I joined a gym in London, and started going six days a week. I got into the best shape of my life and wasn’t obsessing over food- though even as a size 4/6 I never thought of myself as thin. Once I was back in the States and my schedule changed I slowly fell back into old habits, and the weight crept back on without me ever realizing it was happening.

Fast forward through some end of college relationship drama and you’ll find me post-college, hurtling head long into having a full blown binge eating disorder. I alternated between intense self-hate and intense apathy. When it came down to it, eating until I felt sick- and then focusing on feeling sick- was easier than feeling, or dealing with, whatever emotions were truly at hand. (Again- therapy.)

Shortly after turning 23 I decided it was time to really learn how to love and take care of myself. I ended an unhealthy (for me) relationship, started reading books on the topic, quit my job (and the toxic environment it had me in), started seeing a therapist, and sought out more enjoyable forms of exercise. I began confiding in friends who shared their own experience, making me feel like I wasn’t alone in my self-image hell. I’ll be grateful for and to these friends for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately like most startups, my progress hasn’t been the straight up and to the right graph we all hope for. Fortunately what I have learned is that life will never look like that graph. There will always be peaks and valleys- and you couldn’t truly appreciate one without the other (the goal is to learn how to move through both gracefully).

I’ve recently started putting more effort into meditation- the headspace app has been a godsend. The effort to be more mindful (and everything from here out is probably going to sound like what my sister would call “so California”) has been challenging, but I can already feel the effects after two weeks of daily mediation. The sneaky thing about being present is that it sounds easy in theory- but it’s freaking hard in practice. Sure I can take deep breaths and count to ten repeatedly while sitting on the floor of my bedroom. What’s harder is using mindfulness to forgive myself for binge eating, or accept the things in my life I can’t control in the moment.

But it’s definitely helping, and I feel good about the direction it’s taking me in.