I wrote The Perpetual Battle with Weight, Part 2 initially as a stand alone post. Here I discuss the roller coaster that I see so many experience when focusing on weight loss. After much prayer and thought, I realized that it was important for me to share my own story first.
In addition to the suffering I see other people go through in trying to manipulate the size/shape of their body, my own journey to freedom also compels me to share this message. I felt like these posts should be shared together. You can read them in whatever order that you want to, but they are meant to be read together. You can read Part 2 here.
Sharing this makes me feel like I’m standing naked on my front porch, but that is how you know you are truly being vulnerable. When people are brutally honest, it helps me the most. It is how I can see myself in their story.
So, here it goes. My own struggles with disordered eating began very young. Looking back, I don’t remember anyone actually telling me that I needed to achieve a certain weight or eat a certain way. My parents never restricted my eating or made me cut out any foods. I know that many others’ stories of disordered eating involve other people’s messages or imposed restrictions. My triggers were more indirect.
The media can be a huge trigger. It is subtle because we don’t always notice the effects that it has on us. Growing up, I didn’t have the influence of social media, but I had magazines and the entertainment industry portraying the “ideal” body size. Models, actors, and actresses have a lot of pressure on them to look a certain way. When you constantly see certain body shapes idealized and you perceive your own body looking different, you feel the need to “fix” it, many times not even realizing it.
My other trigger came from dance—not dance in itself, but the environment it created. Let me start off by saying that dance was and still is a huge love of my life. Through it I learned discipline, the joy of movement, and how to express myself creatively. It is something that God has blessed me with—I pray I continually give it to Him and that I use it for His glory and not my own. There were years that I took a break from dance, but He always brought it back somehow.
Growing up in the dance world meant that I pretty much lived at the dance studio on most nights, especially during my teenage years. Dance classes usually occur in rooms with mirrors covering the walls. Constantly seeing your body compared to others’ bodies in these mirrors can send these subtle messages of needing to be “fixed”…at least it did for me. (Side note—if you have a child in dance and suspect this could be a struggle for them, it may be worth talking with them about it in a loving and supportive way. Remind them that you accept them and that we all come in different shapes and sizes).
When I was young, I became obsessed with the number on the scale. I have a naturally muscular or “athletic” body type. Because I was on the tall side and I was naturally muscular, I weighed more than my friends. I was always interested in nutrition growing up and joke that I used to tell my parents what to feed me. But, as I entered my teen years, my eating became very restrictive. I was also dealing with problems in my family that I could not fix, and I needed something to control. The “need to fix” turned inward on myself and my body. I developed an unhealthy desire to be thin.
During my sophomore year of high school, I lost so much weight that I quit having a menstrual cycle. According to BMI charts, I was considered underweight. People did not suspect me as having an eating disorder because they saw me eat. They did not see how little I ate or how restrictive I was. It was my own little world that I had control over, a dark world that kept me from the truth, from living in freedom. (Disclaimer–even though I became underweight during my eating disorder, people of any size can suffer from an eating disorder/disordered eating.)
In Part 2 of this post, I write about our natural weight regulation system. I can look back and see how this system took over for me after a year of severe restriction. I reached the point of not being able to sustain my behaviors any longer. Hunger took over. I remember eating more and feeling like I had failed, like I had lost all willpower. My body was hungry after I put it through “famine” for an entire year. I gained enough weight to bring me out of the underweight range for my height.
Although my weight returned to a more healthy range, my thoughts did not. I carried this struggle with me, this desire to control my weight in unhealthy ways. I still engaged in restrictive eating but not as severe as the previous year. As a teen, my relationship with God developed and I can truly say that He kept me from acting on those thoughts that I had. He was the voice inside me telling me not to indulge in those behaviors. I did not always resist. I was afraid to give it up. I still carried this struggle, but I knew deep down it was harmful.
A couple of years later, I started college. For the first time I did not have dance, gymnastics, sports, or cheerleading to keep me physically active. At this point, I did not know how to exercise on my own. I also took medicine that caused weight gain. My weight increased. This bothered me and made the struggle even worse.
I knew I wanted to work in the field of nutrition, psychology, or fitness at this point in my life. I was praying that God would lead me down the right road. I took some exercise classes in college and through this learned more ways to “control” my weight. Opportunities for dance and gymnastics also came back into my life. I already had an unhealthy relationship with food and I developed an unhealthy relationship with exercise. I did not see movement as something to keep me healthy and strong. I viewed exercise as another way to control my weight or make up for “eating too much.” My weight fluctuated up and down during this time.
I mentioned before that as a child and young teen, no one ever told me I needed to change my weight. In college, there were a few moments I did receive critical comments from people regarding my body. It absolutely devastated me and triggered more purging behaviors. I cannot imagine what people go through who continually receive these messages from other people. I did not handle it well. People should not comment on the size of others’ bodies, ever. That is another post for another day.
After graduating with a degree in psychology, I moved on to graduate school to study nutrition. Becoming a dietitian was my next step. As I began my studies, my focus gradually started to shift from being thin to being healthy. During this time, I lost my uncle to heart disease when he was only 40. This really motivated me to engage in and promote nutritious eating and exercise for the health benefits. I feel like God really started to set me free from disordered thought patterns during this time. They were not completely gone, but my mindset started shifting. Over time those thoughts patterns were slowly reframed.
My journey to freedom took time. Even as my thoughts were shifting, I still had struggles. I still had triggers. I consider myself free of it now, but I do occasionally notice triggers that could derail my thoughts. But, I have awareness if they do appear. I try to avoid triggers within my control, such as weighing myself. I don’t even own a scale. I also continually keep my thoughts in the right place by feeding my brain with truth and positive messages (Philippians 4:8).
I mention in Part 2 that my first job involved working at a weight loss clinic. I truly wanted to help people lose weight in a healthy way and not engage in behaviors and thought patterns I had growing up. But, the more I have learned about intentional weight loss and the more experiences I have seen other people have, the less convinced I am that focusing on weight loss is healthy at all—physically or mentally. Focusing on weight loss usually involves dieting in some way, shape, or form. Dieting is highly correlated with developing disordered eating patterns and causing more harm in the long run.
I read the book titled Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch a little less than a year ago. They are both Dietitians and pioneered this movement. It spurred on many research studies that confirm the benefits of this approach—getting back to the intuitive way of eating that we were born with that gets suppressed through dieting and restrictive food rules. We usually respond when our bodies tell us to use the bathroom or drink fluids, but when it comes to eating most of us have lost touch with these innate cues—ignoring hunger and/or fullness sensations. As a result, we cycle between restriction and overeating and this causes feelings of deprivation and guilt. Weight then cycles up and down and this affects your health and mental outlook. I write more about this in Part 2.
I am now entering what I refer to as “phase 2” in my life and career. This phase of my journey is still unfolding—God reveals His vision step by step as I obey and follow His lead. My long journey to freedom and the experiences I have had in my career have given me a fresh perspective. I have started training to become a “Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor”. I also recently started training to be a yoga instructor through “Holy Yoga.” My life goals include wanting to help people restore the connection between their mind and body, and heal their relationship with eating and movement.
I hope that by sharing what God puts on my heart, it helps you find more freedom wherever you may be struggling.
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