In October of 2007, I confessed to my husband that I was really struggling with emotional baggage mainly related to my lifelong struggle with food. While I showed early signs of disordered eating, I didn’t truly develop an eating disorder until I spent several years under the watchful and often vindictive and malicious eye of my aunt. I lost weight… I also lost all control over what I ate. I began to sneak eat. I’d eat out with friends. I’d steal food from the pantry when no one was looking. The aunt ridiculed me when I was caught, and did things that, in retrospect, often seem cruel.
Now, if you asked her, she’d tell you that she went out of her way to make sure I had special “treats,” often that she herself made. Things like sugar free pudding or fruit salads. The problem is that it was always presented to me in such a way that I was made to feel inferior and left out. I wasn’t “normal” like everyone else. I couldn’t be trusted with anything. I was shamed into eating alone, and by the time I was a teenager, I was what was then called a non-purging bulimic (though only because my attempts to make myself throw up repeatedly failed).
A month before this fateful conversation with my husband, I had begun seeing a nutritionist. She gave me another thinly disguuised diet to try. I was disgusted. I felt broken. I’d dieted for years, and the roller coaster of ups and downs was getting to be a major problem. I was trapped in a never-ending cycle of failure/success/failure. I’d gain, lose, gain. I wound up heavier each time I dieted, and I was frustrated beyond expression.
When I found Bonnie, a therapist who specialized in eating disorders, I was skeptical at best. I was waiting for her to hand me the next not-a-diet diet and start asking me how much I weighed each week. Imagine my surprise when she instead handed me a book called Intuitive Eating. Not only would she not ask my weight, she discouraged me from finding it out.
The Principles of IE can be read here. The bare bones basic gist of it, however, is simple. Don’t obsess over food. It’s fuel. It’s fun. It is meant to be enjoyed. It should not equate torturous rituals of weighing or counting Points (ala Weight Watchers). It is far more simple than you can possibly imagine, and yet, because of our twisted culutral obsession with thinness and fat phobia, it is almost impossible for most to follow.
I was ready for it, though. I had learned that dieting was emotionally and physically damaging for me. I wound up heavier and more sure I had ‘failed’ with each passing attempt.
Well, it’s been two years. In that time, I have struggled with and embraced the concept of IE. I am no longer worried about a number on the scale. I have chosen to accept the body I have, to love the body I have and to let go of insane fantasies regarding bikini bathing suits at high school reunions. I’ve come to accept that with my disordered thought processes, I would undoubtedly struggle with body image regardless of what the scale said. I have addressed my disordered eating behaviors and thoughts as opposed to worrying about how many stars I’ve got on my Weight Watchers bookmark.
The result? I have never been happier with my body. I have never been less obssessed or concerned with food. In the two years since I gave up dieting, I have essentially maintained my weight. Early on, there was (and often is) some weight gain. I know this not because of a scale, but because my wedding rings didn’t fit for a few months, or because the seatbelt fit a bit more snugly. After about six months, though, the rings fit again. The seatbelt felt less snug.
I still wear the same clothes I wore two years ago. I have probably maintained this weight within ten or fifteen pounds in either direction the entire two years. I don’t know what that weight is. I am lucky enough to have a primary care doctor who supports what I am doing, who recognizes that not every pain in the human body can be attributed to being fat (love the doctor who told my girlfriend she had carpal tunnel syndrome because she was fat!!!). My doctor also recognizes that the mental health benefits of not obsessing over dieting are enormous to me, and that the chronic yo-yo dieting I did was unhealthy.
I still have bad days. I still, sometimes, struggle with my weight… with not feeling pretty enough because of it. But these thoughts are fleeting where once they were constant. I am able to remind myself that being pretty doesn’t make one happy or emotionally healthy… and that being thin doesn’t necessarily lead to health, either. Especially if unhealthy means are used to achieve the so-called-ideal results on the BMI charts.
Where food is concerned, I eat what I want when I want it. I do not check food labels. I don’t obsess over whether or not I should eat a cream puff. If something tastes bad, I don’t eat it… if something tastes good, I usually eat until I am comfortably full. I almost never cross the line from full into stuffed, and the rare times that I do, I am usually aware that it is happening, and it’s a choice I have made for any number of reasons (something at a fancy dinner tastes really good and I decide I want a bite more, or I am actually giving in and emotionally eating - which is rare, but still happens once in a while).
Food is not a friend or an enemy now. It is something I enjoy very much when I need and/or want it, and something I walk away from if I am full or don’t like it. I rarely choose to eat emotionally because food is not the panacea it once was. I now face my problems head on and try to find other means with which to solve them. Food never solved a problem in my life. It may have allowed me to avoid it… and as Bonnie used to tell me, after years of using food in that manner, there are times when it’s okay to give in and do so. There are times when you need to allow yourself to shut off… but in allowing that, the “reward” of distraction is so insignificant that it is rarely worth that awful, overstuffed, my-stomach-hurts-from-eating-so much-feeling.
After two years of IE, I am happier than I have ever been with how I handle what I eat. I am more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been, including that brief moment in time when my aunt managed to diet me down to my so-called healthy weight (and I thought I was fat). I am far more emotionally stable because I’ve developed skills to cope with my issues, whereas before I used food to avoid facing them.
Am I perfect? Hell, no. Do I falter some days? Sure. But overall I have a relationship with food that is far, far healthier than I ever dared dream it could become. Food is not my foe, nor my ally. It’s what fuels my body. It is social and sensual and enjoyable, but it is not something I need to be happy, social or sensual. It is simply food. It tastes good or bad. I eat it or I don’t… and no one tsk-tsks because I’m up a pound one week, and no one cheers and gives me an inflated ego because I happened to lose a pound another week. My weight is just a number on the scale that I refuse to consider or worry about, and I can’t even begin to describe the freedom I feel because of this.