The elephant in the room
So what’s the elephant in the room? Me, my weight gain! and I feel ready to talk about it.
I have always struggled with my weight being 5ft2 means every pound shows - I can’t hide my weight gain like a taller person. Before my breakdown, I would not allow myself to go further than 2 stone overweight (unless pregnant) before I would embark on a weight loss regime. I have lost that same amount of weight, time and time again, I yo-yo. The more gruelling the diet, the punishment for my weight gain, the better. I’d be disgusted with myself and felt the need to punish and restrict myself. All diets work, as in I lost weight and got to my goal, but none of the diets worked because I would inevitably put it all back on. You name a diet - I bet I've tried it. Sometimes, I would purposefully overeat so I could punish myself by dieting or show the world how awful I was by being overweight. Sometimes, I kept it off for a while until a random passing comment/thought and it would start me off on my cycle of binge/purge.
I haven’t judged others by their size - I don’t think overweight people are disgusting but I have judged myself. I listened to society's comments about how fat means lazy, letting oneself go, unhealthy, uneducated, no self control. Fat was seen as bad, a strain on resources, our medical systems. It has a bad press - it's not okay to simply like/enjoy food, to just be bigger - it was something that had to change, needed to be fixed for society, for the greater good. I felt I fitted this description of fat. I compared myself to others and felt I just didn’t fit in with them and that I ‘should’ be slimmer. It had nothing to do with other people or their size but it was all to do with how I felt, when I looked in the mirror. I saw a disgusting person and felt that’s what others saw when they looked at me. I could accept others as they are, but I couldn’t do that for myself, my body image was completely off. I had lots of rules around food that I didn’t realise existed. Binge/purge had become my way of coping and it wasn’t healthy.
I didn’t realise I had disordered eating - I just thought that was normal - that was the cost of 'being slim and acceptable' The problem was I was never acceptable to myself. Even when I was at my thinnest, I still didn't feel comfortable - although the clothes labels said the right number, I just didn't feel right - I was the wrong shape, I was too saggy - I reached goal weights but never reached that feeling of acceptance. I was my worst critic. People often feel its okay to comment on your weight gain - 'oh you've put weight on' I'm not really sure what they expect to achieve from this - did they think i didn't notice? are they saying it so i'll do something about it? to become acceptable in their eyes? is it small talk? what do they expect you to say back? do they want an in depth conversation into why? No one looks at your weight gain, and accepts that you're fighting an illness, a battle within, that its a sign you're not okay and its difficult to talk about. That you sabotage your weight loss to punish yourself, over and over again. Obviously it's not like this for everyone, not everyone who has put on weight or losing weight, has this battle.
Weight loss however is always rewarded with - 'well done, keep up the good work, you look so good' that its easy to see weight gain as the opposite - as negative, that I'm bad. The comments are meant as an encouragement, as weight loss is hard, but i'd just take it as further evidence that I was not acceptable as I was. Whether bigger or smaller, I felt unacceptable - my body image - what i saw in the mirror was wrong and never right. I couldn't understand body dismorphia - those ladies always looked so beautiful and slim - i wasn't want one of those, I didn't look like that, I really did look horrible.
So what is binge eating like? Its eating uncontrollably and quickly. It can be eating food I don't really like, its eating to satisfy that hole within me. Sometimes through my depression my body feels like it needs something, eating fills that need. When I'm stressed out/anxious, eating takes the edge out of it - a bit like a cigarette, drink of alcohol or gambling to others - unhealthy coping mechanisms. For that short time my mind and body are filled with a different sensation. It takes me away from my reality. My body craves it, its not done publicly and its not done enjoyably. It's just shoved in to take away the feeling of wretchedness. Inevitably this feeling fades and then guilt comes, the urge to restrict then comes. Sometimes I wonder if i actually like food. I eat similar food out of habit. I would go on restrictive diets and then binge on all the food I couldn't eat. I would then find it easier to go on strict diet, as I felt like I've eaten everything, only for the cycle to start again. I've discovered I've picked up rules from the different diets I've been on and have continued those on. Having rules around food, somehow makes me feel in control but actually that's the rules being in charge. The rules I've applied, when taken apart, don't actually make any sense either. It's not logical but that's why its disordered eating.
I had just got back at my slim weight when a comment triggered my overeating. I was running 3 times a week, doing HIIT workouts but I was miserable and exhausted. I was exhausted doing all the things I felt I should be doing. Apparently exercise gives you energy and endorphins - it wasn't working for me. Doing all the things that I felt should make me right and acceptable but they didn't. I went deeper and deeper into depression and finally my body gave up. I broke down, my body declared I'm not doing this any more and I couldn't. The weight went on and I had lost all drive to purge and I lost my hope. My doctor told me not to diet and just focus on my mental health, that it would eventually fall into place. I felt awful getting bigger and bigger but I did not have the strength to purge, I wanted to look as hideous as I felt on the inside - what I needed was to learn to accept me for myself, as I am. I went to therapy and sought help for my mental health. This was not going to be a quick fix, as I had lots of things to deal with and the binge/purge was not at the top. I was also dealing with lots of life curve balls, so it was hard to just focus on recovery. The therapy I have received has helped me to accept who i am right now, most days. My identity and worth is not in my weight or dress size. This journey has had lots of ups and downs. It has been 5 years since the breakdown, since being a bigger version of myself. A size I would have been horrified to see but have now learned to accept. I'm learning to discover who I am, rather than what I think I should be and to silence that inner critical voice. Its not easy and I definitely have days that I am not very good at this. I'm glad to have my faith, to be able to pray, to know/learn my identity in Christ. It gives me something perfect to look too, that does not expect me to be perfect in return. That knows all my flaws, my sins and loves me anyway. To be fully accepted, its an amazing gift, I'm so thankful.
I'm at a place where I chose to seek help with my eating, this year. Through the recovery college and eating disorders team, I learned tools to manage my binge eating. I really want to go on a diet but have been advised not to, until at least a year - to let the information sink in and learn to get rid of old habits and eat 'normally'. I learned what eating normally is and isn't, I learned that diets and binges don't work and its (apparently) much better to learn these skills whilst at a bigger size. I learned about the damage mainstream/popular diets can do - I was actually quite amazed. The conflicting advice, the psychologies used to keep you attending. It was eye opening - the things i had believed.
I learned I need to be kind to myself. I have had this wrong relationship with food for the past 25 years and its not going to be fixed overnight - which is annoying as I want it now and hate waiting. I'm on a journey, which is scary, learning not to over eat or punish myself with restrictive regimes that feed my inner critic. I need to learn a healthy relationship with myself and with food. I write this in recovery - not recovered. I write this with vulnerability, I have not yet reached my goal of acceptance but I've started the journey, I'm further along than I was, I have my tools and on my way.