I don’t have an eating disorder any more. I feel more energetic, less hungry, and far less cold. At meals, I pay attention to my body, eat when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full. Instead of thinking about food all the time, I have more mental energy to focus on other interests: music, software, psychology. However, since I stopped the disordered eating behaviors, my body image issues got worse. I used to value my body because it was skinny. In the mirror, I’d admire how slim my legs were or lift up my shirt to check my stomach. Now that I’m no longer skinny, I’m learning to live with weight gain.
Anxious thoughts about weight gain
At first, when I overate or felt too full, I hated the feeling of my stomach folding and squishing. I felt terrified that I was forever out of control, that I’d swell up like a fat whale, and that nobody could ever love me (these thoughts were always inextricably linked). The intrusive voice would beg me to lose weight and act as though that would make me happy and pretty. When I had orthorexia, I followed a restrictive diet in the name of health, but in those swollen moments, I wondered if I missed an even healthier way to eat. I contemplated going paleo (just avoid grains and sugar!) or intermittent fasting (just ignore your hunger for 16 hours!). These diets do help some people, but I didn’t have a good reason to restrict my eating outside of an irrational desire to be small again.
The intrusive voice pleads me to eat less, to run more; it attacks my stomach, my thighs until I’m bleeding and raw. My automatic response is to feel sad and angry. Food and body images are unfortunately common, and I often hear women around me talking about feeling fat, wanting to lose weight, and counting calories. On social media, I see unrealistically beautiful models and get unsolicited ads for flat belly tea or tummy tuck tights. In these situations, I fear that my body never is and never will be good enough.
Learning to accept my body
Separating these anxious thoughts and identifying their ugly nature is the most difficult step for me. I’ve lived with this voice for so many years that it’s hard to distinguish from my own. I feel broken when I can’t. However, I try to separate the voice and respond thoughtfully. Like my therapist taught me, I practice self-compassion and tell myself “I’m going through a tough time right now. Everybody feels like this sometimes. May I treat myself with love and kindness.” I change my thought channel and appreciate what my body does: climb routes, cook food, play instruments.
The intrusive voice still pops up out of the blue, but it’s getting better. I’ve been prioritizing my mental health much more lately. I make sure to get enough sleep, do what I love, and spend time with people who light up my day. The more projects I plan, the less I worry about my current weight. The more I interact with others, the more I keep the world in perspective: my body is strong and healthy - what more can I ask?