As soon as I hit "Save & Publish" on that lost post, I began to panic. The ending didn't work quite right. It felt disjointed, unsatisfying. It didn't feel wholly true-- I do miss my ex in a big, aching way quite often and loneliness is something that can hit me anytime, not infrequently in a room full of people. I do sometimes worry that by not dating anyone right now I'm losing precious time to meet other singles, as outrageous as that sounds. So I read and re-read that post and eventually the words all blended together and I knew the best thing to do was let it be. Because I was never going to get it quite right. I could never touch upon every angle in a single post.
So, too, with writing this in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, which kicked off February 21. I've started about five different drafts, some brand new and others from my previous blog, with a bit of an updated twist. The more I meddled with the words, though, the farther I get from my point. Which is that it's important you know I'm recovered from an eating disorder and that I have some big thoughts on health, food, and our bodies. And I won't stop believing--and talking about-- how we are all wasting too much precious time equating thinness with health, food choices with personal value and virtue, and waist size with worth. Here are just a few thoughts on the matter.
I think about how much money the diet industry would lose if everyone woke up tomorrow and liked themselves. I think about how much power women in particular could claim if we finally decided our appearance was the least interesting and important aspect of our amazing selves, and if we didn't live to avoid being recognized as inevitably imperfect and blessedly different, nestled on a spectrum of body shapes. I think about how confused I was to see Oprah's commercials for Weight Watchers, which indicated, yet again, that one of the loveliest, wisest, wealthiest, and most successful women in the world isn't happy enough because her body's set point is above society's ideal. It's sad and it's bullshit. As writer Caissie St. Onge from Vox wrote, "If Oprah can't do permanent lifelong weight loss, maybe it can't be done." I simply don't believe Oprah would be any more worthy of our collective idolization if she achieves and maintains this new weight loss. And frankly, I was bummed that empowering, feminist Oprah (who admittedly isn't responsible for being a perfect role model in every way) bought, literally, into this outrageous industry that insists women need to look a certain way in order to live well. An industry that insists diets work.
They don't. They don't. They don't.
Here's one important point: Diets fuck with our hunger cues. They put us into deprivation mode, inevitably leading to "pig-outs" that seemingly reaffirm we need this diet because look! We are so very out of control with food. In reality, that's our bodies doing exactly what they were built to do--make up for scarcity. When we live from a sense of plenty (plenty to go around, plenty to eat) we're far less likely to go nuts over even the most fun food. There's much more to be said about how diet culture is insidiously sold to us and totally ineffective, but I'll get off my soapbox and get personal, because I suspect that's where the magic is.
In my eating disorder life revolved around bingeing--where to get the food, how to buy it or transport trays of it out of the dining hall without people noticing, where to eat it without anyone watching (I was the epitome of Tobias when someone walked into my dorm room mid-binge), how to discretely dispose of wrappers, and so on. And it revolved around dieting-- which fad to try next, how to make my increasingly too-small clothes fit, how many minutes I needed to spend on the elliptical before I burned off just a tiny fraction of the serious eating, how to choke down black coffee, how to handle low blood-sugar dizzy spells, and so on. It was exhausting. I was never so selfish and secretive as when I was in my eating disorder. I hated the way I looked and I loathed my behaviors. I was deeply, deeply ashamed. And yet eating disorders just want to keep living, and so I unwittingly crafted a life that let it thrive. I stayed lonely and tried never to discuss it, despite disordered eating being something we often wear on the outside (noticeable weight gain or loss). It matters not whether one's particular issue is with restricting, purging, and/or bingeing, or any other behavior related to controlling our bodies and food intake. What we have in common is a core sense that if people really knew us, really saw the lengths we go to maintain and disguise the eating disorder, people would think us revolting. We worry that if we did nothing to try to control of the beasts of our hungers, we'd be a thousand pounds. Or perhaps, we'd be average. Nothing extraordinary. A waste. And, importantly, many with eating disorders worry life will be intolerable without these extreme coping skills. We teach ourselves over and over that the only way to navigate the confusion and pain and even joy of living is to channel the energy and feeling into things we can seemingly control--food and our bodies.
The best reflection of my progress through the eating disorder and into recovery is not my weight. My particular eating disorder, coupled with my age, genetic predisposition, and other health and environmental factors, all lent itself to losing some excess weight as I developed normal eating patterns again. I didn't weigh myself daily. I didn't measure out dishes, considering proteins versus fats versus starches. I didn't count points. I didn't quite know it at the time, but in my exhaustion from years of dieting I was simply letting my body eat what it wanted, when it wanted it. I slowly, slowly learned to trust that days would even themselves out. That I didn't have to atone for any one indulgence because my body would do the work for me. That by legalizing all foods, I didn't have to stuff myself every time I ate a "bad" food, because there would always be more of it around. Importantly, I learned how soothe myself in ways beyond eating.
I believe in comfort food. I believe in deep red wines and full-bodied cheeses. Chunks of flaky, warm bread torn apart and smothered in salted butter. I love crab and this particular kind of flank steak my parents have perfected. I believe in squares of dark chocolate and spoons dipped directly into cartons of Ben & Jerry's (as I type, I have a couple pints in my freezer). I also believe in long baths. A few extravagant, delightfully chosen candles. Enthralling books. I believe in reaching out to family and friends when I'm upset (and when I'm happy) and stating what I need from them in order to feel supported. I believe in therapy. I believe in writing to process and understand myself better. I believe in the power of a soft blanket, sweat pants, and a favorite show to reset a bad day. I believe in walking outside, getting fresh air, listening to a favorite podcast. Life is so big and generous in the ways it can calm us, entertain us, celebrate with us, and mourn with us.
And I will acknowledge that although certainly not model-sized and indeed generously hipped for easy baby-birthing and such, my set weight range allows me a certain amount of "thin-privilege." One less obstacle to tackle on the way to body acceptance, although surely society would prefer less cellulite and a thousand other adjustments before I'm on the cover of Vogue. Oprah's set body weight is simply heavier. And that's hard, isn't it? When the only option is to surrender, to acknowledge that there's a part of ourselves that simply won't change. That we've been aching for a future that isn't genetically meant to be. But god, it feels good to let go and step out of the pointless, painful struggle when we can because life is too short. And beauty is an ever-shifting social construct. And we happen to live in a time when a certain look is valued more than others, and do we really want to spend our lives trying to meet some artificial, temporary ideal?
I forget this. For all the times I've reminded my clients that they are allowed to look exactly how they look, that weight loss doesn't equal control, that traditional beauty doesn't ensure a perfect life (and I say those things many times a week), I forget that's true for myself, too. I'm not an exception. (I often tell my clients something like this: You see your friends out there? How they are so clearly interesting and funny and lovely exactly as they are? That's true for you, too. You aren't somehow the boring, dumb, unattractive accident in the group. You aren't the exception.) But this remembering I'm worthy thing is work. I surround myself with reminders. For example, I've stopped following anyone who makes me feel like shit to see and read about, including celebrities and even old friends. I can always re-follow people but for now my sanity, self-esteem, and one less excuse to get stuck in the comparison trap is a good thing for me. Instagram profiles like Recovery Warriors and Isabel Foxen Duke have been a couple of recent favorites. I listen to podcasts including Call Your Girlfriend, Food Psych, and The Lively Show, all hosted by strong, inspiring women who challenge norms and make me feel, well, normal (in the best way). I refuse to spend time with people who are mean, competitive, and judgmental.
I can't truly say what's right for Oprah or anyone else when it comes to food and weight. I can only share my truth, the little bit of it that I can encompass in this single blog post. I did the dieting thing for so long. I really, truly believed in such thingas the perfect body since I was a kid. And yet. Nothing satisfies me the way living freely does. I've always loved the scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin William's character says, "We get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds." I say, who and what. I may not always remember this, but in my moments of clarity I choose freedom over Weight Watchers or any other diet. I choose a healthy, curvy body over deprivation. Ican blame my body or I can do the work. I can pile all my hopes and dreams atop a body I may never achieve, blame rejection or frustration on my appearance, or I can show up and be vulnerable and risk that someone won't like me for who I am. But that's where the magic happens.
We get to choose. Choose and choose again. Dear friends, let's choose to live.