#9: Eating Habits and Body Image
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
I’m finally going to talk about my eating habits and body image in detail. I’ve had problematic eating habits since middle school: I used to starve myself the week before getting on the scale at the doctor's office by only eating a cheese stick and an apple. For years I followed extreme diets, which inevitably ended in 3,000-calorie binges after school. I've taken at least 8 different types of diet pills. (There was only one that was effective for me, but it had crazy side effects and I think it’s off the market by now.) The point here is that I hated my body and each of these “strategies” resulted in weight gain. I constantly compared myself to others. Every time someone in the classroom would get up, I would think about the differences between our bodies and try to rationalize why I looked okay.
I did a great job of sticking to several extreme diets. For about five days max. Eventually, I would grow tired and forget the purpose of the diet. I abandoned one extreme diet after the next for several cookies AND a tub of ice cream. There was one time that I didn't eat dessert for two months. I didn't miss it by the end of it, but I still managed to gain weight by overcompensating in white bread and Halo top ice cream.
I gained weight several times in my life and always found a way to be in denial. In Spain, at my heaviest, I would get dressed for the day and feel horrible about my body. I remember looking in the mirror and crying at my stomach. Other days, I wondered if I hit a "second puberty" that caused my hips to be wider. I found ways to rationalized the differences in my body and be in denial at the same time. It's just water weight. It's muscle. I didn't get enough sleep. Instead of finding a way to be at peace with my bigger self, I convinced myself that I was smaller than I thought. Before I realized how much weight I was gaining, I thought I had a great metabolism. I thought “Wow, I can eat all this and stay the same! My friends can’t eat this, my metabolism must be great.” I didn't realize that it should be an extra special treat to have two scoops of ice cream or a large order of french fries. I noticed that I consistently eat more than my peers, but ordering two scoops of ice cream when everyone else orders one didn't seem like a big enough difference to gain weight. The weight gain was subtle and easy to ignore too, until I thought I hit "second puberty" and looked at old pictures.
After coming home from Spain, I went on Nutrisystem right away and stuck to it. I always have an easier time with Nutrisystem (I also used it once in high school to lose 15lbs senior year.) because it tells you exactly what to eat and when to eat it. I lost the weight over 6-8 months in a healthy way. I'll save the rest of the details for another post.
As I said before, every ounce of struggle was worth it. I feel so much better about myself now. I feel qualified to wear whatever I want, be open about my passion for fitness, and even write this extremely personal blog. My muscles, albeit small, are visible too. I still have days where I feel like a whale, but after losing an additional (mostly accidental) 10lbs, I can still wear crop tops on whale days.
My body image has improved, but that doesn’t mean that it’s where it should be. For so many years, I looked in the mirror and convinced myself that I was always a size 6 when I was in fact much bigger. I can clearly see how big I was and how much I was in denial when I look at old pictures. As it turns out, I haven't been skinny since freshman year of high school. It hurts me to understand what I thought I looked like as opposed to what I truly looked like. Every time I told myself I was fat and convinced myself otherwise, I was as big as I thought initially. My mind has lied to me before, so how can I trust looking at myself in the mirror now? What if I’m wrong again? How will I ever know if I’m gaining weight again? I can look at the scale, but that crept up on me too. I’m left with the fear that I’ll go back to the weight I was before anytime I feel bloated or have several big meals.
Where does that leave me now? I’m fortunate that I have always loved to exercise and that it doesn’t play a role in my body image. This is not a cry for help. I'm not anorexic or bulimic. I don’t binge anymore, and I rarely count calories. I’m obsessed with my weight because it’s the only way I can check myself. I don’t weigh myself every day (unless I’m on vacation) but the number on the scale can determine my mood for the entire day. I know that weight fluctuates, but it's hard to know the difference between fat gain and normal fluctuation.
Technically, I eat what I want when I want, that doesn’t mean what you think. If you ask what I had for dinner, I’ll give you an honest answer. Most recently, it was French fries and yogurt. Or, I might respond that I'll eat later and end up having 700 calories worth of chocolate covered blueberries count as lunch and dinner. Again, neither of these are a lie. I'm proud of my body now, so I have no reason to lie. I forget that this isn’t a normal response and am embarrassed when people question my well-being. I definitely have an eating issue, but I do eat all of the foods that I want.
My current strategy has allowed me to maintain my weight for about a year now, but I realize that I should learn to eat less dense foods in higher volumes more often throughout the day. I’m worried about harming my average metabolism and lowering the number of calories my body needs for maintenance in the years to come, but I’m also too afraid to eat more now.
Two pictures of me in Spain at my heaviest-- I truly had not realized how big I was at the time.