No Going Back

In about a week and a half I will get some photos taken to commemorate my new blonde hair. When I think about how I will look in these photos, I sometimes start to feel icky about the weight I’ve gained during the pandemic and over the past few years in general. Some of the disordered eating thoughts from my early adolescence emerge all over again. How nice would it feel to have a completely flat stomach like before? Remember that time when your face looked so much thinner and more angular? If you start cutting back on some meals, you could have your super skinny body from 2009, it wasn’t even that long ago.

These thoughts and emotions feel odd to experience because on an intellectual level, I recognize that a desire for thinness is fatphobic bullshit. I firmly believe that patriarchy teaches those of us who are more femme to pursue thinness to appeal to the male gaze, which diverts our attention from destroying the patriarchy in the first place. I don’t care about whether men find me attractive; on a somewhat inverted level, I don’t even find myself attracted to (or at least only to) super skinny guys. For me, the desire for thinness may stem from my early adolescence, the time in my life when I used disordered eating to cope with an abusive and unstable home life, where my weight felt like one of the only things within my control. Those several years of restriction may intertwine with society’s general fatphobia to bring back some of my disordered eating cognitions.

I have felt some guilt about experiencing these thoughts and emotions. It’s been over a decade since the worst of my eating disorder, I’m a literal therapist now, and I’ve published peer-reviewed articles on disordered eating, so shouldn’t I be over this? However, after talking with my therapist about this and engaging in thorough self-reflection, I’m reminding myself that healing takes time. It makes sense that after having engaged in restrictive behaviors for so many years that the urge would emerge. The difference is that now I feel more empowered to practice self and community-care to prevent anorexia from overtaking my life once again.

Here is a picture of me in between two tennis matches eating Chipotle in my car to recoup my energy! While I don’t really care about winning or losing in tennis, I enjoy how tennis and jogging help me focus on what my body can do in terms of endurance instead of how thin it looks. Peep at my beautiful blonde hair.

When I reflect on the disordered eating years of my life and even the disordered eating cognitions I have experienced more recently, I feel most struck by how it all comes across as such a big waste of time. It sucks that I spent so much of my mental space obsessing about the size of my stomach, the angles of my face, and how I looked in pictures. Now, though, I have much more important and fulfilling things to think about: how to integrate different therapeutic techniques like CBT and DBT with indigenous and non-western healing methods, whether it’s possible to conduct research that helps dismantle cishet white supremacist patriarchy when academia itself was largely built on anti-Black racism and the erasure of Indigenous folks, and how to continue thriving in relationship with my two closest friends who are funny and compassionate and wise. Focusing on altering the size of my stomach would mean less time to think about these more meaningful questions, time that now I refuse to give up.

I’m not sure if I still would’ve developed an eating disorder if I had been introduced to more radical and strident social justice ideology and actions earlier in my life. Maybe the trauma of my home life would’ve led me to anorexia anyway, maybe not. Regardless, now that I’m more in control of my surroundings and self-aware and empowered, there’s no going back. I’m only moving forward, to savoring delicious meals and foods, basking in the company of myself and good friends, and doing my best to help others help themselves out of disordered eating’s heinous clutches as well.

Several weeks ago I had one of my students over to my place for dinner to celebrate their submission of their first first-authored paper and they brought this cheesecake which I finished the next morning which was so delicious! I’m remembering how eating food gives me the energy to complete activities that align with my values, like mentoring students, providing therapy, and writing on this blog.

For those who have struggled with disordered eating or other mental illnesses, how have you practiced self-compassion when you experience a relapse in any form? How do you cultivate appreciation for your body amidst a fatphobic society? General reactions to this post? Ugh I’m visiting one of my best friends for a week starting two Thursdays from now then I’m visiting another one of my best friends for my birthday week and we’re going to eat so much good food! Until next post.

9 Comments

Filed under Personal

9 responses to “No Going Back

  1. I don’t think I ever had a skinny body. Food was a source of comfort. I still reach for it when I feel stressed out. So I have to always tell myself that I’ve eaten enough already. There’s no need to reach for seconds.

    You must be a great teacher – congrats to you for helping your student reach an important milestone. The cheesecake looks yummy. Congrats too on your new blonde hair.

    Have a great week!

  2. If you’re aware of the disordered thinking and you have the tools to combat it, you can do it. You managed to break the habit of it and you’re left with some vestiges of course, especially I presume when times are tough, but you will not let it get you again. I have a close friend with a Severe Enduring Eating Disorder and I know you know what that manifests as in the destruction of her body and strength and I know that you won’t slip back again. Don’t feel guilty, though, especially insidious things like EDs are programmed to try to sneak back. You are strong enough to carry on and enjoy yumminess with your lovely friends – and I’m so glad you were treated early and carefully enough with enough understanding you haven’t ended up like my friend.

    • Thanks so much for this compassionate note Liz. Yes, eating disorders can get severe and the toll is so devastating psychologically and physically. Appreciate you sharing your friend’s experience for perspective and for affirming my strength and recovery!

  3. Patrick

    I have OCD. One of the hardest things for me to do is to trust that I want good things. If, say, I decide to pig out and eat doughnuts for breakfast, I have to trust that I will know when I have eaten enough doughnuts and want to get on with my day. OCD causes me to be constantly asking myself if things could be just a little bit more perfect than they are right now. I’ll be having a hot bath and ask myself if I would be more comfortable if the water were just a little bit warmer. Then I’ll turn on the hot water and realize that the water was fine the way it was but somehow I couldn’t see that a minute ago.

    For me, the best solution to mental health problems is always physical fitness. Yoga, sports, and lifting weights are surefire ways to take the edge off of anxiety.

    • Thank you for sharing about your OCD and how it manifests for you, Patrick. It sounds like it can be a precarious balance and requires some intentionality, like figuring out what feels okay and what feels like enough. I can relate in the context of my eating disorder and sometimes worrying about whether I will eat beyond fullness if I do eat, while also recognizing that being out of touch with internal satiety cues stems from long periods of restriction itself. I’m glad that physical fitness helps you with managing anxiety/OCD and being physically and mentally engaged also helps me with my mental health issues!

  4. Kartavya Ratate

    I am so happy that you are taking care of yourself. It’s difficult when old struggles resurface, but I am glad you are not judging yourself for that while consciously choosing to regulate your emotions and practice introspective self-talk.

    Also, something to share: my blog! (https://itsmylittleshelf.wordpress.com/blog/)
    Your post resonates with me, because I’m starting this blog at a time when I, too, am facing old insecurities and similar tensions. But I am hopeful, too. And intend to share that hope on this space.

    Sending my warmth to you. Take care, Thomas.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, I am happy to be examining my emotions and thoughts without self-judgment and with kind curiosity. Appreciate you sharing your blog with me and I hope that reading and writing have been going as well as possible for you so far. (:

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