Working on Accepting Myself, As-Is

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had disordered eating habits and a negative body image. It doesn’t stem from trauma or anything like that, more of a combination of bad habits developed as a kid/teen and having a skewed sense of how my body actually looks.

Since I turn 35 in less than a week, I’ve decided that this is the perfect time to work on trying to overcome these issues. After all:

  • Disliking your body is exhausting and it makes things a bigger deal than they should be. Hello, clothes shopping. Clothing sizes are an arbitrary number that’s not even consistent between stores. There’s no reason to let something not fitting get me into a funk for the rest of the day.
  • I have 2 little boys looking up to me (and 3 nieces I would like to be an example of body positivity for, in addition to their own moms). Yes, boys can have body image issues and suffer from disordered eating, too. What’s especially scary about it in boys is the fact that it’s often overlooked due to most of the awareness being around girls. Some estimates think that 1/3 of those with eating disorders are actually male. That’s HUGE!

With these ideas in mind, I figure a good place to start is to examine the How I got where I am today.

My history with disordered eating

Trigger warning: Binging and anorexia.

Both Caiden and Beckett are bottomless pits when it comes to eating. They would eat snacks all day and night if we would let them. I was the same way as a little kid.

As a kid I would often go back to my grandma’s house after school and eat at least one piece of melty cheese on bread (toast with Colby jack melted on top, this is still a comfort food for me to this day) as a snack. Sometimes if I was starving I could convince her to give me a second one. Then I would go home and eat dinner, usually with seconds. Snacks and second helpings (I was a full fledged member of the Clean Plate Club) were a way of life.

Not too horrible when you’re growing nonstop and running around all the time, constantly burning energy.

Me burning some of said energy in 1992. Photo courtesy of Kurt Preston (a.k.a. Dad).

I continued this style of eating through high school. During this period, I also started eating with my friends in addition to my family. The freedom led to a lot of over-indulgence. Appetizers, a meal with add-ons (and going back to buy more sometimes), eating a whole pint of ice cream in one sitting, drinking full calorie pop. I did it all. And since I danced 4 nights a week for multiple hours, I was able to do this and remain small.

I never even gave my body the chance to realize if it was full.

These habits carried over into college, where my first friends and I took advantage of our meal plans, the kitchen in our dorm and the student union. First semester I also decided to give Greek life a shot. (Why I thought this was going to be up my alley is beyond me, but I did.) New sisters/friends, and new events to go indulge at. This time with alcohol thrown into the mix too. It was college, why not?

A bad case of alcohol poisoning over homecoming – I still can’t drink Raspberry Smirnoff or Jaeger to this day – led to a really low point. I stopped eating almost entirely. It’s safe to say I was anorexic even though I was never officially diagnosed. I lost a ton of weight over the rest of that fall semester, to the point where I hit around 118. This was tiny on my 5′ 7″ frame, especially considering the lightest I was my senior year of high school was closer to 135.

I don’t have a lot of pics of me from that dark period freshman year. This was my senior year picture, so you can see the before.

Fortunately, a fateful event brought me back to food. My first date with Rick. We went to see a movie and then to dinner afterwards. It’s not like I could sit there and just drink water (rude), so I ordered a meal. Since he kept coming around, I kept eating with him. By that summer, I’d quit the sorority and by fall semester I was back to a decent body weight.

Sophomore year of college also brought dancing back into my life (I wasn’t able to do it much freshman year due to the time constraints of the sorority). With my increase in energy expenditure, my constant hunger returned and my bad eating habits as a result.

At first this didn’t have much of an impact, but as I got older it started catching up with me. Even with dancing a lot, I put on weight. And since I wasn’t a dance major like a lot of my friends, I looked distinctly larger than other people for the first time in my life.

Skewed body image

Like I said before, I’m 5′ 7″, which isn’t short. My limbs and my torso are long, but my waist is really short (seriously, in between the top of my iliac crest and the bottom of my rib cage there’s like maybe 2 inches). As I’ve gotten older and had kids, I’ve developed hips, boobs and a mommy pooch.

Even knowing what I know about my body in a logical sense, I don’t really know what I look like.

It sounds weird, I know, I know. But bear with me.

  • Since I know my height and have an estimate on my weight (our scale broke a while back so we tossed it, so the most recent number I have is from when I went to the doctor in July – and from that visit I know I quantify as Overweight on the BMI), I know that I should and could weigh less than I do.
  • When I look in the mirror, I see all the lumps, bumps and bulges. The stretch marks. The sagging. All the negatives.
  • When I look at pictures of myself, I see how large my head looks in comparison to others’. How my tall and once muscular frame seems gargantuan in comparison to the elfin ladies who seem to make up the majority of my career field.

All I see is the negative.

I don’t officially fit the diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder (I don’t spend over an hour a day fixating on these things, and they don’t really impact my quality of life), but seeing these negatives all the time and overlooking any positives just gets a bit draining.

I’m tired of all the negativity. There’s more than enough of that in the world right now. I need to start finding a way to focus on the positives, which brings me back to the main point of this (long, long, LONG blog post).

Embracing intuitive eating and body positivity

I’ve decided that I need to actually start listening to my body. It’s smart after all. It knows when it’s hungry, full, needs to exercise and needs to rest.

My brain is what I need to start tuning out.

To help with this, I’ve come to realize that tracking calories doesn’t really work for me. My brain sees numbers and starts freaking out if it knows those are going to be surpassed, so I stop tracking what is actually consumed in the apps I attempt to use. That doesn’t really work or help with the situation. So what I’ve started this week instead is to just write down what I consume. In a notebook. With a pen.

No calories.

No math.

No judgement.

Just an honest reflection of what goes into my mouth.

Additionally, I’ve taken some of the advice Rick and I give Caiden for myself. If I’m not sure if I’m actually hungry (I tend to snack if I’m bored), I’ve started drinking water. This forces me to pause, and it gives my body a chance to determine the actual situation rather than my brain automatically making my body go into the pantry and digging out something to eat.

Granted, it’s only the third day of doing this, but I’ve already noticed a difference in the amount of times I mindlessly snack.

Between intuitive eating and actually embracing movement (I tend to be happiest if I have at least some level of activity in my daily life), I might finally be comfortable with my body image.

Now I’m not saying I’ll ever like what I see 100% (I am human after all), but at least I’ll grimace less. And hopefully I’ll be able to use the mirror for it’s real purpose, a reflection. Nothing more, nothing less.

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