CW: self-hatred, suicidal ideation
I spend a lot of time reading blogs and listening to podcasts from women who support Health at Every Size. I’ve heard tons of very personal stories about the pain and fear that eventually led these women to give up dieting and reject diet culture. But no one I’ve encountered seems to talk about the darkest parts of the process of healing. People say things like, “I had a hard few years,” or “it took me months to realize I was actually still restricting,” but I have yet to read any accounts of what that time really looked like, or what it looks like to be massively triggered during recovery.
I’m worried about sharing what comes next because it describes such an intense emotional event. And even though I feel much better now, I’m still embarrassed or ashamed or worried about making other people uncomfortable. But something I need to express is that the feelings I’m about to share are not here because of my intuitive eating or weight gain. They’re not new. These thoughts, no matter what size or shape I have been, littered my brain every day for over two decades. For so long, I never knew that what I was feeling wasn’t a concrete TRUTH, so I almost never shared anything like these thoughts with anyone.
While these thoughts and feelings pop up now and again, I am so happy to be able to realize that they are not my dominant thoughts anymore. And with a very deep digital breath, here is a note I wrote on my phone while uncontrollably sobbing a few nights ago:
what do i do now that i’m fat?
i’d been living a somewhat even-keeled life since my sister’s wedding. various other important life-related things have come up, including restarting house hunting, this time with my partner on the mortgage. but then, of course, the photos from my sister’s wedding surface, and basically everything i think i care about goes to hell.
some thoughts that enter my mind as i see myself in these photos include:
i am the fattest person i know.
i am so much fatter than i even thought.
how did i let this happen.
i can’t let anyone see me like this.
i am so disgusting.
how could anyone love me.
how could i ever love myself.
i want to die if this is who i am meant to be.
maybe the last year has all been a dream and i can wake up tomorrow and confidently diet.
what if i started any fitness routine.
what foods could i restrict forever.
how do i change this.
i hate everything that i am.
i don’t even know who i am.
right now i am lying in my bed crying because i feel so fucking hopeless. i CAN’T diet or exercise my way out of “this” (meaning, i guess, my fatness). there is literally nothing i can do that will provide long term “results” other than continue working to accept myself for who i am.
but it’s so weird or just hard to develop an identity other than “dieter” and “mildly obsessive exerciser” (a short lived title for sure but still something that was a big part of my life in boulder up until a few months ago).
who AM i? just a fat girl now? if my partner and i broke up, would i ever find anyone who gave two shits about my fat, stretch-marked body? doesn’t everyone who looks at me and sees those photos of me think i’m a disgusting waste of a human being who can’t even take care of herself?
it’s like i can’t even build solid arguments in my favor about the immense change in the quality of my self-care that i’ve experienced in the last year because i know that so much of the rest of our society would look at those photos and truly not believe that i could, in any possible way, be happier at a size 16 than at a size 10.
and why is it that photos make me believe that same thing? i don’t even want to list or consider the benefits i’ve reaped from intuitive eating because it’s so hard to imagine that they outweigh being thinner. it seems impossible right now.
i want to run away and cease my existence and never be present in front of a camera ever again. i want to die in my sleep so that i don’t even have to wake up and deal with my physical existence in space. i want to appear in a different timeline where i did 6 whole30s in the last year, no matter the metabolic and psychosocial toll that level of restriction would have. i feel no sense of self worth, no matter that in the last year i’ve managed to complete countless creative tasks that would have previously been abandoned due to a lack of time or confidence or ability to attempt or complete anything for fear of being too fat to deserve accomplishments beyond exercise and dieting.
i don’t even have anyone i can talk about this with because i don’t know anyone other than my therapist who has actually experienced some semblance of what i’m going through. i feel so alone and so disgusting and so undeserving and so hopeless and so so so terrible. i can’t even cry openly because connor came to bed (where i’m writing) and i don’t want to talk about this with him because i still feel like he doesn’t really support me because he’s still a victim of diet culture because everyone is. the only relief i get is from my cat, whose love has become so much more sweet and reliable since i’ve been able to practice being a gentle and loving caretaker to her as i also practice giving myself that same care. and like she does sometimes, i want to barf on the rug to attempt to provide myself with any form of relief, even for just 6 seconds of escape from what i’m currently feeling, even if that means having to use half a paper towel roll to clean it, just literally anything to remove my thoughts from how obtrusive and imposing and disgusting i feel like my body is right now.
Now, I can’t really even remember what it’s like to feel how I felt when I wrote those words. But I do know that the feeling of absolute hopelessness was so familiar, especially to a younger version of myself. And while I know that for most people, feelings of depression don’t really have an identifiable source, I’m beginning to see how much all of my emotional struggle as a teen and young adult has been rooted in societally perpetuated self-hatred. I used to think that my anxiety and depression were a sign that there was just something “wrong” with me, and I thought that hating my body was SO NORMAL that it couldn’t possibly be a source of true anxiety. AND I believed that the only path to calming those anxieties were to change my body, and my habits, and all sorts of external things about myself so that I could fit into some kind of “better” role as defined by society’s expectations.
As I reread my thoughts and feelings from that night, I don’t want sympathy for having them, or apologies, or for anyone to worry about me. I share these thoughts because I want everyone to know that SO MANY PEOPLE live lives where these kinds of thoughts are present every day. So many people are going through life believing that they don’t deserve basic happiness because they didn’t work enough or they ate too much or they slept in instead of going to the gym. As I reflect on all of this information, I feel compelled to share this reminder:
You DESERVE to feel happy and worthy EVERY MINUTE of EVERY DAY for the REST OF YOUR LIFE simply because YOU ARE HERE. If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy, you are allowed to confront whatever ails you in order to find true peace.
I believe that lasting self-acceptance can only be cultivated from the inside out. For me, that means developing an internal voice that is KIND and GENEROUS and FORGIVING, rather than the cruel, guilt-pushing, shaming voices that I used to talk to myself for most of my life. It’s not about having a different body or getting a higher-paying job or cultivating an Instagram persona that makes other people jealous. These external acts will never bring us self-acceptance in the way I think we all yearn for.
At their most basic, I believe that intuitive eating and HAES are movements that encourage us to learn self-acceptance in order to cultivate self-love. They are movements that are here to overturn the dominant paradigms that our society teaches us about who is allowed to feel good about themselves. They provide a crucial platform for people like me who have spent so much of their lives unaware that their unhappiness was based in an oppressive system that spreads straight-up LIES about what it means to be “healthy.” My reaction to some stupid photographs of myself tells me that I am still, on many levels, buying into the bullshit society wants me to believe about how my body signifies my worth. But every day, even with some backsliding, I take minuscule steps toward freedom from the burden of believing that my body makes me “good” or “bad.” And if you struggle with the hopelessness of thinking that your body makes you unworthy of love or success, I want you to know that THAT IS NOT how you have to live. Read Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon. Listen to Food Psych with Christy Harrison and the Body Love Project with Jessi Haggerty and follow the show notes to learn more about every guest and their work. Read Caroline Dooner’s blog. Find everything you can featuring Isabel Foxen Duke. Unfollow everything that isn’t a body-positive activist on social media. Research food-positive therapists in your area and make an appointment. Send me an email. Just know that you are allowed to take the first step (or the ten thousandth step) toward shifting your beliefs so that they actually serve you instead of continually pulling you down. You deserve happiness. The end.