Brain Juice by: Soraya Lea Ferdman
Senior year and my initial plan to stop dieting didn't quite work out. But what happened? How did my anti-diet chant fold back into restricting carbs, over-exercising, and eventually binge-eating? Well, weirdly, it started with a doctor's visit.
Body-image is tough. Because on one hand, you have the very illegitimate, messed up system that makes a lot of perfectly healthy people think they need to loose weight when they don't. But, on the other hand, you have the very real and serious problem of obesity and how poor diet and exercise can lead to health risks. I am not a professional and will not pretend to know when someone's weight begins to affect their physical health, but what I will say is that the diet and beauty-based businesses widely benefit from our society's fear of obesity. In many ways, it can make excessive dieting appear legitimate for health reasons:
"I'm giving up carbohydrates and sugars because I want to be healthier"
"I'm eating only raw foods, because I believe that is key to a healthy body"
And if the person in question is objectively in need of reducing their weight, who am I to say this person is changing their diet for a legitimate reason or not? No one, that's who!
But.... what if you have a history of disordered eating? What if you are still vulnerable to obsessive behaviors? Then the line is a trickier one, and because disordered eating isn't as apparent as carrying an extra few pounds, some people may suggest addressing the latter when you're still dealing with the first. And to those people, I am here to say NAY.
NAY NAY NAY N-A-Y
At the end of my senior year, I was in a pretty good place. I was dating someone who I loved and made me feel great, I had just gotten into the college of my dreams, and best of all, I was finally starting to like my body for what it was rather than what it should be. Even with the intense pressure to loose weight around me, I tried not to overthink my meals and exercising. Because, for so many years what I ate and how I burned it off had simply taken up way too much mental space. And so, I forced myself to remember that one bad meal didn't suddenly change my body. I repeated again and again in my head that confidence was what made me beautiful; that the goal was to love my body, not change it. Everything I had learned in therapy when I was 'skinny' and deep in the midst of dieting was finally beginning to make sense... Thing is, after years of so many things being on the "don't eat list," you kinda have to catch up a bit. Pasta suddenly becomes an option for dinner. That cookie that I used to crave everyday after lunch - hey, a great dessert! And even though I kept up my exercise, there would be some weeks when I ran almost everyday, and others when I just didn't have the time. I was trying to figure things out, and that didn't mean eating everything in sight and never touching a treadmill again, but it did mean that as a consequence of those changes, my body reacted.
Point is, I gained some weight.
And I felt FINE. Actually, I felt, kinda beautiful. My breasts grew, my thighs felt sensual and soft, and after a while, leading a healthy life and feeling beautiful didn't seem like contradictory goals. I didn't have to be every guy's version of hot, I was my own. And once I stopped thinking of my runs as "burning off calories," or having pizza as "cheat-night," my anxiety stopped controlling my life and I was happier than I had ever been at my lowest weight.
That is, until I saw my doctor.
I think I was wearing shorts that day. I remember, because after he weighed me and asked how I, with a history or running and eating healthy, had gained weight, and I honestly replied, "I don't know, I'm still running and eating healthy," he pointed to my thighs, "I mean I can see it." *sigh*
Don't hate on him, though. I guess I had never been "skinny enough" for him to realize that all that running and weight-loss had actually made me sick. His concern was my health, I had gained ten pounds in a year and I was going to be a freshman in college, what if the scale tipped to 20lbs? 30lbs? His mind was on my heart and my lungs, not my head.
I walked out of that office more ashamed and confused than I had been in a while. Sure, I had gained ten pounds, but with my history of dieting did I really want to go down that road again? Was it safe to start portioning my food and controlling my carbs and fat?
Sadly, I did go down that road again. And after loosing weight and gaining some back, and then loosing it again, and well... lots of more loopdy-loops, I'm here to say that my doctor was wrong that day. I may have been a little overweight, (or not, new research shows that the BMI index that guides most of our thinking on how much a person of a certain height should weigh is actually inaccurate), but I believe that unless your weight poses serious, immediate health issues, dealing with mental health should come first. And when my mental health recovery specifically requires me to rebuild a normal relationship to food, dieting just needs to get the hell out of the picture.
In the end, I believe the healthiest body weight is one that balances a healthy heart and a healthy mind.