I’m sure if you are reading this, you have struggled with body image in some form or fashion. I am no expert and I won’t pretend to be, I will just share my experience as it relates to disordered eating and anxiety. If you are not familiar with the term, disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors. Some of the symptoms include: frequent dieting & anxiety associated with specific food or meal skipping, preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impact your quality of life, chronic weight fluctuations, feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating....the list goes on! Let me start out by saying that I am an average size and always have been - but it has always been my personal goal to maintain that "perfect" weight, which means constant dieting in healthy and unhealthy ways. And while swimsuit season is approaching, I felt it was appropriate to share this because I personally know so many people who also struggle with body image.
I have never had a great relationship with food. Growing up, I was always kind of chunky, but I didn’t change anything that I was doing. I wasn’t active in school and I pretty much ate what I wanted, with my weight fluctuating quite a bit. I was constantly made fun of for my size by siblings, my siblings friends, girls AND boys at school. I consider myself a sensitive person and the impact of words at such a young age had a lasting impact. I don’t think food made me anxious at this point, but I did feel insecure and not good enough. I began performing on stage in plays and musicals and I specifically remember a cast member asking me if I was pregnant, legitimately. I was in 10th grade?! I would typically try and brush these feelings under the rug and "move on". Another time, my friend and I tried losing weight, and we thought it would be "fun" to start taking laxatives, while NOT eating. Super, healthy right? It was miserable. It didn't last very long, but I was looking for a quick fix, only hurting my body in the process.
When my anxiety took a turn for the worse several times in high school due to a bad break up & other issues I was having – I became so anxious and I didn’t eat. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. I started receiving compliments about my appearance and it was very flattering. I think all of the issues I have had with body image/food related to my current relationship status and wanting to “prove” my worth. I was deeply insecure, and I wanted to be attractive enough for the guy that I was with to stay with me. I was often comparing myself to other girls on the stage, at school, or specifically the girls that my current boyfriend left me for. I was in this vicious cycle.
Then in college, I became obsessed. I wasn’t in the best place mentally, and I was trying to do cardio as much as I could as well as not eating. I specifically remember working out different times and felt so sick and felt like I was going to pass out. After I transferred to TCU, depression kicked in a bit when I was at a very low point and gained weight. My “boyfriend” at the time continually made comments about my cellulite, how I needed to get to the gym, learn how to dance onstage, etc. etc. etc. UGH. I look back and get angry that I allowed myself to even be in a kind of relationship that was so unloving to say the least!
I got out of the toxic relationships and my anxiety was slowly getting better. Senior year of college at TCU, I decided to try pageants. It was something I had tried before but was not very successful. But, I thought it would be a great challenge – I would get to perform AND I got to dress up! Turns out, I was basically one of the “biggest” ones, I felt like I was the least toned and couldn’t cut out carbs completely like all the other girls (stress & anxiety made this extremely hard for me), but I was still working my butt off! I subconsciously began putting this pressure on myself – to be a certain weight, to fit into a certain size, even after the Miss Texas pageant was over. The same goes with theatre – I always feel like to get certain parts, I HAVE to look a certain way, especially since I am usually type cast for the “sexy one”. It’s part of the job, so I had been told multiple times. I was getting pressure from everywhere it felt like, but it was also pressure I was putting on myself. I am certain this is NOT the way The Lord wanted me to live!
After Max and I got engaged, I began the wedding “diet” – I did everything slowly and the right way, mainly just doing portion control. I still wonder how I did that lol. After we were married, I was happy (naturally) and my weight has fluctuated ever since. I started stress eating, which is new and different for me. I went to food for comfort for various reasons and often times I would binge eat. I didn’t care how much. So, for the past several years, I have tried to diet off and on and usually end up frustrated, which leads to anxiety which leads to another vicious cycle of toxic thoughts and obsessing over my body image.
WHY IS THAT? Why do I (and we) do this to ourselves? It’s miserable. I go back and forth from wanting to have food in moderation, to eating all the things or trying to diet and feeling miserable. This is pressure I am putting on MYSELF. Society says we all need to be this size, workout 5 times a week, low carb diets – whole30, paleo, etc. You know what I haven’t been doing? Being patient with myself. Praying about it. Yes, I absolutely need to pray about this, because it’s something I worry about. This is NOT how the Lord wants me to live my life and I am JUST NOW learning this. He created me in his image! How crazy is that?! We all tend to want what we can't have and dwell on that instead of loving the skin we are in - imperfections and all! So, a few things I am going to start doing in this area:
1. More prayer. Giving these thoughts, feelings and anxieties over to the Lord.
2. Being patient with myself and taking it one day at a time. 3. Positive self-talk. I beat myself up about food almost every day. I think prayer and replacing those thoughts with scripture/positive thinking will help me put it into perspective. 3. Identify the triggers for my eating habits – something I know will help me see when/why I eat what I do. 4. ENJOYING LIFE – Even though this disordered eating has gone on for so long, that doesn’t mean it’s an overnight fix. It’s a process, like most things in life! I want to focus on (with The Lord’s help) truly enjoying each day.
So, I want to encourage you, no matter where you are at today with body image, weight and disordered eating…. take steps (baby steps) that are HEALTHY and POSITIVE! I also think it’s important to involve other people, whether that be in counseling, close friends, or family – having someone else’s perspective is always a good idea. I am still trying to find the right balance with all of this in my own life and there are days/weeks I still struggle, but identifying it is the first step towards healing.