I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with food. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how I have a tendency to use food to control whatever chaos is going on in my life because I can always control how much food I eat.
If things are going amazingly well (that’s to say that my career, my relationships, and my goals are all in alignment), I eat well and feel healthy; but, if things are going berserk and changing faster than I can keep up with, I limit my food intake, skip every other meal, and count calories.
I’ve used this coping device for years and it’s startling to me how, despite the fact I’m cognizant of my propensity for using my diet to retain a sense of control and logic in my life, I continue to do it. I continue to starve myself when things are moving too fast—even when I know it’s wrong and disrespectful to me whenever I do so. And that, in a sense, is tied into how I perceive myself; when I lose weight, people tell me I look good; when I gain weight, people try to police the way I look.
And I know that’s not unique to me. People struggle with their weight and the way they look. We’re told that certain physiques or characteristics are preferable and others are not. To be tall, slim, and fair is ideal; but whose ideal is it anyway?
These past few years, I’ve gradually lost weight. In December of 2017, I lost 8 pounds between December 18 to December 31. I dropped another 3 in January and gradually kept losing lbs until arriving at the weight I am now. In total, I’ve lost 15 lbs–which might not seem like a whole lot, but any sort of weight loss is oddly terrifying and thrilling to me.
This weight loss never caused concern because I’ve been healthy and the weight loss was slow and natural; I never set out to lose weight (at least not consciously, but that’s another essay altogether). But what strikes me the most is how often acquaintances or friends who I haven’t seen in a while will look at me and go, “You’ve lost so much weight! You look great,” or “You’re so tiny now! You look great,” or “How much weight have you lost? You look great!” Or, the most recent comment, “You look fifteen! What’s your secret?”
Uh, crippling anxiety, OCD, and depression. Thanks for asking.
I look great. I lost weight. Those two ideas are fused together in their minds; I lost weight, ergo, I look great. It’s not that I look great, period, but that my losing weight was the cause. And what that tells me is that my appearance is conditional.
Ever since I was in m pre-teens, my appearance has been tied to my self-esteem and identity. It’s hard to navigate life in a world where you a) look different and b) want desperately to look like everyone else. I mean, let’s be real: I’ve had boobs since I was 10, so I never really looked like any of the girls in my class.
So when I developed an eating disorder at 14, it felt safe. So much of my life was chaos and uncontrollable and I could finally control one aspect I was desperate to reign in.
So whenever I lose weight, I know it’s time to re-examine myself and be critical. Am I losing weight naturally and healthily, or is my fixation on my appearance manifesting itself in unsafe habits yet again?
It’s a constant tug-of-war and, while I know that my self-worth should not be tied into my self-esteem, it’s hard not to feel shitty about the way you look when society has one beauty ideal.