My story about binge eating disorder and weight stigma:
I struggled with binge eating disorder for years, from my freshman year of college on. I gained the typical freshman 15, except it was 20.
At the same time, I fell in love with a boy who thought my body wasn’t beautiful because it wasn’t thin enough. Wanting so desperately to be what he thought I should be, I stopped appreciating my curves, and started wishing to be thin.
This was the beginning, for me, of a long fight against myself. A fight where I believed what I saw and heard around me, that I had to be a certain size to be worthy.
I took in those messages, internalized the belief that there was something wrong with me because I was bigger than I used to be. Difficult as it may have been, I could fight outside messages that my body was bad. But there was no way to win that fight when the messages came from within. Internalizing that weight stigma was the chocolate frosting on the cake that I no longer thought it was okay to eat.
It was around this time that I also started bingeing on food. I’m not talking about overeating. We all do that sometimes. I’m talking about eating until I felt sick, and then eating more. Eating for the express purpose of feeling so physically destroyed that all I could do was sleep. Deliberately choosing the foods that would make me feel awful, not for the momentary pleasure of the food (I didn’t experience any pleasure when I was bingeing), but as an analgesic to take away whatever pain I was feeling.
Although there were a lot of emotional reasons I was bingeing, more than I could even begin to get into today, there was one factor that has become clear to me over time: I believed there was something wrong with my body (there wasn’t) and so I dieted/overexercised/abused laxatives/fasted/cleansed, you name it, in order to “fix” what wasn’t broken.
In doing so, I created an actual problem.
My attempts to lose weight were mostly ridiculous, unhealthy, and misguided, and all they did was create a calorie deficit that my body tried desperately to make up by becoming REALLY HUNGRY. And then I began to eat, taking that natural and normal hunger, that response to being starved, labeling it something unnatural, and using it as proof that I was a failure. And eating turned into bingeing, fueled by despair that I would never again be the size I was in high school.
Fast Forward to Body Love:
Over the years, I’ve come to a more peaceful place with food and with my body, but it hasn’t been something that has come easily. It’s been a long journey, filled with ups and downs and curves and u-turns. More recently, my own work as a hypnotherapist has helped me to gain a better understanding of how my internalized weight stigma had contributed to my binge eating.
Years of bingeing only fully stopped for me when I let go of the belief I had internalized that I was somehow “less than” when I weighed more.
I made a decision to stop believing what I saw in the media: that I had to lose weight in order to be a successful human being.
But the truth is, I had made that decision numerous times in the past. It never stuck, and it was never as strong as the voices that said, “You’ll never be happy until you look a certain way.”
So how did my decision to love my body as it is finally become stronger than my decades long belief that I was inherently flawed?
It started by seeing how my negative beliefs about myself were affecting my health. And then I began to see how those same negative thoughts were affecting the health of my hypnotherapy clients.
Consequently, I’ve lost interest in helping women lose weight.
I understand that weight loss sells. After all, I used to sell it. But I’ve decided that there is nothing more unhealthy than hating yourself. And over and over, what I hear when women say, “I want to lose weight” is that deep down they’re really saying, “I hate my body.” As a hypnotherapist, I know that our bodies are listening to what we tell them, and if you are constantly saying, “There is something wrong with you,” your body will respond. That self-hatred will worm its way into your body, eating pieces of you as it goes.
I think the best thing that I can help you do for your longterm health is to love yourself, body included.
The idea that you have to be thin to be healthy is a myth that we have all believed in for far too long. What is true, however, is that your thoughts about yourself and your body do affect your health. And if those thoughts are destructive, they can change, starting with a decision to fight back against the lies you’ve been told about your body.
So let’s begin. How does one take away a lifetime of self-hatred, guilt, and brainwashing? (Yes, brainwashing. If the glorification of only one body type in the media isn’t brainwashing, I don’t know what is.)
I know what you’re thinking: Oh God. Is it even possible? Where do we start?
We start right here:
- Stop dieting and give your body permission to be whatever size it wants to be. Eat foods that make you feel good, eat when you’re hungry, eat seconds and thirds if you’re still hungry, and stop listening to other people who tell you what’s right for your body. Seek out information about health that is counter to the popular mantra, thin = healthy. Here’s a good place to start.
- If you’ve been dieting for so long that you don’t even know how to listen to your body anymore, consider finding a dietitian or nutritionist who believes in health at every size. If you’re working with someone who wants to put you on a low-calorie diet, find someone else. If you’re not sure what counts as low calorie, I can only give you my personal belief that I wouldn’t work with anyone who wanted me to eat 1500 calories or less. I probably wouldn’t work with anyone who wanted me to eat less than 2000 calories, to be quite honest. I like food, and I think eating is good for your metabolism.
- Counter the media brainwashing by actively seeking out media that wants to make you feel good about your body. Find groups on Facebook that make you feel good about your body and want to nourish it. (Here’s one I have found to be personally helpful.) Subscribe to blogs and magazines that feature men and women of all sizes in a positive light. Look for movies and TV shows that offer up an alternative to typical celebrity fare. Don’t buy magazines that feed you the same three articles over and over again: How to lose weight fast, how to get toned abs, and how to love yourself. Those magazines are selling self-hatred, and their articles on loving yourself are sandwiched in between photoshopped advertisements. They’re not fooling anybody.
- If you’re getting Victoria’s Secret catalogs in the mail, please call and ask that they stop sending them to you. Especially if you have kids. Girls don’t need to grow up thinking those photos are normal, and boys don’t need to grow up thinking it either. Instead, help your children to be critical thinkers when it comes to media, and counter the images they see with images of real bodies (read: unphotoshopped).
- Stop saying, “I feel like a fat lump, I hate my thighs, etc.” If you were with someone who said those things to you, you would be in an abusive relationship. But unlike a relationship with another person, your body can’t leave you. However, given enough emotional abuse, it can and will do everything it can to get out. I work with a lot of women with health issues, and I can say that one thing many of them have in common is a difficult relationship with their bodies. In my mind, I can just see their bodies trying to run away from all the hurtful thoughts. It’s difficult to change your thoughts, but you can start by changing how you speak.
- Find a physical activity that you will look forward to. You don’t have to become a runner if you don’t like running. But if you like to dance, start dancing every day. If you like horses, take horseback riding lessons. Have you always wanted to learn to swing dance? Now is the time. When you move your body in activities that make you happy, you come to appreciate your body more than if you force it to work out at the gym, all the while wishing you weren’t there.
- Learn how to tune back into what your body needs. Many of us are so used to being told what to do concerning our bodies, that we’ve stopped listening to ourselves. Try this exercise as your monthly check-up with your body. This is a meditation that can be done sitting, lying down, or walking. Your goal is to focus on individual parts of your body, starting at your toes and moving all the way up until you reach the top of your head. Focus first on your feet, allowing yourself to breathe as you “listen” to them. Ask them what they need and what would make them feel healthy. Continue to breathe as you focus on your feet, just listening until you feel like you’ve gotten all the information you can from them. Move into your ankles, then up into your legs, and eventually all the way up to your hips. I encourage you to include all parts of your body, including sexual organs (yes, really). There are many areas that often go ignored and you might find that if you listen, they have a lot to tell you.
- Write a love letter to your body every week. Tell your body everything you appreciate about it. Imagine you’re writing to a friend who is having a hard time, and you want to remind her of all the reasons why she’s amazing. Don’t write this letter to the body you think you want, but to the body you have. This may be difficult, and you may not even believe what you’re writing. Do it anyway, and keep doing it every week.
Ultimately, I want you to think about something. Your beliefs about your body have been shaped by what you’ve grown up seeing in the media. The media is a business, made up of various companies that are selling something. They can’t sell to you if you won’t buy.
If you decide to no longer buy into their destructive beliefs about your worth, you take back your control.
So who would you rather have be in control of your body? You? Or the media?