By Deanna De Bara
I cannot classify myself as having an eating disorder. I’ve never thrown up after a meal, restricted my food intake to the point of starvation or eaten an entire week’s worth of calories in one sitting. I have, however, cried over an extra slice of pizza, spent the better part of a week drinking nothing but green juice and logged countless hours in front of the mirror, examining my body at every angle, willing it to be thinner. While this doesn’t classify as an eating disorder, it certainly classifies as a problem.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women (and 10 million men) suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder in their lifetime. That is a staggering and frightening statistic. And it makes me wonder—if that many people are struggling with a legitimate (and clinically diagnosable) eating disorder, how many more are dealing with issues like food anxiety, body image issues or chronic dieting? How many people are struggling with issues like mine—what I call the almost eating disorder? I’m almost afraid to know the answer to that question.
There is a huge emphasis in our society on attaining the “perfect” body. Every day, we are bombarded with images and messages of what we should look like: tiny waists, visible rib cages, thigh gaps. The message is obvious and it is loud—skinny equals beautiful. And, at the core, so many of us want to be beautiful. So we spend massive amounts of time and energy trying to eat, run, lift , sculpt and carve our way to this image of perfection, often at the expense of our sanity, happiness, well-being and health.
I speak from experience. After spending the majority of my teen and college years overweight, I got serious about my diet and fitness in my mid 20s. I traded beer for green tea, pizza for veggie stir frys, and reality television for marathon training. And it worked—over the course of a year, I lost 40 lbs. For the first time in my life, I was happy with the way that my body looked. I was able to maintain that weight for a few years, but after (finally) quitting smoking (quite possibly the single greatest thing I could do for my health), I put on 7 lbs. By no means did this make me overweight—I’m 5’6 and now weigh 131 lbs—but it was mind-blowing the amount of anxiety this 7 lbs caused me. I was convinced that I was just going to continue to gain weight until I was right back where I started. I felt unattractive, unmotivated and unworthy. It was as if the fact that I added numbers on the scales subtracted from how worthwhile I was as a person. Which is INSANE—self worth has nothing to do with a number on a scale. In fact, it has nothing to do with ANYTHING—every person is worthwhile, for the simple fact that they exist. Logically, I knew this. Yet I couldn’t let it go. The self-loathing I felt surrounding this (insignificant) weight gain spiraled to the point that I found myself consumed by it. I couldn’t think about anything else. I felt miserable and trapped in a prison of my own design, and I didn’t know how to escape.
With the help of an incredible support system, I was able to take a step back, see that I was in a scary place and get some help. And while I still have days that I struggle, I am trying to take a different approach and let go of my attachment to looking “perfect.” I am trying to focus on all of the things that make me beautiful, inside AND out, and all the amazing things that my body can do at ANY weight. And I challenge every one of you to do the same. We are ALL beautiful, every single one of us—tall, short, thin, curvy and everything in between.
What would happen if we stopped judging ourselves by our weight but instead judged ourselves by the weight that we carry in the lives of those we love? If we stopped obsessing about our thighs and started obsessing about our ideas? If we refused to count calories and focused on counting our blessings?
Let’s find out.[divider][/divider]
Deanna de Bara is an East Coast transplant enjoying the sunshine and beaches in Santa Monica, CA. She previously worked in sales and education for a major brand, but has recently taken the leap to working full time as a freelance writer. When she’s not glued to her keyboard, you can find Deanna testing out new healthy dessert recipes, training for her next big race or blogging at DoEpicRuns.com.
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I totally relate to your experience, Deanna. One thing that really helped me to snap out of some of my body image anxiety was learning what my BMI should be. It turns out that I was underweight during my years of restriction – learning that freed me from the memory of a thinner body that I had been fighting to get back. Good luck in your journey!