Trigger Warning: The following contains specific details regarding disordered eating and restricting diet.
Summer is just around the corner, and that means swimsuit sales are on the rise. Target has had them since January, I would surmise for cruises and the ever-popular spring break. With the promise of sunshine, swimming pools and campouts, boating and rafting, come the articles touting ‘6 quick ways to a bikini body’ or ‘get beach ready in 10 days’. And therein lies my issue with summer.
Let me explain. From the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, there are at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffering from an eating disorder in the US alone. Eating disorders do not only present themselves as what are commonly known as anorexia and bulimia. They don’t only affect those who are thin. They don’t only affect women. And they don’t ever go away. Not completely.
I’ve struggled with disordered thoughts around food for as long as I can remember. Being told I had an eating disorder almost made me laugh – I was technically in the upper end of my appropriate weight for my height, and so I certainly couldn’t have an eating disorder. I didn’t have any symptoms, I didn’t think. The more the thoughts I had around food were challenged, the more uncomfortable I became. Well, of course carbohydrates are bad. They go straight to my midsection. Bread? Are you kidding? White pasta? Not on your life. Sugar? It’s basically poison. Even the natural kind. Don’t tell me that food has no intrinsic value. I have labeled food “good” and “bad” my whole life. So does the majority of society.
I have eaten “good food” for an extended period of time. I lost a lot of weight in my mid-twenties and kept it off until I got pregnant at 31. About 5 years. In that 5 years, I rarely ate bread, pasta, dessert, creamy salad dressing, peanut butter, cheeseburgers, anything fried, etc. I lived on grilled lean meats, eggs, cheese, Greek yogurt, vegetables, the occasional serving of berries, and melba toast. While it is healthy, and I was at a healthy weight for my height and age, what it did to my mind was subtle and pervasive. The diet is appropriate, as long as the reasons are healthy. My reasons were not healthy, and the actions I engaged in as a result were destructive in nature.
Even after having lost all that weight and maintained it for so long, I still didn’t feel like I deserved to wear a swimsuit. I worked out at least 4x a week for hours at a time. I beat myself into some sort of diet submission, and relished in it. I felt superior – like I was on some high moral ground when I could admit how much control I had over my diet and how much time I spent at the gym. As if it made me better than anyone.
And that is how my eating disorder manifests. It tells me that if working out for 3 hours is good, then 20 minutes more would feel great. Ten pounds more might make my legs wobbly and sitting painful for days, but if working out doesn’t result in pain, is it even worth it?
It tells me that restriction is power, and giving in to temptation is weakness. Any food that doesn’t fit my list of approved foods is bad, which makes me bad if I eat it. The recovery from eating bad food is too difficult to overcome, so just avoid them all entirely. It tells me that I don’t have an eating disorder, especially today when I carry so much weight from my pregnancy. It tells me that I can’t have an eating disorder anymore, because I’m heavy. It tells me I should avoid places, people, events and photographs because everyone will be judging me. It tells me that no matter how thin or fit I am, there will always be someone thinner and fitter and I should just continue to try to attain what they have.
It is a bitch. And it never goes away.
Recovery has helped me learn to live with my eating disordered thoughts. It has helped me to identify when my thoughts are being run by my eating disorder (ED) and not by me. When tracking food to ensure I’m getting enough calories for pregnancy turns into tracking every morsel I put into my body and comparing the total calories in to the total calories burned on my fitness tracker to guarantee that my calories in are fewer than my calories out, that’s when I know my eating disorder has taken over.
Today, I try to listen to my body and eat what sounds good. Yesterday, I had a terrible headache and couldn’t remember the last time I ate a vegetable. So I had a bag of broccoli and stroganoff for dinner. It doesn’t always work. Some days I skip a snack because I’m afraid of going ‘over’ on my calorie budget for the day. Other days I am fine and I have cheesecake or French fries or pizza if that’s what sounds good. But every day I struggle with my self-image. Every day I see myself as disgusting, gross, unattractive and unworthy. I fail to see all the miraculous and wonderful things that my body has done and continues to do daily. I fail to believe my husband when he tells me he thinks that I’m beautiful. And how unfair is it of me to undermine him.
Because I live with this type of chaotic thinking on a daily basis, being told that I have to take actions to make my body ready for the beach is absolutely defeating. It reinforces the idea that only certain bodies are appropriate for the beach and any other bodies should be covered up. For a person with an eating disorder, it is fuel for that thinking to strike hard and fast. See? Swimsuit season is coming – time to start restricting again, or working out harder, or purging in secret, because only some bodies are beach appropriate, and yours certainly isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. Body positivity has come a long way. And there are plenty of people who can read those articles without being sent down a spiral of negative self-talk and self-destructive behaviors that take days or weeks to recover from. I just wish there were more articles around what games to play at the beach, or what the best travel foods are, or how to pack everything you need for the beach in one duffel bag and a cooler, instead of how to make your body acceptable to be shown at the beach.
The world is full of people who look differently than one another. That’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? I don’t think God intended for us all to look the same, or we’d probably be that way. I do believe that the beautiful things that exist in this world were created for everyone to enjoy, no matter what the size on the tag says.
Becky is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click here.