For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an emotional eater. In fact, my relationship with food has been disordered from one extreme of the spectrum to the other.
I very memorably went on my first diet the summer before 7th grade. I was 11, going on 12. No 11-year-old should be dieting or counting calories, but there I was, obsessively weighing myself, obsessively counting calories, obsessively exercising on some god awful piece of exercise machinery from a 90s informercial in our basement.
My body was changing because I was going through puberty, and though I was ashamed of my body (being the first girl in class to need a bra is its own unique brand of hell), it never occurred to me that I needed to lose weight. One day, my mother made an off-handed remark about how “there is nothing worse than a fat kid.” That was all it took; my summer transformation began, and it became all-encompassing. I cancelled plans and shied away from friends’ houses because I wouldn’t be able to control what was for dinner. I spent my summer eating salads, counting lettuce leaves down to the serving size. I ended up isolated and on my way to a new school. I instituted rules about calorie intake. I was a night owl, but calories for the next day started at midnight, so if I was up until 3 am and wanted a snack, I had to borrow from the next day’s calorie allotment. I couldn’t have been eating more than a thousand calories a day. I’m sure I was doing significant harm to my growing body. My mom, whose comment had at least partially inspired my diet craze, ended it just as easily by threatening to send me to a hospital for treatment of what she called “my anorexia” after I dropped 20 pounds in less than two months.
So I started eating pizza again, started going to slumber parties again, and I stopped actively trying to lose weight. But my issues with food never really went away, I just tucked them under the rug and tried to be normal, hiding my disordered eating in plain sight. I drank diet coke because it suppressed my appetite, aspartame be damned. I skipped breakfast and lunch entirely so I could eat whatever I wanted for dinner. I will admit that going vegetarian at age 14 was largely inspired by the reputation that vegetarians had for being skinnier (not healthier, I didn’t care about healthier).
I grew up observing two extremes: my father was unabashedly gluttonous, and my mother exercised extreme, unwavering discipline. She baked cookies and cooked delicious meals, but I never saw her indulge. When one of her friends ate three of her oatmeal cookies in one sitting, I was stunned. Moms don’t eat like that! I thought. I never learned a healthy balance. I saw her skipping meals and saving calories for cocktails. I grew up in the era of Slimfast and Splenda and Fresca. It’s amazing our insides haven’t rotted out.
At my heaviest, I was 193 pounds. At my lightest, 126. I’ve been a lacto-vegetarian, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, an omnivore, a pescatarian, a vegan, a Weight Watcher, a Slimfaster, an anorexic, a binge-eater, a meal-skipper, a runner. I’ve been in control, out of control, obsessive, compulsive, a failure, a success, self-disciplined and whatever the opposite of self-disciplined is.
I was in a book club with other women with disordered eating. We read the book Women, Food and God. After a few months I fell away from everything I’d uncovered about myself and went back to old habits. (Old habits die hard.)
I’ve reached for starches, sweets and salts during times of duress. French fries. Cookies. Chinese food.
I’ve tried to believe in body positivity at both my best and my worst, my heaviest and my lightest, trying hard to believe that no matter my exterior, that I am good enough.
I’ve tracked every calorie I consume, and not. I’ve gotten through days without beating myself up for my food choices, and not.
And so, it is hard to celebrate success. I’ve lost 7 pounds, the healthy way. Changing my lifestyle but not obsessing. Allowing myself to indulge occasionally and moderately. Exercising, stretching, being kind to my body. It is hard to boast of that progress because I know what a slippery slope I’m on. I’ve lost weight and gained it back. This ain’t my first rodeo. I baked a chocolate pumpkin loaf yesterday and ate three slices of it today. It’s hard not to say to myself: what the fuck, dude, didn’t you JUST eat ice cream and oreos on Friday night?
I was given permission to hate myself, but I’ve never given myself permission to love myself. To treat myself well, with compassion and kindness, and in more ways than just this one.
And you know what? There’s a first time for everything.