Tag Archives: eating disorder

Why I loathe before and after pictures

I loathe before and after pictures. The typical before and after story goes like this:

Before: Woman in larger, softer body wearing clothing too small looks defeated, sad, and tired.

After: Same woman in smaller, tighter body wearing perfectly fitting clothing looks strong, confident, and happy.

This story implies that one cannot be happy, strong and confident in a larger, softer body. And it also implies that if you live in a smaller, tighter body then you won’t be miserable. It’s a story of “either/or” with nothing between, no gray area: you’re either fat and miserable or skinny and happy. The end.

I used to believe these before and after stories without understanding how dangerous and limiting and misleading these pictures are. These photographs don’t tell the whole story and rely simply on physical looks to imply health and wellness (and that the only way to be healthy is to be smaller and tighter).

Let me share with you what my before and after “looks” like.

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BEFORE: I was in a tiny, tight body that barely took up any space anywhere I went.

I felt:

  • scared to be fat.
  • un-confident in my body, abilities, and intelligence.
  • worthless in value to this world.
  • tense around food, family, friends.
  • uncertain about my relationships, what I thought, and what I said.
  • indecisive about what to eat, where to go, what to do, when to do something and how to do it.
  • nervous around everyone and in anything I was doing, from grocery shopping to having a friend over for tea to speaking in front of a crowd.
  • anxious about how people felt about me, what food was going to do to me, whether or not I was good enough, acceptable, welcome.
  • hungry, yet I didn’t understand what that meant.
  • nauseous because I was hungry, had celiac disease, and was constantly anxious.

I was:

  • obsessive about exercise.
  • judgmental of my thoughts, feelings, and body size, weight, and shape.
  • judgmental about other people’s bodies, nutrition, and health.
  • controlling of my food, my husband’s food, and my children’s food.
  • restricting, counting, and tracking calories, fat, and sugar intake.
  • heavily influenced by mainstream media about nutrition, fitness, and health.
  • immersed in self-created food rules and disordered food behaviors.
  • prone to panic attacks at the grocery store and in restaurants.
  • distrusting of my body and how God created it to operate.

TODAY: I am in nearly four years into recovery from anorexia nervosa. I am still the same exact person at heart except I take up more space everywhere I go, which feels empowering! I don’t have  an “after” because recovery and health and life are ongoing. Sometimes I feel amazing and sometimes I feel like crap, but most days I live peacefully in the middle, feeling comfortable and confident in the gray area called real life.

Most of the time I feel:

 

  • strong and alive inside my larger-than-before body.
  • confident in my intelligence and abilities.
  • energized when I wake up in the morning.
  • valuable as a child of God despite what others may or may not think of me.
  • happy as a mom, wife, and friend.
  • relaxed around friends and most family.
  • satiated through the day as I eat meals and snacks as needed.
  • creative in the kitchen.
  • curious at the grocery store.

I have:

  • zero food rules or disordered behaviors.
  • zero panic attacks.
  • zero obsession with working out.
  • zero clue about how much I weigh and only vaguely know what size I wear.
  • more time and presence in the things I love to do, like write, advocate, and learn.
  • trust in my body, my intuition, and God.
  • insight and support and advocacy for my children, who are surrounded by peers, teachers, and friends who constantly judge their nutrition, intuitive living, and bodies.

I am:

  • human, which means I still have judgments of myself and other people.
  • more aware of when my judgments are actually harmful.
  • practicing how to re-frame my thinking when I am harmfully judge-y of myself and others, or when I am feeling judged.
  • prone to triggers yet aware of what they are and how to deal them.
  • anxious about my body and food when I feel tired, stressed, nervous, scared, or sad.
  • usually aware and understanding of my feelings, how important they are, and how they affect my thinking and behaviors.
  • respectful of my body when it needs rest, food, or movement.
  • respectful of my spirit when it needs prayer.
  • respectful of my heart when it needs tending.
  • the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

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Dear reader, ignore those before and after photos. Don’t let them get you down, and don’t let them give you misguided hope. Before and after pictures are missing crucial details that are far more important than how small one’s body shrinks. And there are more than two options for what health looks and feels like; there are more like 7.5 billion unique ways bodies can look and feel and still be healthy. Moreover, you can be the shape of one of the “before” pictures and feel alive, confident, healthy, and strong; you can live in an “after” body and feel completely miserable. Find the loveliest gray area where you feel your best in your life.

 

What does fat mean to you?

I was asked this exact question in therapy once. The fear I had around “being fat” was consuming my thoughts and behaviors; I was doing everything I could think of to “not be fat.”

My therapist asked “What does fat mean to you?” The only answer I could come up with was “big.” I didn’t want to be big. Over the course of many weeks we unpacked my fear of fat, and in that process I discovered an uncomfortable truth:

I judged fat people.

Culture is good at communicating that a large body is a bad body. If you are fat then you are lazy, unhealthy, gross, unreliable, undesirable, not disciplined in your eating habits, shouldn’t wear certain clothing, and should change your lifestyle in order lose weight.

I didn’t want to be gross and undesirable; I didn’t want to be thought of lazy and undisciplined. This is what fat actually meant to me.

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Those who know me well wouldn’t describe me as a judgmental person, and I try hard not to be. Yet in this area I was judging harshly without even realizing I was doing it. I was judging strangers, friends, and family as unhealthy, unhappy, and undisciplined. It was a humbling and healing truth to learn about myself.  Now that I had this understanding, I could see a little deeper into my eating disorder and the anxiety around my food and clothing choices, my social interactions, and my strict exercise regimens. I was seeing myself and fearing myself as that which I was judging harshly about others, and I was starving myself to death to avoid being what I had so irrationally feared.

For example, I would have changed my mind about an outfit believing that I looked fat in it…maybe my arms looked big or my stomach didn’t look flat. I would change simply because I judged myself as looking terrible because I had seen someone else in an outfit where her arms looked big or her stomach swelled out, thus judging her as needing to change her outfit. Body checking others led me to body check myself.  All I was seeing was bodies and body parts rather than knowing the people who lived inside the body shapes.

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We do this kind of judging as a culture, don’t we? There’s an expectation that larger bodies shouldn’t be in bikinis because what? It’s gross? No one wants to see exposed fat? Several brands of jeans have pants that “slim you down” because what? It’s not okay to show off the shape of your booty and thighs? Folks who live in larger bodies shouldn’t be eating “that cheeseburger.” Why? Because those people are fat and cheeseburgers are fattening and they should be eating a salad instead? Larger bodied people should be on diets to slim down because why? They’d be so much healthier?  (Note: Many folks in larger bodies are healthier than many of us in smaller ones. Health isn’t determined body size!)

Over time we believe the judgements about “fat people” and the expectations of what their lifestyles should be; we begin to apply those judgements and expectations to ourselves.

  • Summer’s coming and my body is so gross right now. I need to lose weight so I can wear a swimsuit.
  • I was so bad today eating those fries. I should have had the salad. I need to lose like 10 pounds. I should do a boot camp.
  • Oh my gosh I can see my rolls in this shirt. Ugh. I can’t wear this.
  • I gained six pounds this month. I am SO addicted to sugar. I need to cleanse and drop some weight.

These feelings suck, but instead of processing why we feel bad, we just avoid the feelings by going on diets, changing our clothes, regimenting exercise. We agonize over menus, ignore hunger signals, dread shopping, and become hyper-aware and anxious about calories, fats, and sugar. The bad feelings don’t actually go away. Anxiety, guilt, and shame around our bodies are constant because the messaging about “fat bodies” is constant. Our sucky feelings just grow because it’s impossible to achieve cultural expectations, thus leaving us constantly unsatisfied with ourselves.

The first step toward body satisfaction is to deeply understand what fat means to you and to notice (honestly) how culture’s messaging about fat is affecting how you view others in larger bodies and thus judging yourself in your own body. This is not an easy, quick, or comfortable step because it requires deep inner work. Body satisfaction doesn’t come from diets; it comes from deep inner work.

So, what does fat mean to you?

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Like this article? Learn more from my free guide 4 Healthy Habits that are Hurting You

Slipping but not falling

Depositphotos_18746725_s-2015

I tried to skip lunch today.

Honestly, I tried to skip breakfast too, mentally hoping the square of dark chocolate and two cups of decaf would hold me over until lunch. It didn’t. After talking with my husband, confessing my struggle with the anorexia voice these last few days, I gained enough motivation to eat a homemade turkey and cheese “Mcmuffin” of sorts. It was good, and my body was so thankful. Continue reading

"Meet Me in the kitchen."

Kneading dough

I have written a book. I said I never would, but clearly God disagreed. Every time I open up the file on my computer it’s a bit surreal to see it there. I hope that you’ll get to read it, but it isn’t time yet, and honestly I don’t know the plans for this precious gift given to me. I can imagine the plans that would be cool to see, but nothing I imagine could be better than what God has planned (and has already done).

It’s a children’s book called The Hungry Garden. The main manuscript is written and edited and has even gone through a beta-reading process. From an industry perspective, this book is ready for a publishing journey. Oh friends, it’s so tempting! However ( I must remind myself), I write for God and not the industry. Continue reading

Why I don’t need anorexia anymore

 

“What’s going on? What are you thinking? I can see something happening in there.” While I have only been with Tamara, my eating disorder therapist, for 10 months, it’s impossible to hide my feelings from her.

I let out a deep sigh, not wanting to share my thoughts. It feels ooky to say out loud what I am thinking. My feelings feel wrong.

“It’s–it’s almost like I want to stay sick. But that can’t be right. Who wants to stay sick … to not get better?” Continue reading