Today, I had the pleasure of attending a good friend’s baby shower. It was a perfect day; thirty or so women chatted happily under the sunshine and exchanged giggles amidst arrangements of flowers. My expectant friend looked beautiful. As I gazed at her, I was reminded of a directive I completed in treatment. During group therapy one day, we were asked to identify a part of our body that we hated the most, and then identify a positive use for it. I had chosen my stomach, and then identified pregnancy as an alternative positive use.
Food was in surplus there, and it was glorious. Boxes of muffins and pastries sat upon tables; eggs, home fries, and bagels were aplenty. We all indulged, and after, when we were sitting back admiring my friend’s adorable presents, I overheard someone make a comment about how much weight they had gained and how ashamed they were of it. Even one year ago, this could have been a huge trigger to my eating disorder. When I used to hear comments like this, I would react angrily – (“Why do you have to put yourself down like that?”) – mostly because I was terrified that I had gained weight or appeared fat too. And I was terrified, because I tied the number on the scale to my self-worth. Glancing at my full plate, I was grateful that I was in a good enough space to accept where the other person was at with their personal relationship to food, without feeling the need to internally or externally criticize it.
OK. Let’s be honest here. I still have days when I am triggered by a comment. (“But you look so good now that you gained weight!” “Amanda – she has such a sweet, round face.” ). But it’s a quandary, because I certainly don’t look eating disordered. In fact, when I eat the way I’m supposed to, I weigh more than the average lady. Which is where I am now, and believe me, my eating disorder despises that on a daily basis. So, how do you reconcile between a racing mind that tells you you’re ugly and an average-weighted body that tells the world you’re healthy and completely recovered?
I used to weigh about 50 pounds less than I do now, and as soon as I put the weight back on, I received countless comments from friends and relatives that “I was all better” and that was “behind me”. However, I know much differently. I am in recovery; this is something I will have to take care of for the rest of my life. Five years into recovery, I still have a tendency to not go food shopping on a regular basis, and a friend noted recently that I seem to “pick at food”.
I believe some of the self-reconciliation starts with education, which is why I write this blog. The common depiction of a woman with an eating disorder is an emaciated figure. It is only then that the public expresses concern. But the reality is that a lot of women with eating disorders are of normal weight; in fact, most bulimics are of average or above-average weight. Food and weight is just a symptom; the real gage of a woman’s health is the content of her thought. In our society, we tend to assume people’s insides are healthy if their outsides look good but this is not necessarily the case.
So what worked for me? Telling people about the discrepancy between my mind and my appearance. Letting people know where I was at. For some reason, this seemed to close the gap between “smiley-facebook-photo-Amanda” and “crazy-Amanda-who-thought-last-week-it-might-be-a-good-idea-to-go-back-to-not-eating”. As soon as I let people in, I realized that I wasn’t alone, and that others thought some things similar to myself. Talking about it took the power away from my disease, because disease feeds off isolation and is destructed by connection.
Because, if I listen to it and stay isolated, I won’t get to enjoy beautiful events like baby showers and parties and christenings. Even worse, I won’t get to experience these things in my own life. I can’t wait to come full circle and be able to enjoy my stomach for what it can do, not for what it looks like in a goddamn bathing suit.