Trigger Warning: Discussing Eating Disorder, Disordered Eating and Body Dysmorphia.
My relationship with my scale has been a long one. The first time I remember being formally introduced was when I was 12 years old and I was taken to a weight loss meeting because my mother felt I needed to lose weight. It was not a good experience. It was here I learned that I was not good enough as I was. I needed be smaller in order to fit. I think this might have been the first time I felt shame.
This is a story of shame and of grief and of hope.
I was in grade 7, the first year of Jr. High. I was tall, awkward and puberty had set in. Wait, it gets better. My family and I moved. We moved to a new province, a new way of life, new home and new school. Now moving wasn’t a new thing for me, my whole life consisted of moving but within military communities. We (military brats as we are referred to) understood each other…it was easier to make friends and leave them. It’s what we did, its what we knew and it became easy to let go. (that’s another story)
But this move was not to a military base but right in town. This meant I was going to a non-military school…I was with civilian kids who new nothing about my kind of life. Let’s just say my first day was horrific for so many reasons.
Traditionally in my house the first day of school we dressed up, we wore our new clothes bought just for school. This year I didn’t get new clothes (I think it might have been a money thing because my parents just bought a new house and my mom didn’t have a job yet).
We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. (Wizard of oz reference)
My mother made me wear a skirt suit she bought for me to wear to one of her friend’s weddings earlier that summer. I remember it was red, white and blue gingham it had a short-puffed sleeves and a pleated skirt. I also remember wearing knee socks. Dear Lord the memory of this still makes me cringe. I had long straight hair, my eyebrows seemed to grow together to become one and I was almost 5’9”. Needless to say, with this outfit on my awkward preteen body…I stood out BIG TIME. Even my shorter than me home room teacher felt sorry for me…I could see it in his eyes. Upon arrival I knew this outfit was a huge mistake (I knew it was a mistake before I left the house but I trusted her). There was no turning back…I walked to my desk in home room and sunk into my seat wishing I could disappear. But no, a boy looked at me and laughed and then asked me if I was a teacher? I shook my head. He then said “wow, you’re huge” Great, thanks tips. No one else got that memo that we dress up like a 30 something year old teacher the first day…they were all wearing jeans and t-shirts and looked comfortable. It was an excellent start to my self loathing journey.
I held back my tears and acted like I didn’t care…this is when l learned to crack jokes at my own expense before anyone else could. I would say the hurtful thing before anyone else, that way I controlled the narrative. I was a comedian at my own expense. It served me well.
Let’s just say grade 7 was hell for me. My mother decided because I was “HUGE” she would put me on a diet. Not because she was mean or didn’t love me. It was quite the opposite, she loved me and wanted to protect me. She was teaching me what she knew to be true. What I learned was dieting was about restriction, good foods and bad food, self-control and eating organ meat once a week! OMG…all in the name of being smaller and eating “Healthy”.
Each week we would get weighed in. I remember being nervous and afraid each week. As I grew older, I even had an outfit for weigh in, I had to wear the same thing and remove anything extra – remove rings, earrings, watch, glasses, shoes, coat, anything I didn’t need to keep on came off. I would be praying to someone (at this point I hadn’t met Jesus) that I would lose weight and be thinner. If we lost weight we were praised and if we did not, we were given that look and counselled to cut back, exercise more and restrict …welcome in the shame. There was even a program my mom took me too that if we gained weight, we were thrown in the pig pen. Hello Shame.
My relationship with the scale was never one where I felt good, even if I did lose weight…because it wasn’t about the weight it was about control. But what if I lost self-control? What if I cheated? Why was I so weak? I knew I was never good enough and the scale reinforced that. This relationship was toxic.
There were years when me and the scale met several times a day. When I got up, after a run, if I ate something, after going to the bathroom, before bed…it controlled how my day would start and end. It controlled my life.
At the age of 12 I had developed disordered eating. Around the age of 19 I developed a full-blown eating disorder. (Back then I didn’t know I had an eating disorder all I knew was shame). I had body dysmorphia. I had lost trust in myself and my body. The only thing that was telling the truth was the scale…I wasn’t good enough as I was, I needed to be fixed. The scale was the only thing I could trust to reinforce the self-loathing and hatred I now carried with me everywhere and into every relationship.
The scale was always there, my trusted friend. I tried to break up with it, hide it but it called me back every time to revisit my shame. My ED (eating disorder) would whisper try this new plan or stop eating, eat less, do a cleanse, fast, stop eating sugar, no carbs, carrots have too much sugar and for goodness sake don’t eat a banana!
This was my life and I am sad to say on many levels it still is. I’m a 60-year-old woman who has a successful marriage (not perfect), 3 courageous daughters (almost perfect), 3 sons by marriage (almost perfect), 7 grandchildren (perfect), was very successful in my career and who still lives with body dysmorphia, an eating disorder and disordered eating. I acted fine and kept so busy that I suppressed my pain and tried to control it through food, dieting, binging, purging and starving myself…my scale was my true north. I never thought I had a mental illness, I just thought I was weak and I had no self-control.
I am now in therapy with the Alberta Wellness Centre for Eating Disorders. I see a therapist and a dietitian. It’s probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. There are days when I want to quit but then I think of the alternative. I don’t want to be held hostage to this mental illness and the only way to work through this to recovery is the hard work. I now understand that I am sick enough to receive the help I need and that it’s not my fault. The last part is very hard for me to grasp. I have a long way to go. I am working on looking at the wins in this recovery, even if they are small. I am learning to hold space and show myself compassion in my larger body. I have a long way to go.
Just a few days ago I ended my long term relationship with my scale. I threw my scale out and its over, my choice. That day was very emotional for me. I was surprised by the feelings that came up. Its a scale...but then I remembered grief is the normal and natural reaction to any significant emotional loss. I just ended a long term relationship. Weird as it sounds I felt grief. So I worked through it and I have completed what I needed to say so I can let go of the pain.
Doing the Grief Recovery Method and going through therapy has given me permission to make room for my feelings and to sit with those feelings so I can move through them to feeling better. I felt sad, afraid, disgusted, embarrassed, inferior, mad, aggravated, disappointed, optimistic, proud and hopeful. I felt a lot. I have a long way to go and this was a huge step towards healing. This was a win and I will celebrate it.
Quote from the forward from the book “The body is not an apology – The power of radical self-love” by Sonya Renee Taylor. This passage was an A-HA moment for me.
“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting myself. Perhaps the victory that lay at the end of the long road of self-denial and repression was not a reward that I actually wanted. Perhaps all the love and acceptance that had been promised me if I could just hate myself into a new me didn’t exist. Perhaps I was going to spend my entire life fighting my own existence and then just…die.”
If you are struggling with any of these issues you can get help. You are worthy of feeling better. You are worthy of compassion.
I go to the Alberta Wellness Center for Eating Disorders. They have a holistic lens addressing psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual. They believe everyone is capable of making a full recovery, including freedom from eating disorder thoughts and urges. I do virtual therapy. They offer both. They offer individual counselling, group counselling, nutritional support and Yoga for ED Email firstname.lastname@example.org 780-977-7062
Recommended reading "The Real Scoop On Eating Disorder Recovery" By Colleen Reichmann and Jennifer Rollin
The Body is not an apology - The power of Radical Self-Love" by Sonya Renee Taylor