‘I hid my habits. On the way to visit my boyfriend, I’d down a burger in my car, hide the evidence, then go to dinner a few hours later like a proper lady. Salad only, please.’: Woman struggles to find her self worth

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“I don’t remember when my issues with food began, but I do know it’s always been my drug of choice. I’ve always found great pleasure in what I feed my body—and then great disgust with how I feel afterward.

When I was young, there was no judgment attached. There was also no greater joy than an Entenmann’s donut and Beverly Hills 90210. Any chance I came across I’d retreat to my room and stuff my face in front of the TV. Peace and pastries. I craved it. I enjoyed every second of the sweetness—and the solitude.

Those were the days of eating for pleasure.

Then in college I found out I had a love for fast food. My roommate and I would indulge almost nightly before our rotation at the hospital. I looked forward to that salty goodness each day.

But this was about the time shame snuck in. Those weren’t healthy choices; those were choices you should hide. You can’t hunger. You can’t want something wrong. So, I hid my habits. On the way to visit my boyfriend, I’d swing through Wendy’s, down a burger in my car, hide the evidence, then go to dinner a few hours later like a proper lady. Salad only, please. Later during a more unstable relationship, I learned about emotional eating. I didn’t feel quite so desperate to be loved when I felt full on an entire pizza.

Those were the days of self-conscious eating.

Woman who has eating struggles sits on ground against wooden fence

Eventually I turned my attention toward my body. All of the sudden I felt larger than this life I was leading, too big to blend in—when really, I was anything but (the mind can be a warped, messy battleground). When I moved to Dallas all of the women looked like movie stars. Blonde with bountiful boobs, thin waists, and faces full of makeup. Within my first week of living there I went in for a haircut and told the stylist I felt so out of place; I’d never be able to compete with these women. He stopped his snipping just long enough to say, ‘Sure you will. If you’re willing to pay enough.’

But I didn’t have money for plastic surgery to enhance my chest, or my life, so I joined a gym.

Those were the days of compulsive exercise.

Woman who says she was a compulsive exerciser stands smiling while holding plate of desser

During this time, I met my husband and he was the most accepting man I’d ever encountered. I could’ve worn a potato sack and I’d still be sexy to him. It was the most loving relationship, and in an effort not to mess it up as I had done in the past, I put myself in therapy.

I had no idea this would backfire.

The counseling was ‘curing’ me of some of my bigger issues, but once those were resolved my mind didn’t have anything to obsess over except, of course, my body. So, I became an over-exerciser and under-eater. I also became the tiniest I’d ever been.

But when my wedding day rolled around the focus on being a bride only heightened my body image issues. Trying on wedding gowns was a chore I dreaded. I told the bridal attendant I needed something big and fluffy to hide my enormous hips. When she refused to bring that as an option, I gave in to peer pressure and ordered a fitted gown—then promptly asked for sleeves to be added to hide my ‘fat arms.’ When I stood on the alter, I couldn’t even focus on my husband. I was thinking the entire time about my posture for the photos.

Those were the days of body dysmorphia.

Bride with body dysmorphia stands at altar as she and groom light candle

I was able to keep my svelte figure until I got pregnant and gained seventy-five pounds. Yes, seventy-five pounds with both babies. There was no reason doctors could find as to why this was happening, I dieted and exercised all the way into my third trimester, but I was gaining three pounds a week without fail.

Mirror selfie of woman before and after getting pregnant and gaining weight

After my daughter was born, I was able to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight with the aid of medication, but with my second child that didn’t work, nor did much else. I am in the gym five days a week. I eat clean; I eliminate foods. I’ve tried all the tricks, but mostly all the hard work, and I am still significantly heavier then when I conceived him. Often, I think I’m being punished for the days of being so thin and feeling so big.

These are the days of now. When I wake up and struggle to find my self-worth.

So, here’s the deal: when you suffer with the way you look, you are rarely satisfied (no matter what your actual size). When food is your drug—your comfort, your means to cope—you will never be full. I’ve tried just about every way to obsess, control, and correct my looks, and now, finally, I’m moving toward acceptance. All men may have been created equal but tell that to a woman who has a fixation on her weight. We were groomed to play the comparison game and it’s time we quit.

And all of that sounds great and dandy until you actually have to practice acceptance daily. My body is soft and seeing it in the mirror makes me want to look away. It’s much easier to feel like you’re doing something then surrendering to a self you don’t like. That’s where the food fasts, and fad diets, and shopping binges become really appealing. But external validation is fleeting—and before those new shoes are broken in, I’m always broken down again.

The root of my body image issues is probably a common one: control. Life has often been unkind to me and numbers, and calories, and quantities have always kept me steady. But now my right to what I weigh has been taken away, and I find no coincidence in that. I am being called to look at this life, and my body, in a new way and it’s horrifically hard. Right now, my biggest win is that I’ve stopped my daily tracking and have put away the scale. Baby steps in a big game, but it’s made me feel better and we should all be running toward any little thing that lightens us.

Whatever your drug is, I hope you have the will power to overcome it. I hope that we can one day live in a world where worth isn’t defined by numbers—whether that be on a scale, or a bank account, or likes on a post. I hope that we (I) can find a way to look at the beauty around and within and accept that the outward was never going to stay the same anyhow. I hope I live long enough that saggy skin and stretch marks are in style. That would mean I’ve aged well and been able to watch my children grow.

Wife with body dysmorphia stands in wooded area looking up at husband who holds her face

There’s a lot of worth in us, I know it. And if yours, like mine, is buried underneath, it’s our job to dig it out (and eat that donut without guilt).

Start by putting the scale away and weigh other areas of your life for what they’re worth. Also, keep your brain busy. It’s less likely to attack you if it’s focused on something else. So, feed it. Feed it until it’s full of fun facts, or service projects, or junky tv, or meaningful girlfriend talks. Keep it heavy so you don’t have to be.

And if all else fails, just wear the damn potato sack.

One day we might actually feel beautiful in it.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Hanrahan. Follow Stephanie on Facebook here, Instagram here and visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Stephanie here: 

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