“I am 43 years old and I am finally confident in who I am. It took me a long time to get to this point. I try not to dwell on the past, but I also refuse to erase it. My past has helped shape my present, and I continue to learn about the beauty in being who I am.
It is my hope that the lessons I have learned over the years about true beauty and being confident in who you are and who you are becoming will help other men and women who are struggling to find their self-love.
I recently saw a Netflix special which chronicles a young woman battling an eating disorder. The show evoked thoughts, emotions, and memories within me. I did not have a diagnosed eating disorder and was never hospitalized, yet a lack of self-confidence and a warped body image directed the way I ate.
Over the years I have learned that my struggle with eating healthy is often about control. I now know that telling people who are victimized by a food obsession what to eat or when to eat can make them stray away from food more. The more you force them to eat, the more they can physically lose their appetite.
I am not proud of my past, but I am not ashamed. I have healed, but I have not forgotten. There are constant reminders of my struggle with eating enough and there are things I remember clearly.
I can’t remember exactly when I became disappointed in how I looked and when I decided that I did not have the love I should for who I was. I know it started towards the end of my senior year of high school and intensified when I left my parents’ home and went away to college. My first year of college, 10 hours from home, I was able to drastically reduce my food intake and increase my exercise with intentions to change my body.
I remember being teased that toothpaste had calories. I would receive compliments on how white my teeth were, and then my classmates would tease me that I probably gained weight from the toothpaste. I now know they didn’t mean any harm and were just college freshman boys, but their words haunted me, and I truly did consider not brushing my teeth anymore so I wouldn’t consume more calories. If you are struggling with self-worth and self-love please remember that the only opinion that really matters is the one you have of yourself.
I remember the resident assistant of my college dorm threatening to kick me out. I came to college as a healthy freshman about a size 8. By January of my Freshman year, I dropped down to a size 4. By spring of my Freshman year, I was under 100 pounds. I don’t understand why my RA didn’t do more to help me, and just ostracized me, but I had the perfect solution and I moved to a new dorm second semester. I wish I had sought help, but I didn’t realize they needed it. I wish that I had turned to friends and allowed them to help me.
I hated the whispers and the stares; I always felt like people were talking about me. At first, I thought they were complimenting how thin I was getting, but as my weight continued to drop, I did realize that they were criticizing me. To be honest, I didn’t really care because I thought I looked so good.
I became obsessed with exercise and would get excited for the extremely long bike rides that physically exhausted me, but mentally exhilarated me. I was so excited by the calories burned.
I hate thinking about the look of shock, disappointment, and concern on my mother’s face. My mother had not seen me since Christmas, so when I came home for Spring Break, I could tell that my mother was worried sick over my frail appearance. I vividly remember how guilty I felt, but not guilty enough to change.
When I was at my worst, I resented everyone who forced me to eat. I thought to myself, ‘Who do you think you are?’ I struggled when I considered the person criticizing me heavy or out of shape.
No one seemed to understand me.
I remember always being cold. I was always dressed in layers and always had a sweatshirt with me. When I wore short sleeves, the little hairs on my arm stood up and I’d shiver. I hated being cold, but not enough to eat. I was never comfortable sitting for long. My shoulders or butt would feel awful against the hard chair.
I remember being kind of proud; this was a warped feeling -I now know this. I was proud of how good I thought I looked on my shorts. I remember thinking some of the stares I received were out of jealousy.
I hated myself after I ate, and I was so regretful. I berated myself for not having more willpower. I remember hiding food and spitting into my napkin. I would have four or five napkins with food on it by my side and I would blot all my food to get that little bit of grease or butter out of my food.
I did not weigh myself a lot. My focus was not always on me, but opposing what people wanted from me. I vividly remember hours at the gym.
I loved working out because I felt so in control.
When I got my body fat tested at the gym, I was so impressed by myself because I was told it was so low – I was in the Olympian range. I remember thinking it was cool to not get my period anymore.
I’m ashamed of this.
As a Freshman in college, I was already exposed to so much and I was so naïve. I would get intoxicated so easily, and I almost did not come home from one party because the drinks hit me so quickly. I put myself in dangerous situations, and I’m thankful every day that I had friends to protect me and I know things could’ve been a lot worse.
I am better now.
I no longer fear food, and I no longer use what I eat or don’t eat as a tool to exert control. Although I am no longer controlled by food, I do have some lasting effects. I paid a price and I can’t change that.
I have had a lot of dental work. My lack of a healthy diet took a toll on me physically and those affects stay with me.
I still have my tough days. I still lose my appetite when I am forced to eat. I won’t eat at restaurants that list the calories in their food. If I know the calories, I lose my appetite.
My past will always be a part of me, but it will never define me.
On most days, I am happy, confident and healthy. I have an amazing support system and I have learned many strategies to refocus my mind and see food as a way to maintain health. I am learning to love myself exactly as I am.
I have learned that beauty shines within all of us. Size doesn’t matter. And loving yourself is so freeing.
We are brave. We are strong. We are vulnerable. We are human.
I look in the mirror and see a Teacher.
I enjoy working out and don’t push myself beyond my limits. I try to teach my boys the importance of eating healthy and loving yourself.
I mostly see food as a tool and something to enjoy. I don’t see food as the enemy, and I no longer see myself as the weak one.
I am in control.
I know who I am and have found the beauty in loving myself.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Andrea Smolin of My 3 Sons. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.
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