One of my favorite things to look for when I go to museums is classical paintings that depict women’s natural body shapes. It’s one of the most comforting things to a girl who’s mostly recovered from disordered eating. I find it fascinating how a hundred or two hundred years ago the curves and fullness of a woman’s body were natural and portrayed as the highest standard of beauty. (I’m trying my best to stay off my soap box about how much the present day beauty industry and media screw women over. Remember this Dove ad about pressure on young girls to be beautiful? I really liked the thought behind it, but then again Dove’s sister brand is Axe…)
I have a sordid past with eating and body image. In my late teens I struggled with anorexia, that morphed into binge eating by the time I reached college. In the anorexia years, I lived on a morning latte, a turkey sandwich on a bagel for lunch and yogurt and cheerios with skim milk for dinner. It was always right around 1200 calories. I learned that was the bare minimum you could eat without sending your body into starvation mode. Somehow I managed to keep training on the field hockey and track teams each year. By the time I hit college, I was ready to “rebel” and I swung to the other end of the spectrum. Saying f*ck it and eating as much as I could swallow. The more I ate, the more I hated myself, and the more I kept on eating. I reached a turning point somewhere, where I realized that in a way I was killing myself, somewhat passively, but killing myself all the same.
Eating disorders are an all consuming disease, each and every minute is consumed by thoughts of food, eating it, not eating, what’s healthy, what’s not. The hardest part is your sense of self worth gets completely warped, tied into this notion of being good enough at an eating disorder. Crazy, huh? Some therapy and Geneen Roth’s wise books on emotional eating saved me. It took about seven years to emerge on the other side, loving my self, accepting my body, and creating a healthy relationship with food. In those really dark days, I didn’t think I’d ever make it there. Along the way, I learned that what you eat and what you weigh don’t define who you are. You can eat for nourishment. Eating is not about restricting, but giving to yourself. Food has an emotional component, and when you want something warm, and filling, and nourishing, a cracker just ain’t going to do it. Listening to those inclinations, within reason, and also learning my body’s signals for hunger and fullness, are working for me. Some days more than others. Overall I feel healthier though.
Lately though, I’ve fallen into old habits. Like alcoholism, disordered eating, never goes away or is cured. The problem with eating disorders is that there is no abstinence. Abstinence means death. You just learn your triggers, you learn new ways to cope with food that get your through hard patches. I seem to be in the middle of one right now. The insidious thing is I can figure out something is up because my eating habits are out of whack, but I can’t put my finger on what’s bothering me. To cope in the meantime, I’ll remember to love my body for all that it can do every day. I’ll also remember to check my thoughts on body image, and think of the beauty of the women captured in those classical paintings I love.