Trigger warning: eating disorders, weight, anxiety.
I recently mentioned that publishing certain blog posts makes me feel vulnerable. This is one of them. I tiptoed around this idea for a while and decided that it’s part of an important conversation that I want to contribute to.
So, imagine gaining weight. Not a few pounds, but a few stone. How does that make you feel?
A 2017 study conducted in the US found that a ‘fear of fatness and disdain for fat bodies has become a normative part of women’s lives’. I believe that it’s also a growing part of other people’s lives, thanks to fitness and media cultures that breed obsession and dissatisfaction, but I’m speaking from my position as a woman.
When I wrote On Weight and Wellness nearly a year ago, I was coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t be thin and feel well. I’d gained more than a stone since the previous summer and I was no longer underweight, according to a BMI chart (an imperfect tool for measuring health, but a useful benchmark at this time). I felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the range of symptoms that accompany recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. These included extreme hunger, headaches, shaking and night sweats brought on by my metabolism and hormonal functions returning. I was also dealing with coeliac-related issues, such as fatigue and joint pain, alongside anxiety about future plans.
Even though my body needed a lot of food and rest, I was quite resistant. In March, a doctor I visited in Oxford, where I was living at the time, had told me that I didn’t need to gain any more weight. Looking back, I feel like this was an irresponsible thing for her to say. Those words made me afraid of my hunger and I felt like the symptoms I was experiencing weren’t legitimate.
Despite these conflicting feelings, I was aware of set point weight theory and intuitive eating. I knew from my past weight and family history that my adult figure was more likely to be a size 12-14 than a size 6-8. I decided to trust the recovery process and adopt intuitive eating, which meant eating what I wanted when I was hungry, resting when I was tired and becoming more attuned to these needs. It sounds simple, but it was one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made.
Now, I’m a size 10-12 and I feel so much better. I know that I’m not fat and I don’t wish to detract from larger women’s experiences. Still, when mainstream magazines, adverts and audience-driven content, like Instagram posts, present us with size 4 or 6 as an ideal, buying size 12 jeans and not cutting out the label feels quite liberating.
For me, gaining weight has meant gaining so much more. Although I still have ongoing coeliac-related issues, many symptoms have passed. I’m lucky to have meaningful, healthy relationships that I have the energy to contribute to. I’m more driven and creative. I have regular periods, which means that I should be able to have children when the time is right. I don’t avoid situations that involve food or have panic attacks over sugar content. I no longer repeatedly check my body in the mirror every day, but I can look at myself in my underwear and think, yeah, that’s good. That’ll do. I still have days when I miss being smaller, but I wouldn’t go back to starving myself and exercising addictively. I’m happy.
Importantly, I’m more comfortable with my body growing, adapting, changing. As I wrote in this post, ‘[w]e need to stop equating health with thinness and accept that our bodies will change throughout our lives’. Maybe your mind is full of calories and goal weights, or you’re exhausted but you’ll still make yourself run miles tomorrow. Maybe you feel panicky at the idea of eating in front of other people or eating something you haven’t made with a special, super clean recipe. If so, please know that there’s an alternative. “Letting myself go” has allowed me to return to myself.