Cyclical dieting as a form of bulimia; normal eating; & being so sick of it all.

Emily McCombs, blogger at xoJane and owner of a lovely first name, is not only a dang entertaining writer, but also a painfully honest one. Among the issues about which she is painfully honest is body image, specifically as regards her struggles in adulthood with what she terms “subclinical bulimia.”

There is, of course, a life-story behind McComb’s eating disorder issues, and it’s a well-written, even entertaining story, so I encourage you to read the whole thing, but there are two things that I want to get at specifically, things that I think touch on the lives of a lot of women, myself included.

Because a diet worked so well for me once, I have considered my compulsive eating the problem and adhering to a diet the solution. Not until now have I been emotionally able to see that my dieting is actually part of the binge cycle…. Throwing up is not the only bulimic behavior I engage in. My yo-yo dieting is just as much a part of the cycle as sticking my finger down my throat.

She goes on to reference The Rules of Normal Eating,

which identifies the four basic rules that “normal” eaters follow: 1. eating when hungry. 2. choosing satisfying foods. 3. eating with awareness and enjoyment and 4. stopping when satisfied. Is that definition as mind-blowing to you as it is to me? Do people actually live this way? Can I?

I wrote about the effort to determine what “normal eating” is very early on in this blog’s life (pivoting off a quote that began “Who started the lie, anyway, that women shouldn’t have an appetite?”), because it’s a concept with which I genuinely struggle — a struggle which is, in turn, a thing of which I am ashamed.

I’ve never had an eating disorder, nor have I ever had particularly disordered eating (there’s a difference — & according to one study, two-thirds of American women aged 25-45 have disordered eating). I’ve long recognized that life-long diets are a kind of ED, and I’ve neither dieted nor weighed myself for the better part of two decades (more, actually).

But I am not the size America wants me to be, and that dogs me.

I am (and a healthcare professional has actually confirmed this for me!) broad — my bone structure is literally wider than that of the average bear. I’m proportional, but I’m a bit wide.

I’m also big-busted, and as most naturally big-busted women will tell you, all that pillowy goodness tends to come with pillowy goodness elsewhere on the frame as well. I am, my children have told me, a delight to hug. My husband finds me beautiful and (though I feel shy saying it) even sexy. I still get looks, and the men doing the looking are still cute.

But I am not the size America wants me to be.

I am not now, nor will I ever be. I could, with some truly dedicated disordered eating, get smaller, and when my clothes get tight about the waist, I do consciously eat less until they no longer are. But as I don’t actually eat all that much, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. I’ll never be small.

So I attempt to accept this, as I have attempted to accept it since that day I stopped weighing myself in college (one exception: Prior to our nuptials, the husband and I put on a fair amount of happy fat. We both consciously dieted for the wedding). I talk a good game, because I’m a big believer in faking it until you make it, not to mention not adding to the dysfunction that swirls around us. I don’t bond over tales of self-loathing or food-shaming.

But I don’t accept my size. Not really. Not fully. I am aware of eyes on me (real or imagined, I couldn’t tell you) as I eat in public; I struggle to not be aware of them in private. I eat well, I eat what I want, I stop when I’m satisfied — but I have to tell myself, nearly every single time I put food in my mouth, that that’s all good and fine. That it’s ok to eat.

And that’s where my shame lies. I don’t want this albatross around my broad, pillowy neck for the rest of my life. I don’t want even one more synapse to go to those thoughts and those concerns. I have guitar lessons to take! Books to read! Ideas to have! Beautiful dresses to enjoy! Every self-doubting thought I have about food or my body takes time and energy away from all of those other things and I hate it.

I did recently come to a brand new idea, one that I’m able to access on most days: If I have to struggle, this is a worthy struggle to have. If I am to go to my grave having wasted time on food issues, let it be in the effort to support myself. Let it be in the effort to shout the voices down.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a kind of peace, and it’s the best I have for now. I’m holding firm to the hope that in fighting this fight, I’m helping my daughter forge better tools for herself.

On older women and body image.

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The other night I discovered the following on BuzzFeed: “Women Over 50 Plagued By Eating Disorders, Body-Image Issues.”

The hell you say!

Reports BuzzFeed:

Today’s dieting young women plagued with body-image concerns aren’t necessarily likely to grow out of them when they get a little older, have kids, retire — just you know, age — according to new research. A study from the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that women over the age of 50 commonly struggle with body image and eating issues. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, led by Dr. Cynthia Bulik, found that 62 percent of 1,849 women aged 50 and older surveyed across the U.S. said their weight or shape had a negative impact on their lives.

Ok, I have a question: Why on earth would we be likely to “grow out” of our body image issues?

Women are told, our entire lives, that our greatest worth is measured in conventional attractiveness, and that furthermore, we are never attractive enough. We are told this in our movies and TV shows, in our supermarket check-out lines, in our social circles, in our jobs, and often in our families. We are told this by bloggers, by commenters, by Twitter, by Facebook, by complete strangers on the street. We are told this from the moment we are born (else why did people feel the need to assure me that my chubby girl baby would “thin out”?), and we are told this until the moment we die.

We are told this so often, and so convincingly, that we women punish ourselves with deprivation, torture ourselves with self-doubt, and sometimes spend our own money to cut out our own flesh. And then we bond over it all. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t suffer from a certain amount of body-image anxiety (or flat-out self-loathing) or hasn’t had to struggle on occasion to keep that anxiety/self-loathing at bay — and every single one of us talks about it (or is expected to).

One never just eats — one laughs about how much one is eating, or announces that one will have to not eat tomorrow to make up for it, or compares and contrasts the relative fat contents of Food A vs. Food B. One never just gets dressed — one has to consider what will be said about one’s muffin-top, or flabby arms, or cankles. One never just ebbs and flows with the years — one is expected to constantly strive for a physical ideal that is rooted in pre-pregnancy youth and which for many women isn’t even remotely possible (or healthy).

To think that we might lose these thoughts and behaviors as we age and get ever farther from that youthful mirage would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. There is health — there is a body functioning at or near its potential peak because it has been well-maintained (and its owner lucky) — and then there’s this destructive, obsessive bullshit.

The BuzzFeed post goes on to devote about a third of its text to the following:

The trend is concerning not only for women over 50 — who are assaulted daily with reminders of how bad it is to age like a normal person — but their kids. Research shows that moms who are unsatisfied with their bodies can easily pass those insecurities on to their daughters.

…A mother who expresses concern about her own not-thin-enough body — or openly admires a “neighbor with the long, thin legs,” for example — sends the message to her kids that physically looking a certain way is what’s valued and praise-worthy.

And you know what? I agree, and I am all for raising our daughters to value themselves in all of their many sizes and shapes — but fuck that.

Fuck the idea that women over the age of 50 cause troubles for others with the attitudes and social cues forced on them their entire lives by a society that devalues them daily — they are suffering themselves, and that matters.

The report to which the BuzzFeed piece refers finds that

[Of those surveyed] 62 percent said their weight or shape had a negative impact on their life, 79 percent said it affected their image of themselves and 64 percent said they thought about it daily…. In all, 66 percent didn’t like their overall appearance. Their dissatisfaction was highest with their stomach (84 percent) and shape (73 percent).

Sure we need to model good, healthy, self-affirming behavior for our daughters and the other girls in our lives — but we deserve lives that are free of this kind of collective body dysmorphia. We deserve lives full of joy and creativity and unabashed enjoyment of these wondrous machines in which we live.

Oh look – Time also wrote about the eating disorders study! And you’ll never guess what articles the piece directs interested readers to: “5 Tips to Overcome Emotional Eating,” “Why Sleep Deprivation Leads to Overeating,” and “How People-Pleasing May Lead to Overeating.”

:: headdesk ::