There have been times in my life when I have battled with anorexia, binge eating, over-exercising and body image issues. I know others, especially young women, have struggled with this too. Unfortunately, this isn’t talked about enough, and those who’ve struggled, carry a tremendous amount of shame and guilt about it. I hope that by being open with my story, it will comfort others who are going through something similar and let them know they are not alone- and they can get through it.
I was a healthy, athletic kid and content with my body. Honestly, I was too busy playing, riding bikes, swimming, and dancing to really focus on it. When I approached my teenage years, there was more emphasis on looks and fitting in. I noticed that girls started to vocalize what they thought about other girls, as did the boys. Everyone was finding their way and figuring out their social status. This was when I started to realize that others had really strong opinions about my body, more than I ever did. I tried to brush off mean comments and move forward, but as much as I tried, it didn’t really make me feel better, so I thought, maybe they’re right. Maybe I do need to lose weight. Maybe I’m not as fit as those other girls. I started paying attention to what I was eating, wearing, and how much I was exercising. And it quickly became an obsession.
By the time I was 16, I was on and off diets… slim fast, Adkins, sugar busters, whatever worked. At times, I was eating less than 1200 calories a day, waking up everyday at 5am to do my exercise tape, and taking diet pills. I was 113 pounds, size 0. My family was concerned, but I was proud of myself for being ‘fit’. I had successfully lost weight and no one could call me fat or criticize my body anymore. I could just blend in.
That lasted for a while, but wasn’t sustainable. I was a dancer and needed energy, so I had to increase my calories. Once I started eating again, the weight came back quickly. By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d gained back all the weight I’d lost, plus some. I was miserable. I wore baggy clothes and didn’t want to be seen by anyone. I stopped dancing, the one thing I loved the most. I was so disappointed in myself.
My life circled around food. I started to binge eat. I would eat a whole bag of chips or a carton of ice cream in one sitting, and then sleep it off. I tried laxatives and starving myself again to lose weight, but it didn’t help. I desperately wanted to ask other people if they struggled with the same things, but I didn’t think anyone would understand. I kept dieting and managing my emotions with food throughout college and into my 20’s. In times of lower stress, I would lose weight. In times of high stress, I would gain weight.
I was SO TIRED of this cycle. I knew I had let this obsession with food take over my life. I was determined to make a change, but I needed to do it out of genuine love for myself, not because I would only feel worthy if I my body was a certain way.
I started to intentionally shift my thinking from what I was going eat that day, to other things. I started to busy myself, focusing outwardly instead of inwardly. When I would start comparing myself to others, I would let myself feel those feelings for a moment, then remind myself how much value I had to offer the world, and move on. After some time and healing, I started to appreciate my body again.
Today, I have a whole new perspective on my body and what it has done. Despite all the things I’ve put it through, it has always been strong for me. It has carried three healthy children to term, birthed them, fed them. It has run 5Ks and a half-marathon. It has healed itself from various injuries. It continues to get me from point A to point B everyday. It keeps me steadfast and strong as I raise 3 kids. I’m so grateful.
I realize though, that body image and food issues are a real problem, especially for young women. By the strength of God and sheer will, I was able to move past my obsession and start to process emotions in a healthy way, but I know that some can’t move on, no matter how hard they try. I often wonder what I can do to prevent something like this from happening to my daughter. She will encounter criticism about her body, there’s no way I can stop that from happening, but there are a few things I am going to make sure of:
- Talk about our bodies in a positive way and how grateful we should be for them (SO IMPORTANT!)
- Build a strong foundation over time of healthy self-image so she can withstand any negativity
- Remind her that it’s more important to be strong than pretty and more important to be kind than critical
I hope and pray we can keep an honest dialogue when she encounters these self-defining moments so we can work through them together.
When we talk to young women, let’s be mindful of the self-esteem struggles they are going through. We often encourage them to be strong, outspoken, fearless, but some are silently suffering. Please don’t dismiss it; they need practical suggestions to help them work through body image/self-esteem issues. They need less judgement, more guidance. They need support through the struggles.
If you have suffered through this, or something similar, use your voice to help others. We have to talk about the hard stuff. It’s the only way we can relate to others, grow in Christ, and grow into the best version of ourselves.