What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see a person worthy of compliments, with a body that has adapted through growth from baby to adult, compensated for injuries along the way and generally achieved amazing things? Or do you see something else? A reflection staring back at you that, instead of inspiring compliments and love, inspires insults and negative feelings?
“Fat, disgusting mess’.
That was one of the many insults I
used to hurl at myself whenever I looked the mirror. It would inevitably lead to me grabbing handfuls of what I thought of as excessive fat at various points of my body and listing all my flaws, both physical and mental. My day would start with me berating myself to the point where I could barely look in a mirror anymore, I was so disgusted by what I saw.
At the time, I was in my thirties and weighed 6 stone.
It all started after a period of intense stress; I was at a low point, depressed and with no confidence or self esteem. My health had taken a big hit, culminating in being diagnosed with an auto immune condition and my digestive system shutting down. I had developed allergic type reactions to a long list of foods and had hardly eaten anything but minuscule amounts of rice and vegetables for months.
When my condition was first diagnosed, I was a little chubby so as the weight started coming off, I didn’t think it was a bad thing. But at some point, something in my brain switched off. It was like everything went dark. Instead of being a little concerned at the amount of weight I was losing, I started to like it. I thought everything would be better if I was thinner. Everyone would like me more. I would be able to get a better job, get my confidence back etc. I hid behind the allergies, claiming I couldn’t eat because it made me ill or I had eaten earlier and wasn’t hungry. I started actively starving myself. It was the only form of control I had left and I was not letting go of it. Or rather, it was not letting go of me.
I got away with it for a long time. I was wearing the same clothes as always so although they looked looser, no one could really see just how much weight I had lost. But it was never enough for me. As the number on the scales dropped lower and lower, I became more and more frantic that I still wasn’t thin enough. I keep setting myself target weights to aim for and would weigh myself countless times during the day, panicking if so much put on an ounce. All the time, I managed to keep up a pretence in front of friends and family that really I was fine, just struggling a bit with the food intolerances, nothing to worry about…
I thought I would be fine if I got to 7 stone. Then I’d be happy and it would be ok. But 7 stone came and all I could see in the mirror were rolls of fat. So I aimed for 6 and a half stone, then 6 stone. I hit those markers too. And nothing changed. I hated my body. I hated the way it looked. Fat, disgusting mess. Friends were starting to ask me to try and eat more but all I could see was a whale of a body that I had no intention of increasing. Five and a half stone. If I could get to five and half stone, then I would be ok, I tried to convince myself. Then I wouldn’t be quite so fat and everything would be fine.
And I started to work towards it, my weight dipped under 6 stone. I was hardly eating anything so I was always tired, irritable, not much fun to be around. I constantly compared myself in my head to every single person I saw, always thinking that they were so much slimmer, prettier, better than me. I was actually excited to be working towards my new target weight when one day, looking at the number on the scales, I realised that five and a half stone wouldn’t be a low enough number. I would still be fat. It would need to be 5 stone. And somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my brain, someone turned the light back on. I realised that I was torturing my body and was putting it under so much strain that if I carried on down this path I could end up in hospital. I finally realised that the way I was treating myself was causing more sadness, not fixing it.
I was lucky. I don’t know what triggered my sudden desire to stop feeling that way. To stop abusing myself, verbally and physically. To try and reconnect with my body (we had pretty much become two separate entities in my head; there was me and there was my poor, abused and hated body) and to try and learn to appreciate it, not detest it.
I didn’t look in a mirror for a long time. It was too painful and I knew that if I wanted to heal, I had to avoid the triggers that would send me back down a dark path. I stopped weighing myself and started seeing a counsellor who, slowly but surely, got me back on track. I started to smile agin, to enjoy things and, eventually, to eat without fearing the consequences. Months later, I was ready to look in the mirror but I promised myself that instead of abuse, I would find something positive to say about how I looked; just one small thing. And even though it felt alien and I had a hard time believing it, I also felt a huge sense of relief, as though I had finally gotten my life back. Over time, I gained weight and got back to a healthier version of myself.
Body positivity is a big issue for so many people and too often, I hear people saying things about themselves that they would never dream of saying to someone else. And if we wouldn’t say it another person, why do we feel it’s ok to say it to ourselves?
In a recent discussion about body image and body positivity with health and nutrition coach Gillian McCollum, she said to me “you can’t hate yourself thin’. I thought about this for for a while and she is absolutely right. I tried hard to hate myself thin and even though I lost a lot of weight and was thin, it was never enough. I was never happy and if I hadn’t had that turnaround point, that lightbulb moment, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s time to start working towards a healthier perspective, where, if we need to make changes, we do so in a healthy way; nourishing the body and giving it what it needs, rather than abusing it.
It’s still not easy. There are still days when I look in the mirror and I feel that panic rising in my chest at what I see in front of me. But now I know I can deal with it. I can stop those thoughts. I can find that positive comment and mean it. I have reconnected with my body and am learning to love it for all the things it has carried me through so far and all that is yet to come.
Were there lasting physical consequences of what I did to myself? I can’t be sure. A few years ago, I learned that my ability to have children was pretty much non existant. I will never know whether that was always the case or whether I damaged myself so much that I lost my chance to be a mother.
Being positive about your body is not always easy. It’s not something that can be achieved overnight. It takes time and effort but if anyone out there reads this and it resonates with you, please know, you aren’t alone. Talk about; tell someone how you are really feeling. Find that first compliment to give yourself.