From Fasting to Fabulous: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Body
First, I must apologize about the tardiness of this post. I wanted to have it ready last week to finish off my blog series in honor of #NEDAwareness Week, but life got in the way. Creating social media content is especially draining for me (perfectionism is tiresome), and I considered not even making this last post since I didn't have it up when I intended. However, one of my goals is to let go of how I think things are supposed to be and just put myself out there. I hope this resonates with someone.
In my last blog, I wrote about how I began using diet pills after nine weeks from hell, during which I followed a strict exercise and diet program. I lost a whopping two pounds. After my diet pills caused me to drop around 70 lbs. ("Keep up the good work!" was said to me often, despite my habits having not changed), they also caused me heart palpitations which made me decide to stop taking them. I exercised harder and started fasting regularly, only to gain back all the weight and more. I wanted to go back to taking the diet pills, but they had just been outlawed because the ephedrine in them caused multiple teenaged athletes to die from heart attacks.
Throughout college, I routinely restricted, then would gain back all the weight I'd lost and more when I couldn't keep it up. So then I'd fast, and do it all over again. One of my "crowing achievements" was when I fasted for a full ten days, having nothing but water. I'd convinced myself that my only path to happiness was thinness, and the old "just exercise and eat healthy" had never done much for me in terms of weight loss.
During my ten-day water fast, I dropped fifteen lbs. But around the sixth or seventh day, I got the worst headache I'd ever experienced in my life and no amount of aspirin could calm it. I was certain it would go away eventually, even if I kept fasting. And maybe, just maybe I could live like that. I started daydreaming about it and planning it all out in my head. I figured I could fast every day except once per week, when I would allow myself to eat something I loved.
All the muscles in my body began to feel as though they were made of lead, and the headache just got worse.
I finally ate on the tenth day so that maybe it would go away, but it took at least three days of eating normally to totally disappear.
Of course, eating again caused me to gain back all the weight I'd lost and more - and that was when I still ensured that I consumed nothing sugary, starchy, or fried. Also, I'd worked in retail since age sixteen, and it was normal for me to be on my feet for five or six hours a day.
Then came the time I tried a "detox tea." Lord. The very first time I drank it, I got heart palpitations within an hour. The only other time I'd experienced that was when I was taking ephedrine.
The very next day, I went to the clinic at my university because I was so concerned. I felt relieved to get a female doctor. All my vitals were checked and I was told everything looked good, but I should get an EKG. She cooly referred me to a different place since they did not have that machine there, but upon finding out the price, there was no way I could afford it. Besides, I hadn't had any additional symptoms after the tea debacle.
Some months later, I'd gotten into a relationship and went to the university clinic again to get birth control. The nurse looked over my chart and told me she could not give it to me unless I had the results of that EKG I'd been referred to. I didn't understand why, and told her about how those palpitations were caused by a detox tea, which I never drank again, and I could not afford the EKG.
She shook her head apologetically and read the note made by the doctor aloud. It referred to my "morbid obesity" which she believed had caused my palpitations. Even though I've been fat my whole life and have only gotten palpitations when taking ephedrine and that detox tea.
I literally started crying right then and there. They were denying me birth control based on a the opinion of a doctor who not only had an obvious bias against fat people, but did not apparently believe a word I said.
This humiliating and frustrating experience made me never want to go to a doctor again. My words counted for nothing. All she had to do was look at my weight.
But I would eventually go to the doctor again and have many more ridiculous experiences. Almost every time my throat had to be inspected, they'd order a test for strep throat because my tonsils were so big. I'd look at them every once in a while and determined they were just always like that. Nearly ten years after the detox tea incident, I decided to have my tonsils removed because they were chronically gigantic (that's totally a medical term).
"Hmm. Can you hold on for a sec while I check with the anesthesiologist to make sure he doesn't need anything else?"
Isn't this a routine surgery? Wouldn't she know already what is needed? But I knew it was because of my weight.
When she got back on the phone, she said I would need far more extensive lab work done, including an EKG.
When I got the call to discuss the results, I was relieved and felt validated. Everything was perfect. No pre-diabetes, no heart issues. When surgery day rolled around, I was obviously nervous and asked the anesthesiologist multiple questions. He looked like a bodybuilder and squinted his eyes with suspicion when he said, "You seem to be very healthy, so you shouldn't worry." Even his tone conveyed his disbelief. He seemed to simultaneously try to reassure me and question how I could possibly be so healthy at my weight.
That tiny interaction would have had me in tears before. But by this time in my life, I'd learned to not allow someone else's small-mindedness dictate how I felt about myself. I explain how below.
After college, I worked in an agency that served survivors of domestic violence. While having to get incredibly personal and painful information from them, I realized I wanted to go back to school for my master's in counseling. I'd thought about it before, but that experience took away all doubts.
I'd been in counseling several times in my life, but only through school. While it sometimes helped me feel way better after processing things, nothing had really helped me learn how to love myself.
Once in the program, I began learning about all the different theories and techniques that therapists can use. It taught me how for clients to get the most out of therapy, they had to participate fully, both in and out of the session.
While in the theory and techniques class, we covered how meditation was being used in psychotherapy, and was even shown to be one of the most effective methods for all sorts of issues, from anxiety and depression to body image and chronic pain.
When I first saw this, I thought, that's not a therapy technique!
I'd never been so wrong.
One good thing about me is that when I don't understand something, I make an effort to do so. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that sitting down and focusing on your breathing could be so beneficial. So I signed up for free meditation classes at a Buddhist monastery five minutes from my house (yep, Houston is awesome). We practiced while there, and they recommended we practice for ten minutes every day the first week, then fifteen minutes the following week. I was convinced I wouldn't notice any difference.
Two weeks into it, I finished up my fifteen minutes, thinking to myself that it hadn't done anything.
That night, I fell asleep quicker than I ever had in my entire life. I'd suffered from insomnia for as long as I could remember. Even as a child, I'd daydream or worry about something while lying in bed, leading me to stay awake half the night.
When I woke up the next day, I was dumbfounded... and convinced of meditation's use in psychology.
I kept meditating regularly. We learned just a little about hypnosis in school, and I'd always heard of positive affirmations, but had a tendency to forget to use them. I started looking into meditation and hypnosis apps and videos, especially those focused on self-esteem and body image. I listened every single day.
I started to be able to implement other things I'd learned many years earlier, but had never been able to practice. Meditation helped me break down walls of resistance I didn't know I had.
By the time I completed the program two years later, I was more comfortable than I'd ever been in my body. But something else had happened: I'd gotten a desk job.
Between working full-time, going to school full-time, and doing all the required studying and homework, I'd gained quite a bit of weight. Gone were the days of being on my feet for six hours while working at the mall.
I struggled with it for awhile. I knew my worth had not changed and I truly felt pretty good about myself, but ideas kept creeping into my mind about how to at least get back down to the size I'd been before leaving retail. But my emotional progress was way more important to me than my size or weight.
So I kept meditating, and learned about more kinds of meditation (compassion, vipassana, mindfulness, etc.). I took a specialized training on hypnosis. I made (and make) an effort every day to be kind to myself. I remind myself that the weight loss ads and diet culture that surround me have to do with money and conditioning people to believe the propaganda about the evil of fat bodies in order to sell products and procedures. The sad thing is I already knew that when I was a teenager, and I'd rant about it to anyone who would listen, but I had no idea how to not let those things affect how I felt about myself.
This is the heaviest I've ever been, and it's the happiest I've ever been. After practicing yoga off-and-on for years, I started up again without any goals other than to be present in my body. Exercise had been something I grew up thinking was a weight loss technique. Making it about weight ensured I never enjoyed it. But now I experience yoga as a form of meditation. I feel good when I do it - both physically and emotionally. And I seek out activities that are good for my psychological wellbeing.
Eating used to be something that scared me. Now, I eat when I'm hungry. I focus on foods that are delicious and sit well with my stomach (most of the time). I actually enjoy food now, rather than torture myself with it. Allowing myself to no longer have restrictions has helped me actually listen to my body, which was something I knew nothing about before.
Meditation taught me to be present, relax my body, breathe, and be grateful every single day - both for this life and for this body. I no longer daydream about being thin, or keep clothes that don't fit me anymore. I even got rid of any shoes I found to be the least bit uncomfortable. I realized that life is far too short to not like who I am or not enjoy every single day. I finally like what I see in the mirror, and it was my mind that had to change for that to happen.
Before, moments when I felt especially bad about my body involved crying spells and thoughts of suicide. For the past six years or so, my ups and downs generally range from neutrality (not thinking I look great or bad, just normal) to being excited and happy to see and feel my body. I'm glad to say it's usually the latter.
In 2017, I participated in a boudoir photoshoot (photo credit goes to Lorie Boughton of @BoudoirByLorie), and I had a blast! When the big reveal came to see my photos, I wanted to buy prints of them all! I adore those photos of me, and I genuinely did not think that was possible seven years ago.
Loving yourself and your body is possible, and it opens up a new world of experiences. I hope others find something in my story that helps them feel connected, validated, or hopeful.
For information or help with an eating disorder, please check out the links below from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):
NEDA’s Confidential Screening Tool: nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening
Body Acceptance Challenge: nationaleatingdisorders.org/bodychallenge
NEDA Helpline & Click to Chat: nedawareness.org/get-help/helpline