When Beauty is a Beast

Psalm139Some days… when standing before my reflection, stripped of everything… motives, guilt, expectations, past images, I can honestly look at my body and speak the words of Psalm 139 with great certainty.

I do well most of the time, but when the body image monster sneaks up on me, it does so with a vengeance. I go from being comfortable in my skin to feeling like the reflection in a fun-house mirror. I wonder whose body I’m trapped in and when the merger occurred. I see my curves as too curvy. My hair appears dull. My laugh lines are deep and obvious. My image is distorted.

It’s no secret that my relationship with food and exercise is less than ideal.

(I’m honored to be writing for Leading and Loving It today. Will you join me over there and read the rest of this post?)

To my Beautiful Children

My Loves

It’s no secret that I have wrestled demons in the past. One of them being body image. As I read posts on social media raising awareness this week about eating disorders (ED), I cannot help but be grateful. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in the depths of my illness. In an effort to help others and avoid ever going back to that place, I cannot forget what that desperation and skewed sense of self felt like.

My body put up with 12 long years of abuse. Starvation, binging, purging, excessive use of diuretics, substances…many things that would cause bewilderment one day when looking back.

My relationship with food is still not one to be envied. It’s rather dysfunctional and requires much work on a daily basis. As with everything in my life, it’s about progress, not perfection. Someone once told me, “Even if everyday you take two steps forward and one step back, you’re still one step further than you would be.”

If you remember nothing else from these writings, please remember this, “Let go of perfection. It will ruin you.”

I bring you into this conversation to acknowledge the times when I will say silly things like,
“I wish my thighs still fit in those jeans.”
“I remember when my stomach was flat and toned…before babies”
“I don’t even tan the same after having children.”
And any number of other things that are disrespectful to this body that has housed me for over 30 years.

It’s true that I am a mere version of my former self. It’s true that my thighs are thicker, my belly softer, my arms looser, my backside…well, let’s just say, things don’t sit where they used to. It’s also true that pregnancy, nursing, lack of sleep, unnecessary worry, baby carriers, and bending over cribs as slowly as possibly in an effort not to wake you after finally rocking you to sleep, had something to do with it. Those are the beautiful reasons for my transformation. The not so beautiful and less mentioned reasons are the results of my lack of discipline in the areas of exercise, eating junk food, staying up too late, not enough water, and various other things.

My Darlings, when I look at you I know that you are my greatest investment.

When I stand naked and vulnerable in front of the mirror, surveying my body, familiarizing myself with the curves, lines and dimples that have claimed permanent residence on my frame, I run my finger along my cesarean scar reminding myself that just beneath the surface of this scar is a womb that cradled you until my arms would. Just below that layer is a vessel for life. How could I ever regret that?! When I turn sideways and see the pooch that has become a constant companion, I stand up a little straighter and remember how far my belly skin stretched as you grew into a living, breathing, human being. When shopping for the “perfect” fitting bra that eludes me, I am reminded that these breasts sustained three lives! How can I be upset by the inconvenience that I feel they sometimes cause me?

Depending on when you’re reading this, that last paragraph might make you cringe. I get it! I almost didn’t type it! But I’m not going to be a host for shame anymore. I’m not going to sit quietly while other women feel isolated in their thinking. I’m not going to allow anyone to tell me that I’m not okay the way I am.

The truth is my loves, I am more than okay. I’m fantastic. I’m better than I have ever been. This beautiful body has done more good than I ever would have given it credit for. After years of mistreatment by its tenant, it has been very forgiving.

If there was only one thing that I could tell you about body image it would be this, “When looking, thinking about and caring for your physique, remember to be grateful for its functions. There will always be something you wish you could change. Always. Why not focus on the miracle that is life? I think you will discover that you have everything you need to be an exceptional version of yourself.

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Does this make me look fat?

Ladies, why do we even ask this question? We know when we look fat. We are setting the recipient of our insecurity, up for a no win situation.

Here’s the deal, I’m tired of feeling things jiggle when I walk.
I have been bartering with myself for the last year when it comes to dropping some lbs.

It sounds something like this. I will pay closer attention to what I eat and don’t eat…
If I have to go up another pants size
If I have a roll under my bra
If I ever have a “gut”
If I’m uncomfortable naked
If one of my children ever says, “Am I having a baby brother or baby sister?

The list goes on, but that’s the gist.

Well, today was the day. I stopped making excuses. I decided to make a change. I dusted off the shake mix that I bought last year for this very reason and I made a shake as a meal replacement.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?

Well for someone who has never had a “working relationship” with food, it’s a very…big deal.

I have never thought of food in a positive way. In fact I rarely think of food at all. Which sounds funny coming from someone who is as big as she’s ever been.

For 12 years I had a condition called bulimarexia. Weird huh? I always liked being unique. I couldn’t just have your ole run-of-the-mill bulimia or anorexia, I had to have a combination of the two. I think it’s the bipolar of eating disorders.

Sometimes I would restrict for days eating a mere 165 calories and then I would switch it up by binging anywhere from 2,500-5,000 calories in one sitting and then stick my finger down my throat until there was nothing left but stomach acid. When I was feeling extra bold I would throw down a few boxes of laxatives (30-75 pills.) I still remember the way the pink candy coating tasted, especially when I would take too many and forcefully vomit.

BUT, I was skinny.

My family would say things like, “You’re killing yourself. You know that, right?”
“Well, at least I’ll die skinny.” I would say.
Talk about shallow, insecure and egotistical all wrapped into one dysfunctional package!

Without turning this post into a share at a support group and in an effort to shine light on this that I like to keep hidden, I wanted to be forthcoming about the monster within who rears its ugly head any time I consider focusing on the daily ins and outs of eating.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m scared.
Scared that I’ll fail. Scared that I’ll return to old habits that show results more quickly than doing it the right way. Scared that I have screwed up my metabolism so much that there’s no going back. Scared that I will become obsessed with the calories, portions and fat grams again.

So here, in the quiet of morning, when it’s only God and me. I ask Him to whisper His promises when I need them most. I ask for His protection from the monster within. I ask for His guidance as I walk this road to a healthier me. I ask for His grace when I am frustrated and want to quit.

This is a lifestyle that I am learning. Not a diet, or the newest craze. It’s a way to live in harmony with something that I need to sustain me.

In case you’re wondering, I gave up the eating disorders when I put down the booze. That was October 19, 2002.

Why did it take me so long to embark on this challenge to have a positive relationship with food? It’s like any other toxic relationship. I never wanted to return to the place of making an effort to control my weight.

The difference is, I don’t need alcohol to live, but I need food to survive. So, here I am…at the beginning…looking ahead, not behind. It’s going to be hard for me. The discipline to be healthy and not cut corners, will be difficult.

I’m ready. Today, I begin a new life.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please, please, get help. It is serious and it wants to take your life. You can start by visiting the National Eating Disorders Association.