I found this picture at my parent’s house maybe a year ago. It instantly filled me with emotion. I knew I needed to have it. I knew that I needed to write about it. Every time I’ve tried, I just stared at a blank screen or a blank piece of paper. I’ve had writer’s block in general since last March. This morning, I sat down to work on my Body Trust Provider course work, and I felt the need to go find this picture again.
Let me “paint this picture” for you. I was twenty-five. The approximate age that your brain becomes fully developed. I had a master’s degree, I was teaching full-time at WSU, I was working full-time for a domestic violence and sexual assault agency, I was married, and we owned our own home. My parents came for a short visit - I don’t remember the occasion. As you can see, clearly I didn’t feel as though I could take a break and enjoy their visit. I had work to do. My Dad was hanging out on the bed with me and my beloved cat “Chase” - while I worked. My Mom took this picture.
The first time I saw this picture (not very long after it was taken) I was mortified. Why would my Mom take a picture of me when I looked like that?!?! All I could think of when I saw this picture, is that clearly all of my restriction and daily workouts were not enough. I was not enough. I had to do more/try harder. Never mind that I worked two FT jobs, and devoted every spare waking moment to making sure that I consumed the bare minimum, and practiced unhealthy “tricks” (which became habits) to decrease my hunger pain as much as possible.
Over the last two years that I have been researching and practicing Intuitive Eating (IE) and Health At Every Size (HAES), I’ve learned how common it is for people in average or larger bodies to be dismissed when they seek help for an eating disorder. In fact, the very behaviors that can lead to a diagnosis of an eating disorder in a person with a small body, are prescribed to those who are deemed “overweight.” I sought help twice. Once at around the time this picture was taken, and again maybe a year or two later. I was told that I didn’t look like I had a problem. Um, I indeed had a problem.
When I look at this picture now, I feel SO maternal towards the young woman looking back at me. She wanted so badly to be successful at ALL things at ALL costs. Self-care was non-existent during this time. There were no bubble-baths, reading for pleasure, naps, or lazy weekends. Being "lazy" or seen as "lazy" was the worst thing I could have imagined. Most of my workouts were at 6:00AM. Why? Because in my mind, nobody could think a person who worked out at 6AM every morning was lazy. I wish I could hold her, tell her how beautiful she is, and encourage her to redefine success. To consider that success could include productivity (I would have had to lead with that), fun and rest. That success certainly doesn’t mean a number on the scale or a size of clothing. It means working towards creating a fulfilling life that allows for flexibility and self-compassion. I would tell her that it is possible to develop a healthy relationship with food and her body. The process for this likely would have been a lot quicker had I began this journey at twenty-five, rather than at thirty-five.
As I've said before, I don’t wish my twenty-year experience of chronic dieting on anyone. I’m also so grateful that my body did it’s job and demanded that I re-feed myself, in between very restrictive dieting and over exercising - even though I didn’t like the results of that at the time. I’m grateful that my hitting “diet bottom” looked the way it did. It could have been a lot worse, like it is for countless others.
I’m still in a constant state of healing, learning, and connecting. One of the best areas of growth is that now I can read for pleasure, take a bubble bath, hang out with friends, go on dates…even when there is work, errands or chores to do. Learning to take guilt-free naps is still a work in progress for me. With IE and HAES, we talk a lot about redefining what health means to us. I believe that is an ever evolving construct even as we define it for ourselves. Over the last two years, I have revised my definition of health several times. When I look at this picture, I’m reminded that a large part of redefining health for me, is redefining success.
Tiffany was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She lives with her husband, kids, and chocolate lab. Her favorite vacations so far (beyond camping in the family motorhome), have been to Kauai, Key West, New York City, and Sayulita. She looks forward to expanding that list!
A heartfelt thanks to Julie G Photography.