Besides being all processed foods, this is a starvation diet. Like, 800 calories a day. Worst idea ever.
Dwyer sees the disease, instead, as a condition similar to diabetes. Someone who becomes obese and is genetically susceptible will develop insulin resistance, which then becomes diabetes. An initial trigger — the obesity — is required, but once the patient has diabetes, you can’t talk him or her out of the disease.
For anorexia, Dwyer said, the potential trigger is chronic undereating or dieting, and the messed-up molecular process could be any number of biological changes that happen during starvation.
Really interesting research. Click the link for more.
So, today at the gym I hurry into the locker room and start to get changed. There is a lady there with me who is maybe in her early 40s. I assume this is her first time at this gym, because she nervously asks me a few questions about the lockers. We have a nice conversation about the weather and the small town we live in, and then I emerge from one of the curtained dressing rooms in my workout clothes.
“Ugh,” she mutters when she looks at me. “I am not working out next to you. I don’t even want to look at you- you’re so skinny!”
I don’t know how to respond, so I just laugh awkwardly and say “oh, hush” (which is a pretty Southern thing to say when you’re flustered, I guess.) She approaches me later while I’m in mid-crunch and says “hey there Skinny Girl.” I just smile and wave at her, pretending I don’t hear her because of my headphones.
Now, I want to make a couple of things clear. I am aware of “thin privilege” and I know that I have it. It is easier to live in this country when you fit into certain physical parameters. I know that, because of my physical appearance, I probably experience all kinds of perks- some that I am aware of and others that I am not. I am not writing this to complain that someone made a comment to me about my weight, because I realize that this experience is nothing compared to the discrimination and shaming that people without thin privilege experience on a daily basis. That being said, I had some feelings about this interaction. They kind of landed on me one at a time in rapid succession, so I’ll lay them out here kind of in order.
First, I was kind of shocked. It’s just really weird when a total stranger draws such attention to your body. For me, as someone who survived an eating disorder, that kind of raw attention is really scary. My heart started pounding and I felt a need to respond in the right way. In the back of my mind I knew she was trying to give me some kind of compliment, but I did not want to say thank you. I also didn’t want to respond the way I used to, with an “oh no, I’m not. I hate my thighs, look at my arms, blah blah blah.” I didn’t really know what to do, and I just felt awkward and anxious.
Next, I felt a sense of indignation and defensiveness. I mean, I am not skinny. I am in recovery for an eating disorder and have in fact devoted tremendous mental, physical, and spiritual energy in an effort to not be skinny. I am within my healthy weight range and my BMI is very good. I know my body composition. I am not a skinny girl who doesn’t think she is skinny. I am a healthy woman who watches her weight closely, not in an effort to be thin but in an effort to avoid slipping back down the slope of anorexia. I take good care of myself. I eat enough. When someone calls me “skinny,” to be honest, these days it kind of feels like a slap in the face.
Then, of course, my eating disorder started talking to me. “You’re not skinny, that woman is crazy.” “Remember when you were ACTUALLY skinny?” “Hey, doesn’t it feel good to get attention for being small? Wouldn’t it be even better if you were really skinny again?” And on and on. It followed me through my whole workout. “Push a little further. I know you said you’d only jog for 20 minutes- try 30. Or 40! Run faster. Do more push-ups, your arms are fat.” Then when it was time to go (I never stay at the gym for longer than an hour) “are you sure you want to leave now? You’re not even tired or sweaty. Do another 20 minutes of cardio so you can really look good.” I kept fighting it and tried to distract myself with the TV and my music, but it was no use. I ended up just feeling exhausted.
I also noticed that the woman kept looking at me throughout my workout, so I felt really self-conscious about everything I was doing. If I switched from running to walking my eating disorder would whisper in my ear “skinny girls run.”
I know this sounds crazy, and I am writing it down to get it out of my head. I am also aware that what I did with the woman’s comment is totally my issue, not hers. But I wish there was some way that I could have told her what happened in my head as a result of the comment. I think it’s so sick that our culture values thinness to the point that it is seen as totally acceptable to say what she said to me. That it would, in fact, be seen as a compliment. I just don’t understand it and it makes me really sad and angry.
The other side of it, too, is that her comment really diminished both of us. I can only imagine how she was feeling in that interaction, and it can’t have been good. I often hear negative messages in my head that tell me another woman is prettier, thinner, more toned than I am. I try to shut it down, because it’s a horrible feeling. There is no need for this woman to have to feel self-conscious when she is at the gym doing something for her health and well-being. She should be able to feel awesome about herself, and I should too, regardless of our size. We are not in competition, and I refuse to be brainwashed by a culture that tries to tell me that we are.
I don’t know. I don’t have a witty or intelligent conclusion here. I just feel sad.
Trigger Warning for ED/Body Image issues
So, I just had my first appointment with a physical trainer. Before you give me the side-eye, let me explain. I just renewed my gym membership and as part of the package they include three sessions with a trainer. Last year when I signed up I basically decided to never use the free sessions (mostly because all of the trainers looked scary to me), but this time I thought it might be worth a try. I asked ahead of time which trainer would be most gentle/reasonable/non-psychotic, etc. I got set up with a woman named Sherry who was super nice and open to discussing my ED. I explained that I was not comfortable being weighed or having a weight goal, and that I work out no more than four or five days a week for no more than 45 mins to an hour at a time. She was really understanding and talked about how her daughter, a runner, struggled with ED too. I feel like I really lucked out getting assigned to her instead of one of the big thick-necked muscle-heads who I always see barking at their clients on the treadmill.
Anyway, I was really nervous going into the session and started having a lot of ED thoughts, like “she’s not going to believe that you were anorexic because of how fat you are now,” and “you are going to be so embarrassed because you’re terribly out of shape.” My wise mind knows that I am perfectly within my healthy weight range (like, right square in the middle of it) and I work out regularly, so I’m not out of shape really. But when the ED voice cranks up it is really convincing. I wore my usual gym clothes but threw on a hoodie too, so that the trainer wouldn’t see my enormous wobbly arms and judge me. I drank a lot of water and prayed that I wouldn’t embarrass myself.
We started on the treadmill and she said she just wanted to watch my heart rate for a while. I launched into all kinds of explanations about how I don’t do enough cardio and that’s why I’m a wimp. Well, after fifteen minutes of interval cardio (walking, jogging, uphill, etc.) what she actually said was “wow, you’ve got great endurance. How often are you working out?” My heart rate hadn’t gone out of my target range even once! She seemed genuine and said that most of her clients can’t do half as well as I did. I was totally surprised.
We moved on to arms, starting with a bench press machine, and she warned me that I probably wouldn’t be able to do more than one set of twelve reps at the weight that she’d put it on. She explained that she could barely do three sets at this weight, but the machine didn’t go any lower. Nervously I began my first set, praying I could at least finish it. I ended up doing three sets fairly easily and she said “look, you’re in really good shape already!” I couldn’t believe it. My arms were barely tired! Surprise #2.
Throughout the workout there were several more moments where I had to realize that my self perception and reality are still woefully far apart. As frustrating as this was, I left the session feeling kind of awesome about myself. I really appreciate when my ED voice gets put in its place. It is disturbing to recognize how foreign and how downright abusive an aspect of my own mind can be. At times like these, when I am confronted with reality and how incredibly different it is from what my ED tries to tell me, I find myself stepping back and asking the ED voice “who ARE you and where did you come from?” It finally starts to feel like a separate entity, totally disconnected from my true self, and totally unwelcome in my life. It’s like finally cleaning off a dirty mirror and seeing myself clearly again. Hard to explain, but really good.