I suffered with (suffer with?) body dysmorphia disorder (an anxiety disorder related to body image) and disordered thoughts for years. For a long time my days consisted of weighing my food, over training obsessively, taking a hundred selfies, berating myself over every tiny little thing I did eat and popping supplements left, right and centre.
I was very thin but, needless to say, I wasn’t very happy. Today, I’m no longer thin, but some days I’m not actually that happy either.
Living with a ‘recovered’ body after BDD is hard, and people shouldn’t feel pressured into being magically better as soon as they get back into a healthy weight range. Recovery is absolutely necessary, but it doesn’t automatically guarantee happiness or mental wellbeing.
After years of being ‘too thin’, the thing that finally made me reach my healthy BMI was, believe it or not something that I couldn’t control. I was sterilized, and have suffered a number of side effects, none more so than abnormal weight gain. When I was sterilized I was smack back in the middle of my disordered period and was unprepared, and not particularly ready to be forced to recover if you will. Before I knew it, the weight was going on quicker than I could blink, and I was powerless to stop it.
Nearly four years later, I’m very much within my healthy weight range.
I absolutely f***ing hate it.
The mental scars from my disorder haven’t disappeared simply because I’ve gained weight. There are days that from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep at night, I’m consumed by body hatred. I hate my new fleshy arms, my thick thighs that touch in the middle, my padded stomach, my bum and breasts. I hate that my legs no longer look like they might snap and you can’t see the bones in my back when I stand up straight. I hate that I sweat and feel heat (sometimes overly so thanks to another delightful side effect of being non-child bearing), rather than being cold all the time. I hate that I need to wear bra and that I no longer look ‘like a 12-year-old boy’.
And yet I am well aware that all of this is irrational.
My body has healed itself after years of abuse and is no longer in immediate danger. But this doesn’t stop me, some days feeling as though I am unable to live with myself in this new skin. I struggle to get dressed in the morning, agonising about whether my jeans are slightly tighter than the last time I wore them. I find myself gripping my fat with both hands and imagine what it would be like to simply slice it off. I torture myself with pictures of my body when it was smaller. I would, and sometimes fantasize about, stopping eating again but…I have to function in my job and at home and I just don’t have the same capacity for restriction as I once did. I’ve now tasted the forbidden fruit of takeaway pizza and Haagen Daz salted caramel ice cream. I’m putting food in as fuel, but I feel so guilty about doing so that sometimes I can hardly bear to be near myself after eating a meal.
Instead of being thin and miserable, I’m normal-sized and miserable. There’s a disconnect occurring between my body and my mind. One is recovered, the other is definitely not.
This imbalance makes me so angry, because we are repeatedly told that if we gain the required weight, our minds heal accordingly. They don’t.
I am not fully recovered yet. I still endure painful eating disordered thoughts about my body and how it’s changing. When I have a bad day, I can look in the mirror and I don’t really recognise who I am. A lot of the time, I wish I could go back and never be sterilized. At least then I would still be skinny.
The world shrinks when you have any sort of disorder. It narrows until it’s just bodies and food. At my lowest points, I literally had nothing to talk about other than my obsession with food and the weight I still wanted to lose. In our society, thinness isn’t just thinness. It’s intrinsically linked in the public consciousness with health, beauty, success, self-control and motivation.
Unfortunately, there’s a very, very deep cognitive dissonance between knowing these facts and how I continue to feel about my recovered body.
I fear that I’ll be wrestling with body dysmorphia and body hatred for the rest of my life.
It’s so unbearably exhausting to spend entire days disgusted by the new shape of my recovered body, and to know that ultimately, the size of my waist doesn’t really matter at all. All while pretending that in fact life is so much better now that I need to wear a bra. It’s so futile and I feel silly and vain, but this is not coming from a place of vanity. It’s coming from the fact that I controlled my life through my weight and through my training through very pivotal and moving on from that is difficult.
Recovery is a hugely challenging process that takes many years to be fully complete. I was told that I wouldn’t be anxious if I gained the weight I needed to. That was a lie. I still struggle with anxiety and now, in my lowest moments, I joke that at least before I recovered I could be anxious while wearing a crop top (not that I ever really did because I, like everyone else with disordered thoughts, was convinced I was too fat). No one can promise happiness if you gain the required weight and it’s not a magic fix, but you can expect better health and a better shot at being happy later on.
I’ve been weight-restored for more than two years, but distress around my new body persists, perhaps due to other health issues such as the seeming inability to lose weight due to a distinct lack of oestrogen caused by my sterilisation. I don’t have the answers, but deep down I do know that if I was still that sad, thin girl, I wouldn’t be able to do my amazing job or have the life I enjoy with my partner and our kids. That’s how I keep focusing on getting better.
All that’s left is for me to make peace with my healthy body. That takes time, and that’s okay.