“Nice to meet you, Rebecca." My new therapist and I shook hands as I took a deep breath and hoped this doctor would be different from the last one. “I see from your file that you have panic disorder?”
I nodded, expecting some questions about my particular symptoms, or maybe an assessment of the medications I was on.
“What I’m concerned about is your BMI.”
She repeated herself, then gave me a lengthy explanation of body mass index, assuming the stunned look on my face meant I was one of the only people in the universe who hadn’t calculated her BMI and freaked out, finding the ratio of their weight to their height wasn’t just right.
Not wishing to get into the whole weight discussion, I politely explained that I had a GP as well as an endocrinologist. And I’d seen a nutritionist. And I had an eating disorder too, EDNOS, and wasn’t that in my file?
“I’m aware. But my main concern is your weight. You’re 5’2” and have ballooned in the last year from 150 to over 200 pounds. At barely 19 years old!”
Of course I knew what I weighed. I obsessed about that number on a scale. I’d starved myself the day before, and many days before that.
“Um… I wanted to talk about my anxiety? My doctor said she’d refer me to someone who could help me manage my panic attacks and—”
“I’m more than able to help with your anxiety. But let’s talk about your weight.”
Fine. If she wanted to talk weight, I decided, we would talk weight.
“I’ve always been chubby,” I started. When I was a young teenager, my family went to Disney World. I had this really cute pink skort that I wore during one day of our holiday. I loved it. But my Dad kept telling me I should have worn something less revealing because my legs were too big and the whole family would be on a regimen as soon as we got back to Toronto. I was almost 150 pounds.
But then we went to Olive Garden for dinner and had fettuccine alfredo, and as soon as I dug in, my dad started in on me about how bad it was for me. That kind of hypocrisy and obsession with diets has been shoved down my throat for years, thanks to my dad. He always hated his body. And mine. He’d count the slices in a loaf of bread to make sure my brother and I didn’t have any. And he literally measured the length of a cake once, down to the centimetre, so that I wouldn’t eat a crumb without his permission.
So I guess you could say my problem with my weight isn’t so much mine as it is other people’s. Like my dad’s and my doctors’. And occasionally that gets to me.
"I really want to love my body," I told my therapist. "And I’m trying. But sometimes outside influences impact my eating disorder and my anxiety. Which you’ll notice in my chart."
She was stunned.
Surprisingly, this ordeal with the therapist inspired me. The whole world was obsessed with how much I weighed. Even doctors. Especially doctors. They were ignoring the panic attacks I experienced, the depression I was battling, the eating disorder I had. Weren’t these things just as dangerous as being overweight? And if there were bigger problems, how much was the whole weight problem being blown out of proportion?
I ditched that shrink and didn’t look back.
In the meantime, I was busy working out whenever my physical illnesses allowed: swimming, hiking, yoga. Sometimes to the point of leaving myself bedridden for a week. I starved myself on and off, occasionally bingeing, then abstaining from food to make up for it.
Something was different though: I’d discovered Health at Every Size.
“I really don’t feel well.”
“I’m sure it’s just nerves,” my mom said, smoothing my hair.
“No. It’s like period cramps. But worse.”
“I thought you just had your period.”
“It’s almost over. And they’re regular now, despite the PCOS. Thank god for NuvaRing. I thought I’d be stuck with month-long periods forever,” I said, and then a sudden, sharp pain in my lower abdomen made me yelp and run to the bathroom.
I pulled my bloody panties down, too distracted by pain to cluck disappointedly at having ruined another cute pair of underwear. My stomach hurt. And it felt like there was something inside me, trying to escape. I didn’t know what to do. I put my hand between my legs and felt something firm but squishy trying to find its way out of my body. I cried as a fist-sized, bright pink fleshy thing came out of me.
At least I dropped, like, 10 pounds in one go.
“That was a uterine cast,” my gynecologist said.
She patiently explained the biology, but all I could hear was, “Maybe your health issues are more important than your size.”
As soon as I got home, I popped an ibuprofen for the pain and opened my laptop. I googled for hours: “PCOS + not focused on weight,” “healthy and fat,” etc.
My eating disorder was finally running out of steam.
A year after the uterine cast debacle, my PCOS was finally under control. My periods were more regular than they’d ever been. I’d mastered inserting my NuvaRing without scratching myself. All of the illness’s symptoms were under control. Except weight gain.
I’d tried everything to combat that pesky weight gain. I was on 2000 mg of Metformin daily (pretty much the highest dose you can take). I stuck to mostly low-carb foods whenever possible (though I wasn’t obsessive about it and refused to count calories or keep track of what I ate; that was a recipe for an eating disorder relapse). I exercised whenever possible, even though my other illnesses forced me to use a cane some days, and my muscles and joints were incredibly fragile.
But I was still gaining weight. Not even maintaining. Gaining.
Some days, I didn’t care. I bought my first fatkini and flaunted it proudly whenever I had the pleasure of being at a pool or beach. I wore leggings and low cut tops and little skirts and felt like the hottest girl in Toronto.
But some days, that old self hatred came creeping back in. “You’ve let yourself go,” I’d say to myself. “You thought being 250 pounds at 19 was bad? You’re 22 and practically 300 pounds. Way to fucking go.”
I’d starve myself on days like that. Then I’d binge. Then I’d get angry at myself for falling into old habits.
Then I’d get back to my new normal: intuitive eating, self-care, and doing my best to embrace the body I had.
You know how some people express their self-love and body positivity by saying things like “I love my body because it’s strong” or “I love my body because of how it makes me feel”?
Well, my body isn’t strong: I have an undiagnosed abdominal disease that makes me violently ill multiple times a week. I have myalgic encephalomyeltis, which renders me so exhausted after little to no exertion, that I feel like a zombie in a pretty dress. I have severe tissue damage in my ankle, forcing me to limp. I have fibromyalgia, which fucks with my memory and makes me feel like a human pin cushion. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, an illness that causes my hair to fall out, my breasts to develop pus-filled abscesses, and my ovaries to hurt like hell (even when it’s not that time of the month).
I’m 24 and I need a cane to get around. I’ve lost count of the number of times some stranger has said I probably wouldn’t need a cane if I just lost weight.
I don’t love how my body makes me feel; I’m in pain literally all the time, and over-the-counter pain killers don’t even take the edge off. I feel like I have my period every day of the month. I feel like crap knowing I’d function even less without the 10 prescription pills I pop every day. Hell, I usually can’t even orgasm.
Despite all of this, or maybe even because of it, I love my body.
My body and I have been through a lot together. Continuing to hate my body would be like Dorothy ditching the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man as soon as she got to the Emerald City.
I don’t look like a model, I can’t walk a mile, and I weigh twice what I did four years ago. But I’ve never felt so beautiful.