• Tristan Thibodeau, MSN

When Your Weight's Been Up, Down, and All Around

Updated: Oct 23, 2017

Topics covered: Eating disorders, emotional trauma, limiting beliefs, recovering, finding strength, my recommended tools & tips for reclaiming your life.


How I fell in


I can remember being 17, sitting on my bedroom floor and sobbing because Prom was coming up and I was too self-conscious to wear the figure revealing dress that I had bought a month prior. I had worried myself into such a frenzy about trying to be “thin” that I literally lost my appetite most days. The thought of food made me feel anxious and nauseous. Even my mom’s home-cooked meals that had before brought me so much comfort, now repelled me. On one of my worst days, my mom called to me dinner and as I looked at the soup she had made, I started crying. Yes, I have to admit that at a time in I was brought to tears by soup….oy vey.

All she could do was look at me, with concern painted across her face and said, “Oh honey” as if she were finally seeing how much my damn mind was torturing me.

Even though I felt weak and tired, I stopped eating the school lunches, opting for a pitiful iceberg lettuce salad instead. Eventually, I fell into such a self-conscious pit that I practically stopped eating altogether and shrunk myself down to about 90lbs as a 5’2” growing teenager. My life revolved around three foods: hard-boiled eggs, steamed broccoli, and oatmeal. Not joking. I eventually reached a weight where I was satisfied, but my relationships were suffering and I was practically catatonic some days from under nutrition. I would cry at the drop of a hat because starving yourself does not set you up for stable hormones. Yet all I cared about was getting smaller and shrinking myself.


Then the school year was over, then the summer, and eventually it was time for me to say goodbye to the little farm town I had grown up in and move to the big city to start college. When I left I wish someone would have grabbed me by the shoulder’s and shook me saying “you are enough and you are worthy of love and respect”, but off to school I went with the realization that I had practically unlimited freedom to treat my body as I wanted without the watchful eye of my family. Over the following four years, my weight went up, down, and all around. I teetered between times of deprivation leaning more towards anorexia to overindulgence shifting more towards bulimia.  With the dramatic fluctuations with my eating habits, there were drastic changes to my self-esteem, work ethic, and mental state.


Eventually, my friends started to notice and tried talking to me about the cycles of bingeing and purging that they were observing. I could never deny it, but somehow it didn’t matter because my deepest most heartfelt desire was to be content with myself and I was convinced that looking a certain way or weighing a certain amount would bring me that joy.


It never did.


My life revolved around food, exercise, and weighing myself. I had very little joy in my life and most of it came from moments of reaching a goal related to my body


Facing the girl in the mirror.


I had built an understanding of the world around me which revolved around my worth being directly related to my appearance. When I weighed more than I would have liked, I convinced myself that people liked me less because I was less attractive. When I weighed less, I felt practically unstoppable and confidence would beam from every pore. I became so wrapped up in how others interpreted my body that my emotions, thoughts, and actions completely revolved around the approval of others. It was such a sad, lonely place to be in and I have realized that if I had not run into health complications such as digestive distress, insomnia, depression, and anxiety as a result of long-term deprivation, I’m not entirely sure I would have dug myself out.


It has taken me years of hard work and introspection to unpack even more years of solidified constructs I had built around my body so that I could make sense of my worth. Eventually, you just get tired and must face the person in the mirror who has convinced you that you are not worthy of love and dignity unless you look a certain way. You get tired of letting your thoughts control you, and you get tired of being in a constant battle with yourself.


It is truly exhausting.


I think what plagues me most now is wishing I could pinpoint a moment in my past when I went from being a fun-loving, carefree girl who loved to go to get ice cream with her friends after school to being obsessed with my body-image and for lack of a better term “anal” about what she ate. The truth is, I still don’t know. Even after years of reflection I still don’t know, but I have my guesses. It could be that my upbringing had an air of “your best is not good enough, make something of your life”. It could be that teenage girls are absolute bitches to each other in school and will attack any imperfection you have to make themselves feel better. It could be that I was chasing approval and love after my parents divorced. It could be my heart’s way of reacting to the childhood trauma of growing up in a violent and tumultuous household. The reality? It’s most likely a combing of all of these things.


The mind wants to escape pain whenever it can, and when perfectionism has been ingrained in you from a young age, it is very common to turn to your body as a source of control, punishment, and reward.

I don’t think I will ever truly know what the exact trigger was for my downward spiral, but I do know one thing to be true: I let my disordered eating rob me of what I was craving most, connection.


Connection with family, connection with friends, and most importantly connection with myself. We are all seeking connection and we all respond differently to feeling disconnected. Now, it is so easy for us to say, “I have friends, I have a family, I have my team, I have _____”. In our society, connection might represent a certain number of friends on Facebook or how many people you interact with on a daily basis. Yet real connection, true connection, is when you are able to look at another person without bias.


Yet real connection, true connection, is when you are able to look at another person without bias or judgment and see them as they are. Not just seeing them as a physical being standing in front of you, but seeing that they have thoughts, feeling, emotions, and inherent dignity regardless of how they treat you.

For anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or just the occasional hateful comment aimed at your body, know that you are not alone. Know that you are worthy of the utmost respect because you are a soul, not a body. Recognize that you are limiting your true spiritual, emotional, and intellectual potential by allowing yourself to be reduced to a number on a scale. Having goals for yourself is fine, and are potent motivators for making healthy changes to your life. Yet I know from personal experience that it is all too easy to convince yourself that disordered eating patterns are coming from a good place. People, such as myself, who have walked hand in hand with eating disorders often create rules around eating that provide control, perfectionism, and even punishment for not abiding by those rules which can be confused with goals when in reality these stringent rules are only serving to provide structure to our otherwise chaotic minds.


So how do you free yourself? Glad you asked.


Opening the cage.



The first step is love. Unconditional, unyielding, unwavering love. Sounds easy enough, right?


Sounds easy enough, right?


Learning to love myself has been one of the hardest tasks I have ever self-assigned.  I am still learning and I have a feeling that this will be a lifelong process for me, but I will say that it has been the most liberating journey I have embarked upon. When you observe what plagues you from a place of love, you no longer hear the self-deprecating comments, you no longer hear the nagging thoughts about how you shouldn’t eat/wear/do/think/feel “that”.


All that noise just falls to the wayside and what you are left with is YOU. Not you as in your body, but you as in your heart and soul.


You see yourself in a new light, as a soul who has been tormented and tortured by thoughts that did nothing but degrades your worth. You see all the scars and the pain. You see the years of wasted time and energy. You see the countless relationships that suffered because of your mind’s obsession. You see that you are worthy of more, and you feel limitless.

Learning to see your pain through the lens of love frees you from whatever expectation you have set for yourself and you learn to reclaim your power. You are powerful beyond measure. Let me repeat that, YOU ARE POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE. Yet we live in our minds and in a society that continually reinforce that you are not enough. That you need to be skinnier, more in shape, have more money, or have more ____. When the truth is, we have had all that we need to accomplish our purpose the whole time…we just allow ourselves to be convinced that we are not ready.


Eating disordered and negative self-talk are a poison. They convince you of things that you know in your heart not to be true. So stop listening and stop believing. See your life and the life of others through the lens of love, and I promise that your life will begin to change.


I am asking that you be brave. That you be bold. That you love yourself for all that you are and all that you could be. Changing our patterns and habits is incredibly difficult, and can even be painful for someone with an eating disorder. I’m not going to paint a picture of change as being easy, as I know from experience that transitioning into a mindset of love and acceptance is incredibly challenging. Yet IT IS VITAL that you ignore the voices that tell you that you can’t. When you approach this transition from a place of love, you realize that the degrading voices that are limiting your potential can not possibly be you. If you are coming from a place of love, why would you say such negative things to yourself? Making this distinction is incredibly valuable as it shows you that you have a choice and this is the power that you have been craving all along. It shows you that you have the choice to ignore the nasty voice in your head telling you that you can’t and choose to evade these comments and follow a different path.


Choose the different path. It will transform you in ways you could not imagine. I want you to experience the freedom, the liberation, and the exhilaration from escaping the mind of someone with an eating disorder.


It will transform you in ways you could not imagine. I want you to experience the freedom, the liberation, and the exhilaration from escaping the mind of someone with an eating disorder or of negative self-talk.


So why share my story? I want everyone who has ever struggled with the issues I discussed to feel that they are not alone and that there is a path to freeing yourself. It has taken me nearly 9 years to escape the degrading self-talk that trapped me in my disordered eating, and I wish I had these skills sooner. I try not to live in regret by reaffirming that my story has a purpose. I believe that purpose is to help others who have had similar issues and serve as a resource to changing lives.


I am here for you and there are countless others who have clawed their way out of eating disorders, so don't allow yourself to live a limited life. Please reach out, and know that you are supported!


My Favorite Tools and Resources For Combating Disordered Eating Patterns and Negative Self-Talk


Love is the first step, but there are additional tools you can equip yourself with to begin to change your life. My favorites are below:

Books:

  • Eat What You Love and Love What You Eat – Michelle May, MD -- A mindful eating program for healing your relationship with food and your body.

  • Daring Greatly – Brene Brown, Ph.D. -- “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives”

Podcasts:

  • Tara Brach -- Tara Brach is a leading western teacher of Buddhist (mindfulness) meditation, emotional healing, and spiritual awakening. She is the author of Radical Acceptance (2003), and True Refuge (2013).

Practices:

  • Meditation and Breath Work – I typically find a guided meditation on YouTube for self-acceptance and motivation. Here are some great ones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80zy1gHjS6E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nM4pwaE0p4

Apps:

  • Headspace and Calm for short meditations.

    • I cannot speak highly enough of the value of incorporating a daily meditation practice. These two apps are FANTASTIC at accomplishing this because they are basic and short. I usually do one 10-minute meditation as soon as I wake up to start my day out positively. I challenge you to try it for just one week and notice the change in your attitude, mood, and outlook!

Mantras:

  • Write this all over. Put this in your car, on your fridge, on the mirror, on your forehead (just kidding). Make one that is unique for you as it will have more meaning. These are some of my favorites:

“I am exactly where I need to be” “I am worthy of love and respect” “I am on my path and everything that is happening to me is my purpose”

Talk-therapy

  • Yes, I am talking about seeing a therapist. This can be very intimidating at first, but it has been one of the most transformative endeavors that I have invested in. I consider it an investment because you are spending your money to learn invaluable skills for how to release yourself from the limiting beliefs that are perpetuating your disordered eating patterns. It is so liberating! Do yourself a favor and make this investment. It will give you so much more in return that will justify the cost. Be brave!

Journaling

  • Transferring your thoughts and feelings onto paper in some ways relinquishes their power over you. It helps you to rationalize what is going on in your head, and also provides you with documentation of your journey. In your writing, always end with positive affirmations that you are worthy of making changes to improve your life. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love, respect, and dignity and as a being worthy of these gifts, there is no place in your life for the limiting beliefs an eating disorder restricts you by.

Lastly, I’m going to ask you to get out of your comfort zone. Making these changes takes a lot of courage, strength, and trust that you will get better. Know that you are worthy of making these changes. You are worthy of living a life that brings you joy, not misery. Be bold, be brave, and be courageous!



#eatingdisorderrecovery #prorecovery #edwarrior #edrecovery #edfighter #edfam