Campus alert status is green: For the latest UMMS campus alert status, news and resources, visit umassmed.edu/coronavirus

Search Close Search
Search Close Search
Page Menu

My Worth is More Than My Weight

Posted on: 2/19/2021
Posted by: Leah

Trigger warning: Mentions of Binge-Eating Disorder, Weight-Shaming, Sexual Assault, & PTSD

As my mom tells it, when I was 6, I started ballet classes with my younger sister. After only a few weeks, I began displaying unhealthy behaviors, including unhealthy methods of exercise in our backyard. When asked, I calmly explained that we were “too fat to be ballerinas.” Even at such a young age, my distortions were evident. We were promptly withdrawn from ballet, & that was that.

While I don’t recall this, I am not surprised. Growing up, I remember being inundated with pictures of very thin models & ads for weight loss. Entire reality shows & gossip columns were created just to ridicule larger & normal bodies. Who wore it best? Is she pregnant or did she just eat a meal? The horror!

Up until middle school, I was slender & short. Still, I remember feeling self-conscious about my weight even then, fixating on how my body looked in shorts & tank tops. Then puberty hit me like a truck. After a very painful growth spurt, I finally grew to be 5 feet tall! I was ecstatic.

At my next physical, my doctor was less thrilled. He sternly told me & my parents that I had put on too much weight, & that we would need to closely monitor my diet & exercise. I ate organic foods and was very active, playing soccer, doing karate, running track, & climbing trees. I was shocked, but mostly mortified.

Thankfully, my mom, a physician, put her foot down. She was firm in her belief that her daughter going through puberty & reaching a developmentally normal weight was a good thing, not cause for an intervention. With her help, I quickly found a new female pediatrician, whose bed-side manner didn’t involve weight-shaming pre-teens. Nonetheless, I left his office with a sense of shame around my weight that I just couldn’t shake.

When I started high-school, it seemed like my body was no longer my own. In the hallways, upperclassman boys would look me up & down, & make comments about my body to their friends. I began to feel afraid in my body and even more hyper aware of how it looked. As I dealt with the newfound stresses of high-school, food became a major source of comfort. While my mom restricted what foods were allowed in the house, she worked overnight shifts at a hospital several days a week. On these nights, my dad & I would order take-out or fast-food. If my mom & I got into a fight, my dad would sneak me ice cream as a peace-offering.

In college, my stress levels reached an all-time high. I pulled far too many all-nighters, & ate all the junk food I had been forbidden at home. My freshman year, I was sexually assaulted & stalked by a friend, leading to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I suffered flashbacks, daily panic attacks, night terrors, & dissociation, & even the simplest of activities became incredibly overwhelming.

To try & cope, I once again turned to food. I now found myself compulsively eating to the point of discomfort. I craved food when I was sad, bored, tired, lonely, afraid, mad. I would hide and throw away food, only to retrieve it. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed until 8 pm, & then would eat my groceries for the week. The more I ate, the less it soothed me, & the more out of control & ashamed I’d feel.

With the support & help of my therapist, I now realize I was exhibiting symptoms of a binge eating disorder. While binge eating disorders (BED) aren’t discussed nearly as much as restrictive eating disorders, in the U.S., binge eating disorders are more than 3 times more common in the U.S. than anorexia & bulimia combined (Hudson et al., 2007). 

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) acknowledges that there is much less awareness & much fewer resources for binge eating disorders than for other eating disorders. This is to the detriment of the 2.8 million Americans living with one. In fact, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) only became an “official” diagnosis when it was added to the DSM-5 in 2013. For context, anorexia nervosa has been acknowledged as a diagnosis since the 1800s & was included in the very first edition of the DSM!

The more I learn about binge eating disorders & speak candidly with my therapist about it, the less I feel ashamed & out of control. I went from thinking I was the only person struggling with a BED, to understanding I am one of many. As it turns out, 1 in every 4 people who binge eat also have PTSD (Brody, 2015).

The bodies, minds, & nervous systems of people with PTSD are unable to return to baseline even many months after experiencing a traumatic event. This means living in a near constant state of stress, which — surprise surprise — is not great for your health! Having high levels of the stress hormones for a prolonged period of time negatively affects your blood pressure, cholesterol, immune system, & your appetite. Just as I experienced, people living with PTSD often struggle with day to day activities including regularly preparing & eating meals, which can contribute to binge eating at night (Brody, 2015).

My recovery has focused on treating the root cause of my binge-eating disorder, a traumatic event, as well as rebuilding my relationship with food and my body. Your recovery might look very different, & that’s totally okay.

As someone struggling with my body-image, I have to be intentional when setting health goals. Due to my disorder, I have gained a significant amount of weight in a relatively short time-span. In a society where weight gain is painted as a moral failing & restrictive fad diets as the answer, it can feel all too tempting to buy the weight loss tea or juice cleanse that Instagram influencers are always peddling (medical professionals strongly warn you shouldn’t do either, & I second that). Instead, of setting goals around my weight, I set goals that enrich my well-being & my life, such as taking a walk every day, learning to become a better cook, & setting aside time to mindfully enjoy meals.

Some tips I have for people also recovering from an eating disorder or who are struggling with body image issues are:

  • Seek professional support, whether it be through a hotline, a therapist, a support group, or a more intensive in-patient program. Eating disorders have extremely serious health consequences & can deeply warp our perception of ourselves, making it impossible to achieve recovery without expert support. It is therefore crucial to have a trained professional in your corner, who can ensure you have the help & resources you need.
  • Speak to your friends, roommates, family members, & doctors about topics to avoid because they are damaging to your recovery. For me, this meant establishing the boundary that people not discuss their weight, exercise, or dieting around me. Many of us have internalized shame about our bodies, & may make derogatory comments about ourselves without realizing the impact they have on those around us.
  • Firmly tell your physician that you would prefer not to have your weight disclosed to you or discussed, & if they refuse to honor that, you can find a more supportive, recovery-informed doctor. Two tips I received recently for navigating being weighed at the doctor’s office are to:  1) step on the scale backwards, and 2) carry a “Don’t weigh me card”. The card reads “Please don’t weigh me unless it’s (really) medically necessary. If you really need my weight, please tell me why so I can give you my informed consent” (Jones, 2020).
  • If you are invited to an activity that could trigger a relapse, such as attending a gym or restaurant, you can and should decline. If you are pressed further, I hereby give you permission to tell a white lie. Disclosing you are in recovery can open you up to misguided & insensitive comments. Some of my go-to white lies are that my doctor put me on a diet for stomach issues & that my back injury is acting up. You don’t owe anyone details about your recovery!
  • If you find practicing body positivity unattainable, body-neutrality can be a great place to start. It works to center how our body serves us, rather than how it looks. A very simple phrase I like to say is “I have a body” — it might sound silly, but it is short, judgement free, & helps me when I feel disconnected or ashamed with my body. Another one of my favorite statements is “My body has survived many hardships & I am grateful for it”. Try coming up with a few phrases that work for you. With practice, it becomes easier to embrace these neutral statements & move away from negative self-talk.

Recently, I have gained so much understanding & acceptance for myself, my binge-eating, & my weight. Contrary to what the $2.6 billion U.S. weight loss industry would have you believe, weight is not as simple as diet + exercise. A number of variables determine you weight including genetics, medications, your upbringing, your occupation, chronic stress, what neighborhood you live, your socioeconomic status, traumatic events, your mobility & many more factors.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that contrary to what our society teaches us, our weight is not an indication of our will-power or our worth. The sooner we can unlearn this harmful messaging & let go of the shame & stigma of eating disorders, the sooner we can begin our road to recovery. My worth is more than my weight, & so is yours.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or body-image issues please go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline where you can access professional support services &resources via hotline, text-line, & chat, as well as find treatment specialists in your area. You are not alone, & you deserve support and recovery.