Why I Regret Losing Weight

Trigger Warning: this article contains mentions of eating disorders

When I arrived at Phillips Exeter Academy for my first fall as a sophomore, I was eager, strong, and anxiety-free. I had defined calves from running half marathons all summer and no dark circles. I was lean, almost sinewy, with gangly legs that tripped over themselves whenever I rushed. I never worried about my weight and I never thought about calories or the number on the scale. I didn’t worry about what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t care.

Then, my first day of classes arrived, and the next. Before I knew it, every day left me wearier than the last, each night’s readings were longer than the ones before it, and every test or project or paper swept me to higher levels of stress, worry, and self-doubt. While my mental health fell apart, so did my physical health. I stopped running, I often over ate. At first, I didn’t notice. Then, before I knew it, my lower year was over and I was on a plane back to Oklahoma. When I stepped on a scale, the day after I arrived back home, the number I expected to be, the number I had been for three years, was replaced by a number thirty pounds higher. Suddenly, the things I used to never worry about—candid pictures, the odd doctor office weigh in, how I looked next to my impossibly thin sisters—occupied the majority of my mental space. My friends, who used to compliment my appearance, grew silent. A relative asked me if I was letting myself go and another began to give me unsolicited diet advice. Instead of questioning why people were quick to criticize my body instead of criticizing our often twisted and impossible beauty standards, I questioned my own validity. I especially did so, when for the first time in my life, my doctor told me that because I fell into the overweight category (by five pounds) of the BMI chart, I should consider losing weight. Looking back, I seriously doubt that my long-term health was at risk simply because I gained a little weight.

Instead of seeing this change in weight as something normal for a 16-year-old adjusting to life away for the first time, prompted by those around me and by the nature of the fatphobic society we live in, I panicked. I remember standing in front of a full length mirror in my sisters bathroom, trying to find anything I liked about myself and failing. I began to compare myself to other women, particularly those that were thinner. I began the first of many, failed, diets. I remember counting calories, allowing myself 1,800 a day, then 1,400, and then 1,000. I was unaware of the adverse effects that extreme dieting would have on my health. These crash diets often resulted in eventual binging for most of my upper year, and instead of losing weight, I gained another five pounds.

Senior fall, faced with the upcoming prom and graduation photos, I panicked again. I hated every picture of myself since my weight gain. I didn’t want to hate every picture from events that I would remember for the rest of my life. My solution to this horrible self-hatred was the mother of all crash diets. I exercised every day and made sure to burn at least 700 calories each time. I only ate vegan food for three months. I counted every calorie and I lost an unhealthy amount of weight in a very short period of time.

I didn’t feel better about myself. My doctor patted me on the back, my friends asked me for diet tips, and the compliments returned. In the words of the beautiful and brilliant Blythe Baird in her groundbreaking poem “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny,”:  “If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.”

I knew I should feel accomplished, but I felt empty. My depression grew. My hair began to fall out. Still, I convinced myself that this torture was in the name of health. Despite losing weight, I still didn’t value myself as I should. My confidence certainly had not returned. I wasn’t eating vegetables and running because I love my body and I wanted it to be well, but rather because I had no love for it. I regret losing weight because I didn’t put self-care first, but rather because I was perpetuating sanctions against the female body. So often people, especially women, are told that losing weight will solve all of their problems, that thin-ness is equal to wealth, power, and beauty. When my male cousins got seconds, they were “strong, growing boys.” When I did the same, I was “letting myself go.”

I forbid myself to think that eating a piece of cake could be self-care as well as eating vegetables, that I was allowed to enjoy food or to love my hips. I didn’t want to be strong or healthy; I wanted to be thin. I didn’t want muscle, I wanted a thigh gap.

Senior winter, I reached a breaking point. I was exhausted from undereating and overexercising. I fit in my old clothes, but I was constantly tired and hungry. Then, I began spending more time with my dear friend, Tess Aalto. She quickly became my idol. She loved herself and yet she worked out; she was incredibly strong, she ate vegetables and cake, and, most importantly, she let herself look in the mirror and like what she saw. And, she wasn’t model-esque thin. She was normal, she had hips, and she didn’t seem to care. She didn’t express a desire to fit into the stereotypical beauty standards that I held so highly for so long. She didn’t just love herself, she encouraged me, and everyone around her to love themselves too. She also introduced me to the wonderful, radical body positivity movement.

Additionally, instead of running, I began to practice vinyasa yoga. Suddenly, exercise didn’t feel like a punishment. I didn’t need to enforce self-hatred to force myself to run as long as I possibly could. Yoga taught me how to heal myself and how to take care of myself. I did headstands for the first time in my life! I remember being so overcome with joy the first time I was able to do one without support from a wall. I remember how strong I felt. I’ve been running since I was 12, but taking a break from it helped me to realize how toxic I was towards myself when I ran. Certainly, running is a wonderful way to be healthy for many people, and I am no way discouraging the sport. But, at that time, it was no longer healthy for me. I ran because I didn’t think I was adequate, not at all because I cared about my health. Most importantly, I couldn’t count calories in a yoga practice. I had to trust that I was completing healthy practices. I deleted my calorie counting app, instead choosing to trust my own instincts to tell me when I was full or hungry. I ate dessert without binging, I put my scale in storage.

When I began running again, I stopped counting calories; instead, I tracked miles and times. I wanted

to be strong for the first time in my life and I couldn’t be strong on 700 calories a day. I had to fuel myself, not starve myself.

The results were radical. My skin glowed, I smiled more. Surprisingly, letting myself enjoy dessert turned out to help me to curb my patterns of binge eating. My mental health changed as well. I loved my hips and my curves for the first time. I spent less time in the morning caring which outfit made me look the thinnest, and more time reading the New York Times, listening to audiobooks, or talking walks.

When I weighed myself this summer, to my surprise I hadn’t gained even a pound. Even more surprisingly, I didn’t really care. At present, I don’t know how much I weigh, and that is the most freeing thing in the world. I know how many servings of vegetables I’ve eaten, I know how much I can lift or squat, and I know how far I can run. I don’t get as sick as often. I don’t really care if people look at me and what they think of my weight, my skin, or my hip dips. I care that I am strong, I care that I eat enough and that I eat well. I’ve stopped caring about unsolicited diet advice, or whether or not I am thinner than my sisters. I wanted to be loved, so I lost weight. And yet, the radical self-love I have cultivated is much more satisfying than fitting into conventional standards of beauty. Of course, I still struggle sometimes, everyone does. But, self-love is not a permanent fixture; much like yoga, it is a practice. I know that I will get better at looking in the mirror and liking myself.

So many girls are taught that they are unworthy if they are not thin and that they should count calories and restrict themselves, which is basically the worst thing you can do to a body according to this New York Times article. Girls are taught that eating fewer calories will solve all of their problems. I remember all the times that my elder female relatives sliced an impossibly thin piece of cake, murmuring about how “bad they were,” when eating cake isn’t actually a sin or a grievance. I remember how many dozens of my friends have suffered from eating disorders, and how few of them felt empowered to seek help. They were encouraged to “keep up the good work” instead. I remember so many of my friends that weigh more than me and are much more publicly and privately attacked, bullied and degraded than me, simply because I fit into more conventional beauty standards than they. What would our world be like if everyone’s body was thought of as worthy of love, care, and acceptance? How much more confidently would we carry ourselves?

Very few people know about this struggle, this journey of self-love. I’m admittedly nervous to write this article, to put on paper things which were so private for so long, and to share them for all the world, my friends, and my family to see (and perhaps criticize). But, cheesily and yet truthfully, I wouldn’t want anyone else going through this to feel that they are alone. Dialogue is the greatest perpetuator of social change. This is my story and I’m not ashamed of what I went through.

At the end of the day, I regret losing weight. I regret that I treated my body poorly. I regret that I wanted to conform to those conventional beauty standards. But, I’m happy that I learned from it. I’m excited to get stronger and healthier, and to begin to repair the damage that several years of crash dieting left. I’m even more excited to spread this joy of self-love to others, especially my beautiful younger sister. I’m excited because my journey of loving myself has only just begun.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Hotline at (800) 931-2237, or via chat using the link below:

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline

 

Image Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4