In today's hashtag world, the #thighgap promises happiness. But I know from personal experience that no amount of space between your thighs can make you happy. So, when my Almost Anorexic coauthor, clinical psychologist Jennifer J. Thomas, and I were invited to appear on "The Dr. Oz Show" as experts related to topic, we jumped at the chance to share the truth. Tune in tomorrow during this National Eating Disorders Awareness Week as we discuss how seeking a thigh gap is a form of body checking, an eating disorder behavior. Until then, here's a section from my second book specifically about losing my thigh gap -- that's right, #nothighgap.
A Thigh of Relief
From Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life
My thighs touch. When I stand up straight with my feet together, my thighs touch at the top. I used to hate not having any space between my thighs, but not anymore. Today I love it. I'm serious. Read on.
When I was lost in my eating disorder, I would stand in front of my bathroom mirror each morning and night to make sure my thighs didn't touch. (I now understand that this is not the most productive way to spend my time.) Since I was at an unnaturally thin weight, they never came into contact, and I would let out a big sigh of relief.
After getting professional help, I gained some much-needed weight, but I was still too thin for my body type. (I struggled for years to maintain an unnaturally low weight while simultaneously trying to be recovered. This doesn't work.) With the added weight, it took lots of strategic eﬀort, but I could still position my legs in such a way that my thighs wouldn't meet. I would let out an even bigger sigh of relief. For me, this was a tool by which I falsely measured happiness, success and self-worth.
Today, no amount of strategizing prevents my thighs from touching. I'm at my body's "set point weight," which is more of a range than a speciﬁc number. I think of my set point as my ideal weight, my natural weight and my healthy weight. It's where my body genetically wants to be and where it ﬁghts to be despite any eﬀorts to go lower or higher. When I weighed lower than my set point, my body fought back by slowing my metabolism and giving me intense cravings to binge on large amounts of food -- both attempts to increase my weight.
Because I tried to control my weight for so long in destructive ways, it took a long time (even after I began eating well) for my weight to even out and get to where it is now. In the process, I actually weighed more than my set point for a short time. Finally, at my natural weight, my metabolism is normal, I am in touch with my hunger and fullness cues and I don't get the urge to binge. I feel energetic, healthy and happy!
I no longer try to achieve an unrealistically thin ideal for my body type. With my proportions, including the width of my hips, I cannot possibly have space between my thighs and be at a healthy weight -- and I no longer care. Other people's bodies might be made diﬀerently. I have a friend whose legs are naturally spaced farther apart than mine, and her thighs have never touched, even at a healthy weight. Magazines tell us that we should all look the same even though we're not all made the same.
You might not believe this, but I would rather be at my set point weight than anything lower. Even if a genie popped out of a bottle and could make me weigh less and still be recovered (it would take that kind of magic), I would choose to weigh what I do today. I actually think my body looks best at this weight. I have curves! I like feeling like a woman. I like feeling strong and powerful. And I like being a good role model to others. I can't very well talk about positive body image if I'm maintaining an unhealthy weight myself.
I will admit that I wasn't always so gung ho about being this weight. In fact, I was once so distraught about it that I wrecked my car in a parking garage. (My gynecologist had accidentally told me my weight at an appointment, and I lost it.) I had to look at my thighs touching for more than a year before I could even accept it, much less like it, and much, much less love it. There was no magic pill, book or therapeutic exercise that convinced me to love my body. A lot of things were helpful, but what helped most was just patience and giving myself time to adjust to my new body. I ﬁlled my life with other things that ultimately pushed out the negative body image thoughts slowly over time. I ﬁnally have a positive body image, and it gets better all the time.
For a long time, I tried to improve my body image before I would eat right and maintain a healthy weight. The hard truth is that you have to eat right and maintain a healthy weight before your body image can truly improve. This means there is a period when you are in your healthy body and feel horrible. But if you just stick with it -- without manipulating your food or weight- - the horrible feeling subsides, and you actually begin to love your new body. If you don't stick with it, Ed will inevitably take control and drag you down again. I discovered that I couldn't do a lot to speed up positive body image, but I could sure do a lot to slow it down. (For example, obsessing about the space between my thighs slowed it down. Restricting slowed it down. Trying to ﬁt into clothes that were too small for me -- you guessed it -- slowed it down.)
Do you appreciate your body at a healthy weight or only at an unnatural size? Regardless of what number you see on the scale right now (whether you need to gain weight or not), my hope is that you will make your goal to maintain your natural weight and experience the freedom that comes with it.
When I look at my happy, healthy, touching thighs, I smile. And -- you guessed it -- I let out the biggest sigh of relief of them all.
Download this helpful exercise from Almost Anorexic, which was designed by Dr. Thomas. For further resources about body image and eating disorders, click here.
Is your body checking getting old?
From Goodbye Ed, Hello Me by Jenni Schaefer, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill. Copyright 2009.