I knew this. But I've been out of college for so long that I felt I was immune. That I had conquered my body dissatisfaction. After all, I'm a researcher who's been studying body dissatisfaction and disordered eating for over 15 years. Knowledge is power, right? It might be power, but it's certainly not immunity.
Feeding and eating disorders are, in their own way, coping mechanisms. When it seems as though everything else is falling apart, those with body dissatisfaction may choose to control their food intake in an effort to cope with stress. Some do this by withholding food, some by gorging themselves. Whichever you choose, it's still a coping mechanism. One that I've been struggling with for years.
I counsel men and women suffering from body dissatisfaction every day yet never bothered to look in the mirror and face my own. But recently a friend called me on it. He expressed concern about my thinness, saying I could stand to gain 20 pounds. I thought he was insane. At 5'6.5", I am right at the bottom end of "normal" weight for my height. Yes, "normal" also includes a version of me that's 20 pounds heavier, but I justified staying at the lowest possible healthy weight for my height by telling myself (and everyone who would listen) that I'm small-boned. And I am. That doesn't mean I couldn't stand to gain a few pounds.
So why haven't I? Fear. Fear of being called fat. Fear of having to go up a clothing size or two. Fear of not being thin anymore. Fear of losing control over my eating and not being able to stop. So I have been controlling it, strictly, in the name of health.
It doesn't help that society praises women for being thin. Every woman I meet says they want to be skinny like me. Half the men I meet tell me I look anorexic. This shouldn't be too surprising to me given that men and women have different views of what's attractive to the same and opposite sexes. But being told that by a close (male) friend hit home.
I took a cold, hard long at my relationship with food and exercise. Do I calorie restrict? Not intentionally. I am vegan and gluten-free. Veggies don't have a lot of calories. Do I exercise too much? Not anymore. But that is a problem I dealt with in the past, and I am cognizant to not go down that road again. But do I eat enough to sustain me? Quite frankly, no.
At the end of the day yesterday, I had consumed 1,400 calories. According to the USDA Supertracker, I should be eating at least 2,000 calories a day. More on days that I'm active. Oops.
So, in the month of New Year's resolutions, here is mine: Instead of focusing on losing weight -- the No. 1 New Year's resolution -- I'm committed to gaining weight. Ninety-day challenges seem popular these days, so mine is five pounds in 90 days. Yes, that means I'm going to have to eat more -- what will likely feel like a lot more. And yes, that will make me uncomfortable. But as a health psychologist, I have to be committed to my health. And if that means putting on a few pounds and finding a better way to cope than by controlling my food intake and exercise, then I and my students and clients can only benefit.
Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.