As a child, calories didn’t exist.
Food was exactly what it was supposed to be – delicious and nutritious. As a child, eating was fun. It was an activity. Treats were treats. My mom tricked me into thinking that apples and watermelon were candy. And my taste buds believed the lie… with pleasure.
As a child, as long as my clothes were bright colors – I didn’t care what size they were. As a child, if I was running around catching fireflies, throwing a softball, or rolling down a hill – I didn’t care what anyone else was thinking about how I looked. I loved how I felt. As a child, I was oblivious. I wasn’t a happy idiot. I was just…happy.
As a child, I understood the true meaning of pleasure – especially when it came to food and movement. I smelled. I tasted. I ran. I jumped.
As I got older, the magic started to fade.
Food started to take on a different meaning entirely. Moving my body became exercise. Exercise became work.
As I got older, I started reading labels, counting pounds and eating more or less than my body needed. As I got older, I started trading in my bright colors for dark, “flattering” hues. The magazines promised they would fool people into thinking I was thinner. And that thinner was better. And that if I was better – people would like me. And if people liked me – I’d be happy again.
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Is Your Child Inspired By Thin?
As I got older, I stopped playing and I started worrying. I worry all the time. And now, I worry that I worry too much. As I got older, I stopped listening to my inner child – no matter how loudly and violently she screamed:
What happened to happiness? What happened to our relationship with food, movement, and our bodies?
The Culture Shock of Weight Stigma
One morning, when we woke up and opened our eyes, we saw the world differently. Why? Because we realized that the people in our world were starting to see us differently. I didn’t start binge eating until college, when I used food to help me get through a very difficult time in my life.
But I’ve been emotionally eating since I was old enough to “understand” that what I looked like “really, really mattered” according to the culture that we live in.
I was in sixth grade when I first felt judged – not for my talents, my ambition, my personality… but for my size. I had two best friends the year before, both of whom were petite, pretty, and adored. For my age, I was tall, big boned and I didn’t quite fit in that trio any longer.
I stood out in all the wrong ways like the short straw… only I was the extra big straw. (A fat Boba straw if you will.) These girls banned me from the popular triangle and sent me to the Bermuda Triangle.
I was lost. I couldn’t find myself and I couldn’t understand how it took just one summer vacation to convince them that all of a sudden… I wasn’t good enough. Almost every day for an entire school year, I got off the bus with tears streaming down my innocent cheeks.
As the comments wore me down and the weeks dragged on, I mentally put the puzzle pieces together. My body, even at such a young age, was unacceptable if I wanted to fit in.
Growing Anxiety Around Food And Body Image
From there, my anxieties about food and my body grew worse. I would tattle on myself if I snuck a piece of cheese during the middle of the night. I called my Mom after school one day to immediately confess that I had eaten not one, but two Pop-Tarts®, for an after-school snack.
The guilt was grander than the caloric content of those two pastries. The guilt was bigger than my body. And avoiding that guilty feeling became my ultimate goal. But I had no idea what was right or wrong, how much to eat, if I should or shouldn’t eat certain things at all.
I knew I loved food, but I hated what I thought food was doing to my image – my body image and my social image. After all… who are we really, if other people don’t like us, acknowledge our value, and accept us?
Well now I know that it doesn’t matter a lick what other people think of me if I can’t accept myself… my entire self. I don’t have to love everything about me, but I can’t keep punishing myself for the things I can’t change (like the miles of stretch marks) or ignoring the things I can change – like my relationship with my inner child.
Give Your Inner Child Back Her Voice
I’ve been trying to lure my inner child out of hiding for years, but she’s scared. And who can blame her? She doesn’t understand why food has to be good or bad. She’s afraid that someone is going to make fun of her for getting frosting all over her face. (If you’re a “big” kid, you shouldn’t be eating a cupcake at all, right?)
She wants to come out and play but not only is she scared of what other people might think or say – she’s scared of me. She’s afraid that I’m going to berate her for desire for food. She’s worried that I’m going to step on her dreams and make her grow up.
That I’m going to judge her for wanting to wear those bright colors, sing out loud in the grocery store, and dance without rhythm in all the wrong places. And this makes me sad.
As Green Mountain has reminded me time and time again, we wouldn’t dream of treating a loved one, friend, or especially another child the way we treat ourselves and our inner child. So why do we insist that putting ourselves down and removing pleasure from our lives is somehow going to inspire us? Motivate us? Make us happy?
Well, if we’ve been talking down to ourselves for the last 20 years… we can’t expect to change our neural pathways in a mere 20 minutes. But we can start any time we’re ready? And as we do, it’s important to recognize that it’s not just in our heads – these feelings, desires, urges, emotions, confusion. They come from a very real place, and I wonder… if our culture were different, would the way we think and feel about food, our bodies, and movement be different, too?
Would It All Be Different?
If those girls back in sixth grade hadn’t “learned” that size makes a person popular or uncool… would they have treated me like they did? If our society didn’t shove commercials and billboards full of triple sized portions in our faces and THEN shame us for our desires… would guilt play such a huge role in our lives?
And if we no longer felt guilty… would our relationship with food be so upside and backward? And if we were no longer upside down and backwards– would we have more time to feel the way we want to feel instead of trying to look the way we’re “supposed to look.” Would this world be a much different place? Would our inner children still be laughing… instead of hoping that one day we’ll reach out and open up our arms again?
Until next time,
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog. This was a very personal blog for me to write and I’m thankful that you let me share my stories with you today. I truly believe that our culture has played a huge role in the onset of eating disorders. What do you think?
There is help for women struggling with emotional and binge eating disorders.