When My Daughter Said the F-Word

I was playing Roblox with my 7-year-old this week when she started to describe someone as F-A-T. I can’t remember what or who it was, and I started to say, “Don’t use that word.” Then I just stopped. Why was she spelling it?

The truth is I don’t like the f-word, and she knows that. I’ve been called fat too many times, and the memory of being made fun of for my weight still lingers and burns. It has helped create lifelong struggle with disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

But what am I teaching her by not allowing her to say it? She’ll still (like I did) think that it’s not a word that shouldn’t be used, that there are negative associations to it, and that she wouldn’t want to be called fat. I’ve tried so hard not to use it and promote body positivity that I think I’ve swung from one extreme to the other. She should be able to use it but use it the right way.

What I think I should’ve done is not ever given the word any power. I should’ve said fat is something you have, not what you are. And left it at that.

My heart is in the right place, I think. As a mother, I don’t want her to experience any of the pain that I did growing up. I don’t want her to be anxious or depressed, and I definitely don’t want her having an eating disorder or obsession about weight. Like all parents, I want to protect her, and I want better for her. I’m just not sure I’m going about the right way to do it.

I can bend over backwards to try and prevent her from having mental anguish but genetics will play a starring role in how her body looks and weighs and whether she’ll have mental illness. I get that. Maybe she’ll be smarter (and kinder to herself) than I was — that she’ll see only beauty when she looks in the mirror and she’ll have so much confidence that she won’t care if she’s ever called a name. Maybe she’ll be the one to break the cycle, although I’m trying very hard to do that myself these days.

One of the most defining lessons from my childhood was that being fat is the worst thing you can be. That was confirmed through the adults in my life always dieting, unrealistic beauty standards and the terrible treatment of bigger people. So many people still buy into this crap, though. Hell, it’s still hard for me, and I’m almost 40.

We need to do better. And I know it’s difficult challenging ideals that were introduced when you were a child — ideals that are still circulating and doing harm. But we can do it.

We can work out for our health and not to lose weight. We can eat healthy to fuel our bodies. We can stop looking at our “flaws” with nothing but a critical eye. We can say no to toxic dieting culture.

Know better, do better, as I like to say.

It’s very much possible that I’m overthinking my daughter’s innocuous comment from last night. It’s possible I overthink everything when it comes to my kids, but it’s okay to question yourself and intentions. It makes you a good parent. It’s very much okay to challenge your thinking on things like this.

That makes you a great parent.

Now I guess I’ll worry about my daughter using the real f-word, but I’d argue that fat is more dangerous and carries more weight. No pun intended.

Stay in the light.

Redemption in (BED) Recovery

Recently I talked about entering into recovery for my binge eating disorder. I knew there would be bumps in the road, but I was doing well. Until last night.

Yesterday I had a bad day. Nothing really happened, I was just short-fused and irritable. I snapped at the kids and my husband. I didn’t like the way I felt so I took the maximum (prescribed) dose of my anxiety meds. It turned out to be a mistake, I think. While it did take the edge off, it also numbed me a bit. I started eating snacks around 4 p.m. and was still eating at 9 p.m. One snack after another. I was uncomfortably full, but I kept going.

I binged. Big time. I ate candy, cookies, popcorn, Chinese food for dinner, more cookies and more popcorn. I usually don’t keep that in the house, but I indulged. I don’t like to restrict myself from foods (because I’ll rebel) but I don’t like to set myself up for a binge either. I have to find that fine balance.

This morning when I woke up I didn’t feel so angry and blue. I remembered that today is a new day, and I can do better. I’m grateful for that because that’s what recovery is about — you can keep starting over as many times as it takes to reduce the problem. I’m still reading a book on BED recovery, and that has helped. I just need to apply what I learn to my daily life.

I also asked my friends and family what they do to cheer themselves up after a bad day, and I got a lot of good ideas for the next time I’m not feeling up to par. My favorites were pray, sew, walk, go outside, eat chocolate, take a hot bath, meditate, count blessings and journal. I think those are really good ideas, and I sometimes employ similar coping methods when I’m depressed, but yesterday was just so hard. It was hard to get to the point where I wanted to take care of myself instead of just numbing myself where I didn’t feel anything at all.

Today is different. I’m grateful for my friends and family and everything I have. I will take care of myself, and I will listen to my body and mind.

I will show up for myself, and I will tell myself I’m enough. Because I am.

Today I pray for an attitude adjustment and patience. I am grateful for a new day, and there’s no need for me to look back.

I’m more than my mistakes. So much more.

I Bid You Farewell, Eating Disorder

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about my binge eating disorder, and I can finally say that I’m moving into recovery for the first time ever. That doesn’t mean I won’t binge anymore, but now I’m actively trying to stop. If it does happen, I’ll practice self-compassion and jump back on the horse.

I’ve read one great book on BED recovery, and now I’m reading a second. The takeaways are amazing, even though there are differing thoughts on what causes the disorder. For instance, the first book says that a BED episode is triggered from emotions or stress — that bingeing is a learned. way to self-soothe and feel better when there’s a lot going on. I agree with that; I also have the urge to binge when I’m stressed or unhappy about something.

“It is often an inherent drive to survive and feel safe by disconnecting from fear and shame.”

The other book says that binges are triggered by urges sent from the “lower brain,” or primal brain, also known as the limbic system (pleasure center). The limbic system has three objectives: to survive, to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, both emotional and physical. The book says the reward system is activated by healthy, life-promoting activities, such as eating and sex. But also destructive habits that have become connected to reward and reinforced over time, especially habits that involve pleasurable substances like drugs and large amounts of binge foods.

The book says that people can learn to “override” the primal or lower brain with their higher brain, the prefrontal cortex that’s responsible for rational thinking. It’s very interesting, and I have a lot more reading to do on that book.

I recommend both to anyone with BED. The first book is Binge Eating Disorder: The Journey to Recovery and Beyond by Amy Pershing and Chevese Turner. The second is The Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide by Kathryn Hansen.

A couple things that the books agree on is that restricting calories and having a list (even unspoken) of “bad” foods is detrimental to recovery. I completely agree. I think the best thing to do is eating healthy foods but allow all foods in moderation. There should be no shame tied to eating a particular food. I’ve lost 19 pounds recently, and I eat all kinds of foods. If I want donuts, I eat donuts, but usually I’ll try to have protein for every meal (because I’ve had gastric sleeve, I need protein the most).

Last weekend was my kids’ birthday party and I ate cake and didn’t feel guilty at all. In the past, I would’ve obsessed about the cake, trying to avoid it, then eventually break and eat too much. The book also says that those with BED, binge eating can be an act of rebellion, which I agree with too. If I know a certain food is “off-limits” then I will purposely eat food. I don’t know why I’m like that but apparently it’s common.

Both books point out that BED is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. by fivefold. Most struggling with BED are female but it’s suggested that 40 percent of people with the diagnosis are male. That surprised me. Also, of those with BED, 60 percent struggle with at least one other diagnosable mental health issue, including PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders. That’s me.

What strikes me about those high numbers is the fact that so many are struggling with BED yet nobody talks about it, at least in my little world. I don’t know if it’s the stigma, keeping people from speaking up or maybe it’s because an eating disorder is so public, for lack of a better word. When I’m bingeing consistently, my weight goes up dramatically. There’s no getting around the fact that my body is changing and everyone is so obsessed with being thin, so I feel powerful bouts of shame and self-hate. It’s a very public failure, rooted in deep-seated shame. Mostly shame that I’m not good enough.

But I am. And so are you.

If you think you might have Binge Eating Disorder, take a look at the clinical definition that’s now part of the DSM-V.

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating occurring at least once a week for three months
  • Eating a larger amount of food than would be considered “normal”
  • Feeling out of control/unable to stop the binge episode

Binge eating episodes are also associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment over quantity eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, ashamed or guilty after overeating

I still have a long way to go; you can’t undo decades’ worth of bingeing overnight, but I have hope for the first time ever. I can do this, and I feel like I have to if I want to give Isla and Eli any kind of support or advice if they go through the same. And I sure as hell hope they don’t.

For more information on eating disorders, go here.

Stay in the light, friends.

Survival of the unFittest

I feel my skin touch in places it didn’t used to touch, like my back when I move and turn certain ways. I can tell there’s more fat around my neck, as I feel it almost choking me when I look down or lie down. There’s more of me everywhere, it seems.

I blogged a few weeks ago about gaining about 15 pounds, but now I fear that number is closer to 20. I haven’t brought myself to get on the scale in fear or a full-blown depressive episode.

Obviously, it’s a hard time — for everyone — because of the pandemic. My thoughts shift from thinking, “Do what you need to survive” to “You need to make healthy decisions,” and survival always plays out. When you have depression, there are some days you do need to just do what you can do to survive, but when you have depression AND an eating disorder, some times directives get confusing.

For some reason, “just surviving” has turned into eating junk food to make me feel good, and in that moment, I think it honestly will make me feel good. But alas, as I’ve said before, those feelings are temporary. So I keep shoveling in the unhealthy snacks to chase that good feeling. Because let’s face it, there’s not much good going on right now. And now, I’ve 20 pounds heavier, unhappy and even embarrassed. I’m probably about the same weight as I was before I had gastric sleeve surgery. So, why did I go through all that pain for NOTHING? God, it’s disappointing and shameful. But also, laughable. How am I this stupid? Or is it stubborn? Whatever it is, I’ve got it in spades.

It would be one thing if I had gained just a few pounds and started to change my habits, but I’ve done so much damage, I’m physically uncomfortable. It’s hard to breathe at times. I’m not in a good place. And you’d think that would spur change, and I hope it does, but I’ve lost confidence in myself.

My only hope (at the moment) is that I’m getting another ECT on Friday. I’m hoping it’s a hard reset this time. Usually, I dread getting them, as I hate going under anesthesia, but I’m really looking forward to this one.

The thing is, that sometimes the ECTs are a good reset, but often times, it doesn’t feel that much different. In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to rely on a hard reset from the ECTs to make a change. Damnit, I should employ the coping skills that I’ve been learning since going to The Menninger Clinic.

Why the fuck is it so hard to take care of myself?

Maybe it’s low self-esteem, the effects of trauma, a terrible case of treatment-resistant depression, my dumbass personality disorder, etc. Maybe I don’t like myself.

Maybe it doesn’t matter why I don’t do it that matters. Hell, maybe I should go to therapy more often.

Maybe I’m missing the point.

Maybe we all are.

Choke.

My best friend called me out today, and as much as I hate to admit it, she was right. As usual.

I was complaining about my weight gain and how I felt fat and ugly. My BFF was sympathetic then said, “You can’t preach self acceptance and hate yourself.”

I blog so much about body positivity and loving yourself and here I am cringing every time I pass a mirror — that’s mirror avoidance, by the way. Why is it so hard to practice what I preach?

Because there’s a deep-seated belief in me that fat equals ugly and unworthy. I’ve been trained to criticize every inch of my body, to think of fat as disgusting. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to overcome these thoughts, that I’ll always hate myself, and that’s just sad.

Weeks ago I contacted my favorite photographer and booked a photo shoot that was just for me. I wanted to celebrate how free I feel now that I’m so open with my mental disorders. I feel free from others’ opinions, too. Or I did. Now I want to cancel the photo shoot. I tried on outfit after outfit and nothing fit and if it did, it didn’t feel like me. I ended up crying about the ordeal, realizing that I’m not free at all — I’m a slave to my eating disorder and to the idea that being thin means you’re beautiful, loved and successful. I am tethered to dangerous societal norms, even though I talk about bucking them all the time.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to look at myself in disgust. I want to love my body and soul. I want to be free. And in some ways, I am.

It was brave to admit to depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and a personality disorder. I didn’t bat an eye when I talked about my suicidal thoughts and subsequent hospitalizations. I don’t give a fuck what others think because I help people by talking about these issues. Friends, family and even strangers have reached out to me saying I’ve helped in some way, and that fuels me to keep writing. There was nobody to help me navigate depression and anxiety when I was at my worst, and I don’t want anyone feeling the same way. It was a terrible, dark time. And hopefully, I can shine light on other people’s journey because I know what they’re going through. That’s my goal.

But I’m not truly free until I break these tired old chains.

A friend had a shirt on today that said, “I will no longer be shrinking myself to be more digestible.You can choke.” That’s the attitude I want to have. I’d be healthier if I lost some weight, sure, but being overweight doesn’t mean I’m ugly or less than. It doesn’t change anything — I’m amazing for so many reasons and none of those reasons has to do with weight.

My kids are watching. Their ideas of self-worth come from me (and my husband), so I’d better get it together. There’s no way I want either of them to deal with low self-esteem and self-hate. I want them to celebrate who they are outside of their appearance. And if I want them to do that, why can’t I want that for myself? I’m almost 40, and it’s hard to reverse some thoughts, but I can do it. I’ve battled depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember — I’ve come so far. I’m not going to let a few pounds (or 26) take me down. No, I’m stronger than that.

From now on, I’m celebrating who I am despite my appearance. If people don’t like it, they can choke. I refuse to shrink any more than I have.

I Hate My Brain

Ever have a long day and think to yourself you deserve a treat? So you get ice cream and start to feel better? That sounds normal to me. My problem is that I think I deserve a treat multiple times a day. I constantly want to feel good. To feel happy. I compulsively eat to get that high and, enjoy that “treat.” Then I feel sick. After I’ve recovered, I look for another treat, forgetting how sick I felt earlier. It’s a vicious cycle.

I do this a lot but especially when the kids are away at my mother-in-law’s. I tell myself that I need to relax, enjoy the quiet and that I need to feel good. Last night, even after I had a big dinner, I sat there thinking of what I could eat that would make me feel good. And I even tried many things, despite being uncomfortably full already. M&Ms didn’t work. Neither did peanut butter crackers, ice cream or SweeTARTS.

But there is nothing I can eat that will make me truly happy.

Now, I’m trying to give myself a break because I am in need of an ECT treatment, which is scheduled for Friday. Usually the week before treatment I run out of gas, and I try to cope however I can. BUT this doesn’t just happen in the weeks leading up to treatment. This happens all the time, even when I’ve just had an ECT.

So I pose this question, “Why do I feel the need to be happy all the time?” Honestly, that question was asked by my therapist last week. She following up with, “Can’t we sit with other emotions? Nobody is happy every minute of the day.”

And she’s right. We don’t need to be happy every minute. I think my problem is that I HATE being uncomfortable, so I’ll do anything to push those negative emotions aside. Emotions like anxiety, stress, anger or sadness. It’s clearly not working for me to ignore these problems, and even if overeating has helped in the past, it sure as hell is not working now.

This may sound strange, but I think I need to acknowledge and honor whatever feelings I’m having. Maybe I need to grab my journal whenever I’m feeling negative emotion, talk about what’s going on and then release that feeling. I don’t know.

All I know if that I need to stop coping by bingeing. It’s made me gain a bunch of weight and really, aren’t I just eating my emotions?

Sometimes I really hate my brain, which I hold responsible for my debilitating-at-times depression and anxiety. I hate that it doesn’t respond to other treatments. I hate that my mental health is so precarious, and I resent that I have to be so careful as to not disturb it. I hate that happiness seems so fleeting at times. I’m not a big fan of my eating disorder either.

I don’t like to say hate; It forces a dichotomy with the idea that I should love and respect myself. I’m trying really hard to love myself, even almost 30 pounds heavier and a handful of mental disorders. But I feel betrayed by my brain. I know I need to reconcile those ideas. I know there is more benefit in loving all of me. I’ll get there. Despite everything that my brain has thrown at me, I’ve only become stronger. Take that, asshole.

And there are times that I think God made me this way because He thought I could handle it. I can, and I will. I remember this quote: “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” I don’t mean to sound haughty, but maybe He knew I would use my voice and (hopefully) help others through my writing. That’s why I can’t stop blogging so much about mental health; there are so many who feel alone and haven’t found their voice yet. I certainly don’t mind lending mine in the meantime.

I guess my brain is just as much a blessing as a curse.

I’ve Gained 26 Pounds

Last Friday I had an ECT treatment. I hadn’t been there in four weeks, so they asked to weight me (to calculate how much anesthesia I get). Usually, I avoid the scale. The number shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. Big time. I looked down after I stepped on the scale, and I was shocked. I’ve gained 26 pounds since the pandemic — 26 POUNDS! I’m almost 200 pounds, which I swore to myself I’d never be again. I mean, who has weight loss surgery and doesn’t lose the weight? Me, apparently.

I have all the reasons in the world to lose weight and be healthy, mainly my kids. I want them to see me be healthy so that they can be healthy. I want to lose the weight because I want to live a long time. It would benefit my mental health greatly if I maintained a healthy lifestyle. But I don’t.

Even after my ECT, while feeling happy and more stable, I had the intense urge to overeat and binge. And I did. The ECT is supposed to reset my brain. Last week, I was so depressed and even had suicidal ideation, so I needed the ECT. But the ECT can only take me so far. I’m responsible for making health decisions for myself. And I need to hold myself accountable. At some point, I have to make the effort to be healthy without expecting something or someone else to help me.

I don’t know what drives me to overeat or binge. It sort of makes sense when there’s conflict in my life, and I feel the need to be comforted by food. But right now, there’s no conflict in my life. There’s no logical reason for me to shove food in my face. It bothers me so much that I don’t know why I binge, and I’m not sure it would even help if I did know. It’s just frustrating. And I know it’s a hard time because of the pandemic, but we’re not getting back to any kind of “normal” I know any time soon. So, it has to be now. I have to make changes now. But honestly, I don’t know if I will. I don’t know what it will take.

I bought a treadmill that will be delivered this week. I bought a food journal to help me track my water and meals. I have a brand new pair of running shoes to use for exercise. Conditions are favorable for change. My brain, my stubborn brain, is the only thing holding me back. Even now, as I’m typing this, I want to eat, to be comforted. To lose myself in the taste and texture of something delicious. I fear my urge to escape the real world will be permanent, as it manifests in other ways, too like abusing my anxiety meds. And again, I don’t know why or what I’m trying to escape. I have a great life — better than most — and I’m so grateful for everyone in my life and everything I have. So, I really can’t tell you why I want to escape.

At one time, I thought it was emotional pain that was holding back — trauma from my past. But I feel like I’ve dealt with that. I’ve talked to my therapist about it extensively. I wrote a blog about it that I will never share. I got if off my chest, but still the pain resides. At least, I think so. Why else would I be trying to fill this unrelenting void?

I so want to be able to wake up in the morning and not immediately think about what I’m going to eat. To plan my next meal, as I’m licking off my current meal’s crumbs from my lips. I live meal to meal, snack to snack, and I hate it.

I hope this week I can make changes to my daily life and incorporate healthy habits. I pray for strength and guidance. I pray for what feels like a miracle.

Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are 30 million Americans who suffer with an eating disorder. There are so many people suffering right now, who are suffering more because of the pandemic. Only 1/3 of people receive help for their eating disorder. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with nearly one person dying every hour as a direct result of their eating disorder.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you are not alone. It’s a challenging time for us, but it’ll be OK.

We will be OK.

Radical Acceptance

I had an epiphany today. I was watching an episode of Bones where they were talking about young girls being in beauty pageants. Please note that I am not judging that — I mention it because it got me thinking about all the things girls and women go through to appear beautiful. In that episode, young girls were dyeing their hair, wearing corsets to define their waistlines and watching their weight. It depressed me, honestly. It brought back memories of being called fat when I was in the 5th grade — 5th grade, people! I should have brushed the comments off, but there were already seeds of fatphobia planted in my little head — from society, friends, family, etc. That seed grew and now is a full-blown eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder).

I’m only 12 here, but this is when I really started to worry about my size.

My worth has been tied to my weight. The way I feel and care for myself is tied to my weight. When I’ve gained some extra pounds, I punish myself…hate myself.

I eat my feelings, which leads to more weight gain. Which fuels more self-destructive behaviors. It’s a vicious cycle. To help break it, I signed up to do one-on-one coaching on intuitive eating with my beautiful and sweet cousin, who’s a registered dietician. On our last call, she told me to get rid of the ideas of “bad foods” or “being bad” or “cheating” on a diet. There are no forbidden foods. There’s fueling your body and doing everything in moderation.

I have a lot more to learn and I’m eager to do it.

But here’s my epiphany — what if I just accept who I am? What if I give myself some grace — some compassion? What if when I gain weight, I just buy bigger clothes and focus on my health and not my caloric intake?

What if I practice radical acceptance? I learned about radical acceptance in therapy. It’s a skill or tool that can help people face painful emotions and experiences by accepting them fully WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.

This may not sound much different than a blog I previously posted about loving myself and body positivity. But the thing is, I’m still struggling and writing helps me come to terms with my feelings. And this is a topic that can’t be fully explored with one blog. Or three. Maybe 10. And that’s OK, too.

My point is that maybe I don’t think I need to focus on losing weight or looking a certain way, so much as I need to reprogram my brain. And those of you who follow me should know — my brain is a stubborn asshole. It’ll take time. So much time.

But I’m done with fatphobia, fat-shaming and all that judgement that goes along with it. I’ve had gastric sleeve surgery and a tummy tuck. Guess what? I’m still not skinny and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Why has that plagued me so much?

Why are people so afraid of being fat?

The Camera Adds 10 Pounds

This weekend I’ve eagerly awaited the arrival of our annual family photos. This year we opted to do them inside our new home, so I’ve been dying to see how they turn out.

I’ve also been dreading the new photos. It’s no secret that I’ve gained almost 20 pounds since the onset of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to see, especially in our family photos.

I know it’s been hard on everyone, and a lot of people have gained weight. I know that I should love myself no matter what. I hear others say that I’m beautiful no matter what, but my anxiety and eating disorders speak louder. They always have.

Because we just moved in, a couple of our bathrooms don’t have mirrors hung yet. At first it was annoying but now I’m relieved I don’t have to look in the mirror. It doesn’t matter how much positive self talk I spew — I just don’t like what I see. My weight is tied to my confidence, and sadly, my self worth. Right now, it feels like I’m worth nothing.

The family photos will just confirm what I’ve already been telling myself: I’m ugly, fat and unworthy.

Except, here’s the thing — my daughter is watching. And listening. If I admit these truths aloud, she will for sure hear them. And my voice will become her inner voice. My actions will becomes hers as well, and I’ll be damned if she cultivates this ugly self-hate that’s just rotting my worth and self-esteem.

I’ve talked about this before, many times. I have to change the way I talk to myself, treat myself. I’m raising kids, but really my goal— and what all our goals should be — is to raise healthy adults. I don’t know much about that, but I have my missteps to guide me.

The first thing I’m going to do is post the family photos — no matter what they look like. I’ll frame a couple in my house, not just because I’m trying to set a good example, but because damn, that’s what I look like now. This is what my family looks like after nine months of a deadly pandemic. We have survived, and even if I survived in a way that led to tighter clothes and an expanding waistline, I’ve survived. And that’s all that matters.

I want to thank Jennifer Stewart for capturing out family in our new loving home. I want to thank my body for supporting me during this time. I want to say that I do love myself and I’ll try harder to love it no matter my size. They say the camera adds 10 pounds, but maybe it’s time I stopped buying into that.

That I stop buying into diet culture and equating being then to being happy. I need to be happy now, instead of waiting until I’m a certain weight. Fuck that.

I’m going to be happy now, because both my daughter and son are watching. And that’s OK that they’re watching — it’s OK that they see me struggle, and even when I’m sad, but they’ll also see the fight in me, the determination and my grit. I’m all for them seeing me as human, because I am — just a perfectly imperfect human. That’s all we can be.

Edit: Our family photos were not available at the time of publication. I will add them in once I receive them.

My Eating Disorder in a Pandemic

I’m struggling.

Recently, I blogged about gaining 15 pounds (thanks, COVID) and how discouraged I was. I know it’s not the end of the world, but I ruminate about each pound every day. It makes me feel ugly and unworthy. I try to make healthier choices, but I get dismayed any time I veer off my healthy course.

And then another part of me takes over, and I’m empowered. I tell myself that I’m beautiful no matter what. That I need to learn to love myself despite what the scale says.

I’m battling low self-esteem and an eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder). A year ago I had the gastric sleeve surgery, hoping it would physically limit the amount of food I could eat, but I didn’t resolve my issues with my eating disorder, and I pushed the limits of my smaller stomach, eating so much that it was hard to breathe, not to mention painful.

Now, I can’t stop bingeing. I feel like I always need a treat, something to escape into, but I can’t figure out why I feel the need to escape so frequently. Maybe from stress of the pandemic? And my “treats” often turn into a punishment because I eat so much, too much for my stomach to hold. Too much shame to derive any pleasure in the binge. So, maybe it’s all punishment — for what, I don’t know.

It definitely doesn’t feel good, aside from the initial pleasure of the food hitting my palate, but it never lasts. It’s temporary, but the shame and pain from doing it is often permanent.

And then, in between binges, I stare into the mirror and try to love and appreciate my body, which has birthed two amazing kids. I breastfed them, sustained them with this body. I live here, in this 180-pound body that holds all my essence and what makes me me. I reject the idea that I’m ugly, fat and less than. I’m a child of God and wonderfully made. I’m just as beautiful outside as I am inside, and my light shines regardless of my weight. My worth is not tied to my weight.

But I get lost navigating the conflicting messages these two polar-opposite sides of me are sending. And for some reason, it’s easier to believe the negative ones: I’m ugly, I’m a fat ass, people are judging me, nobody loves me because I’m fat, etc. But I do feel like the other side of me’s voice is growing louder. It’s not a distant whispering anymore — she’s getting stronger, and I pray that she continues to do so, because I’m weary from fighting this division inside me. I wonder why everything has to be so hard. Isn’t having Major Depressive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder enough? Why are there so many things wrong with me? Maybe I don’t need to pull at that thread, but I’d really like not to collect any more diagnoses.

I want to find a balance where I can eat healthy, occasionally indulge and truly appreciate my body. I don’t want to tiptoe around the house anymore, thinking my footsteps are too heavy sounding.

I want normalcy. I don’t mean to complain and whine — I know that I’m the only one in charge of what food goes in my mouth. But it’s still so hard, and not just for me — about 30 million people have an eating disorder in the U.S., according to U.S. News and World Report. That roughly 20 million women and 10 million men. That’s a huge number, and eating disorders, like mental disorders, are often unreported so you can expect those numbers to be a little higher.

A lot of those people also suffer from a mental disorder. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that 33 to 50 percent of people with anorexia also have a mood disorder. I don’t have numbers of what percentage of people with Binge Eating Disorder have a mood disorder, but I’m confident I’m not the only one.

Another alarming statistic is that 26 percent of people with an eating disorder attempt suicide. It’s beyond hard to have an eating disorder — you can’t give up food like an alcoholic can give up alcohol (Do not get me wrong. Battling any addiction is very difficult. I do not mean to imply otherwise). You have to fight your brain while learning new methods on how to nourish your body in a healthy way (such as intuitive eating or mindfully eating). It’s hard as hell for me to break old habits when it comes to food, but I know I need to do it if I want to be around for my family and friends later in life. Having an eating disorder is so hard on the body and mind. With everything else I’m battling, my body could use a respite.

I know a lot of us are in the same boat when it comes to weight gain during the pandemic. I don’t have any pointers because I’m still learning, but I do want to say be patient with your body. Give yourself some grace. Try to love the body you’re in, because you’re not getting another one. Weight can come off, and maybe it’s OK if it doesn’t.

You are not your eating disorder.

I hope y’all stay well and in the light.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to your doctor or visit the National Eating Disorders Association website. They also have a crisis text line — just text NEDA to 741741.