Food & Mood

Gut bacteria…produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.

American Psychological Association

Since learning more about all of the wonderful things that my little gut buddies do for me, I have been more inspired than ever to treat my body with respect and compassion. It added a whole new layer to my concerns around my routine eating habits. I wondered what my eating disorder had done to my delicate gut microbiome. Not only that, I wondered how continued disordered eating (i.e. eating my day’s worth of food all within the span of a few hours right before sleep) was affecting them and in turn my overall quality of life. There were days I certainly felt the physical symptoms of this casual self harm.

The correlation between what we eat and how we feel both physically and mentally is difficult to notice unless you are consciously aware of that connection long enough to reveal a pattern. Before learning about this crucial link, I never really thought about how what I ate and when I ate it changed the way I felt mentally and emotionally throughout the course of the day. But now that I know one of the two neurochemicals I’m always joking that my brain won’t give me actually comes from my gut, I knew I had to make some changes.

When we’re lost in our own heads, it is easy to get the impression that this is simply who we are, that these thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are part of our identity, an accurate reflection of our world. If taking Paxil taught me anything, it was that any change in our brain chemistry whether natural or artificial, is enough to completely reshape our inner landscape. The fluctuations in mood I experience throughout the day are no more a part of my essential character than being deathly afraid of social interaction was. Perhaps the most surprising part is that both SSRIs and our eating habits are influencing the same neurochemical, serotonin.

I’ve always loved food and eating, but it wasn’t until I started practicing mindful eating that I noticed what a huge boost in mood I experience after a meal. Now that I’ve been making an effort to eat at regular intervals throughout the day again, it’s much easier to notice the way eating is about a lot more than nutrients and the cessation of hunger pains. As someone who is used to leaning on kratom, coffee, and cannabis to get them through the day, it feels like meals were actually the lift my body was looking for all along. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about all the years I spent resenting my own body for not giving me the chemicals I needed to be happy when I was starving it of the resources it needed to do so. It’s so easy to assume your “broken” because of genetics rather than searching for solutions within your own behavior and lifestyle first.

It’s such a shame that the mental health industry doesn’t seem to acknowledge this new science at all when it comes to caring for clients. Not only would the incorporation of this information into treatment plans help people with common disorders such as depression and anxiety, but I believe it could also play a role in the treatment of eating disorders. I know there is vague talk in the mental health community about “eating healthy” for your mental health, but even I used to write that off as ableist and out of touch. It’s important that we also include the information behind why our eating habits are so crucial to our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Learning about this connection and then taking the steps to discover it within my own body has been amazing. It has completely restructured my relationship with food and my body. It is a joy to rediscover and reconnect with the signals my gut has been trying to send me. I can’t tell you how long it had been since I was able to distinguish my bodies hunger and satiety signals and respond to them. There is such a softness and compassion in the act of listening and tending to your body’s needs. Food and eating no longer seem like an enemy that I’ve got to work with in order to survive. Nor is eating some hobby to indulge in for sheer sensory pleasure. Eating is a beautiful dance that we learn from these physical forms of ours. It’s a push and pull, a give and take, that is so essential to our overall wellbeing. It’s a reminder that everything in this world is inextricably connected. There are no short cuts or cheat codes. But with patience and compassion we can begin to uncover what it really means to take care of ourselves. I promise you, the effort is more than worth it.

Mindful eating: Techniques and tips to get started - CNN

Resolution Reluctance

Despite my many flaws, I do have at least one thing going for me: consistency. Since I was probably around 18 I have always had the same lofty goals laid out at the beginning of the new year. I suppose even earlier than that I was fond of including “losing weight” on that list. I have a lot of nostalgia tied to that idea of weight loss. It was always exciting to start out on a new path with high hopes of finally achieving my “dream body,” even though it usually ended in devastation, self-hatred, and disappointment. Yet now, having recently pulled myself out of a debilitating eating disorder, I am at a bit of a loss as to what goals to set for myself.

As soon as I sit down to contemplate what I’d like to improve on, the first things that immediately pop up are diet, exercise, and weight loss. While the wording of these goals is no where near as toxic and self-shaming as they used to be, I still worry they are unhealthy. Even when I feel like I have the best intentions and am coming from a self-loving, health conscious mindset, I fear that subconsciously there may be something more sinister at play. It honestly feels like I have a mild form of PTSD from what I’ve made myself go through with food. Now even my goal of switching back to black coffee so I stop using artificial sweeteners sparks fear. Any mild analysis or consideration of my eating or exercise habits has become a huge stressor for me.

Trying to set new goals for myself has really emphasized just how much my life has been centered around food for basically as long as I can remember. Now my only options seem to be feeding my negative body image with unhealthy expectations or utterly disregarding the idea of physical health and nutrition. Both seem like terrifying extremes, but I don’t know how to find a healthy middle ground. Even setting small reasonable goals makes me fearful I’ll end up taking it too far or start paying too much attention to my appearance again.

The holidays (especially this year, having gone to TWO immaculate vegan Thanksgiving feasts) has not been very helpful. Although I am quite proud of myself for not even entertaining the idea of throwing it all up, despite being so stuffed I felt like I was going to die on Thursday. Even so, looking back on all of the bread, pastries, and wine I’ve had has me feeling puffy and grotesque. I’m trying really hard not to care. Still I can’t seem to shake this gnawing sensation of dread from creeping in again and again.

I have been wanting to deepen my yoga practice, particularly regarding the philosophy, and I’m hoping that will help me overcome this dilemma. While brahmacharya is traditionally interpreted to mean sexual abstinence, in my yoga teacher training we used it to mean moderation. While I struggle with most if not all of the yamas and niyamas in yoga, brahmacharya is a particular challenge to me. I believe total abstinence of something is easier than practicing balance and moderation. I find it far easier to never eat potato chips or cookies than to have just a few. Despite the deliciousness and various health benefits of nuts, I absolutely never buy them because the serving size is so ridiculously small. For this reason, I usually don’t even keep snacking foods around my house. If I’m going to eat them, I’m going to eat them all, and anything less almost doesn’t seem worth the effort.

I am hopeful that altering my eating habits through the guidance of my spiritual practice will help me maintain mentally healthy expectations and intentions. And I suppose I have good cause to believe this may be true. Practicing mindful eating for at least one meal a day has helped me foster a much better relationship with food and the hunger/satiety signals my body sends me. Unfortunately I’ve fallen out of eating everything mindfully simply because I so enjoy that cozy, brain dead state of watching Netflix while simultaneously stuffing my face. That has been a cherished eating tradition since watching TV from my childhood dining room table.

I suppose like most things, navigating this delicate situation is going to require a lot of trial and error. For now, I am going to do my best to stay mindful and not be too hard on myself for the hiccups and stumbles I encounter along the way. If anyone reading this is struggling in the same way or perhaps has had experience with this issue in the past, I would love to hear any suggestions you may have to offer.

What Is Your Ideal Weight for Your Height?

Advertisements & Mental Health

Even as a young child, watching TV in my living room, I couldn’t stand commercials. Most of my life, I assumed that was just the obvious reaction to people trying to sell you shit you don’t want. I thought everyone saw them as annoying, if not infuriating. My anger towards advertisements has only grow as I’ve gotten older. Only recently have I begun to realize that not everyone views these ads the way I do.

A friend of mine always seems confused or surprised when I start ranting and raving about advertisements. I’m usually the one to get overly animated about topics that anger me, so I figured she was just put off by my fiery passion. But since then, one of my new coworkers has repeatedly shown me ads on his phone that he found funny. That really threw me. Why would anyone purposefully show me that? Why would anyone watch an ad intentionally? This bizarre interaction is what led me to realize that some people actually don’t mind ads at all, some even enjoy them, or at the very least, accept them as a necessary evil of a capitalist society. I guess I should have realized this sooner given that so many people inexplicably love to watch the ads during the Super Bowl.

Today I would like to address those people out there that have been fooled. Advertisements are not cute, or funny, or interesting. The advertisers are not your friends. Advertisements are not “necessary.” I’ll start there. I can still remember asking my mom why the radio was free as a little girl. I’ll never forget what she told me: The radio is free, because the advertisers pay to broadcast their messages. From there, it didn’t take me long to make the obvious connection to television. I simply couldn’t understand why we pay for cable AND have to watch advertisements. Shouldn’t it be one or the other? The answer is yes, and it used to be that way. Now despite the laughably high cable rates, the commercial breaks continue to get longer and longer.

I haven’t paid for cable since I’ve lived on my own and never plan too. Yet, I see this exploitative business model playing out in Hulu and other streaming platforms now. I was newly enraged while reading the message displayed on Hulu because of my ad blocker. “We are unable to show a message from our sponsors.” Excuse me? Fuck you, Hulu. I am your sponsor. When do I get to broadcast a message? Luckily I just get to sit in silence while my ad blocker does it’s job.

Some of you might be wondering why I wouldn’t just watch the ad, given that I have to wait the allotted amount of time anyway. I have a very good answer for that. I refuse to be brainwashed and manipulated. Advertisements aren’t just annoying, they are an assault to the senses. There are countless studies showing the negative mental health effects of advertisements, particularly on children. Children subjected to advertisements are more likely to eat unhealthy foods, be materialistic, and have body image issues. And that isn’t a side-effect, that’s the goal. That’s how marketing works.

The unspoken goal of all advertising is to make you feel like you don’t have enough, aren’t happy enough, aren’t liked enough, that you simply aren’t enough. The promise is that if you purchase their products, then you’ll be happy, popular, and fulfilled. Not only does that messaging deteriorate your mental health and wellbeing, it is also contributing to the climate crisis. When everyone continuously feels unsatisfied and feels they need more and more stuff to be happy, it takes a toll on the Earth’s resources. Sadly even if you are aware of all this, it doesn’t make the negative mental health effects of consuming this content any less damaging. It’s a mild form of brainwashing in my opinion. Especially when it comes to the impressionable minds of children. To make matters worse, with most of the content children are exposed to coming from the internet, there are even less protections in place to combat this, like there are on cable television.

To me, advertising is no different than the government allowing companies to pollute the air and water (which of course they do allow.) The reoccurring theme of capitalism rears its ugly head once again. Companies are encouraged to make money at the expense of the consumer’s health. Those companies aren’t my friends. They are my enemies. And I refuse to listen to their propaganda. So if you’re someone that doesn’t get mad about advertisements, maybe it’s time that you start.

Lucky Strike cigarettes advertisement from 1930 - ABC News (Australian  Broadcasting Corporation)

Mindful Eating

My relationship with food has never been great. I honestly can’t even remember a time when my eating habits were truly healthy. Even as a young child, I would eat out of boredom all throughout the day, especially right before bed. Practically all of my memories of food involve eating alone, in front of a screen. I have always been accustomed to over eating. I never really learned how to tune in to the “hungry” or “full” signals my body was sending me. Whenever I would attempt to reign in my eating or go on a diet, it inevitably ended in an even worse result like over restricting, binging, or purging.

Even though food and eating was always a problem area in my life, it was a huge part of it nonetheless. Problems with food are especially tricky. Unlike other unhealthy addictions, food isn’t something that we can just “quit.” Imagine if an alcoholic needed alcohol throughout the day to live. I think it would be much harder to manage that than never touching liquor again. I really thought for most of my life that I was doomed to keep repeating the same unhealthy cycles with food, never truly finding a healthy balance.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a technique called mindful eating. I had heard it was effective for helping people to stop binge eating. I gave it a try in the past, but only managed to keep it up for couple meals. It is surprisingly hard to take away that mindless zoned out comfort of stuffing your face while watching your favorite shows. I told myself at the time that I just couldn’t handle giving that up. As sad as it may sound, it felt like my one joy, the favorite part of my day.

Fast forward to now, years of yoga and meditation later, and I am finally ready to try again. For the past three days I’ve been trying to live more mindfully in general, but especially when it comes to food and eating. It’s helped me to imagine how my meals would have been in the past when there was no technology to supplement them. I try to imagine generations upon generations of human beings who came before me having meals. I think, this is what a small piece of life must have felt like for my parents, my grandparents, etc. It helps me to feel connected even when I’m eating alone.

I sat down before my dinner last night and watched a couple short videos about how to eat mindfully. I actually began laughing at one point at the sheer absurdity of it all. What a strange world we humans have created for ourselves. A world where we are so disconnected from ourselves and our bodies that there are actually instructional videos on something as basic to our nature as eating. Even so, these videos reminded me of all the little pleasures of food that I have been so carelessly missing my whole life.

When was the last time you paused to smell your food before digging in? Have you ever touched the food to your lips before taking a bite? Do you let yourself eat with you hands when you can? Notice all of the many textures and shapes of this nourishing matter. Notice the colors and contours. Notice the way the mere presence of food illicits a reaction from the body. Our mouths starting to salivate in preparation for digestion. Take the time to eat as slowly, really exploring the way the food feels and tastes in your mouth.

It has been an amazing experience to get back in touch with my body and really start to savor and fully enjoy my food. It is fascinating to take the seat of the observer as I navigate my interactions with food. Mindful eating for me is definitely still something I need more practice with. It is surprisingly hard to sit in silence with my food. It is actually really challenging to eat slowly, to chew thoroughly. I can feel my body switching into autopilot as soon as my food is ready. As I am eating I constantly catch myself zoning out, entranced almost. It takes real effort to concentrate and eat with intention, utilizing all my senses.

I will say that even my far from ideal mindful eating practice has helped me tremendously. Not only with food, but in my life in general. I have been feeling much less anxious over these past few days. My body feels happy, healthy, and respected. I’ve been able to enjoy my food more and feel more satisfied after a meal. Although the urge to binge is still there, especially after dinner, I’ve managed to overcome that urge so far by making sure I am eating enough throughout the day.

For anyone struggling with an unhealthy relationship to food, I would highly recommend giving mindful eating a try. It has definitely been a challenge, but one that I am so excited to keep working at. If you’d like to read more about what mindful eating is and learn strategies for how best to practice it, I found a free pdf of the book Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers. One of the mindful eating videos I found recommended it and I am excited to check it out myself. I truly feel that a mindful eating practice is a beautiful way to get back to our roots as human beings and rediscover what it really means to be alive in these amazing bodies of ours.

Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels.com

Tired of My Own Shit

Over three months into 2021 and I haven’t made nearly as much progress towards my goals as I had hoped. I had such grand plans to stop smoking and get my eating habits back on track. Yet hardly anything has changed at all. I suppose I am slightly proud that I have managed to stop smoking in the morning and all day at work. I’ve gotten back to only drinking sugar and creamer in my coffee on my days off. I’ve also managed to at least reimplement some healthy meals back into my diet, despite it overall still being extremely repetitive, shamefully odd, and unhealthy.

When I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes in the past, it has been because I would suddenly realize that this activity that I once relished and looked forward to, had become something to dread or at least feel indifferent towards. This same weariness has crept into all of my once cherished, bad habits. It is quite a strange realization. When once I could justify these behaviors to myself because they brought me some semblance of joy and calm, now I have no excuse. Now instead of feeling like I’m indulging myself and being cheeky, I feel as though I’m a slave to these compulsions.

To me, these feelings are similar to what some people call “rock bottom.” In that sense, I do understand why a lot of people say you must reach rock bottom before you are willing to change. Once you’ve gotten that low, it seems equally difficult no matter which path you choose to take. There is no longer a path of least resistance. It is just as hard, if not harder, to continue the negative behaviors than it is to change. Changing can almost become an exciting idea again, a real possibility, a real path back to some sort of happiness. After all, nothing could feel worse than continuing down the road you are on.

I feel like right now I am just on the precipice of that place. I can feel myself hesitating at the fork in the road before me. On the right I can see ahead of me more of the same drudgery, the same guilt, shame, and pain I’ve become so accustomed to. On the left, however, the path is completely obscured by a dense fog. At what point does the fear of the unknown become less terrifying than continuing on the way you have been? It feels like I am about to find out first hand. I hope that I am about to find out.

I promised myself that if I was still struggling after starting the new year that I would begin therapy. Even though I desperately don’t want to, nor do I really have the money to, I think it may finally be time to make an appointment. I’ve got to get a professional, outside perspective in order to help myself. I am too lost within the delusions of my own mental illness. When I first began these disordered eating habits, I told myself that it would be worth it because I would finally be able to be super skinny. And I was for at least a month or two last summer. So much so that my friends and family began to worry about me. Yet it didn’t bring me any happiness at all. I was more anxious and miserable than ever before. I still hated myself. I still hated my body and the way I looked, maybe even more than before. Somehow even though I felt bony and stick-like, I never stopped feeling bulbous, bulky, and too big.

Now I’ve basically reverted back to my normal weight (I’m too afraid of the scale to know for sure) but I’ve been unable to shake my disordered eating. It feels like all of that suffering was ultimately for nothing. I’ve maintained all the negatives, but none of the “positives.” And even though I keep reminding myself that my weight did not correlate with my happiness at all, I am too afraid of gaining more to take proper care of myself again. It’s been so long that I’m not sure I ever remember how to. Food used to be my crutch, my comfort, but now it has also become my greatest fear and my greatest shame. The damage I have done to my relationship with food and with myself seems impossible for me to fix alone. I need to push through my anxiety in order to ask for help, to get an outside voice to help overpower the unhealthy one in my head.

I just want to trust myself again. I want to reconnect with my body’s wisdom, with my intuition. I want to feel healthy again, mentally and physically. I want to love myself. I want to take good care of myself. It is insane to me that the fear of being fat is able to overpower all of my more positive impulses and instincts. I know that I have to overcome that fear in order to get back to a healthier place. I need to accept that I’ll probably have to gain weight in order to set my body right again. Why on earth does that feel like a death sentence?

I want to stop focusing on weight all together. It doesn’t matter. It is meaningless. I want to focus on the things that really matter in this life, like being kind to myself and others, being a good person, a good daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend. I want to live a life that doesn’t have to be a shameful secret. I want to live a life that I can be proud of. I want to get excited about my life again.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Self Distortion

I was reminded again yesterday, that I really have a warped perception of myself. I genuinely have no idea how other people see me. One of the detectives I work with was excited to show me a YouTube channel he found. He said that the girl on this channel looked exactly like me. I am always extremely nervous when someone tells me they found someone that looks like me. Usually it is very flattering, but being someone that has an eating disorder, this is a great way to trigger me. Not that anyone has ever compared me to anyone heavy, but once I was compared to someone on Instagram that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to see myself. I was upset about that one for days.

Luckily this time the YouTuber in question was drop-dead gorgeous. She had an alternative look and long, beautiful, black hair. I still never know how to respond when someone approaches me with something like this, but overall I was very happy. Even though I do not see the resemblance at all. It’s interesting to contemplate the disconnect between the way others see me and the way I see myself. I used to glance at strangers and try to find someone I thought had a similar body type and build so that I could see how I must look to others. Eventually I gave up on this because it only upset me. I would be interested to see if the people I thought were built similar to me would be the people those around me would pick as well. I once even found a website where you could enter your height and weight and it would produce pictures of other people with the same dimensions. That one fucked me up for weeks. Even though the images produced could vary wildly, I always assumed I was closer to the less pleasing photos, rather than the women that looked like models at my height and weight.

My sister always used to tell me that I had body dysmorphia. Basically, that’s a mental disorder where you have an extremely altered perception of your physical appearance, usually focusing in on one aspect of yourself like your nose or your ears or your weight to hyper-fixate on. Part of me has always really wanted to believe she was right, but then a larger part of me always says, “well if that’s true you’re acknowledging that you aren’t as fat as you think you are, which is obviously ridiculous.” However in recent years, I’ve come to mostly accept that label even though I’ve never been formally diagnosed. (As you can tell I’m one of those four year psych degree people that loves to self-diagnose: autism, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, generalized anxiety, feel free to roll your eyes.) Anyway, I now view body dysmorphia as just a label that explains that I don’t know what a really look like. It’s as if I am always looking at myself in a funhouse mirror. My self-perception has a tendency to vary immensely from one day to the next, one moment to the next. And of course I always identify with the least flattering reflections most of all.

It can be really nice to be reminded that other people view me differently than the way I view myself. It’s honestly hard to believe. I can’t help but wonder if they are just lying to me or attempting to flatter me for some unknown reason. Oh, the inner ramblings of a mentally ill mind. It makes it quite difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. At the end of the day, I try to let all of this nonsensical pondering go completely. After all, it doesn’t really matter what I look like. One day whatever looks I have now will fade away. I will become shriveled, wrinkled, and grey. And I don’t want to have placed all of my value and self-worth in a youthful appearance. There is so much more to life than what you look like.

It does raise the question of how others perceive the rest of me. I don’t think my self-perception is much better when it comes to my character or personality. I really couldn’t say what words other people might use to describe me. Perhaps I should make a point to start asking them, letting them know before hand that I want their honest opinion no matter what. I can’t even image what kinds of words they might use to describe me to be honest. But I am so curious, because those are the perceptions that really matter in the end. However, even with these descriptions I am so much quicker to believe anything negative about myself than anything positive. When someone says nice things about me, it can make me feel uncomfortable, even guilty. I think, “Oh no, I have somehow tricked them into thinking better of me than they should. They are going to be so upset if they ever find out who I truly am.” I know these thoughts may seem ridiculous, but they come up more than I’d like to admit.

The sad thing is, that none of these opinions or perceptions of other people are what’s important. Because ultimately it’s my own self-perception that matters most. Sadly it is also the least flattering perception I’ve encountered. I’m hopeful that maybe learning to trust the perceptions other people have of me will give me the confidence to start to see myself differently.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Manifesting Self-Love

As the new year approaches, I have a lot of fear in my heart. I have planned to make a lot of changes and I am just worried that I won’t be strong enough. I worry what will happen when I do make these changes. That’s why in the next few days, I want to try to support myself as much as I can. Instead of writing about all of my anxieties, I want to write about why I deserve to be happy. Why I deserve to experience these changes in my life. Why I am enough.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but whenever I sit down to focus kind thoughts and words toward myself, I feel a lot of resistance. That “cool” “emo” teenage girl inside me still cringes hard at the thought. When I was younger I seemed to have learned somewhere that it made you a more interesting person if you hated yourself. I felt dark and dramatic, tragically beautiful. Loving yourself was lame, unheard of, and besides, I surely didn’t deserve it. And I still struggle with these thoughts every day even though I recognize how immature and harmful they are now. My heart seems to seize up whenever I try to direct loving sentiments toward myself.

But I really want to work on this. I know it will get easier if I can just push past this blockage in my heart and practice being kind to myself. I do deserve kindness. Especially from myself. We all do. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful or conceited about thinking that. And I want to make these changes in my life in 2021. I’m not doing them for anyone else but me. It is okay if I gain weight. I will still deserve love and compassion. I won’t be any less worthy if my clothes fit a little snugger, if my face is a little rounder. That shouldn’t even be the focus to begin with. I want to change how I have been eating regardless of the outward effects. I want to do it because I love this body. It does so much for me, and I have been treating it terribly. Telling it that it doesn’t deserve the nutrients it needs to keep me going. Telling it that it’s healthy weight is too heavy, hideous, unworthy. Stressing my heart with disordered behaviors. Isolating myself to accommodate those behaviors. I would never stand for someone else abusing me this way. Why should I be allowed to continue abusing myself?

I want to enjoy food again. To cook fun healthy meals, knowing that they will provide my body with everything it needs to make me happy and healthy. I want to eat mindfully, to eat with my friends and family. To allow food to be a part of my life again, instead of my whole life. Come what may.

I have a lot of other changes I want to work on as well. But maybe for now I’ll just focus on making a plan and tackling this one. I always expect too much of myself, then beat myself up when I inevitably fail. Not this time. This time I’ll give myself all the time I need. There is no deadline. There is no punishment for struggling. There is no “failure.” It’s just living my life. It’s just getting up every morning and trying my best. That’s more than enough.

Photo by Daniela Constantini on Pexels.com

Thinspo

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Since I was probably 16 or 17 years old, I have been obsessively smothering myself with images of perfect, thin women. In the beginning I was really having fun. I had no idea this was something anyone else did or that it could be harmful to me. I would scroll through the skinny tag on Tumblr or Instagram to get me motivated before running on the treadmill every morning. I thought it was harmless. I thought it would help me even.

Fast forward to today and I still have Tumblr filled with skinny women to scroll through nearly 10 years later. I try not to actively seek out these photos anymore. I’ve cut out Instagram entirely. But still… I don’t make any real effort to avoid these images. I still get a sick satisfaction out of looking at obscenely skinny young women. I still compare my reflection to them each time I glance in a mirror.

The only difference is that I can see now that I will absolutely NEVER be able to look like the women in those pictures. Even if I starved myself until I was on death’s door, I would not look like them. It is still hard for me to accept. My body is just structurally different in too many ways. My ribcage is too big. My boobs are too small. My hips are too narrow. My chest is too broad. Things that frankly I’ve realized stand out in even starker contrast when I am at a very low weight. My body looks better when I am actually healthy. When I allow it to hold onto the fat it needs to function and support me.

I tell myself that I accept this. But deep down I still can’t. My eyes still fall enviously on all those online images. I need to start actively filling my feed with other things. I’d rather be looking at cute kawaii drawings, inspirational messages, beautiful homes, and snapshots of nature. At the very least I could follow some beautiful, average sized influencers. One of my favorite healthy inspirations is Autumn Brianne. She started a YouTube channel originally focused on eating disorder recovery. Now she focuses on more esoteric, spiritual topics, which I also love.

She is an incredibly beautiful woman. Perhaps even more so now that she has allowed her body to be happy and healthy rather than starving and stick-thin. Just watching her videos is a great comfort to me. She seems truly happy, truly loving towards her body. I aspire to be more like her one day. To love myself for what I am, rather than criticize and punish myself for what I am not.

However, there is a small voice inside me that keeps holding me back. It is the voice of my fear, of my ego. It tells me I’m disgusting, that I’ll only be more repulsive if I allow myself to put on any weight. But I know I have to keep moving forward despite that insidious voice. I genuinely don’t have a clear concept of what my appearance is anyway. I probably have body dysmorphia to some degree. My main goal is to stop focusing on appearance all together. What I look like doesn’t even matter! What matters is how I feel. What it’s like to live my life from day to day. How I treat myself and my loved ones.

I have been walking this addictive road for 10 years now. It is going to be extremely hard to start down a new path and break out of the deep grooves I’ve made. But it will be worth it. I hope that this serves as a warning to anyone just starting down that same path. Merely looking at pictures. It seems so harmless. It seems even positive at first. Thinsporation! A way to light that fire within. Giving yourself a goal to look forward to, to motivate you. But you’ll soon find yourself warped, tormented by an impossible ideal. No progress will ever be enough. And the happiness you started out to find will become muddled and lost along the way.

I would like to say that we are all beautiful just as we are. But even that, I feel, is missing the point. I’ll say instead that beauty isn’t everything. There is so much more to life than appearances. Make sure you don’t allow yourself to become so obsessed with the surface that you forget to look deeper. Make a list of what really matters in this life. I assure you, how you look won’t be on it. Let that list be an anchor when you start to feel adrift.

I start focusing on the wrong things. And then the wrong things become everything.

The Front Bottoms – Help

Sacrificing Happiness

As the new year looms nearer and nearer, my faith in myself and my plans to make big life changes has already begun to falter. When fear bubbles to the surface, it is so comforting and easy to tell myself I don’t have to change if I’m afraid. I can keep going on the way I have been. But then I realize after a moment of relief, that I also fear that path. Perhaps even more.

It always feels easier to give up on myself before I even try. I’ve done it countless times in the past. But I’ve also forced myself past my limits and surprised myself many time as well. I want 2021 to be part of the latter set of experiences. I just have to keep my true goal in mind when my fears start to tug at me.

My mind has gotten so clouded with things that I’ve decided will give me happiness. A skinny body, endless self-destructive pleasures, distraction from anxiety, a sparkling exterior life. But most of these things I have already tasted. I got down to my lowest weight since middle school this summer, but I was desperately unhappy. I was not satisfied at all. I didn’t view my body any more favorably. I just found new flaws to fixate on in the mirror. Even those around me didn’t give me the attention I expected. My weight loss was noticed, but I was not congratulated. I was looked at with alarm and concern.

Even though that didn’t bring me any happiness, I still fear getting back to healthy eating habits. My mind tells me that I wasn’t attractive thin, but I’ll be absolutely grotesque if I weigh more. I’m afraid. My mind tells me I need my unhealthy coping mechanisms to keep the anxiety at bay. It tells me I won’t be able to face that anxiety any other way.

I mustn’t listen to that part of myself. I have to remember my goal. My ultimate goal was never to “be skinny” or to “avoid anxiety.” My goal has and always will be finding happiness and peace within myself. I foolishly allowed myself to follow this destructive path in a desperate attempt to find some sort of superficial happiness, but I can see there is nothing here waiting for me at the end of the road.

Maybe the next path I take won’t lead me to happiness either, but I still have to try. Because it will at least rule out one more option. It will at least give me new insight, a new direction to follow. Besides, I genuinely believe I know the path to my happiness. If I can only find the strength to pursue it.

Happiness is inside of me. All I need to do is take care of myself, love myself. Stop clouding my mind and my heart out of fear. Stop running from myself. I truly have nothing to lose. I’m ready to nurture myself, listen to myself, allow myself to flourish. I know what I have to do. I’ve just got to believe in myself enough to try.

Confronting Internalized Sexism

I’m not shy about publicly proclaiming to be a feminist. Most of my social media accounts even have it mentioned in my bio. I am probably even one of those crazy feminists that turn most people off of the movement if I’m being honest. Occasionally I’ll even admit to pushing the pendulum to far the other way and being overtly critical of all men while placing all women on a pedestal. And while I recognize this, it’s hard for me to talk myself down sometimes.

Yet on the other hand, in my personal life and view of myself there are major inconsistencies. You see, I’ve always idolized the idea of being skinny. I love looking at beautiful, extremely thin women. I have always wanted to be one of them. Today I really sat down with myself to ask myself why that is.

I have nothing against women of any shape or size. I genuinely believe all women are worthy, valuable, and have the right to exist anyway they choose, the right to respect and equality. But I don’t treat myself as if I believe that. When it comes right down to it I’ve been lying to myself. I say I want to be thin for me, or maybe to be physically irresistible to a future partner, or for some abstract aesthetic. But when it comes right down to it, I think the real reason I want to be thin is because I feel I’ll have more value that way.

I am embarrassed and ashamed at the idea of what society will think of me if I’m not pretty, young, and thin. I imagine my life will be better if I am those things. I want those things for the power and perks I imagine them providing me. And while I don’t believe it to be right or fair, I live my entire life in accordance with the conviction that society functions on this principle regardless of what I think.

It is hard for me to accept that I have internalized the very sexism I speak out against. I am afraid to live by the courage of my convictions. Because of that I am endlessly torturing myself, trying to force myself into a mold I wasn’t made for. Not for myself, but to prove my value to others. A value I ultimately feel I lack naturally.

How sad. How twisted. How wrong.

It is time I face this damaging delusion I’ve held onto for so long. Because no matter what I’ll have to in the end. Beauty and youth cannot stand the test of time. These things are not what give me value. I am inherently valuable. Just as every other living creature on this earth is. No more proclaiming all bodies are beautiful, all women are worthy, while simultaneously hating my own body for not being good enough, thin enough.

My worth is not contingent on my size. My value is not linked to my age, my bone structure, or my body. If I truly believe this about all other women, it is time I start living this truth for myself. It is time for me to believe in my own inherent worth as a human being. It is time for me to love myself, respect myself, allow myself to simply exist as I am. In whatever form that may be. Now and in the future. It is time for me to lead by example, live by my beliefs. Society be damned.