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When I was 13 years old I weighed 100 pounds (I’m 5’6”). I was, for a brief period, what people would call skinny. I counted calories, fat grams, and minutes exercised each day to make sure I ate what diet culture told me I should to lose weight. I wrote down every morsel of food that passed my lips, even gum. I would sit and watch my three siblings eat pizza every Friday while I microwaved a sweet potato and measured one tablespoon of peanut butter to put on top. I checked my stomach every morning to make sure it was getting flatter. I told myself I was disciplined while my family and friends looked on with concern.
I was also obsessed with food. I would read cookbooks and watch people eat things I wouldn’t let myself eat. I reverted to my earlier childhood, waking in the night to go sleep on my parent’s floor—only now my bony hips hurt to sleep on and I would lay there awake, waiting until I could eat again in the morning. My grades slipped, my friendships dwindled, and finally, even I had to admit to myself that I had an eating disorder.
The road to recovery was long and complicated. After years of therapy, I could write many long pages about what I went through, but that’s for another day.
Today I am writing to my mom friends about why I don’t want to be skinny anymore. You see, even though we are currently in our 30s and 40s with professional degrees, lifelong partners, careers outside or inside the home, and children, I still hear us wish we could be skinny.
We create rules for ourselves, like no carbs or dessert or real sugar in our coffee. Many of us still count calories, shun entire food groups, and exercise obsessively. Those moms who are “successful” in becoming skinny are praised for their discipline.
I am now an average-sized person. I haven’t weighed myself since I was pregnant with my daughter (eight years ago), but I have a general idea of my weight. I have a short torso, wide hips, muscular legs, and a bubble butt. I have to try hard to find a pair of jeans or a bathing suit that fits and flatters.
Sometimes I still fantasize about being skinny. Sometimes I count calories. The voice that diet culture instilled in me when I was young is still there telling me fat-free is the way to be. I still worry about what I’m eating and if it’s going to be ok—when I’m sitting at dinner with my friends and they share a few appetizers and I order a whole dinner to myself (gasp!) or when I’m on vacation and it’s the sixth day of eating junk food and I have an anxiety attack about eating yet another dinner out. These are all deep-breath moments for me, where I must center my thinking over and over again.
I also do CrossFit four to five times per week and run sometimes on the weekends. I still struggle on the days I can’t exercise. I’m not perfectly recovered, but I am imperfectly trying as much as I can.
Sometimes I ask myself, why don’t I just diet a little? What’s 10 pounds? I know for me that is a dangerous question. I never go through with it, and here’s why.
Deep down, I know what it is like to be skinny. It’s not fun. At all. It’s an obsessive march to taking up as little space as possible. The counting and measuring and vigilant watching are not worth the real emotional cost.
So, I don’t diet, and I tell my friends about it. I know that I am at a happy weight. I know this because I get to participate in all that life and food offer and I am physically strong and comfortable. By just saying “no” to diet culture, I get to…
- Eat pizza with my own family on Friday nights
- Eat popcorn (with butter!) at the movies
- Order what I want when I go out to dinner
- Put butter on my toast
- Drink wine with my friends
- Go to the fair and know I’m allowed to eat fair food, too
- Eat a cheeseburger with French fries (yep, you don’t always have to order the side salad!)
Most importantly, I am showing my 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son that women can eat fun foods too. I see it as my grave responsibility to set the example that a donut is not something to be ashamed of or worried about. It’s just a donut. So I eat the donut and don’t talk about it later.
I don’t want to be skinny because I want to enjoy food. I want to be able to eat all the foods my husband eats. I want to enjoy all those little moments with my kids where food is part of things. I want my life to be big—my experiences, my friends, my career! If that means my body needs to be a little bigger so my brain can be free to enjoy life, then so be it. This life belongs to me and I don’t want to rob myself of enjoying it by obsessing over becoming smaller.
I know I am not the only one who has struggled with this issue. Most moms I open up to about my previous struggle have their own disordered eating story to tell. So, the next time you hear yourself say, “I shouldn’t eat that pizza/donut/PopTart/slice of bread/etc.,” I compassionately suggest you tell that voice to eff off and just eat it. You will be ok.
A Few Notes
I am not a therapist; I am just a person who has had these experiences and is sharing them in the hopes that some of you connect. That being said, if anything I’m saying does connect, I highly recommend you check out this book—Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., C.E.D.R.D.
I also realize I use the word “skinny” a lot in this article in a negative way. I acknowledge that many women are naturally thin and perfectly healthy, and I do not intend to offend these women. As someone who has never been this naturally thin, I am using this word to demonstrate my point that it’s not worth hurting yourself to achieve thinness.