How An Eating Disorder Taught Me About Body Acceptance

I spent many years hating my body. It all began in my late teens.

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At that time a certain modeling school was all the rage. I won’t name names but let’s call it Carbizon.

I decided to become a world-famous model and marry a rockstar.

Enrolling in this school would be my first step. The rest of the story would practically write itself.

I talked my parents into paying for it by saying I’d rather give up college and do this instead. (Yes, smart decisions all around. I did go to college, by the way, but paid for it myself.)

I soon found out their popular tagline translates to, “Be a model or just look as if you’ve wasted a boatload of money learning how to apply lipstick and walk a straight line.”

But I digress.

The Carbizon modeling instructors told me I needed to weigh 105 pounds at the most if I ever wanted a shot at modeling stardom. (I don’t remember my weight at the time, but I was already on the thin side and did not need to lose weight.)

They conveniently left out the part where I would also need to add at least six inches to my little ol’ 5’4” self and, oh yeah, a couple yards of legs would be nice, too.

But hey, I could lose weight, right? I dropped the weight fairly easily. After all, I was 17. Then a weird thing happened: I couldn’t stop.

I became obsessed.

I’ll spare you all the gruesome details, but let’s just say I was anorexic before it was even in fashion.

I lived on 300 calories a day.

I only wish I was a trendsetter in other ways. At 89 pounds I looked emaciated, felt miserable and I couldn’t sleep because I was literally starving.

My parents brought me to the doctor because I’d stop menstruating (flash forward to now: It’s the root of my osteoporosis more than 40 years later), but no one connected the dots between my rail-thin body and my lack of a monthly cycle.

It simply wasn’t widely acknowledged at the time.

In the meantime, I was so hungry I’d be unable to sleep. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and raid my parents’ candy dish.

Since no one recognized I had an eating disorder, it took me years — YEARS — to get to a healthy weight. It eventually happened from the sheer exhaustion of trying to live on fewer calories than I now eat in a single meal.

The extreme deprivation and obsession lasted well into my 30s, although to a lesser extreme. For the longest time, I felt fat if I hit 105 pounds.

Craziness beyond belief, which I recognize now.

I’m telling you this story for a reason: The news has been abuzz lately with stories about body acceptance and loving yourself just as you are, no matter what your size.

After spending the past 40+ years trying to do just that I am certainly a huge fan of learning to love yourself. Huge fan.

But as much as I want every woman to love herself and her body, this trend has at times been misinterpreted.

Here’s why: There’s a fine line between self-acceptance and giving up.

If you live a sedentary lifestyle, eat pizza for dinner three times a week and don’t make an effort to in any way towards a healthy body, that’s not self-acceptance. That’s throwing in the towel.

Here’s my #1 healthy body rule to live by:

Self-acceptance and loving yourself involves doing the best you can to create a healthy and happy body and mind and letting the chips fall where they may.

Notice I didn’t say thin. It’s not all about weight. However, if you do all the right things, your weight will naturally fall to a healthy number. It happened to me, even though it took many years.

Your weight may be a little higher than your ideal goal, but once you get there it will be relatively effortless to stay there.

You simply keep up the good work.

Life is too short to try to be anything other than your own unique and wonderful self!

Along these same lines, one of the worst things you can do is “fat talk.” No, it’s not about using big words to impress people. It’s a term used to describe a trend where women bond through complaining about their bodies. It’s more common among college-age women but I hear it from women my age (60), too.

It usually sounds something like this:

Betty Sue: “I just hate my belly! I wish I had your body.”

Sally Blue: “Are you crazy? You look great! Look at the size of my giant elephant thighs!”

And it goes on.

Even if you don’t say it out loud, it’s not healthy to even think these thoughts in your own head. It’s destructive and hurtful, especially when it comes from your own head.

It’s not easy. I still catch myself focusing on something I want to change and have to consciously tell myself to “stop it!”

If you’re not happy with your weight focus on your striking eyes or shiny hair or long legs (which I only wish I had! See? I did it again…).

Play down the parts you’d like to change and bring out your good points.

Because a funny thing happens when you take care of yourself out of self-love: You reach a healthy weight you can easily maintain — and go back to loving life.

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