That is a shocking number, especially considering that 10% of the population suffering from Anorexia Nervosa will die within ten years of the onset of the disease – the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disease. As parents, women and society as a whole, we’re now realizing that children are learning unhealthy, “mainstream” attitudes towards food and weight at a young age – no doubt thanks to the fashion industry’s stick thin models, photo-shopped images and the rapidly shrinking waistlines of actresses and singers . At 25, I am acutely aware of my body image, my weight, and healthy eating practices. I also count calories, mentally beat myself up, have “I’m so fat” thoughts and consider myself to be an accidental anorexic.
How do you become an accidental anorexic? you may be thinking.
It’s actually very easy, and you may have even done it before. It may have begun with the best intentions, a diet or exercise regime to help you peel off that extra layer around your tummy before summer vacation, or it may have begun accidentally through illness or injury. If you’ve ever lost a lot of weight in a short time, you may have experienced the wave of “holy cow, you look so good!” comments that boost your ego and leave you feeling a type of high that comes only from a rush of excitement and pleasure, and the next thing you know it's all you can think about.
I consider that feeling of "I'm so thin" to be my heroin and I experience it every time I try on an article of my clothing that is too big, or buy a size small shirt or size 0 pants. I hadn’t been either of those sizes since high school and I have totally lost myself into the obsession of staying tiny. It's an addiction in every sense of the word.
My obsession began many years ago, as a pre-teen gymnast and swimming lessons pupil. Spandex onesies on the gymnastics mat and tankini-style bathing suits in the pool highlighted my pre-pubescent body’s rapid changes. By the time I was 13, I had mastered the art of skipping breakfast AND lunch and managed to survive. At 15, it escalated. My parents were either oblivious or thought ignoring it would be best – kind of like I try to ignore Finley’s occasional outbursts. I could control my food intake and I could control my own body.
Until I turned 16, skipped meals were the norm for me. No one noticed. No one worried.
I grew out of the bad eating habits and grew into myself, at 16, as a basketball player, member of committees and lead in the high school musicals. Life settled. Food settled. I settled. University saw a resurgence of bad habits and anxiety, self-loathing and body-image issues. It wasn’t until I found myself pregnant that I let go of the negativity I had held onto for so long. My body was incredible enough to support another human being: what is more beautiful than that?
Fast forward to January 2012 and I’m watching my life fall down around me as my husband and I separate after nearly five years together, but only six months of marriage. It was devastating, and instead of coping or grieving, I micromanaged my diet.
I exercised because I could control the expenditure of energy and it occupied my time and my mind. I drank coffee, ate salads and counted calories like it was my job.
My Irritable Bowel Syndrome flared up thanks to the overwhelming stress I was under, and the pounds washed off faster than you can say “separation”. Over 40 pounds lighter, I felt amazing but I looked sickly. I’ve put weight back on since then, and while I reasonably know that I needed it to be healthy, I still wish I was 10 pounds thinner.
At 5’4, I weigh in at 120 pounds. My Body Mass Index, though certainly not the best indicator of health, is on the low end of the normal range. The thought of weighing over 120 pounds sends me into a frenzy of shameful worrying. I know better. I don’t believe my value is equated to the size of my jeans or the number on the scale, and yet I’ve let that number knock me down.
The truth is that, even in size 0 jeans, the skin on my tummy is soft and a little squishy, it is painted with stretch marks and I’ve noticed a dimple or two coming on my thighs. My boobs aren’t as perky – or as big – as they once were and my thighs aren’t as toned as I’d like them to be but I’m healthy. I’m strong. Being 10 pounds thinner isn’t going to make me a better person. It won’t pay off my bills or improve my marks at school. An extra 10 pounds won’t make me a bad mom, or keep me from getting my dream job.
Not too long ago, the Canadian Women’s Foundation tweeted this alarming news: “In Grade Six, 36% of girls say they are self-confident, but by Grade Ten this has plummeted to only 14%.”
It’s time we change that. It’s time we change how we look at ourselves. It’s time to change how we look at our bodies. It’s time to teach our daughters that all shapes and sizes are beautiful, that healthy is beautiful. It’s time we teach our sons that a woman’s value is not equated to her physical appearance but mostly, it’s time we teach ourselves that.
Be strong. Be positive. Love your beautiful body.