How would life look if you were raised to not making choices for yourself? You were told what to eat and who to be friends with. You felt the separation. You knew you were different but not in a way that felt good to you. Different and also held back from becoming who you were meant to be. This is the story of Jennifer. Jennifer is 43-year-old mother who is discovering that vulnerability makes you stronger, getting help is necessary to healing, and it is never too late to discover who you truly are.
Favorite music: Contemporary Christian
Love about job: Teach at a college- I love watching students have the light bulb moments.
Favorite color: Green and blue, hey are calming and in nature
Favorite memory: Being outside kayaking with my family. It brings me a sense of connection
Fun fact: My husband is a DJ and I love going to the club to talk to people all night. I can dance, be free, and chat with people at the bar. People are so interesting. They tell me so much about themselves. I notice that most people are just lonely. They want someone to hear their story.
Three words that describe how you want to feel: Accepted, Desired, Content
Looking back I had such a love hate relationship with food. Food is so hard. With other addictions you abstain but with food you need it everyday. It started in early childhood. I grew up in a cultish organization where choices were made for you. My mom had body image issues. She would hide food so we couldn’t get it. We ate all organic foods. She would have a stash of sugary foods but they were under lock and key, so we never had access to it. Even the cookies or desserts we had all natural no preservatives sweets, which was not the norm in the seventies. As kids we hated the healthy food. We knew we didn’t fit in at school with our lunches. There were also some religious rules of no pork and seafood also.
The Church service was every Saturday for two hours. We were not supposed to associate with others outside the church. We would be pulled out of school for holidays because we did not celebrate. I felt separate and because decision-making power was taken away from us it set me up to not make great choices around food.
In my tweens is the first I remember trying a low carb diet. Initially I lost some weight but at that young age I could not sustain. In college I gained weight with the extra freedom I had. I would binge because I never knew when I would get it again. It was not until I got engaged that I joined a program to lose weight at the same time I decided to separate from the church. I remember losing thirty pounds and being used in their promotion materials even though I did not follow the program. I only ate 1,000 calories a day but I was rewarded for the behavior. After I got married I struggled with monitoring my weight, feeling not good enough, and a focus on food. Feeling stuffed or feeling full brought sense of comfort. The comfort turned to guilt and purging started.
When I got pregnant with my first, I remember that during breastfeeding I felt my best. I ate without guilt, losing weight from breastfeeding, and eating felt purposeful. The breastfeeding had to stop very suddenly when they found a cyst after a pneumonia diagnosis that required surgery due to risk of infection from bursting. The surgery left a pretty big scar. I remember hating my body and that scar as I stood in front of the mirror crying. It was emotional and tough time. I ended up getting pregnant. During that time I was scared of gaining weight. I had horrible morning sickness and I remember enjoying it because I knew I would gain less. Saying it out loud sounds is terrible. There is almost a relief in it though. I went through the motions to take care of my pregnancy but I remember that feeling. It was just how I felt. There was so much not in my control at that time. My husband would be gone with twenty-four hours at a time then he needed sleep so I was alone with kids or working. It was a time I was just surviving. It was not good for me and for us as a family. My husband due to the nature of his job would disconnect because of the stress he experienced. The purging resurfaced during this time because I simply needed a release. It was not every meal or every week but it was noticeable to me. I didn’t tell anyone. There is so much shame around it yet the choice to do it gave me some control back.
When my son was two, my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was caught early but again the out of control feeling resurfaced. In 2007, I returned to school. I remember I was thin then but what is thin enough? I struggle with that. Alcohol became more of a focus during this time because it calmed me to write better. It was not out of control but I do feel I have an addictive personality. This was my pattern for five years. During these years, between turning to food for comfort, alcohol to relax, and the stress of school on my marriage caused weight to creep back on. I know some of the things we do protect us so the connection to food and fear of weight gain helped me to not let alcohol take over. While none of it was healthy, I know it served its purpose during this time.
When I started my new job after school, binging and purging escalated from added stress. I remember wanting to throw a party for our anniversary, almost like a rebirth from a difficult period. I used the party as a date to get the weight off. I did not feel good. I cut out carbs and started exercising. While it looked healthy by eating more vegetables and exercising twice a week, I was using guilt to exercise because I wanted to lose weight.
I felt great at the party and after I started seeing a therapist. I am so grateful to find her. She makes me connect and see that I did not have the coping skills and relationship skills most develop because of how I was raised. I was able to relieve some of the guilt for my behaviors and I was able to finally tell my husband about my history with food. In order to stop binging and purging I had to put safeguards and structure in place. I didn’t feel safe other ways. I have not purged nor do I have the urge. I still feel disconnected to what my body needs or making choices I need for myself. I still weigh myself everyday and track what I am eating. I don’t feel like I need that as much anymore. I am gentle on my body today. My workout is dancing at the club, which I love. I do things that bring me joy now. I want my workout to be fun now, not just strictly to lose weight. The other day I ran for three miles because I wanted to, not because I have to. The run with music felt like therapy and relief after the loss of a friend from work.
It is still hard. It is hard every single day. I wish I did not think about it so much or have to try so hard. I am an educated person. I work in health. It is in the back of my head. My daughter is a teen and she struggles with body image and she sees unhealthy patterns. I don’t want to continue the cycle. Twenty years of gaining and losing fifty pounds has taken its toll on my metabolism.
To other women struggling with food and body image please be a little more forgiving to yourself. It is easier said than done but the choices we make when we don’t have the tools or the skills is the best we can do with what we have. Be gentler to yourself. Being forgiving with myself is allowing me to figure out who I am. I am starting to feel accepting of who I am. It is taking me longer then I expected to take care of all this but I did not have what I needed to get to this point earlier. When you hit low spots, you can lose sight of hope. I have learned there is always hope and no one can take that away. Recognizing this was not easy on my own and getting help was exactly what I needed. I was hard on myself because I was a professional and should be able to do it on my own. Being vulnerable enough to get the help I needed and not stuffing that feeling anymore, changed my life. I have not told this story in my entirety before. This is part of my journey to being more vulnerable. I feel good about it. . It is a story that should be told.