Body image, what a strange bedfellow. For a sad reason, body image will always be a friend or foe because depending on how the days in going, you’re either going to like the way you look, or you won’t. Sadly, even if you look like a knockout 10, the inside mind could see something else. The eyes of the body can look into the mirror and see fear, fear of rejection and loss of love because of how one looks. For a mental health professional, we know that body image can lead in too many disorders, diagnosable disorders that can have terrible repercussions. Let’s face it, we all like to look good, we all want to feel good in our own skin, but sadly this is not always the case. I started my own series about how mental health and physical health are connected. I used to be a tiny thing in high school, but even then, I did not have a positive view of my body. After two kids, I did not realize that at 125 pounds I was thinner than most women after having children. Now, at a weight that I won’t even share online, I feel angry, depressed and exhausted with how I look and feel.
I took to reading a blog post from a fellow mother who has struggled with body image her whole life. She even decided to get gastric bypass surgery in hopes of leading a healthier life. Sadly, what she found was not an intense feeling of satisfaction, but a dark journey down the same path that she had been following for years. Below is my interview with Amanda, a busy wife and mother of three daughters.
S: When you say that you have always struggled with your body and food, what is the biggest hurdle you must overcome to finally being at peace with your body?
A: That’s a great question. One that I’m honestly still trying my hardest to work on. I’m not quite fully at peace yet but it is definitely my goal. I think for me I need to not worry about what others think or what society thinks for sure.
S: How has the words said to you as a young girl and teenager shaped how you raise your three girls especially in terms of what words you use?
A: Some examples: if the girls are trying on clothes I don’t focus on the size, they try a size on, and I’ll ask if they feel comfortable. If not, we adjust accordingly, and the size is never an issue.
If they have doctor appointments, I have told the offices to not mention their weights (if they say it…we just move on like no big deal)
I also try to compliment them as much as possible without always using compliments on their looks etc.
I also am open and honest and if diets etc. are mentioned I make sure they know they never have to go on a diet or change the way they look
S: Do you think having a twin or sibling who was smaller than you was a big factor in your comparing yourself? Do you think the built-in comparison has set you up for a downfall?
A: Yes, I think that was the start of it. Also, something I still need to let go of…comparing myself!
“I just ate what my parents bought at the store and what my mom would make. My Dad only eats certain foods so my Mom only cooked what he would like. Occasionally she would make separate things if my Dad wanted something different. Pretty sure that is why to this day I do not cook because my Mom did it all.”
S: Do you think part of the reason that you don’t cook is because you do not have a good relationship with food?
A: Huge YES!!! It’s also hard sometimes when my family wants to eat something that I don’t feel like eating … I don’t want my husband to make something he doesn’t want, or to have to make something different.
I know this sounds crazy, but I also hate to grocery shop so that makes it hard for there to be all the foods in the house that I would prefer as well.
Some people may say, “well just go to the store by your own food and make it yourself “I wish it were that easy (for me).
“I don't remember having a lot of thoughts about my body and food except I just considered myself fat and never really liked it. I would go to doctor appointments and weight was always brought up. One time I even went for a cold and the doctor said it was probably due to my weight.
Fast forward to 2008. By this time, I had Abby in 2006 and Jasmine in 2007. I had my 1-year checkup after having Jasmine. I got to my OBGYN appointment and my weight was 302.4lbs. I cried my entire appointment because I never expected to see that number but also all my doctor talked about was how I needed to lose weight. He said I should be 165lbs and he recommended medical weight loss or weight watchers. I checked into medical weight loss but that was expensive, so I started weight watchers. I think I lost around 75 lbs. during weight watchers but always stopped and started again so I don't remember how long that took me. I can remember though always thinking that all that mattered was the number on the scale. If I went over my points, I was bad. If I gained weight that week it was because I ate too much pizza that week. I can remember it made food good or bad therefore depending on what I ate...I was good or bad.”
S: A: Interesting that you made the connection between body weight, food and whether you were good or bad (worthy or not worthy)?
A: So much on our society tells us there is good food and bad food. Not until just recently have my eyes finally been opening to realize that is not the case. Food does not have any moral value!
S: How would you inspire someone who does not have the spousal support and understanding that you do?
A: Hmmm, difficult question. I’ve been following a lot of Instagram accounts / etc. that have really made me feel like I could really find freedom from all this …but I would still love to be able to afford counseling
“I was 230 on the date of my surgery Oct 1st 2015. I can remember thinking it was the only way I would ever be able to lose weight.
During my 6 months before surgery stuff I had to make sure I didn't lose any more weight otherwise I would not have qualified for surgery”.
“Not once in my entire life has any doctor recommended counseling or mental health care. During my surgery process there was absolutely zero "help" either. It was always about what the scale said. Can you see why numbers have always consumed me?”
S: Do you think you are more of an advocate for counseling or mental health care for this form of surgery? I imagine there are many individuals who are not as insightful as you and wouldn’t realize how a surgery such as you went through will affect their mental health.
If anyone were to ask me if I recommended weight loss surgery, I would say…
No!!! Not unless you’ve had full counseling/ mental health care first
“So, one year after surgery on my birthday November 11th, 2016 I went for a 11-mile run. I got home, stepped on the scale and was 135.2lbs. I felt so weak, so lightheaded, felt awful, took a hot bath...but I was on top of the world because I had just hit a weight, I never thought I'd make. I would workout up to 2 hours a day with maybe 1 rest day. I hardly ate anything. But all that mattered was that stupid number. Then at a follow up appointment I was so scared to step on the scale because I knew for the first time since surgery, I gained weight. I was 147. The doctor came in and said "Shazam...you're perfect!" All your numbers and tests are good. I said but I gained weight. He said well most surgery patients get to a low weight and then their body goes up because it moves to where it is more comfortable. So, I left feeling great thinking, ok phew...then I did not fail. I hadn't changed anything I was doing when I went from 135 to 147. I ate the same, worked out the same (which was always not enough food).”
S: Did your husband notice any negative changes in you and did anyone try to help you recognize how you were reacting to your weight, food, exercising?
A: Yes, lots of people noticed. Josh always tries to help me, but he often says. I don’t know how to fix it.
S: Do you feel here like you were even in control of your own mind and body? I know with my depression, it literally feels like something has a hold on you and you can’t shake it? I think this is important to high light because a lot of individuals suffer with body image issues.
A There were several times I remember doctors saying, “if I track my food and exercise that I’ll always keep my weight off”. So, once I started gaining, I thought again I was a failure. But all that “in control” made me worse and made me feel like I was going crazy. I often wonder if I would still work out 2 hours a day and eat 1000 calories if I wouldn’t have gained but I just couldn’t continue. My mental health is my #1 goal right now, so it is getting better now that I’ve gotten rid of all trackers
“During 2016 and 2017 I became so obsessed with workout programs and every single one of them had a different nutrition program...I mean seriously...How many flipping diets are out there, why are there so many, and why do we think the next one will finally be the one? and when are we all going to finally realize that diets don't work. That food is not good or bad. That I am not good or bad based on what I eat. Food is just food. Now of course if someone Is allergic to food then they shouldn't eat it. If you don't like cauliflower don't eat it. If you don't like donuts, don’t eat them. But if you. like pizza eat the flipping pizza. You're not bad because you ate pizza. Why can't we just love ourselves the way we are. The way God made us.”
“At this point I am not sure if I will run a race this year. Part of me thinks it may be best for me to take a break. I have literally felt way too stressed about all this that I feel I really need to focus on my mental health. Adding another race would probably just add extra stress thinking I HAVE to do it instead of just doing it because I enjoy it.
“I'm crazy right?”
S: No, you are not crazy. There is an important connection between mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. There is meant to be a balance in life, and it sounds like you are certainly out of balance between many aspects of your life. What is your ideal healthy life?
Food doesn’t matter it’s just food. To the point where I don’t even think about food (meaning I will eat of course but just not be consumed with what to eat how much to eat when to eat) if I should eat this or that etc.
A: And just enjoy movement that makes me happy. Not movement because I must or to compete with someone else
S: What I want to high light here is being a champion for your health. If one doctor or counselor does not feel like the correct fit, seek out help that is. I know this can be difficult with insurance companies. You have every right to be heard and for your healthcare providers to be connected on your overall well-being. That means your primary care relates to your mental health provider, so that you get the best care possible.
I have so much to be thankful for and am blessed beyond measure. I need to get all this off my mind and just live life each day and choose to be happy. My size does not matter.”
God is so Great. He has given me new friends and a new Church family. He opens doors when other close. Now I just pray I don't lose them too while I'm still working on all my struggles.”
S: God is great for SURE! And you would think that being a Christian would make us immune to all the issues like body image, food, dieting, depression, anxiety and everything in between. It will take time to feel like you finally have an equilibrium. Just like this journey has taken time, this too will take time. I remember being a HUGE worrier. I mean my worry would have worry, but that has all changed with time. That, however, doesn’t mean that I do not have body image issues from time to time.
If you like this post, check out the link below for another post like it. Also check the link below to see the post that inspired this Point-of-View with Amanda on body image and mental health.