When I was trying to get started on a new diet, I’d always make a list of things to motivate myself. I have whole journals filled with numbered lists full of things like, “So I can finally wear a bikini,” and “So I can attract men that are good, desirable, and that want to stick around,” and “So I can enjoy shopping for clothing,” and “So I won’t worry about what the cashier at the grocery store will think of what it is in shopping cart.”
The lists were mostly filled with the items that indicated my desire for external validation. I wanted my friends to be envious of my figure and dedication. I wanted my stepmother to accept me. I wanted my sister (who is severely eating disordered and underweight) to stop feeling so smug about her success and my failure and to acknowledge me as being just as disciplined as she is. I wanted attention from men, the kind of attention I have seen my beautiful, slender friends receive all my life. I thought that just by changing my external appearance, I could force the world to view me and treat me differently.
I also listed things that were the product of my desire to like myeslf. I wanted confidence and self-esteem and told myself that if I were skinny, I could finally look in the mirror and like what I saw. I could put on clothing every morning and leave the house feeling beautiful. I could wear the kind of clothing that confident people wore: bikinis, shorts, sleeveless shirts, dresses that attracted attention rather than covered me up like a nun. I assumed that my fat was what had caused my poor self-esteem, shyness, and lack of confidence, and that losing weight would naturally cause my brain to reset to that of a fully emotionally healthy person.
And of course, those lists were heavily populated with desperate wishing for a decent partner. I met my husband in March 2006 when I weighed just a few pounds above 200. He proposed in September 2007, a few short weeks after my band surgery and only about 10 lbs down from my highest weight ever, 229 pounds. When we married in March 2008, I still weighed somewhere in the range of 210 to 220 pounds, although I can’t say for sure the exact amount. And I am 100% certain that I met and married the perfect man for me, the man I always wished for and never knew I could have, the man that loves me regardless of my weight and wants only for me to be happy with myself.
So, I think I can categorize the things that I was hoping to accomplish with losing weight as:
1. Love and acceptance from the world
2. Love and acceptance from myself
3. Love and acceptance from a partner/boyfriend/husband
These desires haven’t gone away. I know that they are valid feelings. I have hopes that I can still address them– even as I give up forever on dieting– by working Intuitive Eating/Health At Every Size into my life.
I am, at age 29, old enough to realize that I cannot make everyone in the world love and accept me. I tried for many years to make my stepmother and father love and accept me, and althought it has been exceedingly difficult, I do realize now that I can’t make them feel what I want them to feel. I can’t make anyone feel or think anything they don’t want to. I could lose 100 lbs and people would continue to find me unattractive or unacceptable because I am short, or because my hair is thin and lackluster, or because my face isn’t symmetrical. This is a terrible way to try to motivate myself to do anything because its something that is impossible to achieve– in other words, by clinging to this hope I am deliberately setting myself up for failure.
The second category is where I have the real work cut out for me. I don’t need to lose weight in order to love myself, take care of myself, or develop true confidence and self-esteem. I know that the sad truth is that the two things are only minimally related. I could, like my sister, be skeletally underweight and yet suffer from the exact same emotional problems I do now. I had performed an incredible con job on myself by saying that I should wait until I am at my ideal weight to deal with my emotional and self-esteem problems, because that essentially guaranteed that I never had to tackle them.
These are issues that will be very difficult and painful to deal with. I know they are painful– that is why I drank two bottles of wine on Sunday night after my first post here. But the very fact that they are so painful and raw is convincing evidence that I really do need to address them. I need to put aside the weight focus and fix the things that are completely within my power to change. And I know that at least some of my excess eating is caused by those very issues I have delayed addressing. How sadly ironic that I could not achieve the weight at which I deemed it acceptable to begin fixing my self-esteem because my self-esteem problems prevented me from losing weight.
I have, happily, achieved the third goal on my list. I married a man that I don’t doubt will stick around through the good times and bad. But marriage is a living thing, and I can’t just put my marriage on the shelf and proclaim it achieved and go about my business. I have to cultivate a healthy, loving marriage and that means taking care of both people in the relationship. My husband and I like to say that we’re a team, and the single highest priority for each team member is to preserve the team, and that means working hard to keep everyone on the team healthy and happy. My husband is happiest when I am smiling, content, satisfied, and fulfilled. I am more capable of meeting his needs when I am at my healthiest and happiest. It is now my job to take care of myself not only for myself, but also for him. I have made the most important promises of my life, vowing to do this very thing, and I take it more seriously than anything else in my life. Not to mention, some day I’d like to add a child to our team. Our genetics are such that my husband and I will likely have a child with a stocky build and a tendency to be heavy rather than slender. I want to raise a child that loves herself and her body, that is confident and does not have to overcome some of the huge self-esteem problems I have. I know children learn best by example and I want to be the model of self-love and self-confidence for my child, even more than I want that for myself.