Tag Archives: Weight

At the Core

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I said I was going to work on unpacking some of my core beliefs about weight and body image, and I’ve been doing this. I have not been enjoying the process.

“Core beliefs” is a term I picked up from cognitive-behavioral therapy. It refers to deep, underlying convictions that we’ve picked up from somewhere. Usually we don’t realize the extent of the role they play in our lives and thoughts.

So, enough intellectualizing on my part. What do I believe about my weight and its meaning, and can I look at it honestly and see how messed up some of it is?

Core belief #1: I am not really “me” unless I am below a certain weight. 

This is one of the deepest, and I know I am not alone in it. Many who are overweight see their bodies and selves as a work in progress, aided by a culture that encourages us to see our lives as something that will be completed by a better body–or a house, or a job, or a partner, or any other kind of “carrot.”

The weight at which I am “myself” has become more reasonable than it used to be. It’s thirty or forty pounds less than where I am, as opposed to eighty. The problem is that the line exists at all; that a high weight has consequences not only for my health but my very sense of self.

Core belief #2: There is no point in exercising, or doing other things that are good for my body, unless I am currently losing weight or maintaining a very low weight.

This inner tape has done me an incredible amount of damage. It’s often caused me to miss out on not only the health benefits of exercise, but the elevation of mood and self-esteem moving my body brings. If I have a period of healthful eating and some exercise, breaking the streak of the first behavior requires me to give up the second one as well. Never mind that moving my body would help my mood and make me able to return to better eating sooner–nope, it’s all or nothing.

Core belief #3: Being fat and/or eating more than a certain amount is not spiritual. My spiritual self is thin, abstinent, and free from all compulsions. Contact with the Divine as I know it is something I have to earn by not eating.

This belief started to form in my twenties, when I was first exploring my spirituality in the context of a recovery program for compulsive eating. If I was eating in a way that wasn’t on my (very restrictive at the time) plan, I was resisting God’s will. Being on the diet equalled being surrendered to my God’s will. When suffering a relapse into my self-destructive bingeing, and wanting to pray for help, I felt that I had no right to pray until I cleaned up my act. It was a vicious circle.

This belief gets reinforced today by some aspects of my bipolar disorder. Starting a diet tends to make me hypomanic, and hypomania can bring heightened mystical feelings as well as heightened creativity. Similarly, overeating or eating too many starches and sweets has a sedating and depressing effect, making me feel less in touch with the mystical aspects of myself.

Core belief #4: I cease to be a sexual or romantic being when my weight exceeds a certain amount.

It’s natural for me to wrestle with my sexuality as I age; most of us do in this culture. Even when I was younger, though, this pattern was there. I was always thinner in my fantasies: good sex was only for people with good bodies. Times spent in the lower parts of my weight range were the times I took sexual and romantic risks. Somewhere, within a relative narrow weight range, I change from a sensual and sexually awakened woman to one who sees herself as sexually invisible and dormant. I don’t ask for sex, physical intimacy or romantic attention.

Core belief #5: Someday I will conquer my eating disorder for good and never again suffer a relapse. I will achieve “normality” in this realm and maintain it for the rest of my life. This, more than anything else, will mark me as a success in life. 

I don’t need to go into how unrealistic this is. It’s as ridiculous as the idea that I’ll make myself not be an addict any more. I’ve got this issue, and I’m going to have it for the rest of this lifetime even if my health improves. I have to ask myself how much of my life I want to devote to this one area of struggle.

I’m sure there are more of these core beliefs, as well as the many surface thoughts that come up when I deal with doctors and other people. I have no intention of giving up on my health–but what would happen if I stopped defining myself by my weight?

Doctor, Doctor

I must go to the doctor again. This particular appointment is with the endocrinologist, but I realize that the feelings I’m having are not specific to her. They are part of a pattern existing throughout my adult life: a visit to the doctor is a visit to the land of judgment, silence and apologies.

There was a span of years when I was making this worse because of my active addiction to painkillers. Some doctor visits were preceded by anxious reviewing of my desperate exaggerations or even outright lies, combined with the ever-present shame. One of the blessings of recovery is freedom from these dishonest machinations.

There are also times when my apologies are about not taking my meds properly, as during a severe depressive episode, or failing to carry out some other assignment designed to help me.

However, for most of my adult life, the dragon I face in the doctor’s office has been the same one: being fat. Fat, whether to a greater or a lesser degree, in a medical climate that places almost any ill at the door of one’s weight regardless of other health parameters (and it must be admitted that, although I believe in the Health at Every Size philosophy, it is usually clear that my body would be happier near the lower end of my weight range.)

No doctor, be they primary care or otherwise, has ever failed to inform me that I should lose weight, with the exception of the rare few I only met while at the extreme low end. They tell me this as if I do not know it; as if I have somehow managed to reach middle age without being aware that I am overweight.

Any explanation I might give about why losing weight is not working out at the time, or about regaining it following a loss, sounds like excuses. And I don’t want to make excuses, anyway. I’d really prefer it to be taken as read that I’m aware of the issue and doing my best, even if my best is not what they would like. Still, not an appointment passes–no matter what the presenting problem or how unrelated it might seem–without me having to answer for the size of my body.

This problem is neither new nor unique to me, and I know many awesome people who could give me advice on how to stand up for myself more effectively. I realized lately that much of the problem resides in myself: I don’t present my situation unapologetically because I have not come to terms with it. I haven’t unpacked and dealt with a lifetime of internalized fat prejudice I didn’t realize I was carrying.

The doctor I’m going to see, who wanted me to have lost weight since our last appointment, is one for whom my weight really is a relevant parameter: we are dealing with blood sugars, hormone levels, and other things that are affected by it. I can’t present her with the results she hoped to see. I have to show up as I am and ask her to treat the patient she has, not the patient she wants. I have to be honest with her, and ask her to ally with me in treating my conditions on the assumption that my weight is not going to go down right now.

I would like her to give me advice about focusing on fitness, with the understanding that I may or may not be able to do as much as she wants. I’d like her to pleased with what I do accomplish, even if it’s only managing to take my meds properly and go on a few walks.

Yeah, and I’d also like a pony.

Some of what I want isn’t going to happen. My longing to be understood and respected by those in the medical profession could be a classic example of going back to that dry well. Even as I long for it, I identify with the doctors themselves and the frustration they must experience when patient after patient sickens or dies for lack of following  a few “simple” instructions. I feel unworthy of their time. I feel unworthy of the medical care I’m privileged to have available. (The fact that they are providing a service for which I’m paying gets lost in this self-recrimination.)

There’s one thing, however, over which I do have power. That’s the baggage I mentioned above. It’s time for some major unpacking, and the more I think about the topic the clearer and more extreme some of the buried core beliefs are becoming.