Beyond Before & After: 19 Weeks, 39 Pounds

A bipolar, body-positive bread enthusiast with a fucked-up ankle and a history of disordered eating chronicles health, weight-loss, and gardening. No diets allowed. 

CN: weight, dieting, eating disorders, mental health, suicide, specific mention of numbers

If you are in ED recovery or not in an emotional place to read about weight-loss, please stop here and come back when you're able, or not at all. If you are struggling, please contact NEDA.

For folks to notice you’ve lost weight, you need to lose something like three BMI points. This is written somewhere, but I don’t have the science-y link, so you’ll have to just take my word for it. I have a near photographic memory though, so I’m a solid 98% sure this statistic is valid.

I’m sure that the three BMI point thing varies for people who know you and those who see you only occasionally, but the point is people eventually notice if you’ve lost weight. The BMI is a load of crap, but it's a measured and objective load of crap, nonetheless.

People I know have now begun to ask me how much weight I’ve lost. I can see in their pained expression that they don’t want to ask. They know it’s rude, or they think it’s a compliment, but the kind of compliment that’s actually not a compliment because it implies that you used to be (and now you are less) fat.

They know that I’m anti-diet. They know I’m recovering from an eating disorder.

They don’t want to suggest I was fat before, or that I look better now. Even if they are thinking it. They are probably thinking it.

We were at IHOP a few weeks ago, all eight of us, our Sunday morning ritual, and my eldest daughter Kelsey remarked, “Mom. You’re like whoa skinny.” Maybe I’d reached the number where people noticed I was getting smaller. Maybe that was the number where people started to think they should say something, lest my efforts, whatever they were, go unnoticed.

At least a number of those people were probably speculating that my exercise bulimia was back. At least a number of people were probably wondering if I was restricting, abusing laxatives, obsessively counting calories, living on my scale.

Nineteen weeks ago, I was at the end of my rope, frustrated with my mobility, embarrassed at my reluctance to properly care for myself, because being ill meant being imperfect (and being imperfect is being broken). My clothes were too small, my mobility had become painfully limited, my ankle was literally crumbling.

I was depressed. Depressed beyond my meds. Depressed through increased doses. Depressed to the point of ideation.

I wasn’t depressed because I was fat, and I wasn't fat because I was depressed. I was fat, but because of something else. I didn’t know if the something else was a thing that was fixable, or even figure-out-able, but being in my body in the state it was in, wasn’t working for me anymore.

I needed to do something.

My psychiatrist challenged me to follow up with two appointments — one for blood work and one to finally complete the ankle MRI I’d been avoiding.

So I starting by doing that. I pushed through shame and pain and fear, and had the blood drawn and the MRI and the other things I should have been doing but wasn't.

I did not particularly enjoy any of this.

And then, because I wanted to be accountable, because I thought my falling might help you stand up, I created this column.

I said being fat wasn’t working, which is scary when people are looking at you. When you are supposed to be fearlessly fat in the face of the patriarchy and the diet-industry, and you raise your hand to been seen, afraid of being seen, it is scary.

I asked, “Can weight-loss and body positivity co-exist?” More than a few people say no. More than a few people say yes. And some people say they hope so, because they need it, too.

So I did the thing, and I've lost 39 pounds — enough bullshit BMI points to be noticeable.

And I know the next question, or the question you’ve been waiting for me to get to, is, “How?”

You're asking how for the same reason I'd be asking how. When we are submerged in a sea of thin, in a world where fat is thought lazy and stupid and slovenly, in a culture that prizes our physical appearance over our intellect, our compassion, our very well-being, it’s hard to think past, how do I get to skinny?

A couple of years ago I said that being thin didn’t make me happy.

And that’s still true. Being fat, and being ok with that fat, meant I didn’t have to live in a constant state of obsession around my body, food, the scale, people's feelings about me, and about my feelings. Being fat and married to a man who didn't see me as just my fat meant I didn't have to lose sleep over whether or not he'd be faithful, whether or not he'd find me attractive enough. I just got to be alive. Free of all that bullshit. Free to live in my body without constantly trying to change it.

But then I tore my ankle apart. And when 20 months later, I still couldn't run or jump or ride my bike or even walk without pain, when I'd gained 25 more pounds, I began to wonder if there was a place between obsessed and in pain, where I could live. Some tiny little crevice between fearless fatty and fit and fabulous, where I could dig in and hang out for about 50 or 60 years. A sliver of a spot that I hadn’t been able to find in the 25 years of worrying about my body and everything I put in it.

So I decided to try. I opened myself up to the possibility that I'd be hated, and that would hurt. But I opened myself up to the possibility that if I honored my body, and my pain, that things might be better.

And they are.

So here are the gifts I've given my body:


For as long as I can remember water existing, I've hated it. But I'm reasonably intelligent, and I know bodies really need water and that's probably real science not a load of shit. So I drank it. At first 120-150 ounces a day of water seemed like a joke. But since June 14th I've had only a very few days that I didn't drink enough water. The days I didn't, I could tell. The difference is profound. So apparently science knows something about water I didn't want to acknowledge.

Appointments. And labs. So many labs.

Giving strangers your blood is never a fun time. But, it turned out my thyroid has aged with me and now lives in a state of lazy protest. One medication and one dose adjustment later, and I'm a different person. One blood test that I'd been avoiding, because of some bizarre emotional connection to perfection, solved so many problems, including fatigue and the sudden depression — and probably my metabolism.

Intuitive eating.

Nineteen weeks ago, I wasn't sure what intuitive eating looked like in practice. I had no actual experience with it, so I went to the Internet for data and then to Pinterest for infographics. I started by  listening to what I wanted to eat, and then spending time eating it mindfully — no TV, no phone, eating slowly, etc etc. I realized I had forgotten the sensation of full without being over-full, so I relearned that. Turns out, half a giant burrito is plenty of burrito for my body. And the giant burrito is not the last burrito on the planet. There will always be more burritos.

It's all very cliche. Probably because it works.

I found that while I love cake, I don't feel particularly good after I eat it.

That hasn't stopped me from eating it, but knowing that I will probably feel lousy once the sugar wears off, makes it much less appealing.

I start my day with protein.

Eggs usually. We have hens, so that makes eating eggs every day easier for me than many. Breakfast protein is the difference between me feeling great all morning and me wanting to either drink a pot of coffee or crawl in a hole.

I drink green tea.

I gave up Diet Pepsi and replaced it with water. And then added green tea. Has green tea changed my life? No. But it's got good things in it, or so say the people of China. I believe them.

I went to physical therapy.

I started treating my ankle like it deserved to be treated. I gave it care, a brace, good shoes. I gave it therapy. I pushed it a little bit. I found that once I did the things I should have been doing, had I been more willing to admit that I was broken beyond the ability of my mind to pretend I wasn't, I felt better. Quickly.  

I went back to the gym.

I hadn't been in the gym in seven years. My last relationship with exercise ended with me crashing and burning into a full-fledged fiery eating disorder. So I hired a trainer. I limited my visits to three (four if I did a buddy day). I made myself accountable to my best friend, a person who I know will call me on my bullshit.

I went to my psychiatrist and to therapy. I changed my medication's dosages. I took those medications regularly.

When I felt scale obsession coming, when my preoccupation with calories started to creep in, I saw my psychiatrist and we talked about how to manage it. OCD and counting anything are destined to be together, but a 200 mg dose of Zoloft will break that relationship up pretty easily. As you do.

I sleep.

I am a notoriously shitty sleeper. And bipolar disorder makes it incredibly easy for me to thrive on a few hours. But that thriving is subjective and while my brain may feel invigorated, my body knows better. So I slept. As much as I could. And I tracked my sleep to make sure.

I do not count calories.

I downloaded and deleted myfitnesspal at least seven times in the first two weeks. I never entered a calorie. I never tracked a meal. I wanted to. It was hard because it would have been incredibly easy to adopt those old habits. But I'm not dieting. I'm just living. And I don't want to live counting calories. So I didn't.

... but I do weigh myself.

But not 10 times a day. I hid the scale for a while. And then made a deal with my best friend, then my therapist, then myself. I wish I could say the scale was irrelevant, but I am a person of numbers regardless of my size. Even if that's a flaw, it's true, and lying about it would be inauthentic and rude. My psychiatrist and I finally set some boundaries around my affair with the scale. If I weigh myself, it's only once a day and only in the morning.

Do I wish I could toss the scale? Sure. Does it consume me? No. How? I can't say for sure but at least part of it is my relationship with pharmaceuticals.

I do not measure anything else. Not food. Not my bicep/tricep/waist/hip.

I did not allow my trainer to measure anything. I don't care about the circumference of my thigh. Or, I knew that if I started to care, my obsession with my thigh measurement would become another thing to fight against. And I didn't want to fight anything else.

I had a hysterectomy.

This was part of my caring for myself. I had months of horrible bleeding. Now I don't have a uterus. That'll teach her to misbehave.

So what now?

I feel good.

My clothes are all too big. I've emptied my closet and am lucky enough to be able to afford to refill it.

I can fold my legs into half lotus without pain. I can walk two miles without agony. I can ride my bike again. I can walk up my stairs without being exhausted.

I can eat food, without obsessing. I can stop when I'm full.

I don’t know if I will lose more weight, I don’t care.

I can say that I have found my little spot, the place where I’m healthy and happy. I can say that I’m going to live here. Hopefully for 50 or 60 years.


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