With all the beach, bikini, and food pics lately, it’s no surprise I’ve gotten quite a few derivatives of the question: “How do you not weigh 400 pounds?” or “How do you stay thin eating all that?”
While well-meaning, these comments highlight an unhealthy (pun intended) way of thinking: that in order to look good and feel confident — one needs to eat restrictively.
Diet culture, advertising, and fitness influencers will have you believe that the only way to look in the mirror and be happy in your own skin is to eliminate carbs, sugar, solid foods, entire food groups, you name it. The diets, the fasts, the extreme fitness fads. Pescatarian, vegan, fruitarian, the raw food diet. Meal replacement shakes, the master cleanse, juicing, the allergen diet, keto, calorie counting.
I bought into all into that. I tried it all. And I developed anorexia, body dysmorphia, and binge eating disorder. 140 pounds. 112. 172. 155. 130. 143. 156. 148.
The scale ruled my life, my self-image, and my emotional well-being.
But these days, fully nomadic for a year and a half, and currently in Mexico, I have not weighed myself in months. I haven’t been anywhere with a scale since early December, and I don’t even know what I weigh. Ever since I sold my home, I weigh myself very infrequently, I follow no specific diet or specific fitness regimen, I don’t keep track of calories or meal times; I eat what I want and keep active because I love to run, sweat, play, and feel strong.
But as a woman who’s been plagued with body dysmorphia and disordered eating on and off for two decades, the road has not been smooth. I’ve come SUCH. A. LONG. WAY.
Here in Mexico, I am living a rich life… not in spending, not in possessions… but in experiences. This includes all the food, beer and wine I want. How do I possibly do it?
How living nomadically and eating intuitively saved me
The practice of eating I ascribe to, as closely as it can be described, is “intuitive eating.” I don’t limit, I don’t restrict, nothing is forbidden. I eat what I want, when I want, and I don’t eat what, if, and when I don’t want to. As often as I say yes, I also say no thanks or that’s enough.
Although I didn’t set out to eat “intuitively,” it’s the closest thing that fits. If dinnertime comes and goes and there are no hunger pangs, lunch must’ve been pretty satisfying! Whether I wake up raging with hunger or wanting nothing, I act accordingly. The emphasis here is on “want” — and specifically, I’m talking about my body wanting nourishment, not my emotions.
I eat the chocolate croissant, or the acai bowl. The nachos, or the goat cheese salad. The entire pizza, if I’m hungry enough. A small piece of cake, a big piece of cake, or no cake at all, if I don’t really feel like it. There are no rules, and no restrictions. I can eat after 7 p.m. if I want to. I can skip breakfast if I want to. I can eat the carb or the sugar or the fat if I want to. And I never punish myself. There is no “bad” food and I’m not a “bad” person for eating something. I don’t have anything to “make up” for.
Food doesn’t control me. Mealtimes don’t control me. The scale doesn’t control me. And I can say all this… because I once was “bad” and had to atone for my self-condemned sins of consumption.
When I was 16, I struggled with anorexia. I stopped eating and lost 28 pounds in 3 months, going from a size 6 to a size 0. My skin became translucent. My hair and nails weakened. I consumed only coffee, a chocolate malt, a few bites of cream cheese, and a few croutons a day (I’m not kidding). I was deathly afraid of an actual normal serving size and avoided meals with others at all costs. When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t see my thin frame or comprehend what I actually looked like. My eyes imagined fat where there was none, fabricating evidence that there was any weight still left to lose.
In the next chapter of life, I struggled with binge eating and purging, as a lot of former anorexics do. My weight ballooned. I was desperate to lose it again, trying every diet in the book, but because of an emotionally abusive relationship I would soothe myself with ice cream and bread. I exercised to the extreme, but couldn’t get the weight off — and every time I “slipped up” — I thought: well, I already blew it by eating ___, might as well keep it going and enjoy myself.
Up. Down. For years, over and over. Hating how I looked in the mirror. Hating how I looked in photos. Feeling like my worth was dependent on the number on the scale. Thinking, “If I was skinnier, he would like me.”
I’ve been caught in this riptide for 15 years. Long-term travel helped me get past it all and finally be body-positive.
When I travel, I want to:
- Taste the recommended dishes and must-try meals, regardless of their fat and carbs content: chips, queso, and avocado, yes please.
- Try what’s available and what’s being served to me regardless of how “unbalanced” it may be.
- Eat whenever is convenient for me on my busy schedule and to not be controlled by mealtimes.
- Save some for leftovers when satisfied, saving money and wasting less.
- Stop eating when satisfied so I’m not too full for activities and sleep.
- Walk as much as I can, saving gas and/or money on public transport while becoming intimately acquainted with a place.
- Balance eating out with eating in, so as to maximize my budget and dining experiences.
- Store or hold on to very little food because I move around so often, which reduces the likelihood for snacking due to boredom and/or availability.
- Enjoy treats like gelato, an espresso martini, a donut, or whatever my fancy — and savor them without regret.
- Listen to my body: it’s the only one I’ve got.
I am, and probably always will be, critical of how I look sometimes, and many of my photos go into the reject pile. I have cellulite, wrinkles, love handles, and a little extra on my thighs. But this is a body that LIVES, and the moments of self-doubt I have now are nothing compared to the heavy shame and emotional turmoil of the past.
Last year, in a conversation with a friend, he gave me a compliment. Like tends to be my habit, I didn’t accept it very graciously.
“Well, I don’t have a perfect body——” I started. He interrupted, “Who decided what the perfect body is?”
That really hit home with me. We have been brainwashed by the entertainment and advertising industry into only accepting one body shape, the one I grew up seeing in Cosmo magazine and at Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie. Why would I be looking to impress the entertainment industry, chase their definition of “perfection,” and get brainwashed into trying to live up to impossible standards? REAL people do not require perfection (and if a guy does, he’s not a person I want to date) and REAL people define perfect completely differently from one another. There is no right answer. And we are always our worst critic.
Besides, the gelato and the tacos are worth it. I can FINALLY consume calories with joy and abandon, instead of remorse. And I can look in the mirror and overlook my curves, feel pride in the miles my legs can take me, and get excited for all the vibrant flavors that await my taste buds.
I finally feel like I am healed, I am free, and I am healthy.
A disclaimer: I have been hesitant to share much about body image and my dysfunctional relationship with food with my readers for a few reasons. One, because I don’t want to speak too soon. I don’t know if I can say with certainty that I’m fully cured… because anyone who’s ever had an eating disorder can attest, some unhealthy thoughts and habits can resurface during particularly stressful or emotional times in our lives. Two, because I don’t want to come from a high horse or self-righteous place. Our relationships with food and the mirror are so, so personal, we are all in different places of our unique journeys, and I don’t want to suggest “do this, and everything will be fine” — of course, that’s patronizing and naive. Still, I’ve decided to come out with this testimony because eating disorders are one of the most pervasive mental health afflictions in the world, and we all deserve to feel beautiful and confident in our skin and have a healthy relationship with food. I hope that it resonates in some way with you, and I thank you for the support and acceptance. ❤️