Author’s note: This last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. This is my recovery story.
I am writing this to my belly, from my soul.
To my belly, from my recovering brain.
To my brain, from my recovering belly.
To all the bellies, giving them a voice again.
May my words serve as a reminder that all bellies are “good” bellies. May my story remind you that expanding and freeing ourselves from shrinking our bodies is the greatest act of self-love.
The only thing my “flatter” belly ever got me was this:
I was afraid of everything. Especially food. God forbid, I eat more than was allowed for my daily intake limit—some fabricated conversion rate based on activity, weight loss, and control goals, and frankly a hell of a lot of self-hatred.
Self-hatred, the main ingredient for a smaller belly. For a smaller, shrinking, “comfortable” presence in this world.
A decade living with an eating disorder of various shades (anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, and exercise bulimia) will do that to you—until its “protection” and “safety” become the very things robbing you of life.
I am an impassioned woman these days, ready to set fire to diet mentality, conditioned propaganda based on a women’s ability to shrink and starve herself. I am a volcano storm of years and years of repression of my own appetite and hunger.
It took me a decade to figure out that my mom’s “naturally” impeccably toned, zero-body-fat body was not my body. It took me two more years to realize the body I had been starving, bingeing, and purging myself to get to was, in fact, an eating-disordered body. For me, and for her—this sh*t runs deep in our families, in our genes, in our culture.
My belly was the first space where self-hatred took the place of food. Guilt and shame, too. Endless criticism and perfectionistic seeking. Self-loathing—oh yeah, that too, so much of that.
My belly digested all of this with minor complaints. Gas, bloating, and then congestion when I bombarded her with an excess of anything. She did her damnedest to digest the sh*t I wasn’t wanting to see for myself.
I commend her for all that she put up with. All that she healed from.
I have been on her side these last two years of recovery. She still scares me sometimes—her appetite. My habit was to stifle and starve her, and when that pattern resurfaces, I can feel the discord in my recovering self and in my unhealthy dis-eased self.
She desperately tries to find the peace in wanting—craving—a whole Chipotle burrito because, again, I have sanctioned pleasure and enjoyment to a small box, one that is dusted over and buried beneath other boxes.
This is all the body ever wants. To feel the right to pleasure. To feel the right to aliveness. Yet, our culture has demonized pleasure, and even the idea of desiring pleasure.
I can feel it still when I desire that ice cream, how there is a pull to deny the desire for it, in and of itself, whether it gets satiated or not. And it has been getting satiated. I have been eating ice cream almost religiously, and now my belly is telling me it needs a break. I said yes, initially, because of my years of withholding, or only giving in as punishment—with guilt deep in my gut, I’d expunged it in the violence of purging. This is not truly allowing yourself enjoyment and pleasure—instead, it is laced with self-hatred.
All my smaller belly did was get me a whole lot of nights alone instead of eating out with friends, sad salads at restaurants, limiting vacations for fear of what foods might be there, and overall, a life of “no.” No to salt, no to butter, no to fat, no to fun, no to enjoyment, no to pleasure, no to life.
A life with a fuller belly has been my “yes.” Yes to nights out with friends, yes to unexpected food offers, yes to birthday cakes and desserts, yes to snacks, yes to dinners out, yes to my cravings, yes to desserts, yes to fats and sugars, yes to grains. A big yes to life, to joy, to enjoyment, to healing, to presence.
So, this has been my healing. And, my belly has been speaking a lot more. I have been feeding her delicious treats, and mostly it’s been so very healing—soul, heart, and mind—for me on my journey.
Coming to terms with a larger belly, a fuller, un-sucked-in belly, the belly most of us probably naturally have or would have, is a process. It takes the utmost courage and deep vulnerability to see and recognize that having fat is actually okay. Fat is not inherently bad.
My belly and fat protects all my beautiful organs that keep me alive. Fat keeps me soft and flexible. Unlike my rigid, “flatter” belly—she was so afraid of f*cking up, of eating too much, of changing, of being larger, of allowing and satiating her hunger and cravings. She lived her life in fear of all things pleasurable. She was so damn afraid to disappoint me.
That is not a life I want to live anymore, and I have to keep telling myself this when my brain wants to shrink her small again.
My larger belly has taken up more space, has given me more space, and with more space, there is fear that it’ll be too much, that I will in fact be too much. That my emotions are in fact too much.
Days like today, when my belly takes up more space, fear comes to the surface. But, it’s not fear that I need to listen to and follow like a commanding officer anymore. In my smaller shape, fear had enormous leverage over me at all times. Fear told me when to withhold food, when to withhold life essentially, when to cut herself off, when to punish herself, when to control and manipulate her natural, authentic size.
And, all that brought me was utter and complete hell on earth.
So, no, pre-healing brain, I will not shrink my belly back to make you more comfortable.
No, society’s bullsh*t standards of depriving our hunger, of stifling our own appetite, I will not listen to you telling me to just starve myself again, and everything will be better.
No to the fear that is trying to protect my expanding version of me.
No, my “flatter” belly, did not ever give me the life it promised. It gave me havoc, chaos, hatred seeping into my own skin, and a whole hell of a lot of fear over expansion.
I am choosing freedom these days, and I will keep choosing freedom. I am safe, even if this is new. I am safe, even if I have never been here before. I am safe, even if I don’t know exactly where this is taking me.
I am safe in this body.
My softer, expanding, sensuous, easeful belly is my home, now. She is the home I always had, but starved, binged, and purged away. She is the home I left when I felt like I had no safe place to go, but away.
She is the home I am returning to.
Her softness reminds me of all that I have survived. All the wars I have raged, all the battles I have won or lost. All the wars I no longer want to wage against her softness.
Today, I look at her with more allowingness, more surrender to what she actually is showing me. A life better lived in the gray. In the in-between. In my imperfect existence.
I hope you look to your own belly, your home, your softness as the reminder of the softness and fluidity that life is. Choosing to be soft is the rebellion. Choosing to be as we are is the rebellion.
Remember that shrinking your body or belly is only a temporary fix. The longer-term choice is to choose freedom, liberation, love, and profound, unconditional regard for this softness.
Love your belly, hold your belly, and remind her how utterly safe she is.