It’s not a secret I’ve had issues with body image for a long time. And it’s always difficult to post about them because really, it’s such a spectacular waste of mental energy. Not wasting time is one of the driving forces in my life, and it’s unsettling when I find myself making a choice that doesn’t line up with my values, yet at the same time, I don’t seem to be able to help it. Something that’s left me more than a little disconcerted as of late is my weight: last year, I’d posted about the fact that I was probably considered medically underweight, and that gaining a few pounds might actually be a good thing – yet I was struggling with the idea of becoming bigger because being thin was something that people had complimented me on my whole life. And when you have abundant issues with how you look, the thought of letting go of the one positive thing isn’t something that sits easily.
In the spring, most of you know that I went through some pretty major life stress, and in the preceding and subsequent few months, in a terribly unhealthy coping mechanism, I basically stopped eating. I remember feeling such a loss of control in terms of life events and emotions that I tried to take it back in the form of something I could control: my weight. If the world insisted on spinning around me, the one thing I could keep a hold on was what I put into my body, and as frightfully unhealthy as that sounds, I think it’s a pretty typical psychological response. Emotional eating isn’t uncommon; people have a tendency to go to either one of the two extremes, and as a result of something nasty hitting the proverbial fan, I found myself embarking upon an inadvertent hunger strike.
But I didn’t like it. I didn’t like feeling lost, I didn’t like feeling panicked, and I didn’t like feeling hungry. And when you acknowledge the fact that there’s a giant discrepancy between where you are and where you want to be, it’s enough to cause even the most stubborn of us to take action, and it wasn’t long before I was setting about making an action plan to move ahead with life in full force. I found myself a new apartment within a couple of weeks, started spending time with incredibly wonderful people, focused my mental energy on things within my control along with the positives of the situation (as Beyonce so aptly said, I “found the good in goodbye”), and set about moving forward. When I got to my new place, unpacked the bathroom scale, stepped on it and saw I was at 100 lbs, the gravity of how unhealthy my month of avoiding food had been really hit home. So I went grocery shopping.
Now, one of the things that goes along with living completely solo is the need to budget – something I hadn’t had to do too strictly in a very long time. I’ve always shared accommodation with other people, and subsequently my bills for rent and food had always been a fraction of what they’d be if I lived alone, leaving enough wiggle room for the odd Friday night takeaway, bottle of wine, concert ticket or new piece of clothing. I’d also been able to make big dents in paying off my debt – something I’ve been picking away at for as long as I can remember, and that I was on track to have tackled completely by the end of 2011. Fast-forward to the new now, however, and things aren’t quite so flexible. My rent is exactly half my monthly income, which leaves the other half to cover food, bills, transportation and other miscellany, leaving a float of less than $60 per week for things like entertainment and debt payments. Which is quite the adjustment. I wonder how people do it, but then I realise that most people live with others. I want to eat healthily, but on such a tight budget I’ve found myself eating what’s cheap, and not much other than pasta, pizza and pop tarts. And though I’ve been able to just about manage financially, I’ve definitely put on a large chunk of weight in the last month. And it’s unsettling.
Friends tell me I look healthier – that before, they thought I looked “borderline eating disorder”; that before, I was the skinniest person they’d ever met, or that you could see my collarbones protruding from across the table. Now my clothes are definitely feeling tighter than usual (uncomfortably so; several pairs of work trousers are now actually unwearable), and I find myself shelving the tank tops and skinny jeans, instead opting for flowy clothing that camouflages the body. (The silver lining, I suppose, is that a tiny bit of the weight has gone straight to the bust, which is nothing for a former A-cup to complain about!) But though people say I look good, healthy, and that they can’t see where the pounds could have possibly gone, I feel bad knowing I got to my so-called “healthy weight” on a Diet for Poor People. I don’t want to continue eating unhealthily, but I can’t afford things like fresh greens and fish every other night like I used to. I’ve been buying KD, microwave pizza and sacks of oatmeal so I can have enough for other expenses, and though my BMI is now considered in the normal range, I feel awful knowing I got it there so unhealthily.
So what do I do? The end definitely doesn’t feel like the means were justified in the slightest, and though I know I’m sitting at a weight that’s probably way better for me than it has been in a long time, I want to know I’m staying there healthily. But how do you do it when your budget is tighter than the locks on an Azkaban prison cell? I feel gross, I feel huge, I feel superficial, and I’m feeling really unsettled about it. I was going to end this post by asking for tips, but then I read something very aptly timed indeed over at Suzy’s blog:
…i’m noticing a lot lately how that stuff–the words and the looks and the notes–can live inside of your head for a long time. they can glob together into an angry giant, feed off your memories, knock your good sense out and take over the steering wheel. i was talking this over with a friend the other day, and confessing to her that i still think about these things too much and that i still see myself as that annoying, clumsy, horribly ugly girl from frontier, and she said something great.
she said, “i think, at some point you just need to get over it.”
and at that moment i was all snarky and thought, “yeahokwhatever.” because i’m not really sure how you just get over something that has been driving your brain around like a demented chauffeur for 17 years. but i wandered around inside of that thought for a while and realized that that’s really the only thing i can do. i’ve forgiven, i’ve realized that most of these things came from kids who didn’t know better and were probably even more insecure than i was, but i just wasn’t sure what i was supposed to do about the leftover sinking feeling that maybe they were right. you know, the part where you look in the mirror and go, “yep.” and you can’t see anything except the ears, the teeth, the hair, the whatever else they told you was wrong with you.
the answer: just get over it. look in the mirror and see what’s actually there–not what you’ve been told is there for years and years. and realize that no matter what’s there, it’s ok because that’s not the most important thing anyway.
and THEN i realized that the same basic principle applies to every kind of pity party. i’m so guilty of pity partying. i kind of think we’re a society that loves pity parties. we love wallowing. we focus on how we’ve been wronged and we let past hurts of all sizes and strengths grow like weeds in our brains. how useless and ugly. fact is: you’re fine. you’ll be ok. i don’t mean it didn’t hurt, i don’t mean it, whatever “it” was didn’t suck. but it’s over now and you have two options: stay here, or move on. let it drown you or get out of the water.
I don’t think any words could’ve been more appropriate. It’s the same sentiment as I tried to express last time we spoke: if you don’t like something, change it. Don’t just sit there whining. So I’m going to make a Proper Budget, and a Proper Schedule. Actually factor in things like vegetables and fish, and make a conscious effort to avoid so many carbs. Eliminate things that add up over time, like the Starbucks every day with milk and four sugars. Give myself an extra ten minutes in the morning to make a healthy lunch rather than pick up KD to go or a couple of Bagelfuls. Leave my debit card at home, so I can’t pick up unhealthy snacks over the lunch hour. Actually take my two coffee breaks, and walk a few blocks around downtown instead of sitting at my desk working through them. Dig out those dreadful Hip Hop Abs DVDs and schedule them in, instead of coming home and sitting straight back down at the computer to read blogs. I want to be a healthy weight, and maybe that means losing a little bit – not enough to get back down to an unhealthy 100 lbs, but enough to make me feel comfortable in my own skin. Small steps add up to big changes, right?
Have you ever had to make a drastic change in diet and budget? What helps you stay on track with your eating habits, and how do you budget a limited income and stay healthy?
* Lyrics from the only food attitude-related song I could find, and it’s a great one.