Moving beyond weight and food inner battles
When I was young, I was small, skinny, light, and vulnerable. It felt almost anyone was larger than me, and they could hurt me if they wished.
Content warning: mention of domestic violence.
There was a lot of violence in my household. I feared my mother deeply as it would take her very little to get into a rage and give us a beating. Her beatings could be very extreme. It wasn’t just the beatings; she used hurtful language as well, and that type of aggression was perhaps worse than physical aggression. She would humiliate, shame, and mock. Sometimes she would feel sorry and apologise, but this was rare. She often held on to being right and justifying her actions as “for our own good”.
She was affectionate and generous when she was well and happy, although I still struggle to find many memories of those good times. I know they are somewhere, but the bad memories still haunt me. All I can remember is how eagerly I was waiting to be big, strong, and old enough to defend myself and leave her territory. I remember weighing myself on the scales hoping to reach 50kg. In my mind, that was the benchmark for being “strong” enough.
When I reached puberty, late, at the age of 15, I started gaining weight, and it made me happy. I moved in with my stepfather, aged 16, and although he used to hit me as a child, he did not hit me as I became older, and he never used verbal aggression towards us. He was more sensible and not hurtful with his words, so that was preferable to me.
The problem with him was, however, that he was strict. I was never allowed anywhere besides school and home, and he was terrified of me finding a boyfriend and having sex. So I was constantly questioned, watched, and controlled. The only thing I could control was food - I could eat what I wanted, so I did exactly that.
It wasn’t long before I gained a lot of weight and was overweight. As a result of a mixture of hormonal changes and trauma, food was my only enjoyment at that point. Never again in my life was I able to sustainably be at the weight I wanted to be: whenever I reached my desired weight after months and months of hard work and discipline, my body would rebel and put weight on again very fast.
Being slender feels good, but it does not feel safe. There is also the issue of control. I have internalised my parent’s voices in many ways, and food still feels strongly as a way to free myself from those voices. When I eat what I want, I feel free.
On the other hand, I have a deep desire to feel loved, and some parts of me believe that being loveable depends on being slender. Yet, my weight is often above what those parts believe to be the “lovable” threshold, which causes me a great deal of fear. My lack of self-control then becomes a reason for disappointment and mistrust in myself.
The problem I am facing is that I need to exercise more to burn the calories I consume to maintain myself at the weight I would like to be. It wears me out, and I have no energy left for work or anything else, and all I can think of is sleep. My body becomes tired of the pain from my exhausting exercise routine. My soul is tired of working so hard. Sometimes, I feel I won’t be able to cope much longer, and something will have to happen. Something needs to change.
Some days are better than others. Some days, eating makes me feel dirty and sick unless I eat only salad. Then I blame my partner for having “bad food” in the house and eating it in front of me. It makes me feel that I cannot control my eating unless I live alone and do not leave the house. It is a horrible feeling.
On the other hand, I have little to no control over what I eat. I eat and sometimes overeat if I smell something nice or crave it. It makes me feel powerless: powerless toward my own cravings, powerless towards my childhood trauma, powerless over my fear of not being attractive enough to be loved, and powerless towards the limits of my body. It makes me so sad.
Hypnotherapy helps me recognise the polarities within me, and it is helping. When I can see where each opposing impulse is coming from, I can listen to their concerns, and it separates me from them. I can take a step back and observe the conflict with a more helpful mindset of “oh, I see what is happening here” instead of drowning in powerlessness.
Right now, I can hear the parts of me that are exhausted. They are saying my body needs more love and respect, and this fight needs to stop. Although exercise is good, too much of it is making us sick.
The part of me who wants to slim down is angry with me because I have been having bread, cinnamon rolls, and sugary drinks.
The part of me who craved unhealthy foods is saying it does it because it can, and it feels good to have freedom of choice over food.
None is right or wrong; they are just both in extreme places, holding extreme beliefs. They are reacting to each other’s control attempts with force. They do not yet understand they are both working towards the same goal: being well and safe.
The body is a vessel of experience in this world, and, as such, it is a source of conflict because the stakes are high. A healthy body will allow us to experience life fully, but the world’s expectations of a healthy body may be too high. Sometimes the world demands more of you than you can give, so we break. Sometimes we want more of ourselves, and then we break again.
But isn’t breaking and mending part of the process? Breaking just enough to mend, going over just enough to break. We don’t know how far we can bend until we break a little. The ability to mend is the key. How much more helpful is it to have a recovery mindset? It allows us to go further, be more confident, take more risks, and be courageous.
In this view, it is okay to err; having too much food sometimes is alright. It is okay to have overexercised, and it is okay to be tired.
We will be well and safe if we do a little bit of everything, get enough rest, and take time to heal and recover.
So when it is time to eat, eat. When the opportunity to eat well is there, eat. When it is time to work, work. When it is time to rest, rest. But have fun in everything you do. Be playful with each moment. Dare yourself, laugh at yourself, challenge yourself, and reward yourself. Play, play, play. Make it colourful, make it interesting, make it beautiful.
On a visit to Malaga, I saw some human-made ceramic vases from the year 7.500 B.C. in a museum. They were made for the specific practical purpose of containing any suitable product. They were made to the best shape for their purpose, except they had been decorated, which serves no purpose. They had beautiful patterns on them, and some were coloured as well. Whoever made those patterns took their time at it. Time to do something which served no practical purpose other than looking interesting and beautiful. It was done for fun.
What would make this moment more fun? Would it be trying something new? Would it be daring myself to a challenge? Or would it be making something beautiful? Or learning, discovering, teaching, or guiding?
We know what gives us healthy pleasure; it feels right in our hearts. We just need to relax our protective shields and open ourselves to experience fun, which can be hard when trauma has happened, but with self-compassion and understanding, we are all capable of it.
Although I have always known that I am caught in the whirlwind caused by the conflict between staying light or heavy, loveable or rebellious, receptive or radiating, I never had a way to address it until recently.
Hypnotherapy helps me step out and open a dialogue with those conflicting parts, finding more productive ways of helping them overcome their fears and achieve their desires.
With time, I plan to step out of conflict and open dialogues more often, allowing me to stay in the moment and feel more free and happy. I know something or someone will trigger a response in me sooner or later. And I know I will break sometimes. But knowing I can mend myself is as comforting a thought as it is encouraging.