It’s been some time since I saw the number on a scale when I stood on it. Normally I ask the nurses and techs who take my vitals not tell me the number and that I’ll step on the scale backwards. Sometimes I look, allowing myself the opportunity to challenge any lingering eating disorder thoughts that may filter up. Yesterday I did just that. It was an unexpected earthquake to my self’s foundation and rattled me for about 36 hours. But the tremors have subsided and I’ve learned a little something new from the experience. My lesson is to stay focused on what’s important regarding my health.
I went to my doctor because of low back pain that has been chronic since my late teen years. It flared up for the past year, and finally I listened to my wife and saw a pain specialist my primary care physician recommended. The guy was super nice, smiling, friendly, and engaged. He asked what I did for a living, and I told him about my work as an eating disorders therapist and advocate for males with eating disorders. He talked about how rarely you hear about such cases. I told him about my history with anorexic behavior in my teens and compulsive exercise in my 20s, deciding not to get into my binge eating disorder in my 30s out of lingering doubts that anyone really gets that disorder in the medical world.
He looked at my MRI, and then said to me my best chance for a happy and pain free life was to lose weight …
There it was, my old nemesis – being fat. My weight had gone up. My clothes were tighter, I knew, but it had gone up a lot since I last saw it. My mother saw me on television last month and asked me in an email if “my weight was on an up-cycle again.” She was right. Have I lost perspective on my body? Am I out of control again and don’t know it? Have I relapsed after 15 years of recovery? Am I horrible and disgusting and a fraud? Holy crap!
My mind raced while I was half-listening to the doctor talk about steroid injections for my low back pain and core conditioning to prevent further damage. Weight loss, relapse, weight gain, exercise, sweat, treadmills, salads, no meat, no fat, withhold love, withhold life. Ed (eating disorder) was out of bed and scurrying around my head after a very long hibernation. Another part of my brain was looking for other reasons for this weight gain – perhaps my thyroid was malfunctioning? I had gout recently and the edema had not gone away despite the pain being gone. Perhaps the edema, the weight gain, the recent outbreak of eczema on my right eyelid, and the fatigue I’ve felt of late were all signs of that! Blood test came back negative. Ugh.
Ed said to me, “Nope! You’re just fat and your body is really falling apart. All those doctors and family members were right! You better have bariatric surgery!” My funk was hitting me harder than a Bootsy Collins bass riff.
But let me share something with you. I didn’t binge. I didn’t restrict. I ate normally. I sat through the chaos in my brain. It was damned uncomfortable these last 36 hours, but eventually the repetition of healthy messages I learned as a client, therapist, and advocate won out.
I live in a large and, yes, fat body. As I’ve written before, I’m not genetically made to look like Thor in The Avengers, more like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. My body has become larger because I’ve been inactive. Why have I been inactive? Because I’ve prioritized work before all else. The result of a year of inactivity is that I’m easily winded, which doesn’t exactly make me want to do more physically. Instead I hunker down and I work some more at building my businesses, being a musician, being an advocate for (ironically) body acceptance, and being a dad and husband. It would be nice if I carved out time to move my body again. So that’s my job. And that’s my lesson. There is nothing to fix regarding the scale, despite my well-intentioned but misguided doctor’s missive. I have to remember it’s about health, not weight loss.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS – Founder and CEO at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.