Almost all my life I’ve been trying to live up to standards. Either the ones I place on myself, or others place on me. Whatever is set as the “good” thing to do or be, I strive to reach that measure. This was led by my fear of not being “good enough.”
Trying to be “good enough”
When I was young, it was very clear. I knew there were specific things that meant “I was good.” Like doing my homework or chores. There were things that meant I wasn’t measuring up to the expectations of my parents. Like fighting with my brothers or not making my bed. In some ways, when we are children, having those clear definitions of what is right and wrong or good and bad is helpful.
However, as I got older, I started internalizing more and more messages. About what I should or shouldn’t be in order to be worthy or good. In high school, the narratives of success or good were perpetuated even further within the rather conservative community I was a part of. I consistently internalized if I simply did the “right” things or looked a certain way, then I’d be valued or accepted.
Enter Diet Culture…
Eventually, part of measuring up meant only eating “healthy” foods or exercising or following all the diet culture rules. That’s what the world kept telling me would help make me worthy. That fear of not being good enough pushed me to then use “healthy” as a coping mechanism. If I couldn’t control other areas of life that felt messy, at least I could do the “right” thing by shrinking my body. I could control this one little part of myself if nothing else felt acceptable.
At age fifteen, it was clear that an eating disorder had developed. The recovery process I went through at that point was helpful. I gained weight. Went to a counselor to discover how I was using food and exercise to cope with my feelings. And I did come back to a good place.
A new standard
However, during my first season of recovery, I simply traded following the world’s dictations of health to just doing everything I knew would make my mom or nutritionist happy. Suddenly, exercise was bad and eating what they wanted me to eat would make me “good.” The new standard was the weight they wanted me to be. Their happiness with me was how I determined if I was valuable.
It wasn’t until a relapse almost ten years later sent me back into recovery that I was able to recognize how I needed to officially switch the script.
Instead of seeing food and exercise and lifestyle choices as definitively good or bad, determined by someone outside of myself, I realized that all of these things are simply neutral. There is nothing inherently wrong with ice cream or salad or napping or running. I have the ability to wisely use all of these things to help promote my well being and joy.
There is flexibility and freedom around all of these once we realize they do not determine our value as a whole, beautiful person. Diet culture doesn’t get to rule me by screaming that I shouldn’t eat peanut butter. My old nutritionist’s weight goals for me don’t get to tell me what my body should look like now or ever.
Taking away the binary value statements and beliefs around these things takes away their power over my life.
My worth is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It does not change based on my performance, weight or otherwise.
Once I realized that there was no one-size-fits-all for living the “right” way, I’ve been able to see each day as a gift, not as another day of trying to measure up.
Living to please others or by invisible, impossible standards day after day is exhausting. Living to please ED is by far the worst. So now I’m learning to see neutrality as a means of challenging ED.
Instead of viewing all my decisions as good or bad, I can actually do what I want and what will bring me life.