She smiles at me as she asks. I’m confused and think I must have heard her wrong. She can’t be asking if I’m pregnant. As I felt my heart sink into my stomach I silently prayed I had heard her wrong.
When are you due?
I was walking my second-grader home from school, happily chatting with him about his day. The neighbor yells loudly across the street to me a second time, “When are you due?”
And this time she pointed at my stomach. I had not heard her wrong.
She thinks I’m pregnant. I stopped and stared at her, my heart in my throat. One million thoughts swirled through my head. So many things I wanted to say. So many things I wished I could say.
What if I told her the truth?
What if I told her I have gained weight because I am recovering from an eating disorder I have struggled with for over 25 years of my life? And that for the very first time in my life, I’m actually allowing myself to eat when I want and to stop when I’m full?
What if I said I’m no longer punishing myself for every bite of food I eat? Or that when I was at my skinniest, those days when she kept complimenting me on how “good” I looked, that I only allowed myself a tiny amount of food?
What if I shared how I used to be so hungry every night I couldn’t even sleep? Or if I told her how cold I always used to be? I never had any energy, and could barely focus on what my kids were telling me.
What if I told her that at my smallest, I was throwing up every bit of food that I ate? And that I was miserable and depressed?
The only reason I was that size before is because I was denying my own body’s need for food.
What if I told her eating disorders cause more deaths than any other mental health illness?
Instead, I said…
“I’m not pregnant,” I told her instead. “I am NOT having a baby.”
That’s when it got really uncomfortable.
She stumbled over her words, first attributing her question to my “large, baggy shirt”. Next she blamed it on her vision, commenting that she needs to get her eyes checked.
Part of me really wanted to tell her not to worry or feel bad to ease her obvious discomfort. But part of me was extremely upset and in shock. And I was angry.
What gives her the right to comment on somebody else’s body? What makes her think that is OK? And WHY is the first thing she notices about me always my body size?
And how can it be she has not spoken ten words to me over the last three months, and now she’s decided I am pregnant because my stomach is larger?
What if I wasn’t recovering from an eating disorder? Or what if I had gained weight because of some other reason? What if I had been pregnant and had lost another baby? I could have had a serious health issue and not wanted to talk about it in the middle of the street with my seven year old son holding my hand.
What if it’s none of her business? What if she kept her mouth shut and stopped commenting on other peoples bodies? Is there not more to comment body?
“No, I’m not pregnant”, I told her again. Then I turned around and walked inside.
What this taught me
1. I still have a lot of work to do in my own recovery
There is a part of me that is clinging desperately to identifying myself as a “thin person.” My neighbor’s question crushed me. I have spent the majority of my life in fear of gaining weight. Although I have embraced recovery through intuitive eating, it’s still hard to live in a changing body.
I am a 43 year old woman who has been pregnant five times. My body no longer looks like it did when I was denying it food every single day and punishing it with exercise.
My body is much larger than I ever thought was “okay” or acceptable.
2. I’m actually really happy
Thankfully, I also realize I have never felt more alive, present, or joyful in my life as I do now that I am in recovery.
With a full belly also comes feeling connected to other people. I now feel a sense of purpose when I wake up; I feel more alive. At my lowest weight, I remember starting every single day with dread in the pit of my stomach. I wanted nothing more than to pull my covers over my head and hide from the rest of the world. I
also realized that recovery continues to be a conscious choice I make every single day. Because I know that if I choose to, I can sink back into my eating disorder and shrink my body. But I also know the price of that choice- shrinking my body means shrinking my spirit, joy, and connection with others.
In order for me to hold on to my recovery, I have to remain focused on how I feel – NOT on the shape and size of my body.
Because I recognize that as long as I am focusing on trying to change my body, I can not have true recovery. My neighbor’s question caused me stress, caused me to cry, and caused to me stop my recovery in its tracks and truly examine myself, what matters most to me, and my choices.
But it has also actually been a gift for me. A painful, difficult, and overwhelming gift, but a gift no less. Much like the gift of recovery.
3. I’m worried about what others think
One of my biggest fears is that other people judge me based on my body. I am afraid they think I have let myself go and am now lazy and worthless because I am larger.
Yet, my wise self understands that choosing recovery is anything but lazy. It is the bravest and most difficult task I have ever faced.
And I have done this work, silently, day after day, with most of the people around me having no idea how hard it is. I have done this work in a society that has a skewed view of what “health” actually is.
And I have done this work surrounded by people who are praised for denying their own bodies and for shrinking themselves.
3. I’m really brave
Gaining weight was a result of facing my fears. It required trusting in other people, trusting in the universe, and trusting in my body. It is the result of opening my heart to seeing the world and myself in a different light.
My weight gain is the result of courageous work of healing myself.
All of that could only have been reached by letting go of my desire to control outcomes, controlling the size of my body, and now accepting life on life’s terms. Letting go of society’s standards of how I “should” look has been life changing.
And yes, it has also changed the size of my belly.