I sat in the exam room of my primary care physician’s office, anxious to get the results of the bloodwork my dermatologist had ordered two weeks prior.
My doctor came in, frazzled and busy, asking what I was there for. I told him his office had called me to schedule an appointment to discuss my bloodwork. He looked at my chart and said everything was normal, but the protein level in my blood was on the higher end. Out of curiosity, he asked if I eat a lot of protein.
“Yeah, I guess. I eat a lot of chicken and eggs. Turkey every now and again,” I responded.
“What do you normally eat for breakfast?” He probed.
“Usually nothing,” I replied without explanation.
If you’re curious, I don’t eat breakfast because I loosely follow intermittent fasting guidelines. This means I normally eat during an 8-hour window. For me, that window is between 11am and 7pm and removes the option of a traditional, early morning breakfast. When I answered the doctor, I didn’t give my reasons as to why, I just simply told him I don’t eat breakfast.
Without hesitation, he said “You really should eat breakfast, it will help you lose weight.” As he said it, I noticed him glance at my stomach. My cheeks flushed from being both humiliated and appalled.
I was never weighed when I got to the office, so he didn’t know for certain whether or not my weight was within a “healthy range.” Honestly, I don’t know whether it is either, since the BMI chart is a bunch of crap and I haven’t weighed myself in months. What I do know is that I ran five miles the morning of my appointment and I teach a killer cardio fitness class twice weekly. My decision to trade breakfast for brunch is a health-conscious effort to make good choices to honor my body and help it function properly, as I believe in the benefits of intermittent fasting.
I didn’t give that explanation either. My only response to his comment were the eye daggers I shot him and the scowl that formed on my masked face (thanks, COVID-19 guidelines).
“I bet you’d lose weight if you started eating breakfast,” he repeated.
“Okay,” I said curtly.
The rest of the appointment was a blur. As I drove home, tears welled in my eyes and rage burned within my gut. As I processed through the exchange I realized this: My doctor didn’t say what he said because he’s an insensitive asshole. He also didn’t say what he said because I’m necessarily fat or unhealthy. His unsolicited remarks were the result of a broken societal system which wrongly equates thinness with health and applauds weight loss at any cost. It’s a system that elevates appearance as the most important thing, as evidenced by widespread eating disorders, the sexual objectification of women and the trillions spent on diet and beauty products each year. It’s a system that says if you’re an average American woman, you obviously want to lose weight because there is a standard of beauty that 98 percent of women are physically incapable of reaching. So, since beauty is THE most important thing, strive, fix, micromanage and accost the hell out of your inadequate body, since it continues to fall inexplicably short.
There is no doubt the system is broken. It’s what needs fixed, not me. But rather than rage against something I cannot completely change, I looked inward to identify what it was about his comment that triggered such an emotional response.
I learned from my friend Teri Moser at Three Thirty Media that, scientifically, we all have three brains. The brain in our head is our thinker. The brain in our heart is our feeler. The brain in our gut is our believer. Our thinker, feeler and believer all need to come into agreement with truth in order for our lives to reflect that truth over time. If not, there will be a disconnection and our lives will instead reflect the short circuit. To put it simply, you can think something logically, even feel it emotionally, but if you don’t believe it deep-down, the benefits of that truth will have no effect over your life. What you believe deep down guides your decision-making. That’s why identifying the lies we believe and replacing them with truth is such a crucial part of inner healing.
The truth is, I can logically say that the societal system that churns out eating disorders, body dysmorphia, the sexual objectification and abuse of women and a hyper-focus on appearance rather than the internal treasures we each carry is absolutely wrong. I can feel the emotions of anger and injustice when I think about what this broken system has cost me and every woman I know. However, if I still believe I’m somehow more acceptable, likable and valued at a smaller size rather than a larger one, I will never be at peace with my fluffy, mom-of-four bod that likes Chick-fil-a and running in equal measure.
I will consistently judge myself as inadequate and that self-judgment will cause constant striving, disconnecting and a lack of peace.
I’m done paying that price. I want to know what it feels like to live in abundant self-acceptance regardless of how I look in the mirror or the numbers on the scale. I want acceptance rooted in my identity as an unconditionally loved daughter of a radically good God. I want to value my voice more than my looks and steward my influence better than my appearance.
Before I get to that place, I need to time travel a bit. Some of the beliefs I formed in my gut were a “survival” response to painful experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. I remember being in second grade and getting called fat. I remember becoming aware that other girls’ stomachs were flat and mine stuck out a bit. I remember realizing that all the women in movies who found love, fulfillment and happiness were thin and attractive. I remember having one of the largest skirt sizes on the cheerleading squad in high school and being so ashamed by that. I remember my joy for making the varsity squad as a freshman being eclipsed by the high school quarterback’s assessment that I was too chubby to be a varsity cheerleader. I remember being told by a bagger at my job as a cashier in high school that I would be “super hot” if I got rid of my love handles. I remember the embarrassment I felt when I was three months postpartum with our second child in less than two years and someone thought I was still pregnant.
Pain. Embarrassment. Shame. Questioning.
In many ways, I let those painful moments define me by forming the belief that I could only accept myself if I was physically attractive. Furthermore, I would only be physically attractive if I was thin.
This has been the carrot on the stick. If I could just “get there,” life would be so much better. Obviously, it’s a lie. I have had an eating disorder and was stick thin. Guess what? My destructive thinking still remained.
This is an inside job. An internal problem that can’t be fixed with an external solution.
That being said, my current focus on my personal journey of wholeness is to untangle myself from self-judgement and fasten myself to the Truth. God is the Truth and only His judgment matters. I don’t want to “fix” myself by dieting, obsessive exercise and constant focus on the outward. I want truly transformed from the inside out by embracing Love and allowing Him to do His work in every area of my life.
If this resonates with you, I’ve got a few practical ways I’m leaning into this process that I’d like to share.
Buy new, fun clothes at a comfortable size.
In the past, if my clothes were fitting tightly, I would squeeze myself into them and let the pain remind me I needed to lose a couple pounds. Super loving, right? Wrong. This summer I bought several bigger pairs of shorts and a lot of comfortable, fun and fitted tops. I don’t want to hide my body and punish it for being bigger. I want to embrace it where it is and express my personal style at any size.
Stop weighing yourself.
The scale tells us very little about our overall health. When I ran a marathon in 2018 and qualified for the Boston Marathon, the BMI chart said I was “overweight” and borderline “obese.” FORREAL. Weight is not an indication of health. I read a book written by Lisa Bevere and she said she realized that her weight had become her idol. She felt good when she weighed less and felt bad when she weighed more. Weight is a shallow way to measure yourself. Ditch the scale.
Find a movement that brings you joy and do it often.
I absolutely love to run and to dance. I used to manipulate my body through exercise. It became a twisted form of punishment. Now I only move in a way that feels good. I push myself when I have the urge and I listen to my body when I need to rest. There are so many ways to move your body and there is no one-size fits all approach. Find a movement you like and carve out frequent time in your schedule for it.
Eat food that tastes good and feels good.
Eat what you like and be mindful of how it makes you feel. Don’t eat past full or satisfied. Learn to listen to your body when it tells you it’s done and be respectful when something you eat makes it feel like trash.
Remember it’s hard work to break the cycle.
I recently listened to a podcast that said we should change our perspective from “trying harder” to “training.” We aren’t trying harder to break out of self-judgement and accept ourselves at any size, we are training ourselves to live in freedom. When you’re in training, you know that if you have a bad day, you get a fresh start tomorrow. We live in a societal system that thrives on judgement so untangling ourselves from that system will take some work. Give yourself grace in the process and love yourself along the way.
I’d like to end with a poem written by Caitlyn Siehl, shared in her book “What We Buried.” She writes:
When your little girl asks you is she’s pretty, your heart will drop
like a wine glass on the hardwood floor.
Part of you will want to say,
‘Of course you are, don’t ever question it.’
And the other part,
the part that is clawing at you,
will want to grab her by her shoulders,
look straight into the wells of her eyes
until they echo back to you and say,
‘You do not have to be pretty
if you don’t want to. It is not your job.’
Both will feel right. One will feel better.
She will only understand the first.
I want to be a woman who understands the second and leads my daughters to understand the same. After all, I don’t have to be pretty, it’s not my job.
And I don’t have to eat breakfast.
How has self-judgment of your appearance affected your life? Have you experienced the consequences of living in this broken societal system that elevates appearance over all else? I would love to hear from you! Please comment below.