It happened again. I caught my reflection coming out of the shower and, in an instant, the voice in my head piped up to say, “You need to lose some weight.”
Yes, my hips look a little fuller than they did this summer. My stomach is definitely softer. If I was still in the habit of weighing myself, I’m sure I would notice that the numbers have indeed crept up. Could I stand to lose 5 pounds? My pants might be a little more comfortable. But do I NEED to?
For the better part of 2 decades, I believed that I did. I believed that losing enough weight was the magic solution to all of life’s great problems. I believed that I needed to beat my body into submission in order to feel confident, be attractive, feel desirable, be successful, be respected, be admired and feel worthy. In short, wearing a size 4 would mean that I would finally be happy.
“You need to lose weight.”
For a second I believe the hype. I think, “I do. I need to lose weight. I’ll feel better if I do. I’ll be happier when I’m smaller.” But then I remember. I remember the 6 months of my life when I was small enough to wear a size 4. I remember what it really felt like.
I was 25 years old. I was living, unhappily with my boyfriend at the time, in Los Angeles trying to find work as an actor. I was stuck and frustrated all around. Things at home were tense and strained. The most success I had found in my career was booking a very small role in an independent feature. The casting directors called my agent to tell her how much they enjoyed my work. They were confident I would work a ton in my 30s, but, as they put it, “all the roles for her age are for ‘hot girls’ and she just can’t compete.”
In Hollywood, “hot” meant “skinny.” It was clear that, unless I was skinny, I would never have the things in life I wanted. I had been on and off diets since I was 6 years old. I had been losing and gaining the same 10 pounds for as long as I could remember. This time was different. I was more determined than ever to shrink myself down no matter what. I put myself on an incredibly restrictive diet. I paid close attention to the food I was allowed to eat, steering clear of on anything on the "avoid" list. I measured out my portions. I didn't cheat. The scale started moving.
I weighed myself every day. The pounds kept coming off. I followed my diet to the letter. I kept checking the rules. I kept following the plan, but when the numbers stopped dropping, I started to panic. The diet allowed for more diverse foods after a certain period of time, but I was so worried that if I allowed myself to actually eat them, I would stop losing weight, or worse, I would start to gain.
I became addicted to the scale.
I would weigh myself whenever I needed a pick me up. A reminder of how good I had been. Of how well I had done. It was like a drug. Every time the number budged I would rejoice inside.
At my lowest weight, I was 114 pounds. It was the skinniest I had ever been. I was thrilled.
I went shopping. I bought new clothes. Size 4!
I spent a ton of time staring in the mirror. It was the most I had ever liked my body, but I could still pick out flaws.
I went home for a wedding and the bride's mother didn't recognize me. My friends told me to eat. They said I looked pale. My mom was worried.
I thought they were crazy. I thought they were jealous.
I was cold all the time. Even living in Los Angeles during the summer, as soon as the sun went down I would pump the heat in my car because I could never warm up. I started passing out on a regular basis. Every now and again, my limbs would feel numb. I was suffering from anxiety attacks.
My boyfriend and I broke up. He took the cat.
I wore my cute new clothes. I still didn't feel totally comfortable in any of them.
I started dating. A lot. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
I fell for someone new. It was complicated. It was confusing. I was tiny, but I still felt worthless.
My agent wasn't calling. I only had one audition since I lost the weight, and I didn't get the part.
I kept dating. I felt used. I felt disposable. I was "hot." I wasn't happy.
My heart was breaking. I cried all the time. I was skinny. It didn't matter. I was still miserable.
(Me when I was skinny but sad)
I'd get back on the scale for a self-esteem boost. When the numbers stopped dropping I felt like I couldn't breathe. Losing weight had been my only source of joy, pride, feeling accomplished at something. When it stopped, I felt a sinking in my heart. What was I left with?
I stepped on the scale and it read 116. I sat down on the bathroom floor and cried. I took off all my clothes and scrutinized every inch of my body through the tears. I turned to see every angle, trying to locate the extra two pounds with the naked eye. Could everyone else see it? Was I blind?
Staying small became an obsession. It was all I had. It wasn't enough, but without it I had nothing. I’d hop on the scale as soon as I woke up, again after I took a shower, after every single meal and any time I used the bathroom. Sometimes I would weigh myself 10 times in a day.
Despite my best efforts the numbers kept creeping up. I was destroyed. I was crazed. The number on the scale would determine if I was happy or sad. If I felt relieved or devastated. If I had a good day or bad day. If I would eat or starve.
I felt out of control. I felt helpless. I felt like a failure. I felt empty. I felt like I had no purpose.
That's how I felt when I was at my skinniest.
I try to remember that feeling every time I catch myself judging my reflection. Every time I hear that little voice suggesting I "need" to lose a few pounds. I remember that I lost a few pounds once. I lost more than a few. At that time I had lost about 30 pounds. It didn't make anything better. If anything, things were worse.
I try to remember a time when I felt my best. My happiest, my most alive, my most vibrant. I think back to the year when I turned 30. I planned a year's worth of adventure for myself. I came up with a list of 12 things I had never tried before and did one thing every month between my 30th and 31st birthdays.
Over the course of the year, I took a trapeze class, I went to Spain, I ran a race, I learned to play Ukulele, I took ballroom dance lessons and performed, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time, I took a surfing lesson, I went skiing, I rode a mechanical bull, my uncle taught me how to drive a stick-shift, I saw Shakespeare in the park, and I took my first (and last) gymnastics class ever. I had more help and support than I expected. I spent more time with my friends and family than I had in ages. We documented everything and had a blast! I felt inspired. I felt connected. I felt creative. I felt joyful.
On my 30th birthday, I was probably at one of my heaviest weights, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was bigger, but I was so much happier. It was during this time that I got promoted at my job. I also fell in love and started the first real relationship since my break-up in L.A. Interestingly, I also ended up losing a few pounds over the course of the year (without resorting to obsessive extremes or crying on the bathroom floor.)
Losing weight didn’t make me happy. But when I was completely lit up from within and truly fulfilled in the other areas of my life, my body was able to balance itself out. And being balanced did not look like 114 pounds. It did not look like a size 4. It wasn’t the smallest I’d ever been, but it was far and away the best I’d ever felt.
So I hear that voice. “You need to lose weight,” it says. I take a minute. I remember. I realize that I don’t need to starve my body. I simply need to feed my heart.
(This is a video recap of my "30th year." I nourished my soul and finally found my "happy" weight)
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!