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Body Image Gastrointestinal Problems Mental Health

Body Image Issues

During the time that I was sick, I lost a lot of weight. Feeling thin and beautiful was intoxicating. While my physical health has healed, I am still having issues repairing my relationship with my body.

Hey, guys! I haven’t posted in awhile because I’ve been getting lost in other things. I just moved to Asheville (wonderful city) with my boyfriend, so we’ve been unpacking and settling in. I got a job at a spa (so much fun!) which has been occupying a lot of my time.

As I’m sure you all know, I have an ITCH to write that is all-consuming. Instead of writing my blog, I’ve been writing a novel. It’s been such an amazing creative outlet. I find myself daydreaming about my characters all of the time…

Anyway, I missed my blog! Also, I missed all of you, my readers. Who knew that a blog community could be so impactful? Fiction is great and all, but I also yearn to speak the truth, to connect with people. Thank you for coming to my page. πŸ’«πŸŒΊπŸ§šπŸ»β€β™€οΈπŸ˜ŒπŸŒΈ

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So, let’s get back into my gastrointestinal saga.

After the first few months of my GI illness, I was functioning. To many, I seemed “better.”

If you’re smiling, walking around, drinking at bars, and holding a job, you’re totally fine, right?

Remember, grief has no face.

Someone may appear to be happy on the outside, when they’re barely hanging on by a thread on the inside. Laughter and smiles can happen during the grieving process, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t dark moments of terror that make you question the importance of waking up in the morning.

For me, during my slow recovery there was a point when I was jump-up-and-down elated.

Then, later, there was total collapse.

Imagine spending twelve weeks in intense agony. Every bite of food I ate, hurt on its way down. When I did eat, the nutrients were not absorbed. I woke up 5 times each night to use the bathroom. As I had diarrhea for the twentieth time that day, I wondered how much of my life would be spent on the toilet. I had to drink two giant jugs of sugar-free electrolyte liquid (no, Gatorade has too many sugars, unfortunately) before I went to bed in order to regain all of the electrolytes that I had lost from diarrhea. That way, I wouldn’t faint on the way to the bathroom. I spent an embarrassing amount of time google imaging pizza and doughnuts. I had literally watched like five videos of people eating pasta at the Cheesecake Factory (that was an all time low. It’s hard to write that because it sounds so strange, unrelatable, and lame…) I had a urine test to check for infection, my blood drawn countless times and multi-day stool tests more than once or twice. I had been to the ER, to my GP a million times (once screaming from pain in a wheelchair,) had taken parasite antibiotics, saw specialists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and had even tried myofascial release. Also, I had a colonoscopy and endoscopy. No one knew what was wrong.

Sorry to chronicle everything that went wrong, but if I can’t do it in this blog, where can I do it?

Fast forward to twelve weeks later. I felt like life was getting better for me.

I had moved back to Ann Arbor with my sister. I got a fun job at this gelato shop… Everyone in there was so delighted to be there indulging in something sweet, my co-workers were fun, the store-owner and my supervisor rock, It’s just a great business all around. (It’s called Iorio’s if anyone is wondering or happens to be in Ann Arbor. I highly recommend it. My fav is the Salted Carmel or the Peanut Butter gelato😊🍦)

By the way, the weather up north is incredible! It’s not humid and muggy like it is in Cincinnati where I grew up or in Indiana where I went to college. In the midwest, the sweat clings on to you even when you’re not moving, pooling beneath the hair on the neck. I was constantly wiping the beads of sweat that would run down my temples every other minute. In Ann Arbor, I actually wanted to leave the apartment and enjoy the sunshine.

I walked two minutes down the street to Iorio’s, feeling the breeze on my legs and the bright sun on my back. My life-0f-the party sister, Emily, and I had the most fun of our lives tubing down the river with a Yuengling Light in hand (of course), and spent many afternoons walking in the woods or strolling to the river and laying out to tan.

Besides the cool job and lovely weather, my health began to improve. I figured out that I could walk for eight whole minutes before having diarrhea. So, on my river strolls with Emily, I ducked into a coffee shop on the edge of town, and used the porta-potty twice- I was good to go! I did poop my pants twice at Iorio’s and once in Urban Outfitters (Emily had to come save the day. Thank you Emily!) but I was trying to focus on the positives- I wasn’t fainting anymore, I was able to absorb nutrients, I was holding down a job, I was having fun, I was happy. Plus, the GI specialist told me I would be 100% better in six months or so- so August/September. I felt like this whole thing was temporary.

Oh, and I was HOT AS HELL. I was literally skinnier than the girls I used to scroll through on Instagram and think, “I could never look like this.” Well, I looked like that. Having diarrhea twenty times a day will do that…

You know when you see something on the mannaquin and think, “That would never look good on me?” Well, it was like I woke up from a long sleep and poof, I was thin. Everything in the mall looked amazing on my skinny, sickly body.

I had lost twenty-five pounds. Not to mention, in the six months leading up to getting sick, I had lost the twenty-five pounds of weight that I had gained after college from too many nights of Moscow mules and pizzas (so much fun though, no regrets.)

*In the next paragraph, I will share exact weights. This many be triggering for people who have or are currently suffering from an eating disorder. If you have an ED consider skipping next paragraph.

My normal weight is 139. Then I went up to 165 from poor diet or maybe some sort of inflammation issue after my appendix ruptured, not sure. So, after some serious exercise and eating clean for six months, I went down to 145. And then I got sick and dropped to 122 in a matter of weeks.

I hate that weight plays such a huge role in my thought process. When other women bring up weight issues to me, I relate so deeply, yet I also find it trite and downright boring. Isn’t there something else we could be doing or talking about? Literally anything else… We could be changing the world if we weren’t so bogged down in calorie counting and diets.

And yet here I am writing about it. Right now, I feel like I’m being basic, shallow, and image-oriented.

But anyway, Emily and I were the babes ruling Ann Arbor. I had so much fun drinking vodka sodas, dancing around at skanky dance bars, and prancing around Ann Arbor in a tank top and tight jeans.

I look back on this time with such fondness that it brings me to tears as I write this. Sure, you may be reading it and thinking that we were youthful and superficial, but I was fully living in the moment.

The best part about that summer was hanging out with Emily every day and every night. She had just graduated and was studying for the CPA. She would come into Iorio’s and I would give her an espresso and she would study on the table across from me as I scooped the gelato into the cones for customers. Then we would go out and dance until the sun came up (or until the bar closed.) When I moved out, I hugged her and cried. We have had our differences through the years, but our time living together healed a lot of issues.

For the first time in my life, I experienced a freedom from calorie counting. My whole life I counted calories and fretted about overeating (or felt deep, intense shame) but I did not do that when I was sick. Any time I overindulged or ate processed food (very rare since it was so painful) I knew I would just have diarrhea in a matter of minutes.

If you’ve ever counted calories (probably many many female readers) or have felt food guilt, you can only imagine how liberated I felt. When I went out on dates, I didn’t think to myself, “He’s probably looking at my round face.” I just thought, “I have a lot to offer.”

I felt confident and sexy. For the first time, I felt beautiful and in control of my sex appeal. Sometimes I wonder if the world treated me better because I was hot or because I had more confidence. Who knows.

Either way, I felt like I had been let into the VIP room full of “hot” people. When everyone turns their head to look at you when you go into a room, it’s intoxicating. I know people out there get what I mean, though not many people will say the words aloud for fear of being judged.

Yes, you can be a deep person with powerful thoughts and be a victim of the thin-worshipping culture that we live in. It’s okay. I get it. I’m like that too.

You can be a good sister, wife, girlfriend, student, teacher, mom, athlete, dreamer, hard-worker, pet-owner, volunteer, social justice warrior, passionate person, independent woman, lover, rockstar, fill in the blank- and still be imprisoned by our world that is obsessed with fitness, thinness, and beauty.

Let me paint a picture for you, I read a study (this was back in early 2000s so maybe things have changed) that reported that 5-year-old children (boys and girls) feared becoming fat more than they feared their parents dying.

That is a sad, sad conclusion.

Let me tell you, I’ve been fat and had my dad has died… Dad dying is a billion times worse.

Interestingly enough, the year I was 165 pounds, genuinely fat for my heigh (not trying to be deprecating, just stating facts here) was the happiest year in my life (that was my first year in Santa Cruz) apart from my summer in A2.

I often think, “Why? Why was I so happy in SC back in 2016?” I just didn’t really care about what other people thought, my health, or my future. I cared about having fun.

So September rolls around and I was still having diarrhea twelve times per day. I know that’s a lot better than twenty, but I was about to being a graduate program in Boulder.

The program was a flop and I realized counseling was not the career for me. I was absorbing more food and put on ten pounds. Generally good for my health, but a little defeating for my self-esteem. I spent my free-time daydreaming about my carefree life in Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor.

The first time I lived in SC, I indulged in all things sweet and delicious; I gazed at the sun setting over the pacific ocean- the cotton-candy skies and surfers zigging across the waves- and hula hooped at EDM festivals. In A2, I felt beautiful on the inside and out and grew closer with the one person who knows me best in this world- Emily.

While I was in Boulder, something great happening to me- I was falling in love- yet, I was undone with shame. I was not happy with the direction my life was going. When I dropped out of graduate school, I felt like a failure. I still had debilitating stomach pain and had lost all hope that I would ever recover. In fact, I had lost all hope in medical professionals.

What do they know, they’re all full of it, I thought to myself as I closed the curtains and lay in bed in complete darkness where I ate and ate and ate, putting on another 15 pounds- putting me right back to my “normal weight.” This was my weight before I became sick. It went like this for awhile. For months.

Before, I was in pain and what society would call “hot” (or at least, that’s what I believed) and in pain. After gaining all the weight back, I was in pain and unattractive (in my eyes.) Talk about a total bummer. At least back then there was a perk.

Sometimes, in the earlier days of my illness, I wondered if the stomach pain was all worth it because I finally got to experience what it was like to feel beautiful. Then a few moments later I would feel such excruciating pain and remember that nothing, nothing is worth feeling this way.

As for the food I was eating… In A2 I was mixing water and powder (a medical food called InflammX and Inflammacore) but in Boulder I was eating broth, steamed veggies, pureed food, sweet potatoes and jars of baby food. It felt really sad. It had been a year and I wanted solid food so badly.

So, to recap:

  • I dropped out of school and felt like a failure.
  • I was hungry for solid foods.
  • I felt unattractive.
  • I was still in pain.
  • I was living in the past.
  • I was in a state of fear because the doctor told me I should be completely better by now.

I sank into a deep, deep depression- worse than my two month bed-bound depression as a sixteen year-old. I experienced so much suffering, that I just wanted it to end.

I’m not going to go into the emotional agony in this post because it’s just too painful.

Fast forward two and a half years and here I am.

I can tell you that I have completely recovered from my health issues. I have bloating and gas when I eat unhealthy processed foods, but I’m sure many people do. On a very rare occasion I will have extreme stomach pain for about 4 hours when I have accidentally eaten a nut or a legume. Otherwise, I can eat anything I want and I have only one BM per day! No more diarrhea. YAY!

What helped the most? Time.

Though, I do have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve to help that helped ease my suffering, but that’s for a later blog.

But, what about my body image issues that plagued my mind?

I know we all want to hear a success story, but truthfully, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t obsess over food and body image.

When I was living in SC, I accepted the fact that I was bigger. I was actively engaged in the body positivity community. Then, when I felt uncomfortable, I worked hard to eat healthier, workout more, and lost the weight.

But then, when I became so thin due to my illness, my self image changed. I realized how the world treats you when you’re physically attractive – infinitely better.

When I looked in the mirror, I felt so beautiful that I almost felt high.

Since then, for the last two-and-a-half years, I have woken up and sworn to myself, “Today will be the day that I stop eating.” I know that’s ridiculous because we all need fuel and nutrients to survive.

I have wished that I could shackle myself to the wall so I would just stop eating. I have closed my eyes and imagined worms crawling around in my food for twenty minutes before I eat in attempt to make me stop eating, or at least eat less.

I NEVER used to care this much about my self-image before the food poisoning thing. Sure, I felt the occasional food guilt after eating too much dessert, but I was able to laugh it off. I found the humor in my thick thighs. I accepted myself as I was. I loved myself no matter what I looked like. Back then, I didn’t avoid the mirror or feel self-conscious when exposing my body.

Getting that thin messed with me.

I know that many people may say, “Just stop eating sugar,” or “Eat a salad or more veggies,” or “Why can’t you just eat healthier?”

When I was fat and wanted to get back to my normal weight, I was doing it out of love for myself.

Now, I’m at my normal weight and trying to shame myself down to lose the vanity weight.

This obsession with thinness is completely ruling my life. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about food, dieting, or calories.

And I always, always, always eat the doughnut. And I don’t just eat one.

When I see people who I haven’t seen in awhile, I know the first think they’re thinking is, “Dang, she got fat!”

I’ll be honest, it’s been really, really hard.

But, I do have hope. I do believe in myself.

I want to repeat a sentiment from one of my earlier paragraphs….

You’re not a boring, shallow, or anti-feminist when you admit that you’re a little obsessed with the thin ideal.

You’re still a cool and interesting person even though you’re having a food issue.

The world we live in is obsessed with beauty, but you know what’s beautiful in my eyes? Not caring about these messed up beauty standards, following your dreams, working on your passion projects, being creative, and living your life to the fullest.

That’s beauty on the inside and out.

Plus, what one person thinks is unattractive, another person finds attractive. We’re all different!

Beautiful does not equal thin.

We all know that the thin ideal is shallow, lame, and full of women that are literally air-brushed and miserably hungry. Still, we strive for this and shame ourselves on an hourly basis. That’s heartbreaking.

I want to say this as well: next time you’re on a date, don’t think about your flaws. You have A LOT to offer. Some silly number on a scale does not define you. This is me speaking to you with kindness. As I write this, I realize that this is the way I need to speak to myself. (Writing can be so therapeutic and revelatory.)

This is my advice to myself and anyone else going through this:

Speak to yourself like you would speak to a loving friend. Chant your self-love affirmations (I am worthy. I am beautiful. I am enough. I am NOT my weight.) Find a therapist who actually understands eating disorders. Remember that shame doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Nourish your body. Move forward.

It takes time.

I know I always say “I am worthy. I am enough. I am beautiful” and I may seem like the epitome of self-love, but I am having a difficult time healing my relationship with my body, at the moment.

Just because you’re going through this right now, does not mean that it’s going to last forever. If there is anything that this whole health issue has taught me- nothing lasts forever- not even the most excruciating physical or emotional pain.

With love,

Annie

By annefoley1

Reading other accounts of human resilience has helped me immensely. Now, it's my turn to give back. I want to heal others with my words and remind everyone that they are beautiful and worthy.

4 replies on “Body Image Issues”

This brought me to tears Annie, and is absolutely gorgeous….
You’ve described the world, and culture so well. And normalise guilt. I’m glad you’re physically a lot better today.
Sending hugs and sunshine

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sorry for your suffering .. thin = thin, NOT Beautiful!

A girl needs a few curves to be cuddly, skin and bones is androgynous and certainly not healthy 😦 People were probably checking you out thinking ‘poor sick thing’ …

take care, eat well, be healthy and happy … it’s what’s inside that really counts πŸ™‚

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