When Carissa and her husband struggled with infertility, doctors identified one possible cause: she was too thin for her body to work properly. So they put her on a diet to gain 10 pounds. That might sound like the kind of doctor’s orders that many of us dream about, but it complicated the way Carissa viewed her body.
“Wow, I wish I had that problem.” I smiled politely at the friend I was having dinner with, while trying to force down another bite of lukewarm lasagna. It wasn’t the first time I heard the same sentiment expressed. “If I ate like that, I would gain five pounds a day!”
How could she have known how tumultuous my relationship with food had become over the span of just a few days, or how hard it was to feel at home in my own body?
My skinniness, an accidental by-product of a fast metabolism, had never been a concern of mine. How could it when it had always been applauded in a culture that valued being thin? But it became a disadvantage when my husband and I were trying to conceive our first child.
After several unsuccessful months of hoping and trying, my doctor decided to start with the one glaring problem with my health: the fact that at five-feet, seven-inches tall, I weighed only 109 pounds. The label “underweight” stood out on my chart after each appointment like a glaring beacon, a constant reminder that “good” wasn’t good enough.
“You need to gain some weight, and see if that will help your body ovulate,” my doctor said. “An extra 1,000 calories a day should do it.”
I’m almost embarrassed to say that I thought it would be simple — enjoyable even! Eating MORE food? How bad could it be?
I met with the dietician my doctor had recommended, who helped me set a starting weight-gain goal of 10 pounds and then helped me develop a meal plan to go about achieving this.
I had to start adding healthy fats to everything, as well as high caloric “snacks” (like beef stew and loaded protein shakes) in between every meal.
I went straight over to the fancy supermarket that I rarely shopped at and excitedly picked out everything I needed for this lifestyle change. I quickly realized just how much of a challenge, physically and mentally, gaining weight would be, however.
Adding an extra thousand calories to my diet (amounting to roughly 3,000 calories in a single day) might seem wonderful from the outside to people not struggling to gain or maintain a healthy weight. But it seemed to me a cruel and unusual punishment for a crime I hadn’t meant to commit.
I felt like my body, called good for all the wrong reasons, was working against itself, preventing the processes natural to my gender.
Food — substance for maintaining life — became a constant hurdle I had to jump over, and it proved to be a formidable foe.
Sitting down to a meal, what was once an enjoyable activity, became a source of anxiety. How could I eat what I needed to eat, when I was still stuffed from everything I had already eaten earlier in the day?
Grabbing lunch became a mental game, and I needed to give myself a pep talk just to eat a midmorning snack.
I took walks in between each meal, trying to make my body actually desire the food it needed. And when that didn’t work, I had my husband try to distract me from my full stomach and tumultuous thoughts while I ate.
The lunch box I carried to and from work felt heavier than it should have (even with all of the food it held), and I felt isolated and alone.
After stress and tears, I stood on the scale at the end of the week only to find that I gained one pound.
One. pound. And it felt like both a medal of honor and a slap in the face.
But somewhere between my near-constant eating and attempts to avoid obsessively checking the scale for the slightest change, my mindset shifted from seeing my body as the enemy to seeing it as a friend, worthy of compassion.
I wasn’t at war with my body, nor was my body trying to sabotage my life and my plans for it. Nurturing my body and helping it become healthier wasn’t just a means to an end, but something it deserved — a self-love I didn’t have to earn.
I learned to stop looking at my body in terms of what I thought it “should” be doing. I had expected my body to look and function a certain way before I believed it to be good and worth loving.
But the goodness of our bodies, of my body, can never come from meeting expectations — from myself or another. The goodness of our bodies come from the simple fact that we exist — that God fashioned them for us.
And that’s a lesson that I can now pass down to my daughter.