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My Body was Called “Good” for All the Wrong Reasons

Read this reflective narrative about how this author was struggling with infertility because her body was "too thin to work properly."

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.

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