Rummaging through the barren pantry, I looked for something, anything, I could cram down my throat. Hot tears were welling up in my eyes as I furiously searched for anything with the slightest amount of sugar in it. The only thing I could find was a protein bar chocked full of nauseatingly artificial sugar. It was a pathetic substitute for the sweetness that I desperately craved, but it would suffice. I tore open the packaging and devoured the bar.
For many years, sugar was my solace. When I had a fight with my friends or flunked a math test, I unconsciously gravitated to the pantry. In return, my parents tried their hardest to keep as little junk food as they could in the house. It didn’t matter; I would just find something else to overeat. It was like I had a built-in scanner to help me track down the most carbohydrate-ridden food in the house to gorge myself on.
The worst part is that I didn’t even know what I was doing to my body. I didn’t know that what I was ingesting was going to manifest itself as rolls of fat on my stomach and thighs. I didn’t know that I was supposed to care; care about the size of my clothes or the number on the scale.
But then something happened. Something just eye-opening enough to smash the rose-colored glasses I had been wearing and waken me to the harsh realities of society: fat is not beautiful; every girl should strive to be close to a size 0; the number on the scale is an integral part of a person’s identity.
And thus began my quest to become thin.
For five years, I tried different diets. I tried Nutrisystem, Atkins, Tone It Up, and others. I tried calorie and carb counting. I tried cutting sugar out completely. I gave up soda and other high-sugar beverages. I started to eat breakfast in the morning.
None of it worked. My weight stayed the same, if not increased.
During these years, my self-image progressively declined as the numbers went up. When once I would wear a snug pink tank-top with a flouncy orange skort, I now wore a bulky black t-shirt dress. I became fixated on the way clothes looked on me; I had to make sure they concealed my monstrous blobs of fat. I couldn’t go clothes-shopping anymore without breaking down into a ball of tears when nothing I liked ever fit me. I completely believed that I was the size of a blue whale and nothing I did would ever change that.
But I had to be thin; I was desperate. Becoming thin would finally make me confident and secure in my body. I just had to be thin.
All I wanted was a restart. I wanted to have the flat body childhood provides. I wanted to go back and fix all my unhealthy eating ways.
In a way, my wish was granted.
After talking to a doctor, I was put on weight loss pills. The pills helped suppress my cravings and quicken my metabolism. At first, I was thrilled. Sure, there were some side effects, but it was nothing I couldn’t put up with. Feeling like my mouth was stuffed full of cotton balls 24/7? I just made sure I carried a water bottle everywhere. Having fuzzy black vision every time I ran? Well, I didn’t like to run to begin with. I could handle any pesky side-effects so long as I was losing weight.
And I was; I was losing weight. I was trying to eat healthier and, combined with the pills, the fat practically melted away. Through the span of nine months, I lost about fifty pounds. I was finally thin.
It wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
With every glossy yellow capsule pill swallowed, it felt like I was giving up. This wasn’t the way I wanted to become thin. My guilty conscience gnawed away at me. I thought that losing weight would finally grant me peace of mind, but it didn’t. I felt more insecure and depressed than I had ever been before. I may have been thinner, but I felt like I had lost myself.
And what’s the point of getting what you longed for if it only makes you miserable?
Fresh off the pills, it finally clicked that all of the ways I had been eating before were detrimental to my health. I shouldn’t sacrifice my mental well-being for beauty standards that, when examined, are preposterous. I should strive to eat well for my own health, not kill myself struggling to conform to someone else’s visualization of beauty.
Intuitive eating embraces this philosophy of eating to maintain health without any of the extremities woven into other ways of eating. Eating until full, eating a well-rationed amount of the foods desired, and not labelling certain foods as “good” or “bad” are all core tenants of intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is all about listening to my body and treating it with the care it deserves. Every day is not perfect; I still occasionally revert back to my old eating ways, particularly the binge-eating, but even when I gain some weight back, it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I’m just proud of myself for trying to eat healthy on my own. I’m happier than I was when I was losing weight.
* * *
My quest to become thin led me to realize a crucial truth: putting aside the issue of health, it doesn’t matter if I’m 94 lbs or 400 lbs; what matters is how I think of myself. If I think I’m fat and I’m 94 lbs, well, then it’s my thoughts that have to change.
Losing weight does not mend shattered self-image. Changing how I view myself does.
Danielle Connolly is seventeen years old and she attends Pope John Paul ll High School in Royersford, Pennsylvania. This is the first time that she’s shared details, good or bad, about her long-standing struggle with food and body image. She hopes to find readers, teen girls especially, who can relate to her story and show them that they are not alone.