Reading your message broke my heart in so many ways :[
It also made me really angry.
Because there is nothing wrong with your body, and the fact that your parents are trying to convince you otherwise feels so unacceptable and infuriating.
1. Repeat: there is nothing wrong with your body.
You don’t owe thinness to anyone. Not to society. Not to your parents. Not to your friends. Not to a romantic partner. Thinness is not your responsibility as a female.
2. You are so much more than your weight.
You are the stories that make you laugh and the things that makes you smile. You are your goals and your dreams. You are your passions and values. You are your favorite songs and books and movies. You are the people you love and look up to. You are the memories you carry and the experiences you’ve shared with people you care about. You have a unique set of strengths and talents and insights, and no number on the scale can ever discount that. You have SO much more to offer the world than how you look. Anyone who thinks your value as a human being is contingent upon a number on the scale is not someone you want in your life anyway.
3. You don’t have to internalize your parent’s judgement.
I’m sure that they have good intentions because they love you. And given our culture’s obsession with thinness and appearance, I can understand that they feel like they’re helping you. But that doesn’t make their behavior okay, and definitely doesn’t mean they’re right. More importantly, their desire to monitor your weight and food intake is not about you. It’s about them and their own insecurities, fears, and misconceptions surrounding health, and you don’t have to internalize that. Ever.
4. Thinness is NOT synonymous with health.
It’s easy to assume someone’s level of health based on their appearance, but the truth is that you can’t. At the onset of my anorexia, I received compliments all the time from people telling me that I looked great. They saw a very toned, thin girl who they assumed was eating healthy and exercising. But they couldn’t see that I was starving myself. They didn’t know that my body was malnourished, that my brain wasn’t working, that I was depressed and suicidal and miserable from depriving myself. They didn’t know that I was abusing my body through over-exercise and laxatives.
They based my health on my weight and the false belief that thinness is synonymous with health. Yes, I was thin. But I was by no means healthy or happy. My body was dying. And I thought it was okay because being thin was all that mattered to me — and apparently, to everyone else.
By the same token, I know plenty of people who are considered overweight by medical standards who happen to be very healthy. They eat balanced and nutritiously, exercise regularly, and treat their body with love and kindness. But because their appearance doesn’t live up to society’s misguided perception of what a healthy body “should” look like, they’re dehumanized, looked down upon, and treated like a problem that needs to be fixed. And that isn’t okay.
My point is that being healthy has a lot less to do with how much you weigh, and much more to do with how you treat your body. Being healthy, to me, means honoring your hunger and fullness, moving your body in ways that feel good and fun, and taking care of yourself — physically and mentally. It means resting when you’re tired, taking a breaking when your body hurts, and self-soothing when you’re struggling. It means eating with flexibility, acknowledging and honoring your cravings, and listening to your body and its needs.
5. Shift your focus from the external to the internal.
I’m not a doctor or mental health professional of any kind, so I’m not in any sort of place to make an assessment about your weight. I can however speak from my own experiences from having an eating disorder and the knowledge that I’ve gained from being in treatment and therapy. That said, it’s been my experience that when I gain or lose a significant amount of weight, there is usually some kind of underlying issue driving that.
For me, it was emotional neglect from my parents, an abusive father, the feeling that I was invisible and didn’t belong, and the belief that I was worthless and inadequate. I restricted as a way to cope with that pain. And two years later, I coped with it by binging as a way to comfort and self-soothe.
I don’t know if there’s a specific driving force that fueled your weight gain, but I definitely think it’s something worth thinking about. Not because I think you need to lose weight or because I think there is anything shameful about gaining weight. Because there isn’t and I don’t think your parents, or any parent, should shame their child for it. I just think there might be more going on than just weight gain. And if there is some sort of underlying issue, losing weight will not make it go away. In order to get to a place where you’re in a healthy relationship with your body, you have to get to healthy place emotionally and mentally. You have to figure out what made you turn to food, think about how those things or people affect your sense of self-worth, identify what you need to heal, and find new, non-destructive ways of coping and taking care of yourself.
6. Be honest with your parents about how you feel.
Not only are your parents unaware that you overheard them talking, but they also probably have no clue that you’re feeling so awful and insecure. That said, I really think you should confront them about it. I would say something like:
"Hey, I was wondering if we could talk for a few minutes about something that has been weighing on my mind. A few weeks ago, I overheard you talking about my body and how you want me to lose weight, and I’ve noticed that you’ve been monitoring everything I eat. I understand that you’re concerned about me, but the way you’re going about showing that concern is hurting me. When I heard you say those things, I felt ashamed of myself and my body, guilty for everything I ate, inadequate, and worthless.
I know you have good intentions, but this is really killing my self-esteem, and I’m asking you to stop. I obviously can’t force you to, but if you don’t, it’s going to be at the expense of my wellbeing and happiness. This is making me miserable and depressed, and despite how you feel about my weight, I really hope that you can respect how I feel.”
I don’t know how receptive or understanding they will be, but they can’t argue with your feelings. If you tell them point blank that their behavior is hurting you, they can’t say “No, it’s not.” Because it is. These are your feelings and they are important and valid and true and you have every right to ask your parents to stop treating you this way. You have every right to create a safer space for yourself.
7. Consider working with a dietitian and/or therapist.
If your parents are so concerned about your weight gain and health, maybe you could ask them if they could help you get into see a dietitian or therapist, or both. That way, they will stop trying to be the food police, and you can have the opportunity to talk with actual professionals who can, if applicable, help you identify your underlying issues, and give you a safe, judgement free space to talk about food, self-esteem, body image, and your feelings.
And just to be clear, I don’t think you should see a dietitian for the purpose of losing weight. I think you should see one to help you develop a healthy relationship with food — one that allows you to listen to your body and honor it’s hunger and fullness, rather than a relationship that is guided by self-hatred, the drive for thinness, and deprivation. And the reason I brought up therapy is because it sounds like there might be some unhealthy family dynamics going on that could be contributing to your low-self esteem. That aside, if you’re hurting and feeling this awful about yourself, you deserve to get support. No matter what.
Also, I don’t know if it will help, but I wrote a post a while back on how to take care of yourself during a bad body image day. It won’t do much to remedy the situation with your parents, but maybe it could offer some support on the days you’re struggling with your body.
If you have any other questions or need some resources to further help, please let me know.
Sending so much love your way,