Contributing writer Jessica Danser- Shwartz shares her personal story of how when life gets to stressful the weight start to come off. Sounds like a problem you wish you could have? Wait just one second, when you can’t eat because of worry, stress, grief, or heartbreak those first few pounds might be seem like an inconspicuous benefit, but when you are melancholy, lethargic, and not feeling well because your body is not feed well the way you look is not so important. When the weight loss becomes too significant and you start to look sickly being thin it can make you more worried. Jessica asks the questions why is this happening? and what can she do?
I emerge from the dressing room holding a cute little vintage strapless gown, dejected. “Does it fit?” the salesgirl asks pleasantly. “Too big,” I reply. “Story of my life lately.” “Well,” she jokes, “look on the bright side, you could have the opposite problem!”
There is a part of me which glows at this comment, a part of me which loves being the littlest, the leanest, the thinnest I have ever been. I think this body image comes from my background in ballet– I don’t read fashion mags or follow celebrities, and most of the women I most admire and find beautiful are big-boned, thick, muscular women of color. Yet there still is something validating about my seemingly endless weight loss, like I’ve uncovered a secret that other women would kill for, started to do effortlessly what others ceaselessly struggle to achieve.
Here’s the catch: what is making me lose weight is not some fabulous regimen of diet and exercise or some strange genetic mutation– I’ve lost over 10 lbs (a lot for a person as small as I was to begin with) in the past 4 or 5 months due to stress. I am the opposite of a stress eater, numbing my pain with Cheetos and chocolate. Negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, frustration, and anger kill my appetite, and at times seem to also speed up my metabolism so that whatever I AM eating goes straight through me. This then becomes a vicious cycle wherein my low blood sugar and lack of energy due to not getting enough nutrition to get through the day make me irritable, irrational, and teary. But when I sit down in front of a plate of food my stomach ties up in knots so I can’t get down more than a few mouthfuls.
Even as I secretly preen a little when people comment on my weight, hearing a friend who is giving me a Pilates lesson comment that I am so thin she feels guilty giving me an exercise class is disturbing. I want to break this cycle, get back up to a size 2, stop being able to see the bones in my sternum and having knees so bony they are constantly covered in bruises. I want to stop looking like I’m a kid wearing my mom’s clothes. I want to have a butt again. But how do I make myself eat when I feel too stressed to, make myself cook when I feel too tired to, make myself have real meals instead of munching on fruit and nuts all day when I don’t feel hungry???
My friend Theresa Ruth Howard, who writes the blog My Body My Image about female/dancer body image, says this: “The body is an organism that reacts and response to internal and external situations. Your body is direct reflection of your life circumstances, and right now it is stressful and shedding in a way. I don’t know that you can ‘do’ much about that. You are eating as well and as healthily as you can, when you can but it seems like you might just have to wait for this period to pass. I make the association to your weight loss as a letting go – you in your life might need to let go and surrender. Your body will be restored when your life comes back into balance again. Worrying about it will certainly not help.”
I don’t have a great answer as to what to do about this problem, and as I write this I am hoping that the stresses I have been experiencing will start to die down so I can start to resume a more normal life, eating regimen, and weight. But one thought has occurred to me. As I accept my 103 lb body and its reduced energy level, I am going to try to look at eating as an activity to nurture and care for myself, and make it a priority to take time several times a day to stop what I am doing and feed myself. Rather than trying to force myself to overeat to gain back the pounds I’ve shed, I am going to look at eating the same way I might look at attending a yoga class or getting a massage, a gift to myself and a reminder that I, and my well-being, matter and deserve my attention and care.
I’m going to ignore the subversive voices in my head telling me that my stress-related thinness is a good thing, ignore the opposing voices telling me I no longer look good with fewer curves, and remind myself that my body is a vessel and an instrument– for my art, for my health, and for my soul. And I’m going to try to get back to the JOY of eating, not just the physical necessity, and remind myself that enjoying food, even when there are other things to focus on which seem more pressing, is my right as a human being.
Theresa’s suggestion I might be in the process of shedding things is admittedly a bit terrifying to me– as a person with strong attachments and a bit of a controlling streak, letting go is not my favorite activity. But perhaps what I am beginning to let go of here is the part of me which allows outside circumstances to get me so upset that I neglect my own health and happiness. It seems to me that this is a common occurrence in women– this tendency to focus so much on something external, whether the needs of others or the standards of society, that we cease to listen to the inner voices which alone can guide us to our best selves. It is this powerful voice within me I plan to listen for at my next meal.