Trigger warning: diet culture and disordered eating.
Do you know what it's like to obsess about your body and food choices, then let that obsession ruin your romantic and sexual relationships? I do!
Dieting was the form my obsession took. I counted every calorie, even the slab of margarine or the handful of almonds. I even took it a step further and tried to burn off as many consumed calories as humanly possible by pushing myself on the elliptical. Some days I did DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) until I felt like I would pass out.
I couldn't go to restaurants without feverishly scanning the menu to pick out the lowest-calorie option. I couldn't be present with a partner if I chose something "bad" to eat. God forbid I had a fried chicken finger; it'd be all I'd talk about.
The Body Image Impact
Good Housekeeping surveyed over 4,250 people in 2021 on body image, weight, and dieting, and the results mirrored my experience. Out of the 74% of respondents with a list of "good" and "bad" foods, I counted myself among them. Can you imagine the amount of space that takes up?
Never mind just being on a date with me; sex was a nightmare. I spent the whole rendezvous worried about every roll, dip, line, and scar on me and the way they moved. When I was on top, I feared I was too heavy, and the person was uncomfortable. I'd get dressed as soon as possible to hide my body. I'm not alone. Research has shown that around 50% of 13-year-old American girls reported being unhappy with their bodies, which grows to nearly 80% by the time girls reach 17 years of age.
Don't we have better things to worry about than if our thighs touch or our bellies are too jiggly? I didn't until I was scrolling through Instagram and found a fat woman in her bathing suit. Rolls hanging over, her caption read, "It's okay to be fat and queer." As a queer person who struggled with weight, question marks and exclamation points appeared over my head.
It's okay? What!
Becoming Body Positive (or Neutral)
This moment was when I discovered the body-positive movement. A way to exist in the body you're in without dieting, restricting, militantly exercising, or trying to shrink yourself into a box you'll never fit in. Body neutrality is also a helpful space to exist in.
I slowly began taking up space in relationships with food. I stopped looking at menus before going out and was able to be more spontaneous. Initially, it was uncomfortable, and I still looked at the calories. Then, I stopped worrying about the calories. I chose meals based on what I wanted and what the other person wanted. Split a pizza? Fine. It was messy for a while, and I consumed a lot of cheeseburgers and coffee ice cream with fudge, but I was living life.
Then it came to sex. Did you know you can laugh during sex? I had no idea. I always took it seriously and wasn't having all that much fun. When I learned to take every roll, dip, line, and scar on me less seriously, I could enjoy myself and the person in front of me. Instead of being trapped in my head, I was inhabiting my body. I was present. When they traced a finger across my belly, I wasn't worried about being too squishy; I was just getting turned on.
With every roll, dip, line, and scar, I am worthy.
My comfort with sex and love as it relates to my body has continued to grow over the years. Now, I have a partner who has seen my weight increase by 30 pounds. I have feelings about it some days—like I'm not good enough and should stop eating certain things. The difference is I don't let those voices win.
My partner loves me for who I am. And I landed him by knowing that I deserve that kind of love. I don't always believe you have to love yourself 100% before someone else can love you, but you sure as hell have to know you deserve love to find someone who will treat you the way you deserve.
With every roll, dip, line, and scar, I am worthy. I am loveable.
Since I now obsess minimally about my body, I'm free to think about aspects of my relationship that genuinely matter: communication, love, trust, loyalty, and joy. My mind is much more spacious now that diet culture no longer owns me, and I'm free.
Dumping Your Diet
So, my final word of advice? Drop the diets. Learn to embrace your body as it is while knowing there's always room for growth. One of my favorite quotes is by Buddhist Shunryu Suzuki, "Each of you is perfect the way you are, and you can use a little improvement." We can always find ways to improve, but what would happen if you surrendered to your body at this moment? The irony is that once you surrender, change happens. Growth happens.
I wish you nothing but peace and healing on your body-love journey. If my calorie counting, militantly exercising, and obsessing-about-food-self can do it, so can you.
Kearney-Cooke A, Tieger D. Body image disturbance and the development of eating disorders. In: Smolak L, Levine MP, eds. The Wiley Handbook of Eating Disorders. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2015:283-296.