For most of my life, my weight has been under scrutiny. Sometimes by family, sometimes by friends, sometimes by boyfriends — but always by me.
I grew up with two best friends who were naturally very slender. They are my cousins, and we had an inseparable bond. But even as a child I was aware of the weight differences between us.
I had a potbelly from a young age. My cousins had flat stomachs — my now supermodel cousin had washboard abs as a 10-year-old. We were genetically different and were raised on very different diets, but my child’s mind didn’t understand that. All I knew was that we were family and they were slimmer than me.
I would try to ignore it, but the reality was obvious when we’d pull out my great-grandmother’s ballroom dresses to play in. They would fit my cousins perfectly and be tight on me.
I was told by a family member to hold it in because “ladies don’t let their bellies hang out.”
The comments, the dresses, and the inner comparisons I was making added up. Then came my tipping point.
In my first year of secondary school, we moved to a new home. My bedroom had built-in wardrobes across one wall, complete with sliding mirrored doors. There was no way around it. Unless my parents redecorated, I was going to be faced with my bloated belly every day of my life.
I became a pro at holding my stomach in, but the bloating was still present. I’d awaken with a flat stomach, and by the end of the day I could look six months pregnant.
I didn’t understand why I was bloated, and I assumed I was fat. I decided to diet so that if I did have any bloating, it would have less of an effect on my appearance.
It seemed like a simple strategy. But what ensued was an 11-year eating disorder fueled by the body dysmorphia that already had me in its grips. Depression and anxiety saddled up for the ride, and I convinced myself that once my stomach was flat, I would escape them.
Now in my 30s, I understand that the bloating was linked to my health. It was not only an early warning sign of endometriosis, but also of food intolerances such as dairy and wheat, and likely of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
My saving grace came in strange forms.
First was my car accident. The possibility of being paralyzed and the state of my broken body made me regret the way I had treated it. Though my outlook had changed, my habits had not. The lure of weight loss from laxatives prescribed to counteract the effects of medications meant that although I began eating more, I was staying underweight.
The second, ironically, was a problematic relationship. My then-partner essentially forced me to begin eating again. Although it clearly wasn’t healthy, it did get me to associate eating with feeling loved.
The final saving grace was endometriosis. I was faced with a decision: I could live my life having multiple surgeries, or try to feed my body well and reduce the symptoms. I chose the latter, and I learned that nourishing my body was a good thing. I fell in love with cooking, eating, and most importantly, caring for my body.
These days, I can safely do something such as an elimination diet protocol for my interstitial cystitis (IC) without it triggering unhealthy eating behaviors. The bloating is better since I changed my diet and discovered my food intolerances, but it’s always there with the classic symptoms of SIBO. Once my IC symptoms are under control, I’ll look into testing. SIBO can cause damage to the gut and malabsorption – two things with which I suffer.
My motivation for getting on top of the bloating is no longer my shape or size, but finally, my health.
Feb. 23-29 is National Eating Disorders Awareness and Screening Week.
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.