I was never one to worry about my weight all that much. Which I feel is a pretty big deal, given that we live in a society that pushes an “ideal” female body type via magazines, television, and movies. I managed to make it through my teens and 20s with a pretty good sense of body image–thanks, Mom! No, seriously. Having a mother who wasn’t especially weight obsessed allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and weight, and that was something that stuck with me well into my adult years.
That said, I still fell prey to the inevitable wonder over how I looked on any given day, whether my butt was too big, or if my stomach could stand to be trimmed down just a smidge. Despite a fairly healthy body image, I always struggled with the notion of whether or not I should lose an extra five pounds or so. But, despite these passing thoughts, I still appreciated that weight in general was never a big worry for me.
Then anxiety struck, and with it came a whole host of unexpected triggers I was completely unprepared for, including weight. In the beginning–when I still wasn’t sure what was happening–I began losing weight at a rapid pace. A little over two weeks in, I had lost a total of 20 pounds, about 15% of my body weight. Combined with my other symptoms of chest pains, stomach issues, and sweaty palms and feet, my healthcare providers began testing me for a number of possible things. It got to the point where I almost wished the blood test for hyperthyroidism came back positive, as it would have explained all my symptoms, and I would finally have an answer. All I knew was that I continued to lose weight and we couldn’t find a cause. Talk about anxiety.
When I passed every test with flying colors and it became clear that everything was due to “only” anxiety, I still found myself obsessing over my weight. Yet, instead of the traditional worry of gaining too much weight, I was consumed with the fact that I wasn’t gaining my weight back, even after I had started on medication.
Twenty pounds lighter meant I was that much weaker. My arms were rail thin and I wasn’t capable of lifting much. My clavicle stuck out, an in-your-face reminder of what was happening to my body. I could no longer sit comfortably on wooden chairs with no more cushy tushy for padding. And none of my clothes fit anymore–I was relegated to wearing leggings and oversize tops for a while, refusing to buy a new wardrobe, because that would somehow mean defeat.
READ: Confessions of a Fat Mom
The one non-digital scale we have in the house resides in a cabinet on our third floor. Dusty and never calibrated, it’s hardly ever used, but I found myself drawn to it almost daily. Like an addict, I just needed one hit, one time on the scale to let me know that things were moving up. Unfortunately, the one time I did get on the scale only to see that I had lost more weight, I was sent into a full on panic attack, something I hadn’t experienced in a couple weeks. The scale had to go.
Not having the scale nearby helped while I was home, but I still constantly thought about my weight. My appetite wasn’t 100% back yet, and I was still having bouts of nausea. Yet, I needed to eat to counterbalance all the weight loss. In fact, my provider even gave me an official Rx for “more doughnuts, more fries!”–probably one of the only times I’ll get that prescription again. So, I would sit there, pounding doughnut holes like it was my job, yet unable to really enjoy them.
One day, I headed to my friend Elanit’s house, a bag of fast food fries and sodas in hand. I lounged on her couch, filling her in on how I was feeling that day, while doing my best to eat more fries, per doctor’s orders. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and as I finished up, I noticed the edge of a scale peeking out from beneath a bench. It pulled at me. My mind started whirring as my palms began sweating. I had been eating more full fat foods for almost a week; I had to have gained something by now, right? But what if I hadn’t? What if I somehow even lost more weight despite my potentially artery-clogging diet?
READ: Losing Weight is HARD
I called out to Elanit, knowing a panic attack was on the horizon if I didn’t get some help. I told her that I knew I shouldn’t be doing this, but it was too late to stop me. I stepped on the scale, eyes shut, and had her look at it. I told her not to tell me if I had lost weight, but to let me know if I had gained. My heart beat forcefully against my chest as I waited. When I opened my eyes she was smiling. I had gained a half a pound. Not a huge gain, but it was in the right direction. I let out a full breath and immediately felt my body relax.
As my medicine and other treatments took effect, my appetite came back, and for a while I relished in eating everything and anything I craved. Yet, the weight was slow to return. I made myself a promise that I would not weigh myself unless I was with my healthcare provider or therapist, knowing how severely I would react to the numbers on the scale. I even broke down and bought some new pants, four sizes smaller than my usual.
I now realize that the rapid weight loss and super slow weight gain is due to the increase in metabolism that can happen when anxiety or a panic attack hits. My fight or flight response is activated more frequently than the average gal’s, and my body just ends up burning more calories without even moving. Now, when I can laugh about it all, I joke that I should create an infomercial for weight loss, all thanks to the miracle of anxiety! The sad reality is that my struggle with weight was anything but a miracle. Now, my grimace-laden responses to all the, “Wow! What have you done? Have you lost weight? You look amazing!” comments I’ve received in the last few months might make a bit more sense.
All those times throughout my life when I looked in the mirror and wondered how I’d look with a trimmer tummy or thinner thighs or bigger breasts, I never realized how good I really had it. I had a strong body that supported me. That allowed me to take on my daily life and kick ass at it. I’m slowly getting back to that body, doing my best not to think about my weight, and reducing at least one more trigger in my life.