Body image and chronic illness, or Why I’ve never dieted to loose weight

On Saturday I had my first coaching session with Tara from Such Different Skies (did you know she’s just published and e-book with Rachel from In Spaces Between, you definitely want to check it out), but one thing we talked about was my relationship with my body. Or my lack of it (until very recently anyway).

I’ve never been concerned with weight loss or calorie counting, I’ve not got caught up in that seemingly female pursuit of weigh ins. For the average female out there, I can imagine this sounds like a super power, but I promise you it isn’t. How I avoided it was when I was at the peak time of female teenage vulnerability, ages 14 & 15, my menstrual difficulties kicked in and I started having my horribly painful, long, iron deficient period issues. When that started, any desire to look good (which as an INTJ was pretty minimal anyway) completely fell away and I but I became fixated on continuing to operate like a normal human, even though I was far from it. I put immense pressure on myself to turn up to classes, to keep doing sport, to do all my homework, to keep up with being an academic achiever. To do the chores at home my mother expected. Later, to keep going to work, to not let down those around me, to not burden my partner. That pressure came from feeling completely unable to function as a normal person and not wanting it to be my reality. All I wanted was to be able to turn up to school and actually understand what was going on in class, to be able to participate in sporting events, to be able to do hikes, to function on a basic level.

Anyone who has even had a passing introduction to chronic illness knows this is not how it works. Your illness can seem like your enemy, but is really your teacher. It is telling you to rest, to take care of yourself, to stop. You can’t function normally because, ultimately, you’re not normal. For me, the ability to be normal or exceptional (instead of looking normal or exceptional) was a source of frustration. A source of comparison. Not necessarily to everyone else, but to myself. Why was it so hard to do something that mere weeks or days ago I could do on autopilot? This has been a huge part of the frustration for me. I can go from scaling a mountain one day, to being holed up at home, dosed up to the eyeballs on meds and almost unable to move because of pain a few days later, and that exact thing happened to me earlier this year.

I’ve heard the concept of not comparing to others as it drives unhappiness a lot this year, but my struggle as been to not compare to myself. I can be active, fit and happy one day, then I’m unwell, or not able to do full sets in barre, or I need more sleep a few days later. In a good patch, I’ll go on being well and free from bleeding issues for months, then I get a bleed or some deep painful bruising. As both a forward and backward thinker, this is really hard to deal with – I think of why I can’t do something that was easy, or what if I can’t make that commitment I’ve agreed to because of this bleed?

In this gorgeous video, the lovely Amelia from Nurture and Shine talks about being ok with not having a routine after she became a mum. She had to (and struggled with) learning that a routine now wasn’t going to work for her and just taking the day as it comes. Even if that means not getting the washing done, or leaving chores for another day. This is a lesson I’m learning to, to take it as it comes – to celebrate the days I can do amazing things, like this hike, and to take the other days slower when I need to to rest a bruised joint, or take it easy when a menstrual bleed is out of control. I think I’m actually getting pretty good at doing it, its just believing it I’m working on!

If you have a chronic health condition, I’d love to hear your take on this. Have you also had a issue with function over form when it comes to loving your body, or was the a line in the sand – before diagnosis and after diagnosis? Or did all of this just seem weird to you?


About Jenna

Seeking a new way of working outside the standard 9-5. Writer for hire - blogs, internal procedures, social media posts, training manuals or anything else you an imagine.
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3 Responses to Body image and chronic illness, or Why I’ve never dieted to loose weight

  1. ABE says:

    Chronic illness takes a lot of energy – there isn’t much left for the expectations of others.

    I did manage to lose weight by basically not eating for a year, but the reason (finally) was to take some weight off my joints. I think it is helping me begin to walk properly again – but the weight goes on so easily, and comes off so hard, EVEN if you are doing it for reasons of mobility. Sigh!

    And half the time I can’t muster the energy at all – and just go into a holding pattern of trying not to eat carbs. My incentive: every time I get sugar, etc., in the system I spend 4-8 days getting it out – so I can write. My writing is what keeps me sane, so this is a big deal. My birthday got me this year (Sep. 10 – so happy birthday to you, too – 16th, right?) – and I’ve almost finished paying for it – but the writing is way behind.

    In the best of cases, CFS (ME) steals so much energy and brain power little gets done – I don’t waste much energy on self pity. Most of the time. Hope you’re feeling better.

    • My purely academic impression of CFS/ME is that it must feel a lot like iron deficiency/anaemia, which I’ve had bouts of in my life, just CFS/ME is much harder to ‘fix’, so you have my upmost sympathies.

      I like your take on this too – worrying about what your body looks like is a luxury for some of us, because it implies we have the base level functions working fine.

  2. Pingback: Soul sisters, where are you? | MyMissingFactor

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