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Health & Wellness Nonfiction Uncategorized

Plate By Numbers

Warning: This article contains talk of scales, weight loss, and dieting and may be triggering for those currently struggling with body dysmorphia and other related body image disorders.

Make a Wish

Throughout the majority of my twenty-one years, I’ve had a constant wish in the back of my head:

I want a flat stomach.

I’ve always been on the smaller side, and I’ve never been overweight. Yet to me, there has always been room to lose. Putting it plainly, I have incessantly wanted to drop weight, to shed those couple of extra pounds. Why? That’s a good question. If you asked me a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a good answer with good reasons. I just knew I long dreamed of having a toned core and an overall lean body. But I’ve since realized that there is more to my explanation.

Diversity? Didn’t Know Her

I grew up in the South, in a predominantly white community, and I’m a woman of color, so I looked different than most of the people in my community. While I didn’t realize it at the time, this had a big impact on me. I grew up in a place where the standard of beauty didn’t include the physical features that made up my face. My flat nose, round face, and smaller eyes were traits that set me apart. 

Suffice to say, my hometown lacked diversity. This, combined with my limited exposure to Asian American representation in the entertainment industry, largely led to a lack of confidence.

For me, it was difficult to love how I looked when I was surrounded by people whose physical traits looked nothing like mine. Suffice to say, my hometown lacked diversity. This, combined with my limited exposure to Asian American representation in the entertainment industry, largely led to a lack of confidence. So, I latched onto a physical aspect that I could control: my weight.

Taking Control… Or Trying To

Throughout high school, I was quite unsuccessful. I played on my high school’s varsity tennis team, and I was in good shape. But abs don’t allow for frequent stress eating or an unclean diet, and Chick-fil-A was my best friend. My weight stayed pretty constant and didn’t fluctuate much, but in the back of my head, I was never satisfied. I would pinch my midsection, stare in the mirror, and think if only I could weigh a little bit less.

At the beginning of college, those nagging thoughts still persisted, popping up every once in a while to remind me that I wasn’t thin enough. But they couldn’t stop me from eating ice cream at the dining halls or indulging in comfort food, and all of the walking from class to class and uphill both ways made my weight stay about the same. 

When the pandemic started, my relationship with food started to take a further turn for the worse. I didn’t contract a severe eating disorder, but for a short period of time, my calorie intake dropped well below the recommended amount for my demographic. I would weigh myself every day and get a rush of excitement when I saw the numbers drop. However, I quickly realized that my restrictive diet was unsustainable, so I tried to find a balance. Once I allowed myself to eat more calories, the number on the scale started to rise, and this made me unreasonably upset. I took a break from weighing myself, and I tried to focus on my health, rather than reaching a certain weight.

Flash forward a couple of months, and I was again wrapped in the mindset that prioritized numbers over health. This time, I had calorie counting, or CICO (calories in, calories out). Now, I don’t think that calorie counting is a bad thing. If it is used with moderation and balance for improving overall health, I think it’s great. And using CICO was the first time I actually started approaching my weight goals while consuming an acceptable amount of calories that followed health guidelines. The problem, however, was constant thinking about losing weight. 

When I woke up, I would think about my weight. I’d take a look in the mirror and see if I saw any difference from the day before. If I was hungry, I usually made myself wait until the next meal, and I would savor every bite of food since I knew I would restrain from eating until the next meal. If I ended up binging, I felt guilty beyond measure. 

Finding a Descriptive Phrase

At this point, I was confused. I knew I didn’t have an eating disorder, but something about my mindset didn’t feel right. I took online quizzes to see how prone I was to developing an eating disorder, not out of sheer curiosity, but because I was genuinely scared of the direction my relationship with food was going. I was grateful to be aware of my unhealthy obsession with wanting to lose weight, but I was also at a loss for what to do about it and perplexed about what to label my not normal (but not as medically dangerous as an eating disorder) condition. 

It was after research that I realized that, while I didn’t have an eating disorder, I did have disordered eating. According to Cleveland Clinic, “disordered eating covers a broad range of conditions, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. But there’s a much larger percentage of people (5 to 20%) who struggle with symptoms that do not meet the full criteria of a problematic eating pattern.” One of the emotional signs of disordered eating is “being preoccupied with body image, body size/shape, a specific part of the body and/or the number on the scale.” That sounded very familiar to me.

So… What About Now?

Unfortunately, this article does not have the magic answer of how I removed this toxic mindset from my life. Because the truth is, I know I’m still trying to manage it.

Unfortunately, this article does not have the magic answer of how I removed this toxic mindset from my life. Because the truth is, I know I’m still trying to manage it. I’ve definitely improved with being nicer to myself (talking to yourself like you’re talking to a friend works wonders), but I’m a work in progress. Like most other areas of my life, my mindset about weight is something I’m constantly wanting to balance out. I’m fortunate that my problems with body dysmorphia are not nearly as severe as they could be. But it’s sad that, at one point, I let the number on the scale dictate my mood and be the main thought throughout the rest of my day. 

While my focus on my weight stems from wanting something I can control—something I can get concrete results from by self-discipline—it ultimately distracts me from things I actually want to focus on. If you’re reading this and can relate, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. This is a problem that’s much more common than I thought, and much less talked about than is needed. So, let’s start the conversation.

Resources

For urgent services, you may reach the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255, the 24/7 National Crisis Text Line by texting “HELLO” to 741741, or the 24/7 National Lifeline Crisis Chat service here

For support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one, you may contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline. You may call (800)931-2237, text (800)931-2237 from the hours of 3-6pm Monday through Thursday, or you can access the chat features here. For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
If you are a member of Cornell University, Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is available to all students at Cornell University. If you feel you are in need of psychological services, you may call to set up an appointment with CAPS at (607)255-5155 or visit their website here. For urgent services, you may reach the Cornell Health 24/7 phone consultation line at (607)255-5155 and press 2.