I’ve been talking a lot with clients recently about the tender moments of the intuitive eating journey. There are many!
If you’re in a tender moment right now, I want to share one of the stories (“Taking Up Space”) from Letting Go of Leo: How I Broke Up with Perfection with you today.
Make sure you read to the end, where you’ll find the permission you need most.
And, if you’ve ever wondered why my memoir is called Letting Go of Leo… I promise that this story will clear it all up for you.
Taking Up Space
“What’s the worst thing someone could say about you?” my coach asked me. I could think of way more than one thing. I rattled off my list:
You are a burden.
You are annoying.
You are selfish.
You are mean.
You let me down.
You are needy.
You are a bitch.
I cried on the phone as I shared these with her. Just saying the words, one after the other, was painful to my heart. These are the worst things that someone could say to me.
For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be everything that everyone needed and nothing that they didn’t. I feared people would think those exact thoughts about me, and I desperately strived to be the opposite. I wanted to say everything that people wanted to hear, and nothing that they didn’t. I wanted to say “yes” to every request so that I never had to let anybody down. I didn’t want to need things from people because they might get annoyed with me and leave. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or be the wrong thing because they might think I was a bitch, or selfish, or a burden. And then leave.
One of the reasons I loved losing weight was because it made me smaller. The smaller I was, the less space I took up. The less space I took up, the less I would bother people. At least that’s what I believed. Sometimes I dreamed of shrinking down so small that I never had to bother anybody ever again. That sounded less stressful than worrying about being good all the time.
Another reason I loved losing weight is because people told me that I was doing a good job. It made me feel like I was doing something right in the world. The smaller I got, the more people reinforced it. When I would gain weight, people would stop complimenting me. When they weren’t telling me that I was good, I wasn’t sure if I was good anymore.
The absence of the validation felt like the presence of my worst fears: I was bad, I was wrong, and people thought all those horrible things about me.
It took me a long time to realize we live in a culture that values “thin” above anything else a woman can be. As a whole, our culture places thin above health, and promotes it at all costs and in unhealthy ways. It glamorizes eating disorders: prescribing restriction as “balance,” praising weight loss, and shaming fat people. Diet culture is so ingrained in our society that it often goes unnoticed. Over time, it has become sneakier and sneakier. Diets aren’t like they were in the 90s. In the 90s, people were honest about dieting. In the 90s people said, “I am drinking only grapefruit juice or eating only cabbage soup so I can wear smaller jeans.” Now, people say, “I am drinking only grapefruit juice or eating only cabbage soup to cleanse my body and create abundant wellness and live my best life.”
I miss the 90s, where at least people were honest about their diets and Leonardo DiCaprio was my boyfriend (in my mind).
I’ll never forget watching “Romeo and Juliet,” falling more deeply in love with Leonardo DiCaprio after each scene. It was 1996, and at the age of 10, I fell so hard. There was no reasoning with me. I went to school hoping he would randomly walk through the doors to take me on a date. I opened my locker praying there would be a note from him. I dreamed of our future together, frolicking from one awards show to another and making out in the limo in between events. I wrote him letters. I made out with posters of him. My mom even caught me fake interviewing myself once:
“So, what’s it like being Leo’s girlfriend?” I asked myself in my best interviewer’s voice.
“It’s truly magical. We are so in love. He is the love of my life and loves me a lot I think. He’s a good kisser, too.” I responded in my best girlfriend voice.
He was the center of my world.
At that point, my heart had never really been broken, so I was all in. There was nothing holding me back from giving everything I had to Leo. This was the beauty of my first love – it was fearless.
I don’t generally think it’s a good idea to put words in other people’s mouths or thoughts in their minds, but if I had to guess I would say that the level of adoration was not entirely reciprocated.
“IF LOVING HIM IS WRONG I DON’T WANT TO BE RIGHT! I JUST LOVE HIM! Why can’t you get that, MOM?!” I’d yell hysterically, throwing myself on the living room floor.
When it didn’t work out (shocker), I remember thinking the reason must have been because I was not as skinny as Claire Danes in “Romeo and Juliet.”
That’s what I concluded at the age of 10. It had nothing to do with the fact that we had never met. Or that I was being creepy. Or that my heart was destined for another blonde man in the future named Tim. Nope, none of those reasons. Iknew it was my weight.
And that line of reasoning didn’t end there. I continued to believe that the smaller I was, the better I was. This was a message fed to me over and over again by culture and, later in life, by the comments I did (or did not) receive from people around me.
Smaller was good. Bigger was not.
I wanted to be good.
What I didn’t realize then, or for many years after, was that people will tell us what we should do. What we should say. Who we should be. What we should eat. What values we should have. But that doesn’t mean we have to be those things or say those words or hold those values. We get to choose all of those things for ourselves.
I had to ask myself, Am I just going to live my whole life obsessing about my weight? Am I going to die having spent all my time on earth trying to be skinnier? Trying to make other people happy? Trying not to need anything or not to be annoying or not to say the wrong thing? Is this my purpose? Is this who I am?
No. Surely I am here for more than this. Surely God made me for more than not pissing people off or not taking up too much space. I have a purpose and it is not to be the smallest version of myself.
And because I have chosen who I am (even if it feels scary) and what I will say (even when it feels scary) and what I will value (even when it feels scary), I remind myself each day that I am safe to be me. Each day I remind myself:
I have permission to change. I’m made to change.
I have permission to take up space. I’m made to take up space.
I have permission to need things. I’m made to need things.
I have permission to be me. I’m made to be me.