I’d love your thoughts on a serious subject that I’ve been thinking about for a while: my own “before and after” photos.
I sometimes get the feedback from people who are struggling with compulsive eating that they don’t totally feel they can relate to me, because all my pictures of myself up on my blog and social media are of me since I have healed a lot of my compulsive eating, and generally looking pretty happy and healthy (which I am now). Many of the people I work with (though not all) have weight issues due to compulsive eating and feel their extra weight is unhealthy or uncomfortable, and may have a lot of emotional pain about struggling with weight, too. I was in the same place, as I’ve written lots about, and yet there aren’t any pictures of when I was overweight.
I’ve been coaching compulsive eating for over 5 years and healing my own for 10 years, but I’ve never posted “before and after” pictures. I don’t have have any shame about what I looked like when I was really struggling with it (about 50 lbs of extra weight) or fear of sharing that; I haven’t posted them because I have other concerns:
I am concerned posting “before and after” pictures will make it appear that in the end, all I’m really doing is promoting weight loss and changing one’s physical appearance. Though I support anyone wanting to lose weight (within medically healthy parameters), and I personally feel much more comfortable and healthy after I’ve lost weight, I don’t want to promote an obsession with the scale and perpetuate the self-hate many people have.
I also don’t want to contribute to our culture that makes people (women in particular) feel that they aren’t GOOD enough unless they’re a certain weight or body type, which sadly, happens all the time even within the healthy living movement.
Additionally, my before and afters are somewhat arbitrary. In other words, the size I was when I was really struggling with compulsive eating was uncomfortable for me, and for me, it was a symptom of lots of compulsive eating and bingeing, but for someone else, that size may not be indicative of those things and be comfortable for them. My size now is also arbitrary – it feels good for me, but it may not be the natural or healthy size for someone else (in either direction), and I do not want communicate that people who look like me “before” should feel like they need to change, nor that what I look like now is where someone else should want to be. They would be pictures of my own experience but not necessarily similar to someone else.
I understand that many people wouldn’t interpret “before and after” photos like this at all; it would just make them feel more understood and feel that I do know what they’re going through, including the embodied experience of what it’s like to be a compulsive eater and feel uncomfortable and unhealthy.
While I could see some positive reasons for sharing pictures of myself at different stages in my compulsive eating journey, I am deeply concerned doing so may take away from the message I really want to share in the world, which is all about self-love. It is ok that we want to settle at a healthy weight and feel comfortable, but it has to be about more than our weight.
Truly healing compulsive eating versus just wanting to lose weight is like having pictures of the world on your wall and never having left your hometown vs. actually traveling and experiencing a new place. One is an external reflection, and one changes you on a fundamental level internally. Weight loss is a reflection of our internal transformation, but it is not in and of itself the be-all and end-all of the work in healing compulsive eating.
Healing compulsive eating gives us an opportunity to heal our souls; to heal the broken places in us so we become more whole, more peaceful, more happy people. So we feel connected in life and full of love. It has to be about love, it cannot be about shaming and a fixation on appearance. I believe when we heal our souls, we naturally want to love ourselves by eating in a way that is balanced, and so inevitably our weight and our bodies reflect our loving choices. And for me, though I feel better without extra weight, the weight loss is nowhere near the most rewarding thing I have gained from my own process of healing compulsive eating, eating disorders and food addiction. I am far happier than I used to be, I feel closer to myself, I trust myself more, and I feel more peace, joy, passion, creativity, and freedom in my life. And I hope to convey to others that there are so many more beautiful gifts than just our body changing to be gained from healing what is underneath food compulsion, too.
What do you think? I’d love to hear thoughts on this.