chronic illness and body shame

Chronic illness and body shame

My husband has been focused on losing weight for the past several months. Everything he talks about is calories and exercise and pounds lost. It drives me nuts. His extra focus on the importance of weight and health has forced me to confront the problems I have with my own body in a way I would have preferred to avoid. I hate focusing on weight because to do so assumes that everyone has control over it and I definitely do not have much control over mine anymore.

For most of my life I was lucky enough to not have any body issues. Though I was never skinny, I had enough self worth to know that my weight did not impact who I was in any way. Plus I was always athletic and kept in shape so I knew that I was doing what I could to take care of my body. Then came chronic illness and I lost control. All of a sudden it didn’t matter if I exercised or not, it didn’t make my body function any better. In fact exercise made my body function worse. Then came the weight gain. It didn’t matter that I ate tons of fruits and vegetables and stayed away from processed food, my body had betrayed me and gained a mind of its own. I couldn’t control my weight, I couldn’t control my energy levels, and I definitely couldn’t control my pain.

Then came the body hatred.

I hated my body for it’s betrayal. It was a vehicle for me to function in the world and suddenly the vehicle was no longer reliable and rarely worked. I questioned why everyone else had a body that worked while mine did not. Why did my body feel so much more pain then everyone else? Why couldn’t it just be normal? Why couldn’t it respond normally to food and exercise? I felt like I got ripped off.

Eventually my anger and feelings of betrayal began to ebb.  It just took too much energy to be angry all the time. I began to feel detached, like this body was something that I was stuck with, but it wasn’t a part of me.  This stage didn’t give me very much respect for my body, so taking care of it seemed pointless. Especially since taking care of it had never led to good results anyway. I stopped taking vitamin supplements (no results from those), stopped caring if I ate sugar (didn’t see a difference), stopped trying to eat so many fruits and vegetables (which obviously weren’t making me any healthier), and gave up trying to exercise (just involved more pain, no gain). Fortunately or unfortunately, even after giving up all those things I didn’t see much of a change in my health, which just proved to me that it was all pointless anyway.

My detachment continued for a long time. I wish I could remember what exactly brought me out of it, but I don’t. One day I just decided that even though I hadn’t noticed any differences in my health since I stopped taking care of my body, it probably wasn’t a good long term solution. So I slowly started adding in a yoga routine, and eventually started walking. I started juicing fruits and vegetables as well as eating them whole. I reduced my sugar consumption, and cut my caffeine levels. I still didn’t see any results, but I realized that I was stuck with the body I have. And while it appears that I have very little control over its well being, it is a part of me and I should care for it as best I can.

Then came my husband’s diet and obsession over weight and calories.  All of the progress I had made felt erased when I realized that switching to a healthy lifestyle made a difference for him. When he ate healthy and exercised he lost weight and felt better. I was (and still am) jealous. It was hurtful to see how easy it was for him to control his body, where mine refused to respond to anything. I was ashamed that my body didn’t work as well as his did. I felt like somehow it was my fault. Because if he could do it so easily then I should have been able to do it too. If I really wanting things to be better I should’ve tried even harder.

And then a friend of mine posted Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and shame. I realized that I was feeling shame about my body and about my illness.  It was a light bulb moment for me. Suddenly all my complicated feelings made sense. My body failed to live up to my expectations and so I split myself apart from it. By splitting myself apart from it I allowed other’s opinions to effect how I felt about my body. Suddenly my weight mattered when it never had before. Suddenly my weight was unacceptable and was an obvious symptom of the disease I was trying to hide.

I had to spend some time asking myself heavy questions. I realized that at the core of my actions was the fact that I was ashamed of my disease. I felt like it was my fault that I was sick and that I should’ve done something to avoid it. My conclusions seem like nonsense now. Who blames themselves for getting a disease? It’s not like I purposely got bit by a tick and then purposely went to stupid doctors who couldn’t diagnose me correctly. It just happened. So I had to accept the fact that I couldn’t control the situation and I couldn’t control my body like I wanted to.  It took some time and a lot of reading, but I eventually came to a place where I was okay with my body the way it was. I’ve also had to put up boundaries. I will not surround myself with people who constantly obsess about calories and their weight because that is my shame trigger. It’s been difficult, but I finally feel like I’m on the path to acceptance.


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10 thoughts on “Chronic illness and body shame

  1. Thank you for sharing such a brave and honest post. Chronic illness, medication all mess with our weight and that isn't fair. But, as you say, if we can come to terms with not hating our body and accepting who we are, I think, regardless of our weight, we are happier people. I had to accept that taking preventative medicine made me heavier. But I'm happier when I am in less pain and can do more, which helps keep the weight under better control. This really is a great post and it is very brave of you to share something so personal in such an honest way. That's a gift not everyone has. Sammie x

    1. Thank you Sammie! I had to admit I almost didn't publish this post, but then after talking about vulnerability and shame I figured it would be a little hypocritical of me if I then refused to be vulnerable. I think you're right that we can be happier people. I'm happier with a whole lot less than many other people are, just because everything I experience is really a wonderful gift.

    2. I am feeling so many of those feelings. I have been diagoned resently with fibrob. I have gained 25 + lbs and hate it

  2. I had the same kind of revelation recently. I have multiple illness of which Fibro is a biggie. I saw a new Rheumatologist who pointed out that I am doubled jointed and that was the cause of so many of my problems! I finally thought: I did not make myself double jointed or cause these problems. God made me and I am not to blame for my illnesses. I feel so much better about my self now. I am trusting myself into God's care more and not being so angry/depressed. Thank you for sharing this part of you journey.

  3. You've struck a chord with this one. One of the single most frustrating things about getting both FMS and ME was the seemingly 'Super Ability' my body developed to weight loss resistance. To feel the need to explain to others that, 'No, I AM exercising, eating right, eating small amounts, ect.' , and all the while not losing a pound. Or saying 'no' to going out to eat/drink, because they just don't understand that it takes almost nothing at all for my body to gain 5lbs. The skeptical looks of doubt on others faces just creates more shame, which for me, can at times feel worse than the pain/fatigue of chronic illness. You're definitely not alone.

  4. This post was awesome. The medication that was supposed to be helping me was, but it caused a 90 pound weight gain before we (the doctor and I) figured out a different medication for me. I have lost 10 pounds in the last few months, but it is a slow road. I now wish I had not let myself get lazy when I was younger, because I cannot do the things now that I could have done then.

    1. It's so difficult when medication causes weight gain. It goes on so fast and then it is so difficult to get off. Good for you for keeping at it though, don't get discouraged! Living as healthy as you can is what is really important.

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