Does This Post Make My Butt Look Big? Seriously, I Have No Idea.

I’ve been thinking about this post—what to write and how to write it—for many weeks now. In fact, I’ve been wondering whether to post it at all. Primarily, I want it to be helpful and not self-indulgent or confessional. Not knowing what my message is makes this a big risk. Furthermore, I don’t feel broken any more . . . well not very much . . . and I’m not looking for anyone’s sympathies. This is for the people out there who may have a similar story and assume that they’re alone.

The few people that I’ve talked about it one-on-one have all said that it will likely be useful to someone out there, so I’ve decided to go ahead and write it. Besides, May is Mental Health Month, and reducing the stigma of mental health issues by bringing this kind of thing to light is what the month is all about.

Enough stalling. On with the dispatch!

When I graduated from high school, I weighed 135 lbs (61 kg). Since I’m 5’11″ (180 cm) tall, that put my BMI at the extremely low end of normal and healthy. I was always thin when I was growing up—some used to say “skinny,” which I always hated hearing because there was usually judgment involved when it was said. I was, to quote Lisa’s matter-of-fact assessment, a “stick boy,” but to me that seemed normal. The way I looked at 18 was how I’d always known myself. Being thin and athletic was part of my concept of who I was.

Why did I weigh so little? Simply put, I didn’t eat very much. I just wasn’t that interested in food. Don’t get me wrong, I ate three good meals a day, and throughout my whole life I’ve enjoyed good food and indulged—yes, even overindulged—when it was plentiful. For the most part, though, it wasn’t. I don’t want to make it sound like I was starved, because I wasn’t. I ate at mealtimes; I ate what was available, which was pretty healthy; I didn’t ever feel overly full; I rarely got a lot of satisfaction from eating; and I didn’t mind being a little hungry.

When I got some freedom in high school, I kept eating the way I always had. Eating healthy was a choice, and (perhaps) I put more pressure on myself than was necessary to eat well for several reasons. (1) I had good eating habits and enjoyed some of the healthier foods, although (even then) eating veggies wasn’t a routine choice. (2) People in my family tend to get larger as they get older, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. In our defense, my grandmother’s desserts are delicious and plentiful! (3) As an athlete, I knew food is fuel. Even at that age I understood that the better the food, the better my running performance was. (4) It was America in the late 80s and early 90s. Even though obesity wasn’t an American epidemic yet, the media was starting to get saturated with stories about “good foods” and “bad foods.” I seemed to take those stories with more gravitas and certainty than they likely deserved.

I thought I was normal. I still do think my teenage self was alright, if atypical. I certainly never thought I had an eating disorder. There might have been clues that I thought about food the wrong way, but I didn’t see them as such. After a cross-country race I was cooling down with a friend who we all thought had an eating disorder. When I declined a hunk of French bread from her loaf, she said, “If I have to eat, you have to eat, too.” Then there was the time in my first year of college when the resident assistant on my floor tried to give me a flier for an eating disorder support group. And when we were newly married and going on road trips, Lisa would from time to time remind me that normal people eat lunch even when it’s inconvenient. I was able to shrug off the first event—my teammate was being friendly, and I certainly wanted her to eat—and Lisa and I were doing the normal thing of figuring out a shared schedule. But the support group suggestion upset me quite a bit. How much I ate was no one’s business but my own, I thought, and I certainly didn’t see myself as having a problem.

Was I calorie deficient? No. Did I have an eating disorder? It’s difficult to say looking back after all these years, but I’m inclined to say “no.” I certainly had several of the elements of disordered thinking about food and body image that are typical in anorexia and orthorexia, but I never actually avoided eating when I was hungry. Eating disorders are serious medical conditions, and I don’t feel any need to include myself in that group lightly. Plus, I was always considered very healthy; no doctor that I can remember ever suggested I was underweight or malnourished. Nevertheless, it’s a fine line and I was close to it. (Looking back, I’d say “uncomfortably close.”)

What I do know, after more than 20 years of being thin and then gaining and losing weight a couple of times, is that at 37 I have body image issues which occasionally lead to anxiety and unhappiness.

In a nutshell: I simply cannot see myself objectively.

I know that when most of us look at ourselves in the mirror, we see things that we like and don’t like, and those things usually look worse to us than they do to other people who also get to see them. That’s normal human behavior. I suspect even Clive Owen looks at himself in the mirror and occasionally sighs in frustration.

What I’m talking about is not really knowing whether I’m the right size and not knowing if the things I don’t like about myself are actually problems or just a symptom of my messed up body image. My mind’s concept of myself is still the person who weighed 135 lbs, had bony arms, and a very outie belly button.

As a triathlete who trains all the time and weighs between 145-150 pounds—depending on the season or phase of the moon, it seems—I’m able to convince myself that what I see isn’t actually the way things are, but it’s all based on faith and logic and not on what I think I see. This I can manage pretty well. “That Buddha belly there,” I think to myself, “isn’t really there. And besides you need it for your infusion sets and CGM sensors. So don’t get any ideas.” And, “That kind of jowly area you have there . . . it isn’t really there either. Really. Really. I know. Trust me. Really.”

What I still have a hard time dealing with are the comments from other people that I’m too thin.

I feel like I’m in a very good place with both my weight and my feelings on food. (Although sometimes I think diabetes would be easier if I didn’t have to eat, that’s completely beside the point and only ever happens when I really, really want to eat but am battling long periods of high blood glucose.) I like to eat. I look forward to eating—and cooking, too! I eat meals of all sizes. I snack. I eat so-called junk food along with my healthy lunch from home. I adore ice cream. Food and I are tight, and my weight stays where it is only because I workout.

But when other people suggest that I’m working out too much or have lost too much weight—even though I haven’t lost any in almost 18 months—my mental equilibrium gets thrown off. I know that I should take it as the joke or sarcastic compliment that it almost certainly was. But not knowing what I really look like and having been defensive in the past, these things leave me worried that maybe people are trying to tell me something that I really should be able to see for myself— just like my RA suggested almost 20 years ago. There’s a fine line for me between shrugging off these comments while being happy with who I have become and accepting that I really just don’t know whether there’s a kernel of truth in them.

I don’t really know how to end this post except to say that it’s not as bad as it might sound from the last few paragraphs. I think about food all the time because I have diabetes, and I think about how I look most mornings after taking a shower and whenever I change my diabetes paraphernalia, but I don’t feel dragged down by food or my body image very often. Mostly I just want anyone reading this to know that (a) if you’ve felt the same way, you’re not alone, (b) body image problems and eating disorders can happen to men, (c) sometimes people are trying to help you the best way they know how and sometimes there just wise-cracking, and (d) it’s okay to like yourself no matter how you think you look. Well, that’s probably enough rambling for now.

p.s. — Yes, this post was scary to write, but it was scarier to publish it.

p.p.s. — If you feel like leaving a comment—which I encourage—please be open-minded and courteous.

This entry was posted in Diabetes, Life Lessons, This is who we are. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Does This Post Make My Butt Look Big? Seriously, I Have No Idea.

  1. Kerri. says:

    This post makes you look wise. And brave. And a wonderful person I’m proud to call a friend. Thanks for sharing this, Jeff.

  2. Scully says:

    You, my DBFF, are amazing.
    I’m so proud of you for writing this, I know it was hard. It’s beautifully written and honest. The biggest thing I think that I took from this is the misconception that men can have body image issues too. Good job my friend. You are stronger for sharing this.

  3. Sysy says:

    WHOA. Thank you. I feel the similarly. I have actually asked doctors before to tell me the truth- if my BMI is out of range. They say it’s in perfectly healthy range but I look in the mirror and too recognize that I have a hard time being objective. My husband thinks I’m kidding when I say I’m really fat but I’m being honest. I really see what I think I see and then it goes so far as me wanting to hide or I get sick to my stomach or I just feel totally down and out for the day/week/month/year. I think I’ve done better with this over time because I had twins 3 years ago and being short and having a short torso meant I got ridiculous sagging skin that has not decreased at all since the day my kids came out. Literally, I’m the same except for a kangaroo pouch looking thing just hanging on my abdomen. But why did this help you wonder? Because it was something that I wasn’t imagining any more in the mirror. It was like, validation of my self-consciousness over my looks. You know? Like, I could actually be correct now and say, “Wow, look at my belly, it’s ruined…” And this drew focus away from my weight and made me almost feel like a few extra pounds are somehow nothing in comparison with the “twin skin”. I don’t know if that made any sense? Anyway, I’ve gained weight this year and don’t feel so fatalistic anymore which is nice…but I still REALLY want to lose 20 pounds. I just want to do it without these imaginary observations that take over sometimes. My husband gets self conscious from time to time because he likes to stay trim and healthy and his family just so happens to eat more junk food than him. They often say he’s too skinny and I know it bothers him but to me he looks great and from a physiological standpoint he could still lose 5 pounds and be perfectly healthy. I think society puts pressure on men the way they put it on women. Maybe we’re just all caught between being brainwashed by idealistic messages and being so used to most people around us being overweight-making healthy weight seem below weight. I’ve had people tell me to eat a cake-and I’m 5’3 and 135 pounds so I’d say that observation is off. Anyway, brave one you are. I really appreciated reading this. This comment even felt a little brave. Sorry it was long! Take care!

  4. Suzanne says:

    Having gone through what is now labeled “diabulemia” (which still feels strange in my head… have a(nother) label), I totally understand your post. While I did overcome the majority of my eating/weight/food/distructive issues, at least the severely dangerous ones, and having made it to almost 22 yrs wth diabetes mostly unscathed, the body image and the daily decisions to stay well are all still there. I began my blog to help me overcome this and I believe it did (if you want to read, it all starts back in 2007, the newest posts are about my big ole success story :)). Keeping it all locked up inside for fear of judgment (or worse, passing it on!!!!) was detroying me. I have come to a comfortable place where I accept that none of us are perfect, but I think it is extremely ‘normal’ to attempt to be, in whichever way our personality guides our obsessions. I agree with Kerri, this post does make you wise, and very brave. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. :)

  5. victoria says:

    My dear friend, you are wonderful all the way around! I know you’re not all that religious, but you also know that I am so indulge me. In the bible, we’re reminded that we are made in God’s image, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We’re also told that there is no flaw in us. I believe that with all of my heart. You are thin. I am fluffy (my preferred word). I love both of us and how we are made. If we all looked the same, the world would be so very boring. I’m thankful to have you as a friend. And those fantastic T-shirts you make wouldn’t look nearly as good on anyone else!

    I am comfortable in my own skin, but when I begin to compare myself to others, my mind begins to wander. I have to be careful to recognize that I am perfect the way I am. You are so wonderful and smart and talented, and I have learned so much from you during the past couple of years! Proud of you for hitting publish! You are most definitely not alone!

  6. Kate Boylan says:

    Jeff! This was an amazing post, and as everyone has noted, you are brave and wonderful soul to put “pen to paper” and write it. I cannot even begin to tell you the body image issues I have had (and still have, in some ways), and I appreciate that you were able to explain so much so eloquently. Thank you for sharing, and for inspiring others to share and support!

  7. Céline says:

    Wow – that’s quite a journey you took us on. I can only imagine how many emotions you might have experienced writing it. Sharing that kinda stuff is scary and really hard but I’m guessing it helped you and it will most certainly help others.

    Kudos to you my brave friend.

  8. mary says:

    thank you for this post. sometimes, it’s hard for me to remember that people of all sizes and genders can suffer from body image issues, and i certainly apologize if anything i’ve said (jokingly and with love, i promise) about your suffering from hank hill syndrome or your jam-packed exercise schedule has bothered you. i have a lot of experience with comments i’ve made being taken the wrong way (which is mostly my fault, i concede). of course, if someone made a comment to me about my body or exercise habits, i’d probably take it pretty personally, so maybe i should stop saying that kind of shit to other people.

    at any rate, i think you look fantastic and i’ve never thought to myself, “jeff doesn’t eat enough” (um, don’t take that the wrong way, haha!).

  9. Jeff Mather says:

    Thank you everyone who read this, especially you wonderful women who e-mailed, tweeted, or left comments! It all means so much to me.

    A huge nod of respect to Sysy, Suzanne, and Kate for being so open about where you’ve come from, too. And to Scully, my dia-bestie, your food posts helped me so much when I was making up my mind about whether and how to write this. You too, Jess.

    Kerri, you have the biggest D-megaphone around, and I’m so glad that you use it the way you do. Thanks for sending people my way!

    Kerri meet Mary. She’s also from Lil’ Rhody. You don’t have to worry, Mary. Nothing you’ve said has ever really gotten to me. Somehow from you it doesn’t seem so bad at all. It’s probably because of all of the heavy sarcasm and irony, so I know exactly how it’s intended. :^) Besides, it’s nice to be able to laugh about my lack of butt and/or diabetes sometimes.

    Victoria, your G-d sounds nice. I mean that.

    Si tu as écrit ce Dispatch, Céline mon amie, ce serait plus drôle et plus puissant.

  10. mary says:

    okay, good! also, now you know that i don’t feel comfortable wearing the tiny bikram yoga costume, so you can definitely sling that back at me if i ever say something that crosses the line!

  11. Jess says:

    oh jeff, this is one of the bravest posts i’ve ever seen. i am so very proud of you, my friend. know that you are loved and accepted, just as you are.

    your courage will help others. much love to you, my friend. <3

  12. Pingback: Around the Diabetes Blogosphere — May Edition : DiabetesMine: the all things diabetes blog

  13. Your open heart and smart brain tip the scale toward awesome, no matter the poundage shown, Jeff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your courage with us all!

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