Doctors! They’re jerks just like us!
My husband was, ironically enough, a doctor. A doctor from an anonymous coastal metropolis where women walk around the grocery store in bikinis, who married an average-sized Midwestern girl.
While we were dating in college, the issues started. He convinced me that I should start drinking diet soda; the old empty calories and corn syrup argument. I never liked the weird aftertaste of fake sugar, and didn’t really see the need. I was 5’7”, 135 pounds, and had been since high school. My natural weight. What was wrong with that?
Although I took ballet for 4 hours a week, danced in extracurriculars, and walked everywhere during the week, he started lecturing me on the lack of physical activity I was getting. He convinced me to start lifting weights. My roommate got concerned at this point, and reported me for having an eating disorder. We were enraged by that. I certainly didn’t have an eating disorder; I was mostly ignoring him and eating whatever I wanted, anyways. Just the diet soda and the weight lifting. I told her I was just trying to be healthier, and at that point, I think that’s all it was.
After college, we moved in together, and he warned me that if I stayed at this weight now, with this metabolism, that he wouldn’t be attracted to me by the time I got into my late 30s. He designed a diet for me, full of diet frozen dinners (easier to track your calories that way instead of adding up ingredients in cooking),that topped 1000 calories a day. I was famished all the time, and didn’t have enough energy to cook anyways. I was 140 by that time; I hit his target goal for me, 125 pounds, with the diet. He encouraged me to continue the diet, however. “Anything else you lose will just make you more beautiful.”
For some reason, I ended up marrying this guy, and I started to get mad. I would watch him eat whole packages of candy for breakfast (his excuse was they’re fat free and he needed the calories for weight lifting), but then I would get berated for eating chocolate chip granola bars (chocolate=fat fat fat!).
As our marriage was deteriorating, he came home from a particularly frustrating day at the hospital and blurted to me that he watches me eat with fear in his eyes. I couldn’t believe my ears. I imagined him watching me in slow motion as I shovel food into my mouth. Imagined my 75 year-old body, arthritic hip and all, trudging along on a treadmill to keep my weight down for him. I imagined missing out on baking cookies with my grandkids with my comfy elastic track pants on.
After I left him, I realized it was completely whack that I had escaped high school without a body image issue, but then got one from someone who was supposed to love me unconditionally. I started eating to spite him. And it really was comforting to eat and not feel guilty, an idea I hadn’t embraced since high school. I still find myself feeling guilty for drinking calories, and I still weight lift, but I am healthier for being away from the stigma. I am now 10 pounds over my original, natural weight, and perhaps I should lose it, and perhaps it will eventually disappear as my eating returns to its non-vengeful norms. But I am not overweight, my BMI is normal, and my loved ones continue to ensure me that I am beautiful.
The vengeful eating isn’t healthy either (trust me, I know), but it’s comforting. It’s just one baby step at a time, and I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. This may not be a cut and dry eating disorder, but this person definitely messed with my mental and emotional relationship with food. I trusted him as a boyfriend/husband, that he wanted the best for me, and as a doctor, that he was promoting a healthy lifestyle. I’ve come to realize that doctors are just as easily affected by eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with nutrition, and I allowed his unhealthy ideas of diet and body image to change mine.
As the divorce was finalized, I had several friends come forward to tell me that they never had a great opinion of him; they always thought something was askew. They never came to me with their concerns because they thought that I was happy. As for my college roommate, she obviously saw something unhealthy developing in me, but didn’t talk to me directly about it. Please talk to your loved ones directly if you think an SO is influencing their diet in an unhealthy way. Even changes that appear superficially healthy (cutting fat, switching to diet soda, dieting, exercise) can become unhealthy if the motivation behind them is toxic.
I left the divorce with my self-esteem crushed, but I take pride in the strength I had to realize the situation, leave it, and put myself back together. I certainly won’t ever be the same girl from high school again, but maybe one day soon, I’ll be the confident, 135 pound girl with healthy reasons to be healthy, with a man who will adore my elastic track pants and cookie recipes years down the road.