Moments with Molly
My name is Molly and I’m currently studying at East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, NC. As I was growing up, I was taught an unhealthy relationship with food and my body, leading me to develop body dysmorphia and disordered eating habits during my adolescence. These problems were furthered by struggles with rigorous academics and social troubles, but I began recovery approximately 2 years ago and have maintained progress towards health and happiness.
Within this column, I’ll discuss moments, whether through narrative, poetry, or artwork, which have given me insight about recovering and developing healthy relationships with food, movement, and myself.
I banter because… Throughout my time in middle and high school, I’ve seen the ways in which adolescence and stress take a toll on teens’ relationships to themselves and their health, both in my own experience and that of my peers. I hope to create and promote a space where conversations about body image, food, lifestyle, and movement can be held openly for all without judgment or harm. We need a space where health and happiness can be considered in tandem, rather than allowing ourselves to compromise one for another.
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June 21, 2019
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’d like to consider myself a person driven by logic.
While this logical nature has brought about many of my most distinctive personality traits and ideals, overly-strict conformity to such reason was a key in fueling the development of my eating disorder in late 2014. At that time, I was dealing with personal issues, such as my anxiety and familial strain, that were not easily regulated by the logic I was so fond of in math and science. Instead, I found the reason of eating disorders: self-driven feedback loops of calorie counting, bingeing and purging, fasting, weighing, and measuring.
Although the past few years of recovery have allowed me to mostly escape these habits, I still find myself comforted by the rigidity of the system: life with an eating disorder was a pattern, just like one I’d find in the chemical structures of hydrocarbons or the numbers of algebraic sequences. For a long time, I’ve felt like this addiction could only truly be overcome by rejecting logic, choosing instead to be driven solely by emotion, but I found emotional eating to be just as disordered and unfulfilling.
For me, I’ve found that the healthiest solution has been to fight fire with fire; or rather, fight eating disorders with science.
Over the past year, I’ve become increasingly interested in understanding the science behind nutrition and wellness. We have these societal ideas of health, promoted in magazines and online, but they’re built around arbitrary numbers and inexact calculations and ultimately, oversimplification.
Take macronutrients for example: there are few, if any, common foods that we can boil down to only containing fats, proteins, or starches. Most foods, from breakfast cereal to avocado and broccoli, are built from a combination of all three necessary nutrients. But if we can’t boil foods down to one macronutrient or another, how can we look at solely counting macronutrients as an accurate measure of how well we are nourishing ourselves? And how can we look at diets like keto, which aim to cut out entire macronutrient groups, as even being scientifically possible, much less healthy? These questions reveal that diet culture has been lying to us all along, and that logically, the only way to achieve wellness is through a balanced, filling diet based on intuitive eating.
Beyond that, calorie-counting and macro measurements are such relative, inexact calculations that they are not practically helpful. Firstly, calorie counts on food packaging are calculated using a difficult, inexact experimental process (which I learned firsthand from a food calorimetry lab in my chemistry class). On top of this, there is little regulation to ensure that food labeling is accurate: the United States Food and Drug Administration allows up to a 20% margin of error on nutrition levels, which applies to both caloric and nutritional facts. This means that for every “100-calorie” snack pack a person consumes, the actual caloric measurement of the snack could legally range from 80 to 120 calories. These values can also range amongst each individual morsel of food; in fruits and vegetables, nutrient content varies drastically by season, variety, ripeness, farming type, and hundreds of other factors. Therefore, these caloric values we might obsess over on food packaging are approximations at best and deception at worst. No matter how pretty or perfect those numbers might seem, we have no reason to place so much value in them.
And most importantly, simplifying ourselves and our food down to numbers takes away one of the most necessary elements of ourselves: emotion.
When we look at our food, we should see a product that is more than the sum of its parts. We may try to define foods by their calories, or their fat percentages, or a number of other nutritional facts, but we would simply be ignoring a much more inconspicuous aspect of their value: the role they play in our social, emotional, and mental well-being.
From the holiday dinners to the comforting pints of ice cream, the pre-test breakfast to the post-therapy snack, the truth is that we need food in a way that is about much more than macros and calories. We need food for the way it fuels us, brings us together, gives us comfort, allows us freedom.
We need to treat food like more than numbers on a package, and we need to treat ourselves like more than measurements on a scale, if we want to achieve a true state of well-being and self-love.
June 10, 2019
With it now being June, I’ve finally completed my junior year of high school! Throughout the last month of tests, projects, and events, I’ve heard many of my peers define their accomplishments. While many of them described ambitions and future aspirations, some chose to define their year by weight loss and development of disordered eating habits.
2 years ago, I would just has easily have described a year plagued by anxiety, isolation, and restrictive behaviors around food. As most of my close friends know, I still resort to my desires for a small lunch every now and then, clinging to carrots and cheese like a safety blanket. Although I had begun on my journey to recovery back then, I didn’t learn the most important aspect of my journey until recently: give the good as much space as the bad. In mind, in body, we must embrace the parts of us beyond our disorders and struggles.
So today I choose the good instead of the bad and give you a list of 5 things more important to me than my eating and weight:
Being ranked first in my class (due to my grades)
Finding strength and pride in my body through movement
Building close relationships with my friends and teachers
Finding happiness and comfort in social experiences
Becoming a leader in my school and community through organizations I value
Now, this list is very particular to me and my personal struggles. But as we all wrap up this season, year, or leg of our journey, I encourage you to take a moment and think of 5 things you’ve achieved thus far that don’t involve your weight or eating. Whenever you’re feeling down, remember that these are only a small subset of your lifetime accomplishments. Fixation on food and weight should never overshadow the thousands of other things you’ve done thus far.
~ You are limitless and no amount of struggle can smother your flame. ~
Digits Don’t Dominate: Liberating Myself from the Numbers
April 23, 2019
Since I was small, I’ve always thought mathematics was my favorite subject. Although this might have been in part due to the influence of my geeky father, numbers quickly became a safe haven. In my mind, numbers were a universal language with no bias, judgment, or room for interpretation. 10 pens were always 10 pens, no matter what you did to them. Numbers had no connotation: they were objective, unlike the infinite possibilities of storytelling that I so despised.
But as I grew older, the digits I held dear to me began to take on voices. These numbers spoke volumes, like the added pounds boomed over loudspeakers in my head. Eventually, digits became voices became creatures, with the emotional depth of a toddler and the manipulative skills of a mastermind. Numbers were no longer numbers: they were bad, ugly, despicable, nasty, and every other hateful word that could be aimed at my body’s target.
I began to see myself as a number, a sum of parts, the points added up on a chemistry test. My dreams swam with digits and I began counting them off on my fingers, toes, wherever I could keep them safe with me for a time.
But these, these were not my numbers, the ones I knew and loved. They were expectations, connotations added after the fact by parents and teachers and peers. It was like a bad translation, as the digits became words that they never knew in the first place through a faulty dictionary of mind.
I’ve realized, digits are just that: digits. No scale ever reads “bad,” nor does a weight machine read “worthy”. Just as we cannot let ourselves be defined by points on an assignment, we must not transcribe any emotion from a number on a scale or a treadmill or a plate.
Digits do not dominate: ideas do. Strip the connotations from your numbers, let them be free and objective and kind. Because no matter how many ways you split it, life is 100% your experience. Dominate your digits so you can make the most of it.