What I Learned About Body Love Going From Size 10 to Zero to Six


The author now, feeling her healthiest at a size six (Photo: Jenna Birch)

As a healthy, sporty young woman I always ate whatever I wanted and needed to keep me fueled. I never thought I’d develop an actual fear of eating or fall in love with my new foreign, slim figure.

All throughout my younger years and into my early college days, I was a healthy size 10. As a competitive athlete, I carried muscle. I had broad shoulders, a strong core, defined calves. I ate to accommodate that constant physical activity, no questions asked, because I couldn’t have played five basketball or softball games in a weekend without loading up on fuel. And I rarely thought about my weight or body type.

College slowly changed my frame from muscular to virtually normal. I worked out, and grew more conscious of nixing unhealthy fast foods, but I wasn’t constantly active in the way I once was. So, I stayed roughly the same size until I was about 21.

Around that time, my digestion took a turn. My body couldn’t seem to tolerate food at all. Whether I ate toast or chocolate cake, carrots or chicken soup, I’d spend hours everyday tethered to my bathroom. I barely left the house for months, taking my college courses independently — and withering away.

After a slew of tests over a period of nine months or so, doctors determined I simply had a severe case of IBS with fructose malabsorption. But I completely lost my appetite as doctors worked to control my symptoms. And during that time, I went from a size 10 to a four, and then finally to a zero as my condition flared a final time.


The author after losing a bunch of weight. (Photo: Jenna Birch)

Nortriptyline was my godsend medication. I’ll never forget the night I popped two pills, and woke up the next morning feeling residual pain instead of flames roaring through my gut. Slowly, I began incorporating a wider variety of foods without digestive symptoms. But even after the pain receded and the daily stomachaches stopped, I had to re-learn one of the simplest human activities: Eating.

At 5’8”, I hovered around 125 pounds for several years as I fought back against a conditioned fear of food, constantly reminding myself eating wasn’t going to hurt me. My subconscious still reeled at the thought of a burger or pizza or sushi.

Although I was weighed less than I ultimately wanted to, I didn’t mind dressing a new body. I liked my smaller frame, mostly because it was different. I grew up admiring with the way Kate Moss’ simple, straight figure looked in clothes, and I channeled her look for those couple years. I showed off my legs in cute little shift dresses and wore striped boat-neck tees and skinnies regularly. In a culture where we announce that “real women have curves,” and Kate Upton and Kim Kardashian are hailed for their shapes, I had a new appreciation for the slender body type. It just wasn’t my body type. In actuality, it was simply on loan, borrowed until my health and relationship with food turned around.

Last summer, I started winning my mental battle with eating. Incorporating more and more foods back into my diet, I began to put the weight back on. I enjoyed a mix of healthy foods while reacquainting myself with favorites like Italian and Mexican — with the occasional dessert, too, finally.

As the scale finally settled at 140 pounds, I suddenly noticed my body had totally changed. I had the body of a woman. This frame came complete with curves: I had hips and a butt, boobs and a waist. My stick-straight frame had evaporated without my conscious realization.

I have always resisted change. When a body changes, whether your weight goes up or down, you start to notice details more than ever — some good, but not all. When I lost weight, I noticed a prominent collarbone and slightly defined abs, a thigh gap, and skinny arms. When I put weight back on, I noticed the way skin pooled just over my hips, and the way my thighs suddenly slid together. The way my broad shoulders looked in a scoop-neck top and the way my waist naturally cinched.

It was hard for me to get used to the idea of gaining weight at first, when, for most of my adolescent years and early adulthood, I’d been trained to think shedding pounds was the highest form of self-control and refinement. Women are all taught to believe that losing weight = good and gaining weight = bad.

In theory, I was happy to reach a middle-of-the-road BMI. My dietician told me this number was the goal, and everyone was commenting on how healthy I finally looked. In reality, I struggled with the perception of weight and what it meant. It was tough to see the scale inch up as the weeks passed as I enjoyed foods with actual flavor again. I also hated having to rid my closet of the clothes that no longer fit me, bag by bag.

But these clothes were never meant for my body in the first place. My mom was the one to finally ground me in the facts. I mentioned sending off another bag of clothes to charity with a couple of my favorite dresses, and she mentioned that she was glad.

“You look good. Really good,” she told me. “You weren’t healthy before. You’re healthy now. You were not meant to me that small. You need to embrace who you are.”

That’s when I suddenly realized she was right. Some women are meant to be slender. They look naturally healthy and normal in their shift dresses and leggings. I have a medium-sized frame, a deep love of dessert, and curves that immediately filled out when I began eating and exercising normally again. A happy life at a size zero was, and never will be, in the cards for me.

When I changed my mindset, I changed my life. I stopped beating myself up for ordering the pasta every now and then. I tossed all the clothes from my ultra-thin days with the idea that I would never, and should never, be small enough to wear them again. I slowly started building my wardrobe from scratch. This included dresses that defined a waist, tops with halter necklines, plenty of pencil skirts and a few pair of tailored pants.

I needed an attitude adjustment, and it changed the way I viewed my body. Or rather, bodies. In just a year, I had the pleasure of dressing two very different figures. The first was svelte and gamine-like, but, for me, ultimately fragile. The second was curvy and strong, and very much God-given.

So I started showing off my waist and getting used to cleavage. I traded shift dresses for fitted dresses, smiling at how these now had something more to fit to. And finally, I learned to accept change as change; nothing more, nothing less. My straight body wasn’t more beautiful than my curvy body, simply because I lost weight to obtain it. Every body is beautiful. Healthy bodies are beautiful — and they change all the time. We are children, active and small. We go through puberty, developing womanly features. We forge through college, filling out just a bit, before refining our shapes in our 20s and 30s. Then we have kids, and change happens all over again.

Sometimes change just is. It’s not always positive or negative. Often, it’s neutral. Bodies are meant to fit our lives and lifestyles, at various points, as we grow into the women we’re ultimately meant to be. For me, that woman is 140 pounds and a size six, curvy and happy, working on what self-acceptance means everyday.


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