I Want To Be Strong- On Body Image After Anxiety

I remember the day I stepped on the doctor’s scale and weighed in at 139 nearly 3 years ago. I was there for a follow-up appointment, to get a renewed prescription for meds to treat my postpartum anxiety.

It had been a month since I begged them to work me in as quick as possible because I thought I was surely dying… of cancer, of a heart attack, of something. A month since I admitted to myself and a medical professional that I was dealing with some serious intrusive and obsessive thoughts nearly  9 months after having my 2nd baby.

One. Thirty. Nine. I hadn’t seen that number on a scale since high school. My first thought, which I said out loud, was, “do you think something is wrong with my thyroid? I mean. Wow. That’s… I haven’t even been working out.”

So, and I am sure this was mainly to appease me and ease my overactive concern, they ran some tests. Nope. Nothing wrong with my thyroid.

I was just, well, I was the thinnest I’d been in a long time, size 6 skinny jeans sagging off my non-existent butt, because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. Not enough, I guess. I was living off of coffee. I wasn’t purposefully starving myself. I wasn’t aiming to lose weight that way. I had NO appetite.

It was all a part of the illness I was clawing my way away from. I was the thinnest I’d been in my adult life at a time when my life was the most scary it’s ever been.

I know this.

So it really makes me pissed at myself when I step on a scale these days, weighing a good 10-15 lbs more than that, and hear my inner dialogue tell me, “Remember when you were 139? Why can’t you be that skinny again?”

Hey, me? Shut the fuck up.

Because I knew the signs of postpartum anxiety this time, I caught on much earlier that I was back in that place again after having my 3rd baby a year ago. I started meds for it when he was 6 months old. I didn’t let myself get to that place where I’m living on the edge of a cliff. THANK GOD.

So the meds are working, and I am hungry, and I am enjoying life, and I’m sleeping.

The weight isn’t just falling off of me this time. Rationally, I know this is a GREAT thing. I’m not standing in front of a mirror, looking at my hollowed out cheeks, not able to recognize myself.

There is a pudgy tummy, and my butt is much bigger. My arms are  thicker, and my chicken legs are less chicken-y.

It’s not a bad body. It’s a great body. I look good in most clothes. I’m mostly happy with it.

It’s not a skinny 139 body, though, and for some reason there is still that voice that pushes me to achieve that again. And I keep trying to tell that voice that that wasn’t achieved by going to the gym 3x a week, like I’ve been doing. That wasn’t achieved by running the fastest 5k I’ve ever run, which I did last week. That wasn’t achieved by decreasing the amount of crap I’m eating AND increasing the good stuff I NEED to eat.

I’ve been working out more in the last couple months than I have in a long time. It’s been hard to put in so much effort and feel like I’m seeing so few results. I would love to tone up, to slim down just a little more in a HEALTHY way, nothing too extreme. I’d love to have some real muscles. I’m working on it.

I am fighting that voice in my head that holds that 139 body up as what I should be striving for. That 139 body was sick. It was weak.

IWantToBeStrong I want to be strong.



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  1. I so relate to this, Jill. I am 15 pounds heavier than I was two years ago and I look at the teensy tiny shorts and jeans and simultaneously (secretly) wish I was that tiny again and honestly know I wasn’t healthy. I’ve been putting on muscle and weight since I started running 7 weeks ago and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. Turns out I wash’t thin. I was skinny, undernourished and undertoned.

    It’s hard to silence those voices – the ones that tell us the number matters more than how we feel and what we can do with our bodies.

    You are beautiful.

  2. So I’ll grant you that most women don’t think men deal with these issues, but I struggle with weight and body image. When I was at my lowest over a decade ago, I was at the high end of having a normal BMI. I was of “average” weight. And the thing is, I thought I was fat.

    I would see stats on athletes and they would be my size but 210-225. Obviously that was mostly muscle, so our bodies looked completely different. If my stepdad ever heard me running across the house he would make a comment like, “did a pack of elephants just come through here?”

    Then I really did get fat.

    My BMI ballooned to the line where obese becomes extremely obese and I was, by any measure, undeniably fat. While the number shocked me, I didn’t view myself any different.

    I’m no longer that big, but I still see myself as clearly fat. The only difference I see is when I look at a picture of myself. With all that I know now, I feel like I’d have to be unhealthy to get to my medically ideal weight. And for as much as I don’t want to be fat, I don’t want an eating disorder. I can easily see how it happens.

    So I’m trying desperately not to worry about the scale and more about my overall fitness. It’s much easier to use a number like weight to generalize my overall health, but so much more inaccurate and dangerous.

    Sorry for the long post. TL;DR: Jill, I understand your body image issue even if my own is very different.

  3. I remember sobbing when I put on pre-pregnancy outfit two months after giving birth and wondering why I couldn’t fit into it. I lost a bunch of weight quickly and by doing it in an unhealthy way. Those demons just wouldn’t leave and sadly the weight came back. It took a long time to accept the new me~stretch marks and all! I vowed to fight back and to not let our treadmill turn into a clothes rack. I began running and doing yoga. I am healthy and more fit than I have ever been! Thank you for sharing! I think sometimes Mommas just need to hear that they are beautiful even when we don’t feel it!

  4. Thank you for this post, Jill. I’m not a mom and have never dealt with a postpartum mood disorder, but I am going through something very similar right now.

    This time last year I was scary skinny. Like 1 pound away from what I weighed when I graduated *middle school* skinny. Just like you said, it wasn’t that I was purposely starving myself, but I was steeling myself to end a five year relationship, and I was so emotionally drained that I had no energy left to eat, I guess. I can pinpoint March of this year as when I finally began to feel like myself again because I gained fifteen (very needed) pounds in three weeks.

    I know logically that I was unhealthy last year and that I’m healthier now, but that doesn’t change the fact that the number on the scale is a big adjustment. It’s nice to hear someone else articulate this struggle because it’s on my mind every day.

    I’ve never commented on your blog before, but I read consistently, and I really enjoy it. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    • also, have you looked into doing a Whole30? it’s about retraining your relationship with food. It’s about being strong and focusing on how your body feels, not how the scale moves. It’s about health, not weight.

  5. Does the PPMD organization sponsor any running groups? I run to keep the “voices” at bay and to loose those giggly mom pounds. I am sure there are many moms out their that would run to raise money for PPMD. It is so important to understand anxiety and depression and to help women get the help they need before the downward spiral becomes too much to recover from!

  6. We carry our weight around for everyone to see, like a giant neon number. I wish instead we all had a number above our head that went up very time we made someone smile and that is the number we were all judged on.

  7. Katy Lucas-Emkes on

    Thank you for this!!! So real and raw!! You are very strong for always sharing your honest truth about yourself and the strength to share with so many!

  8. Rachel Tibbetts on

    This is your brain. This is your brain on superficial culture. I’m in amazing shape and I’m stronger than I have ever been (thanks yoga!) and somehow it all comes back down to whether my belly is a flat as it was before I had a baby, which of course it’s not, a baby was in there! Let’s be strong, it’s more fun.

  9. This.is.totally.my.life.right.now.

    I am exactly 12 months post partum and currently at my lowest adult weight. I love the number on the scale. It’s been my goal weight for the past 10-15 years. I’ve made some significant sacrifices over the last year to lose it but none that are long term. I have followed a fairly intense elimination diet over the past 8 months to attempt to identify food allergies with my infant daughter. On top of a restricted diet, I am an over producer, which has it’s pros and cons, so my body has been working over time for 12 months. In addition, with the diagnosis of a GAD I quickly became consumed with trying to fix my daughter’s allergy symptoms with the foods that I ate. It was a nasty cycle. And although I know the ‘skinny’ is short lived, I also know that it’s not been a healthy ‘skinny’. In the past three weeks I’ve resumed eating anything put in front of me and my daughter has since weaned and the pounds are starting to jump back on. I’m not happy about it because although I know what plan B should be for getting healthy, my GAD is preventing me from put it into action.

    And so, this post is inspiring me to lace up and pull out the yoga mat again. I don’t know when I’ll actually do it, but I know that I can.

    Good luck to you and Thank you

  10. Samantha Caldwell on

    Wow….what insight. I am always struggling to be the thinnest that I have been. But, when I remember that the unexpected “divorce diet,” is that got me to 125lb. I know that 135 would be healthy. And, only have to lose 10lbs! to get there. But, That 125lb is stuck in my mind like a disease. Did i mention that I have already re-lost about 65lb? WHEN do we begin to love ourselves at ANY size. I would love to know that history of body image. How we went from the Marilyn Monroe body type to…well, the very skinny, shapeless, boring image that has been deemed acceptable today, I will never know, but too bad for those of us who like to enjoy live a little and feed ourselves. Thank you for sharing!!! Fighting the good fight…Samantha.

  11. Melissa Gafencu on

    I just went to the doc to yesterday for literally the same exact things you have described in previous posts. Everyone else was telling me the worry was normal and would go away on its own. Well my daughter is 18 months old and it’s become almost debilitating. I went because I read your posts about post partum anxiety so Thank You!! I’m curious if you would mind sharing what Ned’s they gave you. They started me on a low dose of zoloft. I’m hopeful it will help, I need it to .

  12. Remember YOUR 139 is not the same as anyone else’s 139. If I went to 139 I would lose all my curves. (And we’re the same height.) I haven’t looked at a scale since April and I’m so much happier without it. Seriously. Throw out the scale. Never look at it again. Enjoy life. Do what you love when it comes to exercise whether it be running, yoga, weight lifting, Zumba, whatever. As long as you are MOVING! You’re an inspiration to many yet your own worst enemy. Stay strong. Be strong. YOU CAN DO IT!

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  14. Jennifer Dwyer Paskey on

    Oh how I wish I could get a cup of coffee with you! My anxiety is off the charts right now. The problem is my youngest is 9! I’ve been on medicine for all those years. I also managed to gain about 60 lbs. I don’t need. I’m off to try to do this on my own….not going well. Vanity vs. mental health…. Who will win?

  15. If you want to tone up and have more visible muscles, running isn’t the most efficient way to get there. And I know personally that nothing helps me more with feeling strong (mentally and emotionally) than being physically strong.

    There are lots of good resources on strength training for women out there at the moment, some example posts:


    I’m not saying don’t run: it seems you really enjoy it, which is great, and it’s obviously getting you fitter! Maybe just decide what your priority is for the next few months: if it’s bedding in the exercise habit, stress relief, etc., then running is great. If you want to get stronger and see more muscle tone, though, maybe try replacing some running with strength training sessions.

  16. Kristina Chavez on

    Thank you for your honesty with every post. You brig hope to those who feel alone. My therapist had never heard of post part anxiety (my daughter is 2) and I’ve struggled ever since her birth. Motherhood is a tough road and it brings comfort to know I’m not alone or a bad mommy

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