I am not a shopper.

There was a time, way back when I was a fifth grader with permed hair, plastic rimmed glasses, and colorful braces (hey, it was the late eighties, after all!), when I would stroll around Pearlridge Shopping Center with my mother every Saturday afternoon, fingering the fluorescent tie-dyed shirts and Bongo shorts on the Liberty House mannequins.

I always wanted to look older than I really was, and stores like Contempo Casuals with its’ black and grey decor and Bangles’ tunes flowing out of its’ doors were places I’d meander through, looking for the latest trends and fashion inspiration.  I rarely (if ever) bought any of the neon leggings or puffy socks from those places because my mother didn’t approve of her eleven year old daughter trying to attain a “teen” look, but there was something hypnotic about flipping through stacks of crop tops and high-waisted mom jeans, the scratch and skreek of the hangers against the metallic rods music to my ears.

Nowadays, I only go to the malls if absolutely necessary:  searching for birthday presents for grandmas and grandpas, buying shoes for Shogun’s growing feet, or picking up pizza or plate lunches from the food court on the way home from work.  There are moments when our family will stroll through Pearlridge and ride the escalators up and down–not that we’re looking for anything to buy per se, but we are just in need of an activity we can do that is in air-conditioning and free.

I am not a shopper.  But recently, with the introduction of a meal plan that requires me to eat around the clock and consume Ben and Jerrys, decandent brownies, or some kind of dessert with every meal, my stomach has taken to looking like I’m in the first trimester of a burgeoning pregnancy.

My husband, of course, bless his soul, will emphatically shake his head NO when I ask him if I’m fat or my stomach looks huge.  Good man, ha ha.  Sometimes I believe him, other times not so much.  I’m not even sure why or how this obsession with having a flat stomach began, as I’ve never been overweight and actually grew up running around a soccer field, so I always maintained a relatively athletic figure.  Was it the birth of my children that the desire to “bounce back” from pregnancy spawned an obsession to regain my svelte midsection as soon as possible?  I remember purchasing a waist cincher previous to Misha being born–yes, the device was great at getting my hips back into alignment and shrinking my uterus to its’ normal size, but ultimately, I feared the pitiful looks of friends, fellow gym-goers, and random people I passed on the street if they saw my less than ideal figure.  I didn’t want them to see me, hair disheveled, adorned in baby spit-up sweats, with a flab of stomach fat hanging over the waistband of my yoga pants and think, “Wow, Lauren sure did let herself go.”

Sadly, I care a whole lot about what other people think of me.  It’s an issue I’ve been working on since, oh, forever, and granted, I have gotten considerably better about not second guessing what’s going on in other people’s minds.  I know that I am not perfect and never will be, yet I still strive to present an image of myself that is as close to perfect as possible–and that image is not just one of creating magical English lessons for my students or squatting more than two times my body weight.  Performing to the best of my abilities at work or in the gym contributed to my latest eating disorder relapse–caring too much about attaining a goal others projected onto me caused a great deal of emotional and psychological stress, which resulted in me responding by saying, “Hey, I’m overwhelmed.  Let me get my mind off of this–instead I’ll focus on my weight and food and try to look as put together as possible so no one will know that internally I’m really falling apart.  Distract me, eating disorder!!!”

But how could I, a Punahou School graduate and high school English educator, fall into the inane trap of distracting myself from the reality of life so much, that rather than deal with the issue at hand, I instead scoured articles and tips on how to “get abs”?  In actuality, it wasn’t so much the LOOK of the flat stomach that I craved, but the FEELING and CONNOTATIONS it employed.  Having a six pack requires one to spend hours sweating at the gym and being diligent to avoid the brownies after dinner and glasses of wine with a meal.  Basically, I bought into the misconception that being skinny is equated with having self-discipline, and OF COURSE who doesn’t want to be known as the gal that is able to control her emotions and desires???  And sadly, there was a feeling of pride that emerged when I would see those that had children, their post-partum bellies not as taunt as mine.  I’d compare their soft stomachs to my abdominal muscles, and think to myself, “See?!  You put in the time.  You did it.  You are a ‘fit mom.'”

What a lie.

Having self-discipline in eating disorder recovery means taking care of oneself despite the lure of society to conform to the weight-loss standard promoted on IG, Facebook, television, and film.  Yes, eat the fruits and vegetables like all the health nuts would have you believe, but also enjoy the family time at Chuck E Cheese and eat the pizza with the kids.  Yes, drink water and be sure to hydrate, but don’t be afraid of enjoying happy hour with girlfriends.  Yes, listen to the advice of doctors to get an adequate amount of exercise a day, but don’t spend hours stairclimbing to nowhere.

At this phase in my recovery, I’m learning to have self-discipline.  It’s the self-discipline to eat a package of cheese crackers even though I’m not hungry.  It’s the self-discipline to order the chicken katsu plate from L&L even though I’m fearful of the breaded meat and mac salad going straight to my thighs.  It’s the self-discipline to not touch my stomach after every meal and worry about whether or not it’s ballooning overnight.

I am not going to lie, but this phase of recovery is rough.  And so to combat this challenging period, I started shopping.  Contrary to what you may think, I don’t spend hours patrolling the mall, looking for expensive shoes or bags.  Instead I walk quickly through clothing stores that I know sell cheap dresses–dresses that flow like water and will not cut into my growing tummy area.  I grab a few, hold them up to me to check the length and size, skim the price tag, and if it’s in an affordable range, I buy it.  I buy these dresses because I know that I need to ensure my recovery, and one way to do so is to not be triggered my a tight waistband making indentations around my waist.  Instead, cue the flowy dress.

I am not a shopper.  I am not looking for “abs” or a new body.  I am not looking to compare myself to others, as that is a sign of pride, which is something that only brings destruction and death.  I am not looking for approval from others, for I find my salvation in Jesus Christ.  I am merely learning to be happy with the the body of a normal human being.  It is the body of a person that eats on a daily basis–the stretched out belly button, stomach rolls, and everything else that comes with it.  It is the body of a person that enjoys the life God created for her, and is able to be self-disciplined enough to do whatever is needed to recover from this horrible illness.

I am not a shopper.  But praise God that He has given me the funds to buy a reassuring faith, so that I can find freedom in Him.

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