Trigger warning: Body image, food issues, eating disorders.
I'll preface this by saying that I've always been of pretty average size. Not thin, not large. But, I grew up in a family with quite a few distorted views of food, and body image.
My grandmother, who was 90lbs/size zero-to-two, and four foot eleven for most of her life, was obsessed with staying small. I watched her portion out tiny amounts of food, splitting one-half of a restaurant meal into five or six "meals", and complain loudly about her nonexistant thighs.
On the other side was my mom, who is taller with a large frame and has been (in her words) overweight for most of her life. I don't mean for the following to sound as though I'm policing her choices, this is just what I saw, and it caused me some real confusion in terms of how to eat: She would eat bags of chips as meals, skip breakfast and lunch, get up in the middle of the night and eat full boxes of cookies, or eat big plates of buttered noodles and nothing else for days at a time. So it was either eat nothing, or eat something non-nutritive.
My grandmother, when she wasn't beating herself up for her own body, was doing it to me, my mom, or strangers on the street. She'd routinely lean over to me or my grandfather when she saw larger people in public and say scathing things about how "homely" "unsightly" and "sad" they were. My mom got this kind of scrutiny for years, and she started in on me when I had a chubby stage pre-puberty. She told me repeatedly that I should be embarrassed for having to shop in the "plus" section in kids clothing, that I was going to turn out like my mom if I wasn't careful, and no one would want me. (Yeah, my mom was widowed at this point. I'm sorry, but fuck you for that, grandmother.) I once saw her almost take delight at describing how "big" my mom was to a saleswoman at the mall when she was trying to buy some pants for her one Christmas. I was mortified.
In addition to this, no really one cooked in my house growing up. My mom was always pretty depressed and disinterested (gosh, I wonder why) and my grandma didn't do it either. I started fending for myself 90% of the time around age 9 or 10. Around this time was when I made the connection that if I cook for myself, I control what I eat, and I could make myself lose weight. I got obsessed with dieting around the onset of junior high school, and watched my weight fluctuate up and down for years as a result. In retrospect, it was probably awful for my metabolism to restrict myself a lot at that age. I wasn't in sports, but I started exercising every day at home and counted calories mercilessly. The comments about my weight stopped when I had shrunk to a size 3, but came back when I hit "real" puberty and my hips and chest grew.
High school and early college, I would cycle between strict dieting and total abandonment of taking care of myself. It was either "I am only allowed protein and vegetables" or I was eating fast food 6 days a week, usually for just the one meal a day I ate when I was really depressed. I have fluctuated between a size 4 and a 10 within just a few months of each other as a direct result.
Regardless of my overall size, it's just not healthy approach at all. I can't keep living like it's feast or famine. Right now I do think I have a more reasonable view, but I've been sedentary for 6 months after throwing my shoulder out at the beginning of this past summer, and I have been eating tons of convenience foods while in school. I've developed allergies to wheat and I suspect dairy as well, so I need to be more cautious, but I'm typically not. I feel sluggish, I drink too much coffee, my skin is dull, and I retain water like crazy, I know that stress and bad nutrition are taking their toll.
The best I have ever felt in my life physically was when I was on a strict paleo diet, but that just feels a bit like disordered eating too in retrospect, because I imposed so many rules on myself, and it really consumed my life while I was doing it.
I know this got a little rambly, but if anybody has experience with this, I'd love to hear your thoughts. I just want to have a rational approach to food and physical activity, and not be stuck in a cycle of constantly berating myself into thinness and then self sabotaging.