Friday, January 27, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Your Jeans—A New Perspective on Progress

I bought a new pair of jeans yesterday. For me, trying on jeans is right up there with going for a new bathing suit. No, not particularly positive. In fact, while I love fashion, shopping for clothes and shoes is never anything short of depressing. I can’t find my size shoes in stores (9 1/2 AAAA), and those in catalogues are often fashion failures. My shoulders are broad and my arms long, making well-fitting tops and jackets impossible to find. I’ll stop here; I think you get the idea.

I needed a new pair of jeans. Somehow, a few years ago, I had convinced myself to purchase a pricey pair of dressy jeans, and now I knew it was time to move on. Why? Because every time I put them on, while they looked fine, I was less than comfortable. Maybe knowing the phrase muffin topping had an impact—I just couldn’t get past that visual. And wearing them kept me from fully enjoying my dinners out and my socializing.

So I selected a new pair from a boutique with a limited but fabulous selection of clothes, and picked them (drum roll please) based on their fit and comfort. Yes, they were a size larger than my last designer-type jeans, in spite of my weight remaining the same over these years. And so I bought them.

Jeans were a topic raised in many patient sessions last week. (You thought I only talked about food, eating, calories, I suppose?) Marie, who has struggled with obesity and binge eating disorder for many years, reported her approach to moving on. She was ridding her closet of everything over size 20, as she now comfortably wears an 18, having lost, I forget exactly, but somewhere near 60 pounds (while enjoying such foods as cookies and bagels, I’ll add). The size 20s are really a just in case—I don’t think she truly trusts that her progress is for real, in spite of it being over a year and a half of consistent behavior change with resulting weight loss.

Even more notable was the message I received from Dana, describing the emotions of parting with her old jeans, her anorexic jeans, a remnant of her anorexic self. After discussing her decision to discard a stack of unhealthy-sized jeans, she followed up her session with this note, (excerpted with her permission, below):

I must tell you that when I pulled down my street from my appt with you, the trash truck was at the house before mine... and as I pulled into my garage I watched in the car mirror the big claws grabbing the trash can to empty it into the truck.  My jeans.  I did it.  Lori, I totally did it.  I successfully threw them out.  I'm feeling so mixed about this enormous sudden decision to get rid of those jeans.  I'm so glad I told you I did this, as I originally wasn't going to tell anyone because to me it signifies weakness... I will never fit into those jeans again... I will never be as disciplined as I once was for so many years... I will FEEL now... there will be no more dismissing life... no living in a state of fog and numbing out... no more living passively...I must now be present in life. 
I didn't want to tell you (or anyone) about throwing away the jeans because I feel like I'm a failure and I'm giving up.  Logically I know this not to be true... but the emotional level is a whole other thing.

This feels a little overwhelming right now.  Never did I imagine it would stir this much emotion.  That pile of jeans symbolized so much - probably more than I can comprehend.  All these years (I guess of progress and agonizing work) it took me to build that pile.  The rejects.  What does it mean for me now? The only descriptive phrase I can come up with is sink or swim.  I made the decision to get rid of that pile of jeans that are unhealthy sizes for me.  This means I forfeited the chance to fit back into them, ever again, because they are no longer in my possession.”

“Right this minute I am in the midst of surrendering to better health at a bigger size.  I feel weak, but I also feel a pull to try.  The challenge is to learn how to accept this larger size as a new way of life...”

“I don't like the size I am, but then I was never happy with the size of those jeans I just threw to the garbage...”

“Just a lot of feelings around this.  You're right, maybe it is sort of like mourning…”

Wow. I am so impressed with her action, and her newfound ability to communicate her thoughts and feelings around this. In the past, these would have been masked with either binge eating or restriction. She couldn't have done it without the clarity that comes with nourishment, and, of course, with good counseling. 

 Clearly there’s much more to purging the jeans and buying a new pair. It’s about accepting change, and believing that it’s okay. It’s about trust, that you really have progressed, and you can continue to stay the course. And it’s about getting comfortable, physically—choosing sizes and styles that are appropriate, allowing your self to simply feel good. Maybe it's time to clear out your old jeans.

Your thoughts?


  1. I've been working on recovery and weight gain for 2 years now, yet I have not thrown out any clothes. They are in my closet as a reminder of my smallest and most unhealthy self. I don't know why I keep them. They don't fit me and they never will. I think I keep them with the small, private hope of fitting in them again. But that's me ED talking. I should get rid of them. I should stop hoping to someday maybe be recovered and tiny at the same time. It's not an option. Keeping them sort of lets my ED win because I have not fully separated from my anorexia. I want to rid myself of my clothes that don't fit me anymore, but I don't know how. I guess I just need to remind myself that they are not "small" clothes, but rather "unhealthy" ones.

  2. Hopefully this post will motivate you to take action. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have pants ranging from size 0-6 which is quite evident of my periods of bulimia, binge eating and anorexia...oh yes all three "flavors". I recently slipped and purchased an expensive pair of jeans that were a size too small because I thought it would motivate me to stop binge eating, (funny how my head works) instead I have been restricting all day to fit into them and and binging in the evenings because I could feel "the muffin top" all day long. I think jeans are my biggest concern. They never fit the way I want unless I am at an unhealthy low weight.

    1. Sadly, I don't detect a tone of regret about this.

  4. I relate to how unexpectedly emotional something like this can be. I brought my too-small pants in to my RD about a year ago, and, when I handed them to her, my teeth chattered, I had nervous laughter/tears, I couldn't talk.... I felt like a tree with no roots. I knew it was the right thing to do, but it definitely had an effect.

    You know what though? You get used to a new size eventually. I don't think about those old jeans anymore.

    1. Thanks, Laura, for sharing this encouraging experience!

  5. I have begun passing my too-small clothes down to my 10yo - I tell her they shrunk in the wash. Seeing her wearing them reminds me that a grown woman is not supposed to look like a 10yo - that was never what this was about.
    There is nothing worse than the feeling of putting on clothes and having them not fit - it is devastating. But the feeling subsides when the clothes are removed again. The ED thoughts are really much quieter when I'm wearing clothes that fit and are comfortable (even if this requires cutting the labels out).

    1. Really? Nothing worse than the feeling of putting clothes on and having them not fit? Hm...

    2. As a figure of speech, I understand PJs comment completely--hence my piece on the subject! Nonetheless, it is certainly helpful to put into perspective a tight waistband. Weighing the pros and cons can help the process.

  6. It occurred to me today when procrastinating at work that there was this cool blog, what was this name.... and a bit of googling did the job. So, here I am and I instantly got some food for thought.

    Just this weekend, I started decluttering and decided that my collection of clothes ranging from current size 46 down to 38 could stand some culling. Because, hey, I sincerely intend to lose some weight but I can always get enough black tank tops and blue jeans a size or two smaller. I haven't reached the deeper corners of the closet but I'm steadily headed there, making little heaps of stuff for my thinner, smaller or otherwise accommodating friends. I'll keep my historical optimism for those awfully expensive designer pieces that will be welcome by thinner friends even in a few years' time.

  7. Ha, I just stopped wearing jeans. Solved that problem! And yes, I realize that my other clothes still have sizes attached to them, but it just occurred to me at some point that jeans are generally neither comfortable nor flattering, and I don't see the point in wearing clothes like that. I am much happier in skirts and dresses.

  8. This article is EXACTLY what I'm going through right now.

    I have a number of huge boxes of jeans, jeans that I love. I actually LOVE them, not like, oh my they are nice, like I know their different shapes, textures, fits and they are all adored for their wondrous power to make me feel beautiful - or rather, they were.

    They are my 'skinny' jeans.

    They are the jeans I wore with pride after not eating for 12 months and losing roughly one small person in weight. I have literally wept over these jeans, over them not fitting any more, over the loss of that power and bliss that they gave me.

    I know I need to throw them out or give them away, but I just can't... I feel like your client, like it's a 'giving up' on ever being slim again, on ever being beautiful again. HOW do you do that?? After suffering through the inevitable regaining of the weight and binge eating disorder I am now obese and loathe myself most of the time. But I also wouldn't go back to the person I was when I could wear those jeans, NOT FOR A SECOND. I was sick and I was a horror to be around.

    I'm much better now, but still fat and still don't feel beautiful pretty much every day. I need to throw those jeans out. But I haven't figured out how yet...

    Thank you for such an amazing article!! I am glad I'm not the only one with a 'jeans archive' that represents so much. xx

  9. No, you are not alone! Perhaps a jeans trashing event with friends ; ) Just a thought! It helps that you can remind yourself that fitting into those jeans equates with being the unhealthy you--it is NOT where you want to be! BTW, thanks for all the Pinterest traffic you are getting me!

  10. I so relate. As a matter of fact I had just had it with jeans. Before I found this site I took all my jeans and trashed them. I got so sick (literally) and tired of constantly trying to fit back into 2 sizes smaller than I am. I am not a size 8, probably never will be again. None-the-less my wardrobe will not include jeans.
    I am usually a size 10 and fluctuate a bit. I will ware my beautiful slacks I bought and leggings and yoga pants. Comfortable. Very liberating for me.