Recently, I went to visit my grandmother, who is almost 103 years old. She was complaining of leg pain. She asked me to help her put on her shoes. I tried really hard. But in her sweltering apartment (she can’t stand any temperature below 80), I was sweating and the shoes were not going on. I had visions of Cinderella’s stepsister needing to cut off her heels to get her feet into her shoes.
Nana has edema—swelling in the lower part of her legs—because she has been sitting in a wheelchair a lot lately. She is quite fashionable and still loves to get dressed up every day. But no shoes were fitting.
I had to nearly drag her, but I convinced her to go shoe shopping with me. When we went to the shoe warehouse, we pushed her in her wheelchair but brought along her walker as well. Nana has always worn a size 7, but we could not fit her into any shoes smaller than an 8.5 or 9! We tried on one pair of gold shoes —Size 9. Finally, we were finding some shoes that fit.
Nana loved them. And she found them comfortable. The woman who had insisted on wheelchairing everywhere, refusing to walk, suddenly started walking with her walker and refused to stop! She was not taking off those shoes and she was not going to ride in the wheelchair again. Suddenly, Nana was transformed. Not only was she comfortable, but she felt stylish.
Why am I telling this story? Often when I am working with patients of any size who have eating disorders, they may have gained weight from a previous lower weight that the eating disorder was an attempt to maintain. People often experience a sense of failure and surprise when their clothing size goes up a level, just like Nana did. This is no surprise: our culture overvalues thinness. But continuing to wear too small clothing is uncomfortable physically and mentally.
People often have a lot of reasons for not shopping for larger clothing —they worry they will be unable to handle the anxiety and sense of failure, and they also don’t want to spend the money on a larger size. I had to help Nana face this. She didn’t totally understand why her shoes didn’t fit, she felt disappointed, and she definitely didn’t want to spend any money. But boy, after she got those shoes on, she felt so much better!
My patients tell me the same thing —once they have clothes that fit well and are stylish, they feel more able to face the world, and getting dressed each morning is no longer an occasion for self-deprecation.
Bodies age and change in ways that we can’t control. We need to accept that. My advice is always to buy a few things that fit you well and help you to feel great and put the other clothes out of sight for now.
And when I spoke to Nana last week, she let me know how much she was loving her gold shoes and walking more again!