In my most recent post I discussed orthorexia and how it can affect many women (and men) in the fitness industry. Since then I have had the opportunity to chat and share with many people about their journeys with eating disorders and how the gym has both positively and negatively impacted their relationship with food.
As recently as yesterday an old acquaintance from many years ago took the opportunity to share with how inspiring it was to look at a strong female, that she actually knows. I got to asking how she was doing. As I noticed how her life had definitely taken a turn towards being more active. At this point she divulged that she had moved back home to be part of an eating disorder program, and for her, finding ways to fuel her body and see what she was capable of was part of changing the way she looked at food. This definitely hit home for me.
While I grew up in a very outdoorsy way, I was always obsessed with being stick thin. Part of it was the 90s, part of it was my mother projecting her own issues. As a dancer, an athlete, and a cheerleader, there were always pressures to remain petite. And the smaller I was, the more positive praise I received. This further became part of my identity. I was the small one; the “healthy” one; the one with the most self-control. It wasn’t good enough to just be thin, I had to be the thinnest. This also became a self control thing over time. The more stress I had in my life, the less I ate. I think most teenage girls struggle with this.
Fast forward to university, and I was a relatively healthy weight as 120 lb (I’m 5’3 ½… yes, that extra ½ counts). I maintained that weight relatively well though my early twenties, until I got into a serious relationship. Then I climbed to 127. Which is still a normal and healthy weight. But I didn’t like how that felt. But my boyfriend at the time was always pushing his bad habits on me. This in turn manifested in anxiety, depression, and I’m sure some amount of resentment.
A number of years later I got out of that relationship (for other reasons). That itself was just as much stress as staying in it. I plummeted to 98lb at the age of 26. A very unhealthy weight. This happened in under 8 months. Which you can imagine drew a lot of attention. The only way to describe how I felt at that time was lost. I truly broke as the person I had formerly been. I was devoid of emotional, psychological or physical energy.
So, why am I sharing all this? This was a turning point for me. There is still some trace of the girl who was before that. But I can honestly say I’m an almost entirely different person now. It was at this time that I started working out. I had moved out, left the graduate program I was in, and started a new life. I had no direction or clue what I was going to do next, but making myself get up and go to the gym became my new sense of control. It gave me structure and a way to feel like I was in control of something in my life. Have you ever tried something, and turns out you’re really good at it? That was my and weights. I quickly caught up to, and surpassed my friends who had been training for years. People would constantly ask when was my next show. Even thought I had never even seen a bodybuilding show. As I saw my body change, and the things I was capable of I felt good about myself again, and more importantly I felt strong. Both physically and emotionally. Instead of receiving praise for being thin, the attention had shifted towards my hard work and accomplishments.
This isn’t to say that my new behavior was free of vanity. We are all human. My ideal body type had shifted towards a different physique, but some insecurities never full vanish. To bring this back to present day. I had surgery at the beginning of the month and wasn’t able to eat or train. I was bedridden for over two weeks. I quickly dropped 17lb, which accounts for about 15% of my current body weight. Immediately, the comments started rolling in.
“I like this look on you”
“Oh my god, you lost so much weight, you’re so lucky”
“I wish I could have surgery”
“You look so good”
And my ultimate favorite “I like skinny girls better….”
I was enraged. I had not worked by ass off, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for half a decade to be “skinny”. This only reinforced to me the idea that society wanted me to be small. But it also scared me. Because I felt as if I was disappointing everyone if I went back to my normal weight. I was happy with my pre surgery body. In fact, it was probably the most comfortable I have ever been. had a good balance of both enjoying life, and training the way I wanted to. So now why was I so scared to eat? And I’m not talking about just “bad foods”. I mean ANY food. And worst, I was weak, my strength had obviously taken a significant drop, and I was back to feeling like a diminished version of myself.
To wrap this up for you. I think it is important to share your story with others. I love hearing that my posts or my journey have helped or inspire other people. Because I too have been in very bad places, and continuously need to check in with myself mentally when it comes to my relationship with my body and food. The more people are comfortable talking about it, the more we can normalize this type of thinking. There is no shame in struggling with what has been projected on us our whole lives, we cannot undo our programming, but we can support each other.