I think I’ve been avoiding blogging for a long time because this post was inside but I wasn’t ready to get it out yet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be truly ready to write about it, but I’m going to anyway.
As a child, I didn’t even think about my weight. I knew I was tall, I knew I was a “big girl”, but I was never ashamed of the way my body looked. I never even really gave it a thought and, up until that point, definitely not a negative one. I could swim super fast with my strong legs; I could hit a softball over the fence with my strong arms; I could ride my bike for miles and miles and miles. I would just eat without thinking about it like any kid should. I would eat an ice cream sandwich or birthday cake or chips and not feel guilty. I was normal. I was healthy.
When I was 11, the perfect storm hit. My parents were in the middle of a bitter, terrible divorce. I was about to hit adolescence. My Dad made a comment about me weighing too much. It was the first time I remember feeling ashamed about my body. If my Dad thought I weighed too much, then it must be true, right? Basketball tryouts were coming up. So I decided to try and lose weight. I got books from the library about how to do it. At first, I just decided I was going to try and eat a little less and exercise a little more. Try and get in shape for basketball by running.
So I lost weight. And my mom let me grow my hair out, finally. And we got my horrid acne under control. And I started getting attention for something besides my brain. I would hear how skinny I was getting, how great I looked, positive reinforcements left and right. Things I had never heard before and, evidently, craved. I attributed it all to losing weight. Losing weight meant positive attention and what 11-year-old girl doesn’t want that? And if losing a little weight was good, then losing a lot of weight would be better.
Right around this time calories were printed on the labels of food. Up until that point, I didn’t even think about calories. But all of a sudden, in the midst of trying to lose weight, I knew exactly how many calories were in everything I was putting in my mouth. I became obsessed. I was a calorie savant telling everyone the number of calories per serving of anything anyone was eating. I started categorizing food as bad and good. I started restricting myself to only “good” foods. I started exercising a lot. I’d do a Jane Fonda tape and then go for a 5-mile run and then do sit-ups. I lost a lot of weight. In less than a year, my 11 to 12-year-old body lost over 30 pounds. And that was more than I needed to lose.
Before I knew it, I was eating an apple and a piece of cheese and that was it for the entire day. I’d skip breakfast, drink a diet pop for lunch, go to basketball, go home and do Jane Fonda, maybe eat a little dinner if my Mom was home, do some sit-ups. Go to bed. Repeat over and over and over. I started passing out during track practice in the spring. My spandex running pants were baggy. My aunt started showing me pictures of people who were anorexic and asking what I thought. My friend Carlos told me I was way, way too skinny. My friends said I was the skinniest girl in our class. These words were like winning the lottery to me. I had done it. I was not just thin, I was skinny. And I kept getting smaller.
We moved right before my freshman year in high school. I went from a class of 40 to a class of 250. It was terrifying. I didn’t know a soul. I made friends and joined the swim team and started eating a bit more. I realized that I needed some strength for 3-4 hours of swimming a day. One day, we had to get our body fat tested because, if you want to swim faster, you have to have low body fat, according to my coach. He then posted all of our names and body fat percentages outside the locker room. Mine was 25% which was average. AVERAGE. My skinny, blonde, gorgeous friend’s was only 14%. I knew I had to go back to what I was doing before and try harder. I wanted to be the best swimmer. I didn’t want to be average. I ate enough to get by for swimming hours upon hours each day. I got smaller and leaner. I won races. I made it to districts. It was working.
Throughout high school, my weight fluctuated a bit. I exercised every day but partied. I ate too much. I gained those 30 pounds right back. I got to college and went to the gym and weighed myself and saw that horrible number that had started it all in the first place. And I lost my mind. I started working out between 4 and 6 hours a day. I ate very little. By Christmas, I had lost the 30 pounds and then some. I got so many compliments over break about being too skinny and that it was so awesome that I didn’t gain the freshman 15. I was back.
I taught aerobics and worked at the rec center so I could constantly work out. I ate but I ate only to exist. I never ate food with fat. I never ate dessert. I never ate meat. I mostly ate fruit, vegetables, oatmeal and an occasional bagel. I don’t remember enjoying food ever. I got my body fat tested at the end of my freshman year and it was 17%. I was happy that it was better than average, but it still wasn’t less than 15% which is what I wanted. So I kept trying. Working out more and eating less. I was the skinny-workout girl again.
But guess what? Throughout this whole entire time, I was miserable. I hated my body. I hated my face. I hated myself. I’d stand for hours and hours in front of the mirror and pinch and turn and suck in and stare and just wish that I didn’t look like me. I’d ruin entire days obsessing over food, over calories, over workouts, over the number on the scale. I’d work out even when I had bronchitis or pneumonia. I didn’t sleep much. It was awful. I like to think I hid it pretty well because I managed to have friends and have fun but those who were close to me knew at the very least that I didn’t like myself at all. I was so rigid with my eating and my exercise and my obsession with it, that I know my friends knew at least that much.
Then I met Matt. I still don’t know why he ever asked me out on a second date because I didn’t eat a thing on our first date. Not a morsel. We went out for dinner and I ordered a diet Coke and watched him eat. Who asks that girl out again? I’m so thankful he did. With Matt’s help, I slowly started to eat again but I still worked out like a crazy person. I just traded one obsession for the other.
I had Olivia and gained 85 pounds. That makes sense, right? It was the first time that I ever ate normally because I knew I needed to in order to make sure my baby was healthy. I got pregnant with Gabe when Olivia was four months old so I didn’t have time to lose it all. I got back up to the same weight with Gabe. After he was born, I lost all of it. And then some. Can you imagine how many compliments you get when you’ve gained 85 pregnancy pounds with two kids and then lose it all and then some? My demon was back with a vengeance. I obviously didn’t have hours and hours to work out anymore with working full time and having two kids, but I could restrict. I could count calories. I would wake up at 4:00 a.m. to workout before I went to teach all day. I’d eat 300 calories while at work. I’d eat a small dinner. I was obsessed yet again.
This continued. On and on and on. I could convince myself that I wasn’t really doing anything wrong as long as I was eating something. I tried new diets and new regimens that required hours of planning and thinking about food. Finally, a few years ago, I started therapy. Having an eating disorder is a mental illness. I didn’t even know that until I started therapy. I thought it was just me being obsessed with being thin at all costs. But I’ve discovered it’s so much more. It’s not just about control like everyone assumes. It’s not about being thin even. It’s a mental illness that totally consumes your life and manifests itself with the obsession over food and exercise. It’s been my demon since I was 11. I look at Matthew, who is 11 now, and think he is so young and small and innocent and I can’t imagine him starting to do this to himself. Therapy has finally helped me get rid of my obsession with food. I still struggle with the “good foods vs. bad foods”, but I never restrict anymore. I just eat. I can’t even begin to tell you how great it is to just eat. I still eat healthy, for sure, but there are no more instances of me making myself a separate dinner from my family or not enjoying ice cream on a summer night.
My exercising is under control. I workout 5-6 times a week for about an hour. I work out not to punish myself anymore or to try and make myself better; I work out because it makes me feel strong and healthy and because I love it. I no longer feel like a crazy person when I miss a workout. I no longer feel like I need to be punished.
The one area I’m still struggling with is self-acceptance. Since I was diagnosed and treated for cancer, I’ve gained 20 pounds. The type of cancer I had, along with the treatment, commonly causes weight gain and the inability to lose it. It’s been very hard for me. Very. I feel desperate at times. I feel ashamed of my body. But I haven’t once engaged in my former behaviors and, for that, I am proud. However, I really and truly want to get to the point where I can just accept my body for what it is. I’m not sure I’ll ever love it, but I think I’m close to acceptance. I definitely am getting closer every day.
For 30 years, I have loathed my body. I have tortured it. I have starved it. I have never once loved it. I was always trying to make it better, make it smaller, make it fit some crazy standard I had in my head. I really want to be done with that. I want to wake up in the morning, get dressed and go about my day without obsessing over the size of my pants or the number on the scale.
I have had a miscarriage. I have given birth to three beautiful children. I have survived breast surgery, a year of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and all the toll that took on my mind and my body. I have taken care of Olivia for almost 17 years now. I am raising two awesome boys. I am strong. I am healthy. I am done feeling bad about the way my body looks. I am working on accepting it just the way it is. I am a warrior and I need to start believing it.
The eating disorder demon is no joke. I wish I could have gotten help when I was younger. I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t seriously hurt myself along the way. I was so unhealthy. Whenever I start to think how great it would be to be “skinny” again, I remind myself that the former me was not healthy or happy. Was not strong. Was not a warrior. She was scared, ashamed and angry. I am happier than I’ve ever been even though this is the heaviest I’ve ever been without being pregnant. I don’t obsess over food and exercise. I am working on my inner dialogue and acceptance.
I am a warrior, damn it, and it’s time I start believing it.