“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.”
― Geneen Roth,
It was a normal day in elementary school. My friends and I were playing during recess and I happened to notice my legs compared to theirs. Mine were thick, theirs were thin. And my stomach had this little pudge theirs didn’t. I didn’t understand the differences back then. All I knew was I was a little girl growing up in a world that glorified stick-thin models…and I didn’t fit.
I first “dieted” in sixth grade. Want to guess how Slim Fast shakes tasted to a sixth grader? Not. Good. Of course I wasn’t rigid with my diet; what kid is? And I didn’t let me insecurities keep me from living an active and vibrant childhood. Things only started to change until the later half of high school.
My family moved out of state my junior year and I was finally old enough to join a gym. My mom and I worked out together every morning before school. We kept each other motivated and quickly began seeing results. Then we started calorie-counting. Books like Hungry Girl, Calorie King’s “Eat This, Not That”, Weight Watchers, South Beach Diet (to name a few) helped us along the way.
It started off innocently enough, but was a fast downward spiral from there.
Food no longer had taste or nutrition value, only calories. I remember sitting in class, taking out of a piece of gum, and adding “5 calories” into my meal diary to account for it. I’d make excuses not to go out with friends for fear we’d end up at a restaurant or someone’s house for dinner. If I ever did go out to eat, I’d scrutinize the menu beforehand to pick out the lowest possible calorie choice and still have extreme anxiety at the restaurant.
Fitness magazines said women only needed to eat 1200 calories a day to lose weight, so that’s what I did. The mental breakdown was already beginning, but I was dropping weight and looked great! I wanted to keep going.
Fast forward to freshman year of college.
I got a job at a gym as a sales associate. The only reason I got a job at the gym was so I wouldn’t have to pay for a membership and could workout before and after my shift.
Within a few months I lowered my caloric intake to a mere 500 calories, was doing 2 hours or more of cardio a day, and weightlifting on top of that. That’s not including the miles spent walking around campus every day.
I obsessively burned off every calorie that crossed my lips. Merely counting 5 calories from gum wasn’t enough, I had to jog 2 minutes to immediately burn it off.
I was wasting away physically. Mentally I was broken. By sophomore year I was less than 70 pounds and could easily slide into a size 00 jean. I could wrap my fingers around the top of my arms and encircle my waist with my hands. My face was sunken in. I was always freezing. My hair was falling out in chunks. My bones- hips, collar bones, shoulder blades…even the spinal column- jutted underneath my brittle skin.
Yet I’d stand, skin and bones, in front of the mirror and see an overweight girl staring back at me. I was ill.
Finally…a wake up call.
I went to the doctor and they did a DEXA scan for bone density. The found osteopenia in my lower back and right hip. My body was void of nutrients so much it actually began sucking calcium straight from my bones. I was 20 years old and on the fast track to osteoporosis.
I walked out of the doctor’s office crying. This was my fault. Something had to change.
The Road to Recovery
First thing I did was drop my gym membership- it was too much temptation. Then I did my research. I began slow by adding 200 calories to my daily intake and increasing it every week. This may be slower than what recovery centers or dietitians would do, but I was also repairing myself mentally. I knew adding too many calories too quickly would only cause my to relapse.
The next step was possibly the most difficult. I retaught myself how to look at food: not for its calories, but the its health benefits and letting go of the idea of “good and bad” foods. This remained a challenge for years.
I took it day-be-day, meal-by-meal, and eventually gained the weight back (plus some!). I promised myself not to get a gym membership until I was well into the “safe zone” with my weight and mindset. It took well over a year to step foot in the gym again, but I sure was glad to be back. This time with an entirely new mindset.
I now saw my thick thighs as powerful and the little pudge on my stomach as a symbol I overcame anorexia. I wasn’t working out as punishment, but for strength, power, and health. Food was not longer the enemy, it was fuel.
I was so interested in nutrition that I changed my major to Nutrition Science and loved it.
It led me to become YogaFit certified. Yoga was a lifesaver during recovery. It was both a mental release and a way to stay active without burning too many calories. I taught private and group fitness yoga for years during and after recovery.
I found my passion for fitness. This led me to become an ACSM certified Personal Trainer and run my own private training business after graduation. I also had the opportunity to coach young athletes and I got additionally certified through NCSA as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
I’ve competed in bodybuilding competitions three times, even becoming nationally qualified! All doing my own training and nutrition counseling as a challenge to myself.
I now work as a head trainer with a wonderful personal training company. I manage over 50 clients and have helped a few with very similar situations as mine. Out of everything, that’s all the reward I could ask for. If I could help just one person come out of such a dark place as an eating disorder of body dismorphia, then everything I went through was worth it.
The road to recovery was anything but linear; there were major setbacks along the way. But I wouldn’t take any of it back. It taught me a lot and led me to where I am now.
And now the girl that once looked in the mirror and saw only her flaws can look in the mirror and see all her strengths.
Thanks for listening,
Have you or someone you know gone through or are going through a similar situation? Tell your story! <3
** If you are going through or have gone through a disorder, I hope you find comfort in this post. But please note my experiences are unique and this post isn’t meant to be a guide on eating disorder recovery. Please seek professional help if needed.**