Today marks the end of NEDA (National Eating Disorder Awareness) week. As this is a topic near and dear to my heart, I wrote a brief post at the start of the week acknowledging my own disordered eating past. I was not intending to delve more into my story than that, but after a friend reached out to me, thanking me for being so open and honest, I decided I wanted to. I want to help (the many) other’s who are grappling with their own issues with food and exercise. Forewarning, there are no pictures in this post, just lots of words.
My story began when I was in middle school. Like many kids going through that lovely time (AKA puberty) I gained weight, got hips and boobs and got “chubby”. I was not extremely overweight by any means, but I definitely ate for comfort and consumed more than I actually needed. I did not feel comfortable in my body. I tried many things to get rid of the weight, but could never follow through (because they were too extreme). Finally, I was done with feeling bad about myself and unhealthy so I made the decision to try a more moderate, doable approach. I started exercising on our elliptical in the basement for 15 minutes a couple days a week, switched to smaller plates, didn’t go back for seconds and allowed myself a sweet treat every other day as opposed to everyday.
It worked. I gradually lost weight in a healthy manner while still maintaining a healthy relationship with food and fitness. I still ate all my favorite foods, skipped working out when something else came up without feeling bad about it and just felt GOOD. Friends and family noticed too. They complimented me on weight loss, which further spurred me to continue my weight loss journey.
Well, this is where things flipped from healthy to disordered. To keep losing, I realized that I needed to up the anti. I started counting calories, exercised everyday for 30-60 minutes and completely eliminated foods I labeled (or rather society) labeled as “bad”. I analyzed every food item to make sure I chose the lowest calorie option, always had to include cardio in my workouts and never allowed myself dessert. As I continued to lose weight, my energy levels continued to drop as well while my obsession with food heightened. I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I was hungry and constantly thought about food. I created food rules such as only eating every 4 hours, not eating past 7pm and only eating a certain amount of calories at each meal/snack. I was miserable, but I was losing weight, which was supposed to make me happier…I thought.
Flash forward to college. I lived in the dorms my first two and didn’t have access, the time or the desire to count calories in the dining court. I also joined a sorority and joined in on the fun festivities. You know, the one’s that involve alcohol and drunk food calories…This inevitably helped me gain some weight and also helped me naturally relax on the food front. I mean, hanging out with my friends, going to frat parties and getting pizza was WAY too much fun. I still was the cardio queen and frequented the gym 6X/week, but I was in a healthier spot both mentally and physically.
Once I graduated and moved to Ohio to complete my internship and master’s degree, I moved even further in my understanding of eating disorders, including my own. The real flip happened when I went through a breakup (my first one). I was devastated and went through all the crappy emotions that came along with it. Finally, I knew I needed to make a change and do something to make myself feel better. So, I recruited one of my best friends (hi Court!) to teach me how to use all of the super intimidating weight machines at the gym. I wanted to build physical strength to help rebuild my mental strength.
As I began to build muscle, my body gave me signals it needed more fuel. I had the decision to deprive it like I had in the past, or listen to my body and give it what it was telling me. I decided on the later. It was difficult at first, because that little voice in the back of my head was saying things like “that’s more than you used to eat, your going to gain weight” and “are you really hungry again?! You can’t be”. I was able to defeat this, but it took some effort (read more details about how I actually gained the weight here and here).
Now here we are in the present and I am 15 lbs. heavier than I was 6 months ago. I finally feel like I have found the elusive “happy weight” or set point. Where my body is naturally supposed to be and where I can LIVE. Living to me means eating dessert when I want it, eating out at a new restaurant each week, skipping workouts to imbibe in happy hours and drinking too much with friends every now and again. Living to me is not religiously calorie counting, denying myself my favorite foods or running my body into the ground through intense workouts. Yes, I have more body fat and a bigger jean dress size, but I also have curves now and am not a slave to food anymore.
I’m not going to lie, I will always be a person who lives to eat (I am a dietitian and foodie after all!), but now I have found and mastered the delicate balance between living to eat and simply eating to live. While NEDA is at an end, that does not mean the awareness is. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or any sort of disordered relationship with food or exercise, I encourage you to get professional help. Research shows that the sooner you get and receive treatment, the better for long-term recovery. That being said, it is never too late to get help. Here are some helpful resources to find it, please utilize them and share with others who might benefit:
If you made it all the way here, thank you for listening to my story. If you personally relate, I hope this helps you. If you don’t, I still hope you found this post valuable in educating you more about eating disorders.