Recently I approached my beloved mental health professional with a new topic that was nagging at me. I told her that for the past year I kept trying to restart my physical fitness program only to watch it crash and burn in the same week. Devastated, I would wait weeks and even months to start up again. I was at a loss and I was grossly unhappy as my clothes were getting too snug for my comfort. She pointed to a book on her coffee table which then brought up a conversation about Eating Disorders and Fitness Addiction. Let me start from the beginning…
I don’t have complete trust from many people on this topic. Because of good genes I am tall enough to stretch out what fat I do carry and I don’t carry an overabundance of it, and people have their own ideas of what people with eating disorders and fitness addiction look like. It’s funny, I remember in high school looking at some of my teammates and wondering when my hips and thighs would look so womanly yet at the same time I’ve recently been told by a grade school friend that she thought the same thing about me. Since I was bigger than her I was intimidating to her, she assumed I was aggressive and she was well aware that I had bigger hips than she did (why do we focus on hips anyway?). We start comparing our bodies at such young ages.
Like so many college kids, I was indulging in too much booze and late night pizzas which pushed me well past the “Freshman 15.” I gained over 20 pounds in a very short amount of time and I have stretch marks on my hips and thighs to show for it (hm. Funny. I wanted those hips and thighs in high school and BOOM they showed up.).
I never really lost that weight. I sort of matured into it. My weight has shifted places it likes to reside in but for the better part of 20 years I have weighed about the same. But weight is just a number. There have been times I have been carrying more body fat than muscle mass and other times it’s been vise versa.
I grew up in a home where my mom constantly spoke ill of her body. She complained about her gut, her bust, her butt (or lack thereof) and the amount of clothes that she claimed women her size couldn’t wear. She also commented a tremendous amount on other women’s sizes – both people in her life and people on screen. She always commented about Marilyn Monroe being way too fat. In my mom’s defense, she was teased both by children and adults when she was young so this scar affected her for life. I learned A LOT from growing up in a house with this kind of monologue, especially about how I would do it very differently if I had a daughter.
See, even though I didn’t struggle with weight like my mom I still carried her opinions of herself as opinions I should have of myself. I refused to wear horizontal stripes, flowy and flowery outfits, shirts that were snug in the midsection, and I DEFINITELY tried to stay away from polka dots. I was also reminded that I didn’t inherit the right sized chest so certain clothes just “hung” on me. I didn’t wear them well. I very early started looking at super models and people in my life to compare my body to. When I gained all that weight in college, a close friend told me I would struggle with weight just like my mom. I felt complete shame. I felt ugly and fat, even though the truth was I was far from it. I started wearing spandex under jeans, pants and skirts. I continued this habit until I had my first child and after my children I wore clothes that were so baggy they didn’t fit correctly. I was living my life uncomfortable in my own skin, both figuratively and literally.
After my second child was born I rededicated myself to running. I even started a blog about it. I would post updates about how my training was going and the title of the blog was even about being a faster runner. I started following runners and weight lifters on social media thinking I was inspiring myself to be faster, better and stronger. The reality was, I was shaming myself at every view. “Why can’t you look like that?” “Why can’t you run faster?” “Why did you have to gain so much weight that you got stretch marks with your last pregnancy?” “Why did you let yourself go?” “How can your husband even have sex with you.”
After I completed a half marathon at 37, and being grossly unhappy with my body, I decided to do a massive body transformation. In twelve weeks I lost almost 20 pounds and 12% body fat. At the very end I was at 15% body fat. My goal wasn’t exactly the weight loss or the body fat % but I wanted to look in the mirror and like my body. I wanted to be pleased with my body.
In the transformation process I weighed myself every single day and I also measured myself every single day. Both activities my trainer kept telling me to stop doing so I just quit telling her I was doing it. On one hand I was fascinated with the daily changes in my body but on the other hand if I didn’t see a “good” change then I would become very critical of myself.
My meal plan was treated like a mandate from God himself. Worse, I was so worried with variety in my diet that I ate the exact same breakfast, lunch and snacks every single day for those 12 weeks and beyond. The blood test I took when I was done, compared to the blood test I took before I started, showed that those 12 weeks of no variety had a negative impact on my system. I was deficient in many vitamins and minerals.
With all those new muscles and dedication all I did was nitpick new things: the skin in my midsection that wouldn’t tighten up, the fact that the muscles on my legs jiggled the same as the fat did, the extra skin on my neck and face and the way it wrinkled, and now my super tiny bust size. When I was done with my program, I was afraid that one cookie would wreck all of my hard work while at the same time I wasn’t 100% satisfied with my results. I was afraid to NOT workout 6 days a week, hours a day.
… no one ever talked to be about eating disorders, body image problems or fitness addiction. I wish they had.
I will say that for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed putting my clothes on. I felt pretty in clothes, but when the clothes came off I felt fat again. My self talk was worse than ever before. Now that I was in the realm of fitness models (for real. The company that trained me is owned by fitness models and they prepare many for fitness competitions and some go on to become models too) I felt like I needed to look like them. How unrealistic was this? Every bite of food that I consumed, or even dreamt about, was scrutinized. I berated thoughts about craving my sweets and fatty foods. I oogled pictures of my “comrades” day after day, sometimes many times a day. With the oogling came the negative self-talk. If I didn’t exercise for any reason, even a valid one, I would scold myself. If I didn’t improve upon my efforts I would chastise myself.
Here I am three years from when I started that transformation. So many things have transpired in my life which caused me to put my focus on fitness in the backseat, but the guilt associated with not focusing on it for two full years has been terrible. No, I am not the size I was almost three years ago but by health standards I’m still at a healthy weight even though I feel like a cow. I tried to restart my program many, many times, and every time it blew up in my face. You can’t go from doing nothing to working out six days a week, sometimes multiple times a day. So, here I am. Three years after I started that transformation. I’m restarting again but it started with me reading this book.
I read this thing in two days and cried many times throughout. I don’t believe I have an eating disorder, no. I have never purged, binged or starved myself but during the majority of my life I have dealt with this really mean and critical voice in my head like “Ed.” It speaks worse to me than any other person has spoken to me in my life, and about a topic NO ONE has ever spoken to me about – about me being fat and worthless and lazy and ugly. The inner dialogue that people with eating disorders have I totally get.
This is a topic that I may revisit as I learn more but I wanted to toss it out there as so many people have these New Year’s resolutions that involve weight loss and fitness. I know there are many others out there like me… people who don’t necessarily have eating disorders but if we focus too much on our fitness plans we start behaving like we do have one, or maybe our self-talk is so critical that it’s much like someone with Ed. I wanted to let you know that this is more common, and more damaging, than you might think. Let’s approach those resolutions in a healthy way, a loving way and with the kind of compassion and tender conversation we give to those we love when they are struggling. As I always say, there are mental health professionals out there to assist you with specific struggles you have and this topic is no different. God willing you can get yourself a group of women to walk your fitness goals out with you, to pray with you and to hold your hand when it gets hard because the most important truth that you need to believe is that God loves you no matter your size or imperfections.