I felt called to share this particular story not only because future posts will make a lot more sense but because I think negative body image is something so many of us struggle with and I really want you to know you’re not alone in it and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t have to talk to ourselves this way anymore.
I’ve struggle with disordered eating and exercise addiction since about 7th grade, something that started because I realized I couldn’t fit into my best friends clothes anymore. Exercise addiction and placing extreme restrictions on food became a normal occurrence in high school as I started noticing how thin other endurance athletes were and how different my body composition was.
College became the perfect escape for me. I was on my own terms, my own schedule and I could hide my secret from the best of them. No one had to know that the only thing I had eaten that day was a bowl of soup and a handful of cereal. No one had to know that it was the 4th time I was going to the gym that day, on negative calories. No one had to know how many hours I spent in front of the mirror criticizing every part of my body. No one had to know that I had binged on anything I could get my hands on the night before because I was so hungry and deprived. No one had to know that guilt and shame. No one had to know that under the smile and “having it all together” attitude that I really didn’t. That I didn't want to face the world, that I didn't want to face myself.
I constantly compared myself to everyone, “I'll be happy when I am as *fill in the blank* as she is. I wanted to be everyone else SO BADLY that I had no idea who I even was.
What were MY goals and dreams? What made ME happy? I had no idea. I was so lost.
Going into Junior year, summer of 2011, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I was going on a 10 week long bike trip coast to coast. I was going to see the country in a way I never thought possible. "I was going to get so thin..."
The first couple of weeks were spent trying to prove myself. I rode so fast to get in a “workout” that I zoomed by amazing things others on my trip would find. I would run most days (even after 80+ miles of riding) and every single night I separated myself from the group to do abs.
I know that because of my obsessiveness and fears, I missed out on a lot - especially in the beginning. But looking back, that trip CHANGED ME. I learned how to eat when I was hungry because I physically could not go on without calories (a big lesson in food = fuel), I learned to slowwww down to really experience such beautiful parts of life, I learned that people liked me, for me, all of me - my goofy, quirky, weird me. I let myself show vulnerability during times of frustration, anger, excitement, sadness. I learned what made me truly happy and I learned what kind of person I wanted to be. Most important though,
I learned if I spent my days wishing to be someone else, I lose days to be myself.
I came back a with a clearer view on myself and from that moment on, I knew it was possible to be this person, to feel this kind of happiness. I started realizing that state of mind was achieved from the choices I made. And I did my best to make choices that would lead me there.
Big changes in life always seem to force me into this wave of panic that pushes me to find some sort of comfort among the chaos. When I graduated and eventually moved to Colorado for a new job, that’s exactly what happened. The transition was HARD. I started resorting back to habits that made sense to me - to feel comfortable and avoid dealing with the uncomfortable. Living alone for the first time gave me this safe place to hide. No one could see my aloneness, my struggles, my vulnerabilities. Just me. I was consistently living in the past. My weight fluctuated as a result of my ups and downs. I started placing extreme restrictions on food again, desperate to lose the weight I had put on from my nights of eating/drinking my fears away.
Over time, I slowly started to make initiatives to change my state of being. I started to make friends, I moved to Boulder, I went through a breakup, I met the love of my life, I incorporated new activities into my routine - ones that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I started doing things that lit the fire inside of me. I dove head first into personal development which helped me make the choice to stop ignoring my feelings.
because my feelings, I’ve learned to realize, have all of the answers.
They drive all of my behaviors, decisions, and actions. When I ignore them, try to push them away, or decide not to deal with them, I choose a behavior to engage in instead, desperately trying to distract my thoughts or desperately trying to forget.
Those behaviors of avoidance, of I don’t need help, of I can do this myself, I am strong, I have everything under CONTROL, led me to the self destructing habits I became so good at. I started learning that if I face what I am feeling head on and learn to understand what are driving those feelings, and learn to actually deal with the feelings, then I don’t need to turn to behaviors that only temporarily cover everything up. I learned that there is only so much I can control and that when things get difficult I can and should ask for help, in fact it’s ridiculous to think that I can do everything on my own. I learned that in order to receive vulnerability and connection from others I have to give that in return. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as perfection and because I strived for it so much of my life, I was telling myself that it wasn’t okay to be anything less (which is IMPOSSIBLE).
Fast forward to today: I have stopped counting calories, I have stopped placing extreme restrictions on food, and measuring my food. I have learned to understand the difference between emotional eating (a thing I did when I wanted to forget feelings) and just wanting a bowl of ice cream. I stopped labeling foods as “good” vs “bad.” It’s just fuel - some foods give me more fuel than others and that’s what I make my decisions on, "will I have more energy and focus during the day after I eat this doughnut or some toast with eggs and veggies?" (And every so often, I choose the doughnut - AND THATS OKAY) I no longer starve myself, I no longer binge. I don’t wake up feeling guilty deciding to spend 4 hours in the gym only to burn off everything from the night before. Rather, I plan my activities based on how my body feels like moving that day (or even if I need a DAY OFF) - whether it be some lap swimming, a trail run, a mountain bike ride, climbing, or some yoga, I do it because I love to move, I love to sweat - not because I feel like I HAVE TO.
as soon as I sense my choices are being made out of fear rather than love for myself, I take a step back and reevaluate if that is the best choice for ME, NOT my fears.
I’ve stopped looking in the mirror and pointing out every “flaw.” I stop my downward spiral of negative self talk and think “would I speak to my best friend this way!?” If the answer is no, I stop what I am doing, find AT LEAST one thing I loveeee about my body, about my person, and walk away. Try it, it’s a beautiful, freeing, magical thing.
It’s taken YEARS, several rock bottoms, and a fricken bike trip across the country to realize I don’t want to spend my life in fear of gaining weight or being out of control. I don’t want to be afraid of vulnerability or of asking for help. I want to live a life of pure bliss, of being so in love with myself that I make this life everything it can be because I trust myself to do so. All of this is why I am feeling so called to share my story, because if I can help ANYONE see that there is another way to live, that it doesn’t have to be this way .. then it is worth stepping outside of my own comfort zone when it comes to this much vulnerability. It’s so worth it.