I’ve been trying to work up the guts to share this for years. I tried to film it three different times and either couldn’t make it through the filming process, or couldn’t bring myself to watch and edit the footage. Aside from it being a hard & uncomfortable story to tell, I also struggled with the idea of publicly talking about the complicated history of my relationship with my own body because I didn’t want you to think that I was sick, or view me as weak. It’s the same reason almost no one in my life knew about what was happening over all those years. I view myself as a strong person, and this (former) secret isn’t consistent with my self image; this piece of me doesn’t fit into the rest of the puzzle.
Note: This article is about my personal experience; I am not a mental health specialist or a doctor and this story is purely about my personal experience in what it took for me to get to a healthier place in my life.
Getting it out and off of my chest in the most honest way possible has been liberating and I feel more free of the burden than ever. Sharing your weakness or your experience doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. Taking shame out of the equation makes it easier to face the problem head on, and to make real changes in your life. I hope that you hear my story with an open mind and that reading about my struggle leaves you more accepting, understanding and tolerant towards the way you feel about the things you might consider your biggest weaknesses or personal battles, whatever they might be.
It was not just one thing that started my obsession with my weight. As a child, I grew fast, and I was taller than everyone else, so I was “bigger” than everyone else and sharply aware of it. Listening to the way adults talked about their displeasure with their bodies, and images in the media certainly played a significant role. I have a very clear memory of sitting at my desk in my first grade class, looking down at my thighs in shorts, and thinking “My legs are too big. I am too big. I am fat. I will exercise. I won’t eat until I look a certain way.” I was seven years old.
In order to better tell my story, I have to tell you something very personal but essential to understanding the whole picture. I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Not “I don’t like my food to touch” or “I don’t like it when my shoes aren’t lined up straight” - lots of people like to light heartedly poke fun at OCD, but it's usually because they don't understand what it is. It can be devastatingly life consuming. Thanks to a healthy diet and smart exercise, I don’t struggle as much with it anymore (healthy habits can have a significant impact on mental health, too), but I have wrestled with it since I was very young. The Mayo clinic summarizes the disorder neatly into one sentence “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).” The disorder has changed fluidly with me my whole life but a lot of the focus fell on my eating and exercising habits, which only made me more of a candidate for eating disorders, obsessive dieting and exercising, and overall spiraling out of control when it came to body image and the way I treated my body.
High school & college
Between the ages of 14-23 I went back and forth between either over exercising, starving myself, or binging and purging (sometimes a combination of all of the above). I had periods of being very sick. The number on the scale decided the tone of my entire day. I felt like my life was going to “start” once I reached a certain weight.
I ate a highly processed “healthy” diet (the stark opposite of my current whole foods eating style); the calorie count and preset portion sizes of those pre-packaged meals, meal replacement shakes and snacks allowed me to track every calorie that I took in. Because of my OCD, I didn’t just tally up the calories of a meal and move on with my day. I would count, and recount, over and over again, often times until I’d eaten the very last bite of my plate. I would be out with friends, eating something tasty, “enjoying” good conversation, while adding and re-adding the calories in my head, over and over. I couldn’t turn it off. It was very uncomfortable and it robbed me of joy on more than one occasion. It ruled me. I would track my weight, track my calories eaten and burned, everything. This would happen throughout every meal, as well as through my whole day. This is just one example but when I say that the preoccupation with my weight ruled my life, I mean it very literally.
I was terrified of eating homemade or unmeasured dishes because I didn’t know exactly how many calories I was eating; it produced a nearly phobic feeling. I had many invasive medical tests over the course of those years, looking for reasons for terrible stomach pain. They suspected GERD, hiatal hernia, IBS, etc, etc. It’s important to note that once I stopped eating processed foods, all of these stomach issues completely disappeared - without any medication at all.
I did a lot of cardio - way too much cardio; usually around 90 minutes but many times I would go for over 2 hours. Often more than once a day. I would run; run through knee pain, through stomach pain, through exhaustion, through my body asking nicely and then demanding that I stop. I would run at least 5 miles, at least once a day, at least 5-6 days a week, and once I was done with that I would move on to do cardio on another machine. Meanwhile I had music in my ears and my eyes fixated on the calorie burn readout; watching each calorie tick upwards. It was miserable. I would be so tired, drained, trembling, after those long sessions. When people I knew at the gym stopped me to talk, I would have trouble forming thoughts & putting sentences together. Sometimes the exercise made me feel better (even then exercise was a stress management tool for me, I just didn’t realize how badly I was abusing it and how much better it could be.)
With all of that exercising, I would have needed to eat a lot in order to keep up, but if I ate over 2000 calories in a day I felt like I had “blown it”. If I ate a mere 100 calories over that goal intake, it was game over and I was a total failure. 2000 calories a day was of course never enough for my obsessive overexercising, and I would end up eating thousands of calories very late at night because I was literally starving. Over restricting intake all day long, becoming very hungry and binging, and then feeling like I had failed, lead me into a binge and purge cycle that played a touch and go but predominate role in my life from the ages of 14-23. There were points in my life when I was very sick and weak because of the abuse I was putting my body through. Times when I felt so weak that all I could do was lie in bed. I was destroying my body and my health.
That was my main focus, even though in the meantime, I was technically fit, I was getting great grades and academic awards in college, I loved what I was studying, I had wonderful friends, and I was putting myself through two majors (psychology and sociology) in college by working at least one job (sometimes as many as 3 jobs). I should have felt good, and proud of myself. Instead I was preoccupied with my weight and feeling inadequate because I was comparing myself to others and I was disgusted with what I saw in the mirror.
One of the worst parts about it was how ashamed I felt - not just because I was ashamed and embarrassed by what I was doing, but the immense guilt I felt for struggling so hard with something that seemed so petty. There were people in the world with real problems, real pain, and I was so crippled by this struggle over something that I ultimately felt was something superficial and self-centered. There are so many crazy things happening in the world at any given moment that I felt stupid and selfish for struggling so hard with my own self-imposed pain, for obsessing and ruining my health with something that just seemed to be related to superficial looks in the pursuit of a body type I thought I needed to emulate, but it was much darker and more vague than that. Body shape and weight was the easy-to-explain source of initial distress, but it was more than me simply worrying about how I looked physically; I've never placed much value on the way that I look, or the way anyone else looks for that matter. It was deeper than that; faceless & nameless and I still don’t quite understand it.
I knew was inflicting this pain on myself and yet I still couldn’t move past it. My brain was like a skipping record and even though I was aware of all of these logical, grounded reasons why what I was doing was not smart, I could not disengage from the self destruction. I was so embarrassed and this entire time, almost no one in my life knew what was going on.
Through a combination of reading, research, trial and error, and trusting the process, I healed. As I started to leave the bad habits behind and switch over to moderate, smart exercise and a whole foods diet, I realized how much better I could feel. I got my energy back, grew to love food rather than fear it, and I stopped obsessing, restricting and overexercising. The difference in how much better I felt inspired me to slowly let go of the destructive habits and fully embrace those healthier habits. I started accepting and appreciating my body. There were good days and bad, and sometimes I felt like I was protecting myself, from myself, but I held on, and for the last (almost) decade I have been in a good place, which is worth all of the effort in the world and then some. My only focus is my health; I don’t care about my weight, the way my abs look, my measurements or any other surface oriented concern. The only thing I want is just want to be healthy.
I have to take a quick second to give a nod to my husband (and business partner), Daniel. In the very beginning of our relationship, I had started to make progress and was leaving bad habits behind, but still struggling. Even though at the time he had no idea what was going on, he loved and cared for me, which made me take interest in my own well being to an extent, but being entrenched in and around his healthy habits eventually wore off on me. I eventually started to learn that those healthy habits; exercising more moderately and eating lots of real, whole foods until I was really full and satisfied, and not denying myself nutrition and considering myself a failure if I ate a certain number of calories, was an easy, no-brainer way to not only reach and stay at a healthy bodyweight, but also to get my life back.
The way I feel about my body changes on an hourly basis, and I'm okay with that. I roll with the punches & I'm more at peace with my body than ever. Our bodies are constantly fluctuating and none of that scares me anymore. In terms of fitness/body goals, the only thing I focus on now is doing everything I can in my power to feel good and healthy. I am very lucky that I did not do lasting damage to my body, or worse.
I love food. I love eating! Whether I'm munching on a fresh veggie salad or a burger, fries & a brew, I enjoy eating and I don't ever feel nervous or guilty anymore. Though I prefer a fresh, whole foods diet because of the way it makes me feel, I don't have a single "diet rule" or restriction. I eat a great deal; usually between 2500-3200 calories, though I try not to count calories or macronutrients because as long as I'm trying to eat real, whole, nutrient dense foods, I don't need to be monitoring every morsel that goes into my mouth (old habits die hard but I feel healthier and happier when I don’t count/track anything). My workouts are smart and they make me feel strong & lit up with energy. Strength training is my favorite way to train, and it has brought about many benefits and changes to my health, body, and mindset. They put me in a mood that makes me feel like I can do anything! I typically workout 30-45 minutes, 3-5x/week. My workout routine is now balanced, smart, healthy and ironically much more effective than my previous extreme habits. I am stronger and fitter than I have been at any other point in my life.
Not only are all of my stomach and health problems completely cleared up without any drugs or medication whatsoever, but my obsessive compulsive disorder plays a more tolerable, subtle role in my life. As long as I eat well and workout regularly, the condition is part of the background noise instead of consuming.
I left all of the unhealthy self destructive habits behind. Completely. I stopped dieting, I beat bulimia, I stopped over exercising, and obsessing, and when I did, I lost 40 lbs, gained strength that I didn't know I had, and got my life back. That's part of the reason why I wanted to share my story. I want people to see - if you are stuck in this cycle (any kind of weight-battle cycle, really), you know it's not healthy or right. But do you also know that it's going to actually get you further away from your "goal"? Dieting, over exercising, under eating, binging and purging, obsessive tracking and measuring - all of these things can actually lead to weight gain. There is nothing to be gained by abusing your body or mind.
I hope that people read/hear my story with this in mind; eating disorders come in all different forms, and I believe that they are much more prevalent than we realize, and they are not usually easily apparent. In fact, according to the CDC, over 1/3 of US adults are obese, and "obesity related conditions" are one of the leading causes of death - can we honestly say that literally sitting & eating ourselves to death isn't a form of disordered eating? Eating disorders are not limited to anorexia and bulimia, and these issues are complex. I honestly believe that others could benefit from the way that I "got better"; taking the focus off of the way you look and what you weigh, and making good health and a strong body the number one goal and priority. All theories aside, you never know what another person is going through and you never know how another person feels about their body; it's a good argument for being decent to one another as a default.
Again, this is my personal experience; there are many different paths to wellness and this is the one that worked for me. If you're going through something like this, talk to someone. Eating disorders are dangerous and painful, and without help or someone to talk to, things can quickly spiral out of control. Don't risk harming your body, doing damage that you cannot undo or losing your life; find someone you trust and seek out help; don't do it alone.
Almost no one in my life knew about this, and here I am spilling my guts out to the vast internet. The Fitness Blender community inspires me and made me decide that making myself vulnerable was absolutely worth the risk, if someone might be able to benefit from my experience. Thank you for listening to my story, for always encouraging me and lifting me up. I hope that I can return the kindness. Love you guys.