After struggling with disordered eating and body dysmorphia, I found peace in exercise and nutrition.
It’s a simple phrase that became my mantra for many reasons. The first is simple: I love to run. I ran track and cross-country in high school, and it quickly became my preferred form of exercise. The sound of feet padding pavement or crunching leaves and gravel; breaking a sweat and breathing heavy; the pure joy of crossing a finish line – I loved it all. Runner’s high is a real thing. Unfortunately, so is weight-loss high. Wait, what?
Yep, you got it. That’s where the second part of the mantra comes in.
I was never a “fat” kid, but I did have my chubby phases and I definitely didn’t have the world’s greatest body composition, even when I was at my thinnest. I hopped on the health train as a sophomore in high school, and my initial goal was to “get skinny.”
It worked – I was addicted to the pounds lost. I began eating less and less and running more and more. At my thinnest, I weighed 112 pounds. At 5-foot, 6-inches, you can imagine how small I was. A healthy weight for a 5’6” woman is about 130-150 pounds, depending on muscle mass. I was thin, but I was not healthy. I maintained that weight for about two years.
After my last cross-country season in high school, I was lost. I needed a physical outlet, but I had no clue how to navigate a gym. A friend introduced me to CrossFit, and I got hooked on that just like I got hooked on running. Pretty soon after starting CrossFit, I realized that to be good at the sport, I needed to gain some muscle. But that meant gaining weight, and weight gain terrified me. I spent the following year in a constant inner battle between stay skinny” and “get stronger.”
Fast-forward a couple of years, and I quit CrossFit. I’m a sophomore in college and I decided CrossFit workouts weren’t doing enough for my body. I didn’t look good enough. My legs weren’t toned enough, and my shoulders were getting too big. I decided didn’t want to be strong – I just wanted to look good. Completely unbeknownst to me, my body composition was healthy. This was a classic case of body dysmorphia. I didn’t see what everyone else saw.
I began working out on my own, focusing on my “problem areas.” I over-trained and under-ate, which ultimately prevented me from seeing the results I wanted. Somewhere along the line, my relationship with food tipped. I became so obsessed with “healthy” eating that it began to cause me anxiety and agitation. I started skipping out on social events for fear of eating something “bad.” I severely restricted my diet in terms of calories, but I also restricted myself in terms of food groups. I went carb-free, low-fat, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free – you name it, I tried it.
My eating habits quickly turned into a vicious cycle. Restrict, binge, purge, shame. I felt so much guilt and indignity over eating the “wrong” foods. My health obsession was not healthy at all. I was causing myself so much pain, yet I couldn’t stop the cycle. I struggled in silence for years.
There are certain anecdotes I remember vividly:
I left a professional conference an entire day early, because I binged so badly on the opening-night dinner, and then refused to eat the next day. I drove seven hours from Austin, Texas back to Baton Rouge, Louisiana overnight because I was so embarrassed by my behavior that I couldn’t bear to attend the last day the conference.
I skipped my best friend’s birthday celebration because the thought of drinking sugary alcoholic beverages and the potential for a drunken binge gave me severe anxiety.
I refused food at countless family gatherings and holiday events, and in doing so I hurt people’s feelings and my pride.
Eventually, I got fed up. I sought help, because I knew I couldn’t beat this on my own. I saw a psychologist who is also a registered dietitian and specializes in disordered eating counseling. She told me I had symptoms of with Orthorexia Nervosa (an obsession with healthy eating) and Bulimia Nervosa (binging and purging). She also told me I showed classic signs of body dysmorphia – I obsessed over minor (or made-up) flaws, such as body fat on my thighs or stomach rolls when I sat down.
I wasn’t given a formal diagnosis, but I didn’t need one because I knew she was right. For years, I’d fought myself over food, body image and exercise. I was never good enough for myself, and that had to change. After several therapy sessions, a lot of journaling and self-reflection, and a serious analysis of my life, I felt things begin to change. The changes were small at first: I didn’t lift my shirt for an “ab check” every time I passed a bathroom mirror. I stopped pinching my thighs to check for cellulite.
Those small changes led to more significant ones. I stopped over-exercising as compensation for “unhealthy” foods. I quit talking to negatively to myself when a workout didn’t go as planned. I became more open to social outings and developed stronger relationships with my friends. I let the value of holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings come back to me.
I made some big personal and professional decisions, such as starting this blog, becoming a personal trainer, and deciding on graduate school for dietetics. These are all platforms that will allow me to help others live truly healthy lives, all while helping me stick to my recovery.
I want Hungry Girl Runs to be transparent, so I have to say that I still have relapses. I still self-shame. I am still hesitant to attend certain social events. I still get anxious about my day-to-day diet. The difference now is that I am practicing self-forgiveness. I am learning how to say “It’s okay” when I eat a bowl of ice cream or add extra cheese to my tacos. I am learning that not every dietary choice must be compensated for – I don’t have to run 40 minutes of intervals the morning after a “cheat meal.” I don’t have to “cleanse” my body after a few glasses of wine. I am learning to be content with myself.
Body positivity is not easy. I envy the people who exude it, and I want every person to have it. But we know that is not the case. So please, if you’re reading this and you struggle with body image, disordered eating, or an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk about what you’re going through and help you find a deeper understanding of your situation.
I encourage everyone to visit the National Eating Disorders website to read about warning signs and symptoms. Eating disorders are more common than most people realize. Someone you know may be struggling and in need of help.
About the F-Word
"Food" is the F-word. And the F-Word blog is all about helping you find your food-life balance. After battling an unhealthy relationship with food and body image for years, I'm dedicated to helping others avoid those misfortunes. Read on for nutrition guidance, lifestyle tips and stories from other bad-ass people who also overcame disordered eating.