This is a F*ck-It moment—
I bought a one-way ticket on the Get Skinny Bandwagon during the early days of my double-digits. I’ve gotten on and off this train to varying extents up until this very breath.
I really had no idea what I was doing all those years ago when I bought that damn ticket, but I do remember thinking, heck, who doesn’t want to look better? Given a tragic childhood and without much thought about my deeper desires, at the tender age of 12, I was definitely up for discovering a way to feel love.
If all I had to do was lose weight in order to feel happy, accepted and loved by my self and others, I was all in.
Like many of us, when I made the decision to go on a diet, I was nowhere close to being overweight. I wasn’t even a little chubby. I was just misguided but more than that and without knowing it, I was looking to a cure to my broken heart and all the pent up, insatiable sadness and anger.
Dieting became my mission and offered some stimulation from what felt like a mundane life.
It allowed me to assign blame to something for all the pain I carried. It gave me an element of control versus the unpredictable and seemingly uncontrollable pains of my past: abandonment, rejection and death.
Losing weight felt like hopeful promises. It felt like a way out.
At that age, although I journaled a lot, I wasn’t able to explore the depths of how I felt. There was too much pain to muddle through and there was so much that I didn’t understand, so I avoided everything in my pain’s radius. This meant, that I couldn’t truly tap into a deeper healing process that I knew existed.
I also limited my expression. I would never allow myself to go beyond my creative limits because I knew that if I wanted to truly express what was within me, I had to rummage through all that shit and I simply did not want to feel it or relive any of it. I did not know how to access that space without feeling like it would kill me or even worse — change me in a horrific way.
I knew no other way.
Over the course of many years I dabbled with restricting and bingeing.
I truly had no idea what it meant to be healthy, probably like most teenagers. Not to mention my family was seriously dysfunctional and low-income. Throughout my childhood and high school, I lived off of things like Pepsi, hot fudge sundaes, Skittles, Pizza Hut, Wheatables, Arby’s, Little Debbies, Burger King and the school’s vending machines.
Dieting to me wasn’t about eating the right food groups. Not at all. It was only about weight loss.
I remember the first time I realised my weight in pounds.
I was thirteen. I was getting a physical for school. In the lobby of the medical facility some of the girls I knew were discussing their number. We didn’t have a scale at home, so I was intrigued as to how important this was to everyone. I was glued. All of us were shy or embarrassed to reveal our weight to our little group, and the horrible thing was that each and every one of us young little things thought our weight was too high.
How did we know to be embarrassed about our weight? How did we come to those conclusions? We are indeed sensitive and impressionable creatures, but that’s another story.
This experience only sprinkled water on the seed that had already been planted.
When I was 12, I started to exercise ridiculously. When I did, I’d do it for full afternoons and I’d drink gallons of water in a single day. I wasn’t taught an exercise regime and I didn’t have any VHS tapes, so I just made up my own routines. I’d run in place, jumping jack and grape-vine my little ass off for hours.
I seriously loved it. It was a release and it made me feel so good.
I started exercising after experiencing the second death of a family member who raised me (both of their deaths were only years apart). It was during this time that my relationship with food changed.
I was raised on sugary junk food — as most of us experience, it was offered to me often as treats and with sentiments of love. After both of their deaths, I wanted desperately to keep the love they gave me inside as no one else was offering it. So I started to eat my emotions.
I craved all the crappy junk food my grandparents raised me on. I believe in ways it was me trying to feel them and their love and trying to fill a gaping hole with them gone. It was the only tool I knew, aside from exercising, that made me feel good. It (they) made me feel whole.
Over time I realised that I could eat more than usual from time to time or that I could eat a bunch of sugary stuff, and that it would numb my emotions or fill me up when I felt emotionally empty or stressed. I also knew that I could exercise it all off the next day.
Slowly, the seeds that I planted grew and blossomed into a full-blown patterned field of restricting, sugar bingeing and over-exercising — all in the name of anti-emotional feeling.
The summer I officially got on that train, I was close to fifteen. I was petite at nearly 5’3″ and weighed a healthy 124 pounds. I wasn’t too skinny, but in fact curvy and definitely nowhere near fat.
Over the course of that summer, I took all the previous years of experience, cranked them up to a destructive and extreme level and within less than 3 months I shed over 20 pounds. I wasn’t the only one.
That summer and for a couple of years after, I used the buddy system. I’d share my day with a friend who was on the same track. We’d give each other ideas and inspiration for how little to eat, how to redeem a cheating day, what was low in calories, when to skip meals — all the tips and tricks for staying on track. It kept me motivated and excited to keep going.
Today will be a good day to make up for yesterday. Only water. It will be a good day.
I did ridiculous things like eating only on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. I had days where I only ate low-fat, high sugar candies or marshmallows. Cherry-flavored Laffy Taffy was one of my favourites. I had days where I only drank hot chocolate or sweet tea, and then there was the exercising.
As I mentioned, I have always loved to move, dance, run around and play, but with my mission to burn calories and lose weight, I went over the top.
Over that one summer I’d go to cheerleading (yeah, that’s right) practice 3-4 times per week for 2-3 hours. I’d then go home and wrap myself in garbage bags (I learned this from my high school wrestling friends), hide them under a sweat suit and I’d run at least a mile or two around the neighbourhood — the hotter the temperature outside, the better.
I’d come home from cheering at a basketball game on Friday night and do an hour of high-energy aerobics while my other family members slept. I would have kept going. I would have kept losing weight if it wasn’t for one teacher who pulled me aside.
She had big loving brown eyes. One day she grabbed me gently by the arm during half-time and pulled me away from my friends.
She put her hand on my shoulder, and lovingly looked me straight in the eyes and said: Please don’t lose anymore weight. Okay?
I responded: Okay.
I have no idea how or why it affected me the way that it did, but I listened to her. I suppose if I wanted someone to acknowledge me, there it was. I didn’t lose anymore weight. I was by no means completely cured from the madness I was creating inside of me, but I didn’t lose anymore.
There was something intelligent and connected working inside of me, holding the pieces of me together — more than I realised (even now). This was the part of me that listened to her, those brown eyes, that teacher, that Earth angel.
I never fully developed anorexia and I never tried vomiting or pills. Although my methods became less and less extreme over time, I did, however, create a destructive imprint that for the rest of my life I would have to deal with: a counter-productive relationship with food as a method for not dealing with my emotions and stress combined with the fear of losing control.
To this day, I look back and I can see and feel all the times I’ve cleaned my body and mind out until I’ve reached that dark door that stunk of death and despair. I’ve kept that door air-tight shut and locked for most of my life. It’s like a one-ton bank vault, that damn door.
When I’m consciously working to reach that space, I’ll find it and before I know it, I’ll be running for the hills or craving cupcakes.
There are other times when I’ll linger around that door — typically when I’m feeling raw, desperate, stressed or sad. It gives me justification and these are the times when I feel myself wanting to fill all that space with sugary carbs or nothing at all.
After high school, the freedom to eat when and what I wanted was almost overwhelming.
My massive student loans allotted me a meal card, which to me was insane. I was able to open myself up to healthier choices, simply because they were available. I naturally started to clean up my diet, but still, as did my peers, chose to consume the more usual college-esque type of food on the weekends — Taco Bell, pizza and bread sticks, Wendy’s, etc., especially if I was hung over.
For years I had become very aware of how and what the women around me ate. I watched what they chose, how they ate it and the feelings — the unconscious verbal justifications that would come out before, during or after a meal. I can tell you, I was never ever the only female eating emotionally or thinking about my weight and how what I was consuming would impact it.
Some of my very brave and courageous girlfriends have shared with me what they have tried over the years in order to lose weight. Here’s what they said:
I substituted coffee for meals.
I tried only eating raw vegetables.
I tried eating only one thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner for as many days as I could manage.
The list I haven’t tried is probably shorter.
I ate 300-500 calories per day in addition to working out each day. I did lose about 20 lbs in a month, then, needless to say, gained it all back!
I purged my entire freshman year of college.
I tried eating nothing but cereal everyday.
I’ve tried having nothing but shakes for an entire month.
I’ve tried a food diary plus Weight Watchers, diet pills and just about any fad diet you’ve heard of.
I’ve starved myself for as long as I possibly could.
And, why did you do it?
I thought I was fat.I thought if I lost some weight, I’d be better looking and I’d find someone.
I felt like losing weight at the time was the right thing to do.
It seemed ‘right’ to want to be skinnier—although I didn’t really understand why.
I couldn’t accept myself as I was and everyone seemed to be wanting to get ‘thin’.
I got this idea to lose weight and once I started I couldn’t stop myself.
Because my roommate was rail thin and I felt awful that I wasn’t.
I was looking for a way to feel better.
I was looking for a way to get healthy and thought I had to make an extreme move before that could happen.
I’ve always felt overweight.
I just didn’t like my body at the time.
I know all of these ladies and they all come in unique and beautiful packages. Not a single one of them is overweight — and not one of them ever was. All have felt influenced by others or by their own desire to find self-love and acceptance.
We’re never alone. Ever.
The transition has been so, so difficult.
We all hold an astounding intelligence within our bodies, that we are barely conscious of. We innately hold both the poison and the healing elixir.
I truly believe that we all have exactly what it takes to deal and heal. This comes with a caveat; we aren’t in control of everything and not everything manifests or happens as we imagined or thought it would and could, but it does arrive exactly how it should.
For my own healing process to have even begun (it is still happening) I had to find a way to open that door, to be open to feeling and even more so to release what I have been holding onto for years and all the destructive ways I’ve interpreted it.
I also had to seriously work on my courage — to share, to express and to not be afraid of what I’d find behind that door or the many other doors that were behind it.
This is not and has not been easy, as the mind is so loyal to all its habits and very creative in the ways it keeps us doing what it has always done. I’ve had to go down lots of other paths, that were the same but packaged in a different way and still led me to the same blockages.
So how does one get out of the maze before the maze eats one alive?
There is an abundance of external tools waiting to be experimented with. They are there for us to explore what works best for us and they help to reveal the mere tip of the iceberg. They are a hall pass, a key to unlock the doors that lead to our own inner healer and healing.
These tools, whatever they are, only point to the path — the path that only you know how to walk, experience and share.
In other words, only you hold all of the answers to you.
Re-birthing yourself with food.
I’ve realised throughout my experience that I could not just magically fix or detox my body back into feeling healthy, but that there are other planes to be considered — emotionally and spiritually.
Talk about starting over with a clean slate and completely resetting the dial to zero, but after about a million different attempts, I’ve realised that I have to consider all parts of me and not just burn out one aspect. For me, that was the physical body.
My rekindled relationship to nourishment will come in the next article (note: it is a work in progress — aren’t we all?!), but I’ll finish by saying that from a young age, I learned and taught myself a method of dealing with my emotions through food and I took it out on my physical body — in excess and lack thereof and as they say: old habits die-hard and it took me a lot of trial and error.
But I kept going.
By learning to deeply nourish myself with food and through the practice of yoga, I’ve discovered a way that allowed me to organically love myself, to let go and to really feel on a level I never thought possible.
I’m still in this process.
When we gain the ability to make choices that are truly nourishing both physically, emotionally and spiritually, we unlock doors, we let go and we become a little more free.
Stay tuned for more from the Eating Life Series.
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