“It has been a beautiful fight. Still is.” - Charles Bukowski
When thoughts turn into enemies, they can eat you alive. Fighting an internal battle day in and day out can wear down even the strongest person's spirits. Facing that enemy, the dark part of yourself that comes out in the loneliest moments, can be the hardest thing you ever have to do. You can push it away, ignore it, like a child trying convince himself that there is no monster under the bed, just a shadow. But left to fester, shadows can turn into monsters. Only by being brave enough to look under the bed do we finally conquer our fear. Our monsters become afraid of us. Now they know who they’re messing with—and we will make them run.
My monster lurked in the refrigerator. Inside jars of peanut butter and jelly, behind the chicken cutlets and bottles of wine. It waited for me, whispering temptations about everything I thought I didn’t deserve to have.
What do you feel like you deserve? I hope that most people answer with happiness, health and love. With the best intentions, I set out to attain those things for myself by way of losing weight. Well, I lost the weight, but was left wanting for those basic desires.
As a former competitive swimmer and fencer, I had always been athletic. After college, fitting back into my favorite skinny jeans became my goal, because skinny jeans are for skinny people, right? My weight gain started in high school, and dining hall food and minimal exercise in college didn’t help. I missed the athlete I used to be. So after graduation, I set out to get her back. Not one to do anything half-assed, I plunged headfirst into dieting and exercising.
"More veggies!” became my motto. I became a vegetarian and eschewed all forms of processed foods and sugar. I went to the gym or pool every day, often twice per day. I would have “double cardio” days, where I would swim and then do the elliptical machine, and “cardio/weight” days, where I would swim or run first, then lift light weight on all those machines and pulleys I didn’t really know how to use. Looking back, I cringe at the thought. (I even did squats on the Smith machine because I was afraid to use the bar…yikes!) Now, this doesn’t seem so bad for someone trying to lose weight, right? I was doing everything right, wasn’t I? And results came quickly. The amount of calories I was burning coupled with the extremely low amount I was eating made weight fall off. Fast. In a matter of 6 months, I had dropped close to 20 pounds. This might seem like a dream come true. However, I wasn’t very overweight to begin with (even though I thought I was). 20 pounds gone left me hovering between 99 and 100 pounds. I thought I looked great!
My high school jeans were too big! I had the trendy “thigh gap!” I went from a size 6 to a 00. (Never mind the collar bone that was sticking out, or the ribs that were perhaps too visible.) People said I looked great. It all fed into the obsession. And that’s what it became: an obsession with staying skinny.
A rumbling stomach was something I learned to ignore. My exercise sessions became longer and my diet further restricted...I remember measuring out fats down to the ¼ teaspoon and swimming laps for hours. I had an irrational fear that eating any fat would make me fat. 100 pounds became my magic number, and I would do anything to keep myself at that weight. My body was starving…the monster sensed my vulnerability and got ready to pounce.
Heading Down a Dark Path
In order to fit in, I would go out to dinner or go to parties with my family and friends and indulge in foods I wouldn’t typically allow myself. Everyone would think I was just treating myself, everyone deserves a cheat day on their diet. It was a survival technique (ah, the irony) to seem normal. I should have treated myself, but I just couldn’t. The guilt I felt about eating dessert or drinking a glass of wine was too much for me to handle. I had to “undo” it. I think you can understand without me going into further detail. It became an excuse to eat these “forbidden” foods to make people think “she’s okay, she’s not too skinny, look how much she eats,” and then not have to worry about weight gain. It only temporarily numbed the guilt, because lying to my family and friends only made me feel more shame.
I never expected things to go that far, and I did not choose this for myself. My illness was a reflection of the distress I was feeling in every other area of my life, from job loss and lack of a career path to failed relationships. The truth was that I was spinning out of control. But I was stopped dead in my tracks when I was diagnosed with a hypothalamic dysfunction that was disrupting the functioning of my hormones, which could have long-term consequences. As much as I didn’t want to accept that I had a problem, I couldn’t pretend my monster was just a shadow anymore. My body was telling me, “Stop this! I can’t go on this way!” and I knew it was time to re-assess what being healthy actually meant, physically, mentally and emotionally.
A New Outlook On Life
It was time to face the monster. I confess that I was frightened. What I saw didn’t make me scream, only weep out of pity for the withered figure before me that was once happy and full of life. I saw her, me, and thought, “This isn’t who I’m supposed to be.” I knew then that I didn’t want to feel that way anymore, I didn’t want to hate myself. I wanted, and deserved, better. That was really the driving force behind my recovery, the thing that I kept telling myself when I thought I was going to slip.
So I started eating meat again and listening to my body: if I was hungry, I ate, if I was sore, I didn’t work out. I put weight back on fairly quickly because my body needed it so badly. The hardest part was changing my patterns of thinking. I had spent so long believing that I had to be skinny that I didn’t remember what it was like to enjoy food, or go for a walk without thinking about how many calories I was burning. Always, I reminded myself that the number on the scale was not me.
Bite by bite, I learned how to treat myself with the respect I knew I deserved all along. A pivotal step in the process of healing has also been learning how to love my body again. It was through a friend that I first heard about CrossFit. It sounded brutally hard and incredibly rewarding. I wanted to see what my body could do, now that I was treating it properly. I remember my first WOD… a 12 min AMRAP of: 12 kettle bell swings at 26 lbs, 10 front squats at 15 lbs, 8 thrusters at 15 lbs and 6 push ups. I was wheezing by the end, struggling to do push ups from my knees, and my quads were sore for days. But I felt great! I was so proud of myself, and for the first time in a long time, I felt impassioned.
CrossFit - A Healthy Addiction
Fast forward 9 months, and here I am now, still CrossFitting, still getting the crap kicked out of me, and loving every minute of it. The girl that used to be 100 pounds can now clean and jerk that (and more!) without blinking an eye. The most amazing thing might be that I never imagined I’d actually be happy about gaining more weight. Some people start CrossFit to lose weight, but I did the opposite. When I started, I was still thin…I had gained a few pounds back but had little muscle. With CrossFit, I’ve put on 15 or 20 pounds so far and couldn’t be happier. My thighs are thicker, my shoulders bigger, my back broader. My jeans don’t fit me anymore, and I’m damn proud! But the physical strength I’ve gained from CrossFit is nothing in comparison with the emotional strength. Nothing beats the feeling of pushing farther than you believed yourself capable, and seeing your body do things it could never do before. I even decided to get my Level-1 Coaching certificate in the hopes that I can help others develop their own confidence and strength.
I love my new body and the amazing things it can do, but I will not be defined by it. I will be defined by my refusal to surrender to the fight that will always be with me. And in me.
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