I Lost 12 lbs & Overcame My Eating Disorder
This post may contain triggers for those with eating disorders. Proceed at your own discretion.
First, let me say that I'm not trying to sell you anything. There's no affiliate links to any products, there's no hidden agenda because I'm a Beach Body "Coach", there's no catch - you don't have to subscribe to anything to find out "my secret" & I'm not trying to sell my advice - this is just me, raw, telling my story in hopes that it can help someone else not go down the path I went down.
I've been debating how to do this, or if I even wanted to do this at all - whether or not to share these photos, due to their nature & the fact that it feels like I'm putting my flaws on display. But I've been down this path before with my acne photos - I felt shame sharing them, as I do in some ways sharing these. But I overcame that shame by talking about my acne & accepting it as a part of my past, my growth, my progress, & now I share my old acne photos without restriction. I hope to achieve that with these photos, too.
I was a very active child, spending a lot of my time outdoors & playing sports. I would jump on the trampoline for hours, go for long bike rides or walks with friends, tobogganing in the winter & swimming in the summer. I played soccer & baseball for much of my childhood & I was actively engaged in all physical activities at my school - including track & field. I was sometimes teased for having a "boy's body" because I was very lean & muscular, as most active kids are. I even had a pretty mean set of abs! I remember riding on the bus home feeling bad about myself, at no more than 9 or 10 years old, because all of the other girls in my class were just the right amount of "pretty" and "thin".
And then, when I hit puberty & my body changed, I started feeling ashamed of my body even more because it didn't look like other girls' bodies. My thighs spread & I got cellulite & stretch marks. My tummy grew love-handles, my abs disappeared under a layer of fat, & my hips became wider. What had long been a fit, active child's body at about 8% body fat was now an overly estrogenic young woman's body with about 21% body fat. It was like my entire body changed almost overnight. This all would've been fine, but I was still surrounded by other girls who didn't have this same issue. Whether they had gone through puberty or not I didn't know, but they all remained thin & trim.
I remember the first time thinking I was fat I was 12 years old. I had gotten a new pair of jeans that I was very excited about in the store, but when I got home and put them on, all of the bad thoughts about myself came rushing to me. I pinched at my love handles spilling over the sides of my jeans. I sucked in my tummy & turned to the side, wanting to have a narrow waist all the time & not just when I was sucking it in. At 12 I already hated the way I looked. And so I hid under over-sized sweaters & didn't let others see me. This was practically the last time I wore shorts in public, as well, after I was teased & called "thunder thighs".
Around this time my parents also went through a nasty divorce, which only served to worsen how I felt about myself. I became more of a social recluse, & I lost any remnants of a healthy family structure that might have helped save me from this.
Then I went to high school, where things got a lot worse. I went from a school with under 100 students to a large high school where there were literally hundreds of other girls. Being around even more beautiful girls with beautiful, trim & fit figures, I continued to feel ashamed of the way I looked, so I hid behind too-big clothes, & I starved myself. I was just 13. I was at school, people watching, judging myself, comparing myself to them, & I just decided not to eat. I figured, if I don't eat, I can't get any bigger, & then I'll be thin, & then I'll be pretty, & then I'll be popular, & then I'll be happy. And so at 13 I made a decision that would change the rest of my life.
It was easy to starve myself at this time. My father wasn't in my life & my mother was deeply depressed. We didn't have any money, so we hardly ever had food in the house, & the only food we did have was unhealthy (Pizza Pops, instant mashed potatoes, white rice, Kraft Dinner, Pop Tarts, hot dogs). My mother & I's relationship at the time was very turbulent, & so I didn't have anyone in my life to look to for support, or anyone who was really watching out for me. This allowed me to continue on this destructive path.
I didn't join any school teams in high school because they were all filled with beautiful girls I felt I couldn't compete with. I worried that if I joined the team I wouldn't be good enough, & that they'd make fun of me. I wasn't just like them, so I felt I wasn't as good as them. I also only took the two mandatory years of physical education. In my third year, I chose phys-ed, but on the first day of class as I walked up to the gym I saw the bleachers full of popular kids, boys & girls alike. I didn't stop for more than a second before I kept walking, right past the gym & into the guidance counselor to drop the class. The thought of being in a co-ed gym class intimidated me even more, and thus ended any and all physical activity for me in high school.
The starvation caused a lot of issues in my life. I couldn't focus in class, I started acting out, & my grades suffered. I was unhappy with myself on the outside, & that manifested as unhappiness with myself on the inside, too. I was grumpy, rebellious, controlling, & yet no matter how much I starved or how sunken my tummy got, I was never happy. It was never enough. So I would usually end up going on a binge of junk, followed by more starvation.
I was around 19 at the time of this photo. Note the sunken eyes.
The vicious cycle of starving myself & then binge-ing continued through high school, & even into my adult life. I was convinced that the only way to be happy with myself was to be thin, & the only way to be thin was to starve myself & do long bouts of cardio. I justified this starvation to myself, that I wasn't really doing any harm to my body because I would still eat some stuff, sometimes. I would even watch shows like Intervention, episodes of people with eating disorders, & I would tell myself that I was nothing like them. I would even feel sorry for them, even though I was doing the exact same thing to my body. There was so much cognitive dissonance involved, it's hard to wrap my head around it now.
After my divorce, things were the worst they'd ever been for me. I took the starvation to new extremes, counting every single calorie, even calories in toothpaste I might've swallowed. I kept a log of my calories & I would make a point of running on the treadmill until I had burned every single calorie I had eaten that day. When I didn't see the results I wanted, I cut the calories even more, & then I cut them again, until the point where I was getting under 500 calories a day.
Under 500 calories is well below my basal metabolic rate (BMR). Just to give you an idea, my BMR is about 1,600 calories, meaning I need to eat at least that amount every day just to sustain my body. This number of calories reflects how much energy your body requires to support vital body functions if, hypothetically, you were resting in bed for an entire day. But I wasn't in bed all day. I was in school all day, working all evening, & running myself ragged on the treadmill at night. My calorie intake was extremely insufficient to maintain vital body functions during these activities - & so it's no surprise to me now what happened.
The starvation and exercise ritual got so bad that after one of my excessive bouts of exercise, I blacked out while I was taking a shower. We had a stand-up shower (no tub) at the time, with a fiberglass door. I woke up several minutes later, outside of the shower, splayed on the floor naked, door wide open & water spraying all over - confused & scared. Nobody was home at the time, & I realized that I was lucky - I could've easily hit my head, & nobody would've found me for hours. At the time I recalled my mother's friend who had fallen in the shower when I was just a kid, hit her head & slipped into a coma. She died shortly after. & I thought, that could've been me. I could've died. You'd think an experience like this would scare me enough to stop, to run to the kitchen & cram a sandwich into me, to start eating some damn food & stop focusing on such silly, superficial things. But it didn't, & I didn't.
Weight fluctuation was constant.
Things yo-yo'd for years - my eating habits would improve & then deteriorate, improve & deteriorate, relative to other things happening in my life. At low times, coupled with my anxiety & depression, if I didn't feel good about myself, I didn't take care of myself. This meant not eating. While these periods of starvation weren't as long or as intense as they used to be, they were still damaging. Whatever name I associated with it - starvation, "not hungry", "no appetite" - it was the same demon, just dressed up a little differently. I would lie to myself and tell myself this behaviour was OK, that it was still healthy because I wasn't like this all the time. And so I kept validating this behaviour and enabling myself to continue.
I would make attempts at changing this behaviour from time to time. I would start eating well, really feeding myself with good, nutritious food, & I would keep up with regular workouts. Working out always meant running, because I was still trapped in the mentality that it was the best & only way to lose weight. Unfortunately this excessive running led to a knee injury (which I later found out was likely exacerbated by my hypermobility). The knee injury put me out of commission for months while I went to physiotherapy. But instead of trying to adapt, to do workouts that were easy on my knees, I just told myself "I can't workout because of my knee". & that was that. I stopped working out altogether.
I started putting on weight I couldn't shed.
Eventually things shifted to complete avoidance & denial. I avoided mirrors, & I continued to clothe myself in over-sized garments that hid my body. Other than convincing myself to go for the odd run here & there, I avoided exercise entirely because it made me feel weak, out of shape, & unattractive. Plus, the only exercise I ever tried wasn't enjoyable. While I began eating regularly, I didn't replace the unhealthy habit - I merely switched it out for another unhealthy habit - eating junk food. I would eat all day and then come home and eat junk food while I watched movies, at 10, 11 12 o'clock at night.
I would buy expensive workout tools, but never use them. I didn't have the desire anymore to even try to do something healthy, because I was so determined to fail that I would cause my own failures. I was so determined to be unhappy with myself that I didn't allow myself to be happy.
After 25 my body changed again. A friend of mine had warned me that it would, & that my poor eating habits would catch up with me. I didn't believe him, but I wish I had heeded his warning.
One day while getting changed, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, naked. I was repulsed at the body I saw. Things had begun to droop, to sag & pull - the cellulite on my thighs and bum had become so bad I couldn't even bare the sight. My thighs were jiggly & gooey, sagging down over my kneecaps. My love handles began to push up into my waistline, & my tummy looked constantly bloated. I decided then & there that I was going to finally do something about it. I had said this before, so deep down I didn't really think this time would be any different. Either way, it's what I told myself.
I'll admit that this was an effort entirely fueled by aesthetics. I'd like to impose a deep meaning on it, to say I had some philosophical awakening, that I realized after all these years the damage I was doing to my body - but I didn't. It was just that same demon lurking in the shadows. I did this because I saw myself getting fatter & fatter, & I didn't want that to happen. Fat was bad, to be fat was bad. That was my mentality. It was OK if other people were fat, but not me. Never me. I couldn't be fat.
So I knew that something had to change, but I also knew that starving myself & excessively exercising hadn't worked. I had to try something different. I didn't want to fall back into old habits of just going for runs; as much as I enjoy a good run after a stressful day, running is extremely boring for me. Running outdoors or indoors, it bores me if I do it too often. That, plus any time I run on a regular basis I end up with a knee injury. So I did the easiest thing I could think of (always looking for a quick fix to my body image issues), & I went on YouTube to look for videos I could try from home.
I came across two channels that really changed everything for me. Rebecca Louise from XHiit, & Kelli & Daniel from Fitness Blender. After scoping out their videos, I decided that this looked like something I could do - a little bit of HIIT, a little bit of strength training, plyometrics, cardio, even some yoga - it was all worked in. But their upbeat demeanor & their motivation throughout the workouts was engaging & inspirational. I remember how hard my first workout felt - I could only do a few reps of each exercise before I had to stop, but I kept going through the entire video.
I couldn't believe how good I felt - this was alien to me, the concept of feeling good during & after a workout. Even though I hadn't been able to do the whole workout, & I felt weak & un-coordinated, it made me want to keep going. It made me want to work harder, so that the next time I did the video I could do even more.
So day after day I did my workouts, changing up the video whenever it got too easy. I took my rest days, & I made sure to feed my body very well. It quickly became apparent to me how important proper nutrition is when you're working your body hard when I rushed out of the house one day for work without grabbing a lunch, & then went home after work to exercise. I felt fatigued & weak, & the entire workout became un-enjoyable. But when I made sure to eat enough calories & appropriate foods, my workouts felt challenging, but fun. My muscles didn't tire as fast, & I was able to push a little bit harder.
Each day I felt a little bit stronger than the last. I found myself being able to do more & more reps, lift heavier & heavier weights, & do longer or harder workouts,
Seeing the changes in strength helped to shift my mindset from focusing on how my body looked, to focusing on what my body could do. Instead of trying to be thinner, I wanted to be stronger - I wanted to be healthier. Instead of saying "look how thin I'm getting" I would say "look how big my muscles are getting!" or "look how much more weight I can lift today than I could last month!". This was huge for me, to be excited about my body parts getting bigger rather than smaller. Being thin became the furthest thing from my mind. I don't want to be thin anymore. I want to be strong. I want to be confident. I want to be powerful. I want to be sexy, & not because I think we need to look a certain way to be sexy, but because this new-found confidence & appreciation for my body's amazing capabilities has allowed me to feel sexy.
So while the initial reason I began working out was purely aesthetic, it quickly evolved into something much more powerful - while any aesthetic gain was merely a bonus, I was now doing this for myself. For the starved 13 year old who would sit at her locker at lunch, clutching her aching stomach. For the 20-something who saw a sunken tummy as a reward for starving herself.
Here's the transformation that I made in 10 weeks.
As you can see, much of the weight has come off of my mid-section. Excess mid-section weight is a big risk factor for heart disease & diabetes, so I was definitely happy to see it go for that reason. My waistline has narrowed, I've lost a lot of the excess fat in my legs & upper body as well.
While I would be lying if I said I haven't enjoyed the changes in my appearance (it's definitely rewarding to see my jeans sagging off me), I like to think that they're not the best part. The best part is knowing that I am living a healthy lifestyle, finally. The fact that I lost 12 lbs doesn't excite me because I'm thinner, it excites me because of the health benefits of shedding the extra fat; because I feel more energetic, I feel like I can move mountains, like I could do anything. I love being able to feel & see my muscles because muscles are hard to build, & I wouldn't be able to build this strength & muscle if I wasn't doing good things for my body. It's like my body is saying thank-you for finally caring about me, for finally loving me enough to give me the food & exercise I need, but also for recognizing when I need to rest. However, I believe that any happiness I have from my changed appearance is merely fueled by knowing that I'm no longer carrying around the extra fat that made me feel sluggish & weak, & put my health at risk.
And now I find myself in competition only with the old me instead of everyone around me. I just want to get as far away from that old, disordered thinking as possible. I don't need to be thinner than the old me, I just need to be smarter, healthier, & stronger. & that's all I care about anymore.
Do I think that I am completely free of any body image issues? No, certainly not. I'm only human, & some days I still struggle not to be too hard on myself or fall back into old habits. Sometimes when I don't have time to eat a meal, or I reflect back on my day & realize I should've eaten more, I panic because I worry that it might trigger me into starvation again. But it's been a long time since I've starved myself. It's been a long time since I even thought that it was a viable option. Now, the thought of starving myself feels counter-intuitive. Without eating well, I wouldn't have the energy to do my workouts, I wouldn't have the vital nutrients to build & sustain muscle. & so now I'm holding myself accountable - if I want to keep seeing this progress, I need to keep fueling my body & taking good care of it. If I don't love it, it won't love me back. I still need to work on my late-night eating, but other than that I've come leaps & bounds from the person I once was.
The bottom line is that I am confident my eating disorder is in my past, because I have found a healthy outlet that allows me to focus more on the real beauty of my body - all the ways it can move & stretch & the things it can lift & everything I didn't know it could do, rather than the superficial things such as just the way it looks or what size pants I wear. While I can still care about my appearance, & I can still set goals for myself to become better & stronger, my goals have become much healthier, & more importantly, more realistic.
I wanted to share this so that if somebody is reading this & they're feeling similar thoughts, that they can see that the answer doesn't lie in binge and purge behaviours, in restrictive eating, or in starvation. These won't fix anything & they're not healthy for you. Being sedentary isn't healthy either - your body wasn't meant to sit all day and all night, it was meant to be active!
I don't know if my story can change someone else's path - I don't know if I've said the right or wrong things to make you think twice, but I hope that you'll at least see my intentions are genuine & I truly don't want anyone to go through what I went through, because not all stories like mine have a happy ending. Some are much more tragic. Please don't let your story be a tragedy. If you're struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help. I don't want to pretend that all you need to do is change your mindset, & I hope that this story has shown you that getting to this point has been a long and arduous journey - it isn't always easy. But speaking with someone can help. Please, please, please, don't wait. If you're feeling this way, act now. You have so much life to enjoy, don't waste a minute of it.