I distinctly remember the first time I decided to go on a diet. I was maybe 10, and decided that I needed to lose some weight. “I’m just not going to eat at all! I’m going to be anorexic!” is actually what my little baby ten-year-old brain thought. I lasted until about 3 p.m. before my starvation got the best of me and I broke down and ate half a block of cheese and three glasses of milk.
I also distinctly remember the first time I went on a “successful” diet. I was 18, had just graduated high school and recognized that me and my “baby fat” were on the fast-track to become the “chubby” friend in my group of beautiful girlfriends. Utterly terrified of this possibility, I resolved myself to a diet – of under 1000 calories a day. I armed myself with a calorie-counting book, food journal, and will of steel, and off I went down the path of a destructive, body image disorder that would haunt me for the next decade.
Not surprisingly, sustaining my active lifestyle on a diet of under 1000 calories a day resulted in me dropping weight for the first ime in my life. I was thrilled, spending my extra money on clothes to fit my new svelte shape, reveling in all the extra attention I was getting from boys and educating myself on all the ways I could continue my newly uncovered life mission: get as thin as possible.
Eventually, my body adjusted to the measly portion of calories it was receiving, and I began to plateau. The compliments came less and less, and no one cared about my “health kick” quite so much.
However, I wasn’t going to accept defeat quite so easily. I am a determined kinda gal – I would figure out a way to keep those lbs off.
I won’t ever forget the first time I made the decision to stick my fingers down my throat and throw up the food that my body was so desperately craving. I was maybe 19, with one of my girlfriends, and we had smoked a joint and binged on everything we could get out hands on. After the initial euphoria of all the yummy treats wore off, panic set in. My internal dialogue went into meltdown mode:
“I can’t believe I just ate all that. I’m going to wake up so fat! I need to get this out of me, RIGHT. NOW!!!!”
My mind swirling, terrified of the thought of an extra pound, I quickly decided on a (highly intelligent) plan of action: I would just throw it all up.
Decision made, I marched into the bathroom, took a deep breath, and stuffed my fingers into my mouth. It took a couple tries, but like I mentioned earlier, my will is rock solid, and eventually, all of the evil, hateful calories came flooding back up, with a satisfactory splash, landing in the toilet.
I stood up, and peered in the mirror. Tears streamed down my face from the pressure, my eyes were bloodshot, my face flushed… but I smiled. I did it! All that food would have zero effect on my “holy grail” – my figure… or so I thought.
And so the pattern began; starve myself for a few days, break down and eat my entire kitchen, and then purge. I hated doing it, but what I hated infinitely more than that was the thought of gaining weight.
What I hadn’t yet realized, was that my obsession with staying a certain size, and keeping a specific shape had turned me into a prisoner. The sheer mass of the crushing weight of societal expectations had always felt suffocating to me, but I had taken my fixation to a whole other level. Everywhere I looked, I allowed myself to be prodded and poked with the reminder that there is an ideal… and that I would likely never be exactly it. That pressure held me hostage for many years, and I missed out on so much because of it.
Family events, because I didn’t want to explain why I didn’t want dessert, didn’t want to have to laughingly decline, over and over, them not knowing that their harmless peer pressure was torturing me.
Nights out with my friends because the thought of consuming those empty, evil alcoholic calories made me cringe.
Quality time with my boyfriend because after school came work, and after work came the gym, no matter what.
Four years passed of extreme discipline, followed by “lapses in judgement” (also known as bingeing so hard I didn’t even need to stick my fingers down my throat to throw up), before one day, I stepped out of the shower and stared at myself in the mirror, really taking in my imperfect self.
And I cried. Sobs wracking my body, I sunk to the floor, my tears pooling into my palms.
I was just so exhausted.
Exhausted from fixating on an unattainable goal, attempting to contort myself into a mold I was never going to fit.
Exhausted from years of making excuses as why I couldn’t come out this night, why I wasn’t drinking that night.
Exhausted from punishing myself at the gym, and starving myself of the nutrients my body desperately needed.
Exhausted from the mental mind-fuck that is bulimia, that is any mental health, or eating disorder.
And the kicker? Even after the strict discipline I practiced, my body STILL wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So what was the fucking point? In the coming years, I would begin to educate myself and start to understand why; my body had been put in such a state of extreme stress and starvation that it hated me. It hung on to every single thing I ate, turning it into fat, trying to protect itself from the lack of nutrients I was getting, store something in preparation for the next deprivation session. It had also begun to produce excess amounts of cortisol, due to a combination of stress and exhaustion.
The more women I’m open with about having been bulimic, the more I come to understand how widespread of an issue this is. One in four women will be touch my some form of eating disorder in their lifetime. Girls are being raised with the assumption that what REALLY counts is what’s on the outside, while simultaneously being fed the message that they aren’t enough. If that’s not a toxic twosome, I don’t know what is.
Sheer, unbridled exhaustion was what prompted me to finally let go of my white-knuckled grip on the obsession with my body. I simply could not do it anymore, something had to change.
Instead of focusing on what my body was not, and what I so desperately thought it needed to be(model-thin, long, lean), I started appreciating it for what it was. I started to acknowledge how lucky I was to have the curves I had, how awesome it was that my mother passed on a pretty impressive set of legs, and I even started loving the feminine softness of my stomach. Less and less time was spent comparing myself to women I “wished I looked like”.
Instead, I spent my time doing things that fulfilled my sense of self, and enriched the confidence I deserved to have in myself.
Now, when I look at myself, I don’t scrunch up my eyes and look away, cheeks burning with disgust. I’m proud of who and what I am. I eat a mainly healthy diet, but rarely turn down a glass of wine or a night out, and have no problem snacking on a cookie or seven. My body no longer hates me, is no longer starving, hanging on to every calorie I put into it for dear life. It has regulated itself, and where I am at, I am at peace.
I will never have Gisele Bundchen’s body, but I am fortunate enough to have Morgan Belle’s body, and there is a beauty in this body that I appreciate more with each passing day.
So, today, instead of looking in the mirror and admonishing yourself of your self-constructed shortcomings, try admiring yourself for all that you are. Flip the script in your head, and I promise you will flip the script on your life.