I tossed the idea for this post around for weeks. I almost don’t feel right talking about it because really, I have no “reason” to get anywhere near disordered eating. I am naturally thin, and I always have been.
The more I read about disordered eating, though, the more I see people who we would classify as “thin” struggling with this. The truth about any kind of “disorder” is that it can happen to anyone. You don’t need to be a certain “kind” of person to suffer from something like depression, and you don’t have to be a certain weight to suffer from strange, abnormal, obsessive habits and behaviors that we have come to call disordered eating.
In 2015, someone sent me a Facebook message. “You look great, girl.”
I had my first baby about a year before I received that message. Before I had children, I weighed 84 lbs. I didn’t do it on purpose, either — I just didn’t eat a lot and for some reason, didn’t gain weight. I’m 5 feet fall. I never, ever had to think about a diet or portions or choosing one food over the other for the sake of “weight loss.”
But as someone stuck at 98 lbs and who was shocked that the baby weight (all 53 lbs of it) didn’t just “fall off,” I took the bait. I knew where it was headed. I knew the message wasn’t a nice, kind compliment from this girl who looked like a model (and whom I did not know). I was desperate to see a number close to 90 on the scale, so I replied.
It took about 48 hours before I gave in and spent about $200.00 to replace food with liquids and portion the actual food in color-coded containers. I was told I would get into “the best shape of my life.” And just like that, I was getting sucked in to what we call modern diet culture.
Guys, I bought into all of it: “If you’re hungry, have an extra green container!” my “coach” said. Green containers (the green one was equivalent to one cup) were for vegetables. I was a little peeved I had to limit fruits and vegetables to a certain number so I could stay inside an arbitrary calorie bracket, but I was determined. I was doing okay. I was drinking the shakes. I was going to the gym.
On my commute home one day, I stopped my car as I was crossing train tracks and reached for a bag of chocolate covered almonds that I knew were on the floor of my car. Right there, sitting on TRAIN TRACKS, I ate the whole back. I was starving. I couldn’t fathom eating one more effing vegetable considering how hungry I was.
I cried on the way home because I “ruined” my progress. After that, I gave up on the containers.
Oh, guys. I wish it stopped there, but it doesn’t.
Two days later, I had “recollected my thoughts” and knew I had to do something to get down to the 90ish pounds I desired. I downloaded MyFitnessPal and input my goals. MFP allows you to set your timeline, and I wanted to lose these pounds FAST. The app spit out the number of calories I could consume daily: 845.
At first, I was happy. I could eat the granola bar I wanted. I couldn’t eat the granola bar with the container system, because you see, granola bars were not on the list of “approved foods.” It wasn’t “clean.” So, if I was hungry but all I had was a granola bar, I had to wait until I got my hands on an “approved food.”
There was just one problem: The granola bar was 1/4 of the calories I could eat that day. I tightened the reigns and ate a lot of green beans (no olive oil — too many calories, duh). About two days after my renewed “commitment” to the caloric intake I signed up for, I ate half of a BOX of granola bars. I was so full I was sleepy — but I was so disappointed in myself that I couldn’t sleep.
I weighed myself then. I was 92 lbs — what I wanted and what I thought would make my world change and turn me into who I was meant to be. I laughed at the scale and gave up, because I didn’t get some kind of miracle change. I achieved an arbitrary number that no one would ask me about other than a health care professional. Who cares?
I starved myself, wasted time on two diets, deprived myself of sleep because I was hungry when I went to bed, and bit everyone’s heads off constantly due to the hanger. ALL to get on the scale and see a certain number.
By this time, I was a year into “diets.” I thought I was done, but diet culture is funny that way — it will creep back in when you don’t even know it.
I started to run more. I gave up on trying to eat only X amount of calories, but I noticed myself doing something odd — constantly “estimating” calories in vs. calories out. If I wanted a latte or something, I would only allow myself to have it on days I ran long. If I only ran three miles and it was a couple hundred calories, that didn’t “earn me anything.” I was constantly beating myself the way a jockey beats a horse to go faster and longer when I was running.
This got me somewhere, actually! And by SOMEWHERE, I mean a physical therapist’s office because lack of fuel = lack of ability to perform = injury. I spent sixteen weeks healing my torn hamstring, and I was sure it had nothing to do with fueling (joke was on me!).
I did the “CICO” crap for a couple of years. I was constantly telling myself that I had to earn dessert or food. “I can have pasta because I ran today.” “I can have ice cream because it was my long run.”
Then, I got pregnant with my surprise Michael. I let a lot of the diet mindset go, and I ate when I wanted to eat. I gained 51 lbs with this pregnancy, but I knew I would get it off eventually, so I let myself enjoy whatever food I wanted.
But…it wasn’t happening fast enough for me. I gave in to diet culture, once again, and joined Weight Watchers.
I thought this program was a dream, at first. I could FINALLY “allow myself” to eat white bread, white pasta, etc. I could eat whatever I wanted as long as it fit into my daily “SmartPoints,” and if I was hungry, I could eat the 0 points foods (fruits and veggies).
I stuck with it fore about a month, and then I crashed and burned. Hard. I ate family size bags of chips, and I’ve never been a junk food eater!
And this is when the yo-yo began yo-yoing. I went off and on WW multiple times per WEEK. I would track food one day, but by the end of the day, I was too hungry. So I’d say “fuck this” and give up. Then I’d feel guilty, so I’d go back on it the day after I went off of it. Every once in a while I’d track in MyFitnessPal just to see if I could eat more using that app than the WW app.
Back. Forth. Back. Forth. Up. Down. Up Down.
I went back on diets if I felt like my thighs started to rub together more than I wanted them to.
I lifted up my shirt in the mirror multiple times per day to see if my stomach was still what I thought it should be.
I weight myself FIVE TIMES A DAY at my lowest point.
And then one day, I saw my daughter walk past the mirror and lift up her shirt to look at her stomach. She’s six.
“This has to stop,” I told myself.
I deleted all of the apps. Then I put them back. Then I deleted them. Then, I began to forget whether or not they’re even there.
I started looking into intuitive eating and reading posts by people like my friend Emily. I started to get that I fell victim to this billion dollar industry that so many of us fall victim to at one point.
It’s an uphill battle, but I am getting better. I paused running, as you can see via Instagram, because I knew I was using it as a tool to “allow” myself to eat. I am a runner, and I always will be — but God has called on me to briefly pause it because it should be used for health, not as a gateway to food. I really, really wonder how fast I could train if I fed myself the proper way. I’ve literally never trained without some kind of diet or food stipulation.
So here we are. Me at 33, about to turn 34, feeling like I wasted so much time and energy on trying to get to a certain number on the scale that I saw 10 years ago. There’s so much more to me than how I look. Two English degrees, ten years of teaching, two kids, eight years of marriage — that adds up to to 22, and maybe THAT IS number I should celebrate more closely, no? PS: Add 26.2 to that because DUH, I ran a marathon!
I shared this with all of you because this obsession with food and diets is a lot more common than I realized. I love seeing others post about how they’ve gotten out of this diet cult. I mean…culture (wink wink).
I thought I was done with running. I haven’t been doing it, and I actually cried and stopped halfway through my last run. But I am coming back, and this time, it won’t be as a “running for weight loss” gal. It will be as a “running to beat yo ass in a race someday” gal.
If you are feel like this resonates with you, I encourage you to speak to a healthcare professional and more importantly, a registered dietitian. Please understand that people selling shakes and people who call themselves “nutritionists” are NOT the same as registered dietitians. Check out my friends Meghann and Heather — both wonderful RDs!