*Disclaimer – This is not a post littered with humor. It has a lot of dark themes that may be “trigger-some” to those who struggle with an eating disorder, self-harm, or depression*
I have a confession to make: I’m a fraud.
I preach the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle, but I rarely follow my own advice. In fact, I treat myself in a way that is…abhorrent, to put it lightly. There’s a multitude of layers regarding why I treat myself the way that I do. In the end, I think it comes down to two things: I don’t feel like I am worthy of love and I allow fear to influence every decision that I make.
Life has a lot of ups and a lot of downs. When you struggle with a cocktail of mental illnesses, those ups and downs are magnified; some even allow mental illnesses to take form. For a very long time, I have approached life with an “If you expect the worst, you won’t be disappointed” mindset.
I’m a ray of sunshine, I know.
I don’t want to get too bogged down with all of my LOVELY issues (we’ve all got ‘em), but I do want to talk about two things that have weighed heavily on my heart for quite some time now: my relationship with food and my relationship with myself. Not-so-shockingly, these relationships go hand-in-hand. I have always put a great deal of worth into my outward appearance; not in the, “I get manis and pedis on the reg to keep on looking fresh” sense, but in the, “my self-worth is based on my weight” kind of fucked up way.
I was diagnosed with depression and Body Dysmorphic Disorder at 16. I would spend hours every day staring at myself in the mirror, crying. I would pick at my skin, punch myself in the stomach for not having abs, slap myself across the face for being “fat,” and, in the confines of my bedroom, I would “Saran Wrap” my thighs so I could know what it feels like to walk around without having my legs touch.
I wanted to look like the girls that graced the walls of Hollister. I wanted to be thin, blonde, and tan. My friends and I would see how long we could go without eating; we considered it a feat of strength if we could make it all day only consuming a grape or an apple. We stole diet pills from the drug store. I would binge on pretzels and peanut butter; then, I would purge because the girls on Laguna Beach surely did not eat pretzels and peanut butter. I told myself that when I grew up, I was going to get lip injections, colored contacts, hair extensions, breast and butt implants, liposuction on my arms, thighs, and stomach, botox, a brow lift, and veneers.
I would cut myself. My go-to was a steak knife; something about the sawing motion calmed me more than a razor ever could.
I hated myself. I wanted to die. I didn’t understand the point of living in a world where I’d be forced to go about life in the body I was given. It probably didn’t help that a boy I cared for deeply told me that I wasn’t beautiful, that I was simply average, and that I just need to accept that I’m average. Fortunately, I was (and still am) surrounded by people that picked up the “love” slack. They loved me when I could not and would not love myself. They did the thing that no one wants to do: they forced me to get help. Coming out of that depression was not easy. It required therapy, a lot of Prozac, and time.
While I managed to get a handle on my depression and self-harm, my disdain for my outward appearance remained. I went to college and had my first big “let down” following my “recovery:” sorority rush. I went into it confident and sure that I was going to get the house I longed for. When I didn’t, I was crushed. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t thin enough. That’s what I told myself, anyway. Fortunately, I ended up where I needed to be. I quickly found a group of friends that loved me for me. As the years went on, I faced my fair share of asshole comments from asshole guys. Here are some of my favorites:
- While at a bar with my best friend (who is a beautiful human being, both inside and out, and is the epitome of a strong, independent woman), I overheard two guys talking about us. “Okay. Which one of us is taking one for the team and taking the fat one home?”
- “You are not skinny enough to talk to me.”
- (While on Spring Break) “Wow! You aren’t as fat as the last time I saw you! Keep it up!”
- “It’s not your fault you’re big. Some girls are just big-boned.”
Let me first note that I wasn’t fat; not that anyone should say these things regardless of whether or not someone does have excess body fat. However, I thought I was. I thought I was the most disgusting human being on the planet. BUT, I had a rockin’ personality and fantastic boobs, so I developed an IDGAF attitude and turned to alcohol. I have a lot of great stories that are, while hilarious, terrifying. I am genuinely thankful that I made it out of college alive and without a severe addiction to alcohol. I drank every single day; sometimes starting as soon as I would wake up. I blacked out roughly 4-5 times a week. It felt nice not to care.
After I graduated, I continued to party hard as some in their early 20s tend to do. Then, a switch flipped. I broke up with a boy that I fell hard for very quickly. I decided I wanted to get my shit together. I started running again. I started fueling my body properly. I wasn’t counting calories or sticking to a specific exercise routine. I was simply getting back to something I have always loved: fitness. I felt strong. I looked #bomb. I was so happy with where my career was heading. For the first time in my entire life, I was confident in myself and I was excited about my future. It was such a strange and incredible feeling. Even then, I refused to say that I thought I was pretty. I thought that made me cocky and if, god forbid, someone thought I wasn’t pretty, I’d end up looking like a fool; because clearly, if someone doesn’t think you’re pretty, that means you aren’t and shouldn’t think that you are. It’s certainly an unhealthy mindset to have, but let’s look at the silver lining: I secretly thought that I wasn’t half bad.
In 2012, I cut out red meat for health reasons (I had cut pork out years prior), and, barring special events, I cut out liquor; making it a point to only drink quality beer and wine. I immediately felt even better. In 2013, I started CrossFit. I fell in love (with CrossFit, but I also fell in love with a stellar human being). I was good. I had found my niche. I ate whole, nutritious foods. I ate sweet potato fries and turkey burgers. I drank green juices. I drank craft beers. I had a perfect, everything-in-moderation lifestyle.
Then, things started happening. I fractured my foot doing box jumps. I tweaked my knee. My elbows started popping. My back started aching. My neck stopped moving. CrossFit is not for everyone. I started to realize that the thing that I had developed such a passion for was simply not for me. I ignored this realization until I could no longer walk down the steps of our townhome without scooting myself down; the mere thought of walking down a flight of stairs physically pained me. My hyper-mobile joints were no match for the loads that I was putting them under. In 2016, I officially hobbled away from CrossFit after multiple doctors told me it was time to cut the cord. It’s not CrossFit’s fault. It’s mine. I didn’t listen to my body and I’ve suffered because of that.
Additionally, in 2016, I was planning a wedding. THIS leads me to where I am at now. Stepping away from CrossFit meant tweaking my exercise routine. I knew I couldn’t go as hard, and I wanted to make sure I’d fit into my dress, so I cut my calories to 1427 a day. This is an extreme deficit from the, roughly, 2000-2500 calories I was consuming prior to my injury (on top of a solid 3000+ on some weekend days). At first, I was LOVING it. I looked shredded. This is obvious. I had a lot of muscle and I was on an extreme “cut” without realizing it. People were complimenting me left and right. Unfortunately, this fueled my fire. “Holy shit. I can actually look like one of those Instagram fitness chicks.” I didn’t realize that a lot of those girls are bodybuilders that cut AND bulk; they don’t look stage lean year round for a reason. I kept pushing. I dropped weight. I told myself that after the wedding, I’d eat like a normal person again. The wedding happened. I fit into my dress. I married a goddamn superstar. I upped my calories to 1600. I was getting even more shredded. At what I consider to be my most “shredded,” something happened. I lost my period. It was around this time that I started growing incredibly tired. Everything felt forced. I cried during workouts. I hated them. I had no energy. I forced them anyway. Because my workouts were starting to suffer, I told myself I had to cut my calories. Fewer calories burned = fewer calories I should be consuming.
What started at 1500…more compliments…awesome!…dipped to 1400…“I wish I had your body”…dipped to 1300…“Ugh. I hate you! You’re so skinny!”…dipped to 1200…
And here we are. One year later. It has officially been one year since my last period. In October of 2017, I saw a hormone specialist and my results came back mirroring the results of a post-menopausal woman. I am 28. My doctor told me, in addition to my extreme hormonal imbalance, I had extreme adrenal fatigue. The adrenal fatigue is not completely related to overtraining; it’s related to a lot of stressors that both myself and my husband have had to face over the past two years. I’ve found myself in this horrible cycle where I severely restrict all week, binge BADLY on a Friday or Saturday, starve myself the following day, and then eat in an extreme deficit the rest of the week to make up for that one, very large binge.
It’s embarrassing, but in hopes that my transparency can help someone else cope, here is what a typical binge looks like for me:
- “I’m going to have a cheat meal!” *orders chili basil chicken stir fry for self & a mini side salad along with a spring roll appetizer & chicken satay appetizer to share with husband. Cooks up some cauliflower rice to put in stir fry. Pours a glass of wine. Eats the bounty of food. Feels full. Unhealthy thoughts begin:*
- “I need sweets. I’ll pour another glass of wine. I only have this one night to cheat and then I can’t eat all of this stuff so let me just have a little bite of one of those chocolate muffins with my wine that my husband has in the cabinet.” *has a bite, has another. Walks away.*
- *ten minutes later* “I’m already way over my calories today, what’s another few bites?”
- “Ugh. I ate a whole muffin top. I don’t want to eat the rest of the muffin. Let’s make some greek yogurt and just have that with some powdered peanut butter instead of just eating the muffin that I want.”
- “That didn’t hit the spot at all. I’ll make some popcorn. I’m not going to drink for the rest of the weekend, so I need to just drink another glass of wine now or else I’ve wasted money on this bottle.”
- “I’ve eaten so much tonight. At this point, screw it.”
- *Dips Wheat Thins into peanut butter, dips bread into peanut butter, dips finger into peanut butter, eats the rest of the muffin plus another half, makes a bowl of cereal, eats a whole cucumber, eats a vegan cookie, makes another bowl of cereal, grabs a handful of nuts.*
Yeah. It’s a LOT of food. This isn’t including the normal, healthy meals I had prior in the day. When in the throes of a binge, I eat until I am sick; sometimes until I am literally vomiting in my mouth. I go to bed feeling so broken and defeated. I wake up the next day with a literal food hangover, incredibly full, incredibly sick, and incredibly depressed. I wake up with a hatred for myself that is so pure and so vile that it’s nothing but incredibly sad. I spend the day vowing that I will not eat more than 800 calories and that I will not eat more than 1100 for the next two days.
Now, this cycle is harmful for multiple reasons, but there are two in particular that seem to be the sole reasons why I continue it:
- It’s very easy for people to say, “eat more during the week and you won’t feel the need to binge. Your body is clearly starving.” Binges, for me, have become almost welcome dietary staples. “Ugh, I hate only eating 1300 calories a day during the week, but then I get to eat THOUSANDS in one sitting this weekend and still won’t get fat!” It makes sense that it’s become an addictive behavior.
- Compliments. I know that people are being nice when they comment on my outward appearance. I know that when my friends make comments like, “Ugh. Give me your arms.” Or “Ugh. You’re so skinny. I hate you” they aren’t trying to feed my eating disorder (let’s call it what it is). But they do. I feel like I identify as the “fit one.” The one that prioritizes health and fitness; the one that genuinely enjoys eating clean and working out (which I do). People have commented so much on my physical appearance that I am terrified of what they will think to themselves if I gain weight. “Man, Brittany got fat.” “Brittany put on a few pounds. I wonder what happened.” I know it’s probably irrational, but it doesn’t change that that’s how I feel.
So, in my mind, this binge -> starve -> binge approach is a life hack of sorts; a way to eat all of the things mentally “normal” people eat throughout the week without having to gain weight. I have this fear that if I up my calories during the week and I do accidentally binge once in a blue moon, I will gain weight and then I will fall back into depression. My weekly binge has become an awful habit that I mask as “going easy on myself,” but it’s been difficult to stop because I worry that I’ll never be “allowed” to overeat again without adding body fat.
Here’s the hard truth and it’s a truth that I didn’t realize until I stepped on the scale for the first time since October of 2017 (I purposely don’t weigh myself unless I’m at the doctor because I’ve found that I get too preoccupied with being a certain number). Typically, I say the number doesn’t matter. However, I was at a low weight in October (121. My “sweet spot” is around 125-130). When I weighed myself recently, I was 111 pounds. It SHOOK me to my core. Seeing that pulled a cover from my eyes and I realized that, not only am I hurting myself mentally, but I’m very seriously killing myself slowly. I started to up my calories, became terrified, and shot them right back down again. Then, last Friday, I binged. It was, quite possibly, my worst binge to date. I woke up on Saturday more depressed than I have been in a very long time.
I promise this gets better. THIS ISN’T ALL BLEAK. I SWEAR.
So, here I am. It’s Friday. My dad is coming into town this weekend and, while I’m excited, I am sitting with an all-too-familiar feeling — fear. I am truly terrified of this weekend because I know it will be a BIG food and drink weekend. It’s a holiday that I do not shy away from, and I have so many awesome bars and restaurants that I want to take him to. The difference between this Friday and last Friday, however, is one very strong and, for me, very courageous declarative.
I have a fantastic support system. I spent some time talking to two friends this week and said something that I have been denying for a very long time: I have an eating disorder.
I am so fortunate to have realized this now. I am also very, very scared because I know that weight gain has to happen. There’s no beating around the skinny bush here. That said, what’s really awesome about all of my years in therapy is that I know that naming your disorder is a massive step in the right direction. I know, from past therapy sessions, what I need to do to combat this effectively. I also know that I have a long way to go. Eating disorders aren’t just what television shows portray them to be. I don’t eat only lettuce. I don’t rush to the bathroom to vomit after every meal. I do eat whole, healthy, awesome foods. I just don’t allow myself to eat enough of them. When I do, I feel like shit about myself and resign to cut my calories the following day. It’s ridiculous and I know that. I literally punish myself if I have an extra serving of cauliflower. Not okay. Cauliflower is life.
Now, one week may not seem like a long time, but when I spoke to my friends, I told them that I am taking this in baby steps and, for this week, I have three goals: to eat over 1400 calories a day, to cut myself some slack with my workouts if I just don’t have it in me, and to not track a single calorie on weekends anymore. I eventually want to get to the point where tracking isn’t something I do at all (who wants to track every calorie, every single day, for the rest of their lives?). Right now, I know myself and I know what I can handle. Becoming comfortable with not tracking on weekends is both terrifying and exhilarating; it’s the perfect place for me to start. I will continue to track through the week but will continue on my upward swing and settle into a nice 1500-calorie groove next week. I plan to sit there for a while as I want to take the possible damage I’ve done to my metabolism into consideration.
This weekend, if I happen to overindulge; hell, if I misstep and find myself in a binge, I’m not punishing myself. I’m not going to try to “make up for it” with a caloric deficit or excess cardio. I am going to honor my hunger. If I truly feel hungry an hour after a large meal, I will allow myself a snack. I will not deny myself food because I “ate a lot of calories this morning.” I think another thing that really put all of this into perspective is the damage I’ve done to the relationships with my loved ones.
My husband can’t make me breakfast on Sundays. He can’t spontaneously ask me to go grab a beer and tacos on a Friday night. He’s too fearful of my reaction. He doesn’t want to deal with how I’ll act after I consume something that doesn’t fit my “clean” diet.
I bailed on breakfast with my dad when I visited him last because it was a weekday, I wouldn’t be able to track it, and I simply couldn’t afford a weekday binge (my thought-process here was that if I had breakfast, even a healthy one, I wouldn’t know the caloric content and that would send me on a binge-spiral resulting in unhealthy food choices for the rest of the day).
I don’t go on trips with friends because I don’t want to have to “make up for it” when I get back, and the fun isn’t worth the mental anguish that I’ll feel.
This is not okay.
I am married to a magnificent, kind, patient, selfless and incredible human being that genuinely loves doing nice things for me. My dad is alive, well, and wants to spend quality time with his daughter. My friends love me so much that they want to experience the world with me at their sides. I am so unbelievably blessed.
Food is a GIFT. There are people all around us who lack it. I love food. I love how one spice can change a dish. I love that you can do SO MUCH with a goddamn cauliflower. I love that if you just follow a few steps, you can make WINE out of a f*cking GRAPE. THAT IS SO COOL. I want to be able to enjoy these things sans guilt. I know it will take me time and I know that I have a long and interesting road ahead of me. I am, however, proud to report that I successfully made it this week eating in the 1400-1500 calorie range. This was a HUGE challenge for me because I typically eat at a severe deficit leading up to a “fun” weekend to compensate for all of the food and alcohol I’ll be ingesting.
Another big part of this process is my relationship with physical fitness. I. love. throwing. weight. around. I love HIIT. I, weirdly, adore cardio. BUT, when you start to approach your fitness routine as something that you do SOLELY so you don’t gain weight, it begins to become something you dread. I’m done with that. I don’t need to lose weight and I don’t need to stop myself from gaining weight. I want to feel strong again. I’m using the food that I eat as fuel. I want to bring back the muscles that I’ve lost due to undereating, not for aesthetic purposes, but to give my wobbly joints the support they deserve (don’t worry. I am forever done with 1RM squats and the like).
To wrap this up, I know this was an incredibly depressing post. I know it was an incredibly personal post. I also know that many secretly have bad relationships with food; relationships with food that they are too embarrassed to talk about. Let’s start talking about them.
I really hate asking for help, but I’m gonna need a little.
Here is what I need from my loved ones: support, but not in a, “shoving food down my throat” kind of way. I am not going to give up eating clean. I enjoy eating clean. I genuinely love my staple roasted chicken, sautéed veggies, side salad dinner that I eat on a regular basis. I don’t want that to be thrown in my face. If I don’t want to go out for pizza because I simply don’t want pizza or if I opt for a salad at dinner even though I say I’m craving fried wings, I don’t want that thrown in my face either and labeled as “disordered eating.” Yes, I should allow myself to indulge now and again. However, no, I have no interest in doing it daily or as often as many Americans do.
Here’s where my disorder takes over: when I do allow myself to indulge or to simply eat more of something and then I feel like shit about it and punish myself for it. If I eat something and then complain that I ate it, help me out, even if you’re annoyed. If I’m complaining to you about it, I’ve already been spiraling for a long time mentally before approaching you. I’ve already said some really nasty things to myself. Bring up this post. Remind me that food does not define who I am as a person, that it’s okay to eat various foods in moderation, and that it’s even okay to eat various unhealthy meals multiple times in one week every once in a while. Life happens and I both want and need to understand that I am so much more than my outward appearance. Remind me that I lost my period for a reason. My adrenals are shot for a reason. I’m eating more for a reason. I’ve chosen a lifestyle that is centered around clean eating and exercise; these are two things that, at one point, I truly loved. I’m so excited to get back to that. I’m excited to start loving my body. I’m afraid to say “I love my body” right now because I know I am at a weight that is not maintainable long-term; what I will say is this: I love that my body has yet to give up. I love that, despite how cruelly I’ve treated it, it has persevered. I also really enjoy the muscle tone in my arms, so go me.
If you’re struggling with disordered eating, body image issues, or just trying to sort through the steaming pile of shit that is #fitspo and this whole “strong not skinny” movement that’s managed to make people feel just as crappy about themselves for not having a six-pack as they did when they couldn’t fit into a pair of size 0 jeans, I feel you and I’m here for you. Talk to someone. Anyone. Online therapists are fantastic and I urge you to, at the very least, find one or to join a support group. The girls I’ve met through my support group are some of the most badass, amazing, beautiful women that I have ever encountered. They’ve saved me from myself on more than one occasion. Further, if you’re like me, know that you don’t have to give up eating clean and exercising on a regular basis. This is all about being a bit more forgiving with yourself. I want to enjoy life more. If you enjoy life with one weekly cheat meal and going hard-as-balls at the gym six days a week and if your health is right where it should be, go on with your bad self. This post is not for you; it’s for the guy or gal that is tired of feeling tired. And, hell, there are some weeks where I am loaded with energy, where I do hit the gym hard, and where I truly only want to consume whole, natural foods. That’s okay too.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some restaurant reservations to make.