We all have different relationships with food. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you are in control of how you choose to eat, and how food fits into your life. This blog was prompted by going through some old home videos and seeing how I looked 10-6 years ago. I was floored by the person I saw on camera. That person isn’t me. That person is completely different, and has a completely different relationship with food than I do today.
I am going to get a bit personal here in hope of connecting with you and reminding you that we all struggle, we all fail, but we can always pick ourselves back up. Okay, so here we go….
I began using food for comfort in high school. I was bullied a lot, and found food to be a way to cope. I would eat healthy food at home, but would stop on the way to school, home from school – whenever, and pick up food. Often it was fast food, or bags of chocolate, or swedish fish, or bags of chips, or pints of ice cream. I would eat to calm myself. Luckily, thanks to good genetics, and dancing 8+ hours per week, I was never considered “heavy” or overweight. I recall at my heaviest point topping the scale under 150lbs., a size 6-8, and a 36C at 5’7″. So no, I was never obese or anything.
However, my relationship with food wasn’t healthy. Honestly, I was extremely damaged due to being bullied, so by the time I went to college I had this concept of perfection and felt like a disappointment. The hours I would spend going through outfits, trying to find something that I didn’t feel pudgy or awkward in – all for what? I didn’t like myself. When you don’t like yourself, and at times question your worth, you can become desperate.
It’s a bit of a miracle that I didn’t balloon in college. Perhaps going to the gym daily, out of fear of gaining weight, or not being cast in a show (I was going to school for a degree in Musical Theatre), kept me out of the Freshman Fifteen Club. Because in college, I did not eat well. Midnight pizzas. Tons of booze. Pina Coladas were a favorite. Lots of bagels and granola. This was also when I experimented with weight-loss pills. It was a sick cycle. Popping pills. Hours at the gym. Midnight Pizza and booze. And I wasn’t happy. I was self-loathing. Insecure. Miserable. I dreamed I had the money for Lipo.
It should also be noted that I was on birth control pills, which in my experience, can have a HUGE effect on weight loss/gain, mood, sex drive, confidence, and more.
When I realized the diet pills weren’t doing a darn thing, I went to crash diets, and upping the amount of gym time. I began cutting calories, writing them down, and feeling like a disappointment if I consumed more than 1200 calories per day. ironically, I never dropped any weight while “starving” myself. Maybe the birth control? Maybe the fact that I’d binge on food after a week of doing “good” threw everything off. Whatever the reasons, I was counting every calorie and judging myself if I wasn’t “strong” enough to control what I ate, while sweating at the gym everyday, not losing any weight, and loathing myself even more.
Looking back, I made a couple huge mistakes. First, I put WAY to much value on being judged due to my size. I didn’t enjoy my time at the gym, but went because I felt like if I didn’t go I would gain more weight. I had some basic nutrition knowledge, but I made some TERRIBLE dietary choices. I also always ended up ‘falling off the horse,” feeling defeated, terrible, and extremely frustrated.
At the age of 23, I went off birth control pills for the first time in five years. As soon as I went off the pill, I dropped weight. It was almost laughable how easy it was to lose weight, thanks to cutting that stupid pill out of my life. My mood and self image changed too, and I began to actually enjoy running and working out for the sake of the experience. I will NEVER go back on birth control EVER again. I could write a blog about how toxic that pill can be.
Flash forward a few more years, and I was running regularly. I still didn’t consider myself a “runner,” and was terrified of the concept of entering a race, but I ran almost daily. It was my sanity. Going through a bad divorce and a few other terrible experiences, running was my time to clear my head. Sweating was cleansing, and something I looked forward to every day. I also stopped using food as a coping mechanism the way I used to, perhaps due to being off the pill? Don’t get me wrong, I would still stress eat, but it was more of a “choice” from here on, and didn’t happen regularly.
Then, at 26 years old, I decided I would run my first race: Philly’s Broad Street Run, a 10-miler held along Broad Street. Before I toed the line for my first race ever, I signed up for the Philly Marathon. My goal: Qualify for the Boston Marathon. I had turned over a new leaf. Suddenly, I had this desire to test myself. To see how strong I could be. To tackle something that scared me. To no longer care about looking silly, or embarrassing myself, or failing. I somehow decided to let go of all the weak, insecure, damaged feelings I had about myself. I chose to make a change.
Since that first year of racing, my relationship with food and training has evolved. In general, I view food as my fuel for running – which causes me to usually make smart decisions. I decided that if knowledge is power, I wanted to learn about nutrition. So I studied to become a Sports Nutritionist. I also started viewing exercise differently. It suddenly wasn’t about “being thin” or “looking good,” it was about getting fitter and faster. Ironically, any extra weight seemed to melt off me as I trained to be a better runner. In fact, two years ago I dropped so much weight that a few people in my life were concerned. My body had done a complete 180 since my college days, and I had become a calorie-burning machine. I had to force myself to consume MORE calories than felt necessary.
To be clear, I STILL binge eat when stressed. Last week, thanks to a Boston Marathon Bombing PTSD-induced panic attack, I consumed TWO pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a 6-pack of beer, and a bunch of spring rolls – all within a few hours. Food is still my comfort in a lot of ways. I love food. I always will. Sure, I sometimes wake up with regret the morning after a binge-fest, but I don’t beat myself up over it anymore. One reason: I burn so many calories training for races that I can afford some binge days now and then. The other reason: I don’t care. I mean, I care about my body and don’t want to poison it, but I don’t care the way I did back in college. In the big picture, it’s no big deal, so why hate myself for it?The crazy thing is that I am now the body type I would have killed for back in college. I’m a size 0-2, 32A/B, 130lbs, 5’7″ and STRONG. I used to put so much value on my dress size. Now, it rarely crosses my mind. I am so incredibly comfortable in my own skin that I cannot identify with the girl I was not so long ago. Unlike that college kid, I don’t spend much time at all thinking about my weight, body fat, waist size – it doesn’t matter to me. Instead what I care about is feeling strong, healthy, and working to be the best athlete I can be.
So, there’s my little story. I hope it helps you in some way. You are not alone. We all have our own demons. But you can conquer, or at least tame them. I swear. If I can find ways to change my relationship with food and exercise, you can too. Take a deep breath. Smile. Laugh. And take it one day at a time.