Body Image

As a twenty-something year old woman (27 to be exact!), I sometimes feel I should be past the point of not accepting my body for what it is, and for all the amazing things it does. I feel like I should be past letting a "fat day" ruin everything, I should be past stressing out over going on long vacations for fear of where and when I am going to get my daily workouts in. And although I'm not totally past these thoughts, I'm at a really comfortable, happy place. A much more comfortable place then I was about seven or eight years ago. Growing up, I had a very very healthy body image. Granted, I was a tiny little thing but my Mom did a fantastic job of making sure I felt beautiful. I did grow up watching my Mom do her aerobics classes, sitting in the childcare room, hands and face pressed to the glass, watching my mom do jazzercize, step aerobics, you name it. My Dad would start every morning with a run, and upon its completion we could hear "One ONE, One TWO, One THREE" as he did a million and a half push-ups, sit-ups, and whatever else he did down there in his office, on that old smelly foam sit-up board. I was in dance from the age of three, soccer from the age of four, gymnastics at four as well, and every other sport you could imagine. I was active. And I continued to be active all the way through high school. I had a gym membership from the age of 12, when I could "legally" be in the gym as a junior member of the country club we belonged to. I loved to work out, run, lift weights, play sports, etc. And I still do. But something changed when I got into college, and that something was food. Like I said, growing up I always had a healthy attitude about my weight. I would hop and jump around in my leotards, flip around during gymnastics, and not have a care in the world. Even in high school I never thought much about it. I always thought I looked good, which is funny to type out, but it's true. Looking back though, there is one huge difference between high school and college, and because I was still very active in college, the huge difference was...food. I never looked at labels in high school, I wouldn't have really even known what they meant. But the second I got into college, I was surrounded by girls who cared. The change didn't really occur until I was a sophomore, because freshman year I can still remember not focusing so much on health or being skinny. But when I got to that second year and moved in with my sorority, I remember one day realizing that I wouldn't eat anything without looking at its nutritional content. This was a learned behavior. I'm not sure where I learned it, but it appeared. And I'm not blaming this on the sorority- but it does have something to do with living with lots of girls under one roof in such close quarters.

I can even remember when something clicked in my brain, and the downward spiral for me began. I had already been over thinking weight and food and all of those things, but one particular instance was the catalyst for everything. One night at the beginning of winter break I was home from college in Phoenix, and some of my NAU friends also came down to go out. They called and asked if I wanted to go out dancing at some club, so I excitedly said yes, and drove over to meet them. Because I was driving I couldn't drink, but one of the girls said that she had these diet pills (Xenadrine), and if I took a bunch of these I would stay up all night and have a blast. Now, so you understand where I was coming from, and why I could have possibly agreed to take pills from someone, you have to understand that my teenage/college years were full of parties and "fun," so this was not a big deal to me. I said yes, and I proceeded to take maybe four or five of these things. At the time, in the early 2000s, diet pills were insane, and not regulated like they are now. They had all of those now-known-as horrible ingredients that are now illegal. So anyway, I took these diet pills and stayed up all night, had a blast dancing, etc.

Fast forward to the next morning. I still hadn't really slept and my appetite was gone. The entire day passed and I hadn't eaten anything. I went to bed, woke up the next morning and felt so "light." I weighed myself, and had lost five pounds. In my little head, this was perfect and awesome, and a dream come true! I wasn't overweight by any means, but like any girl who is focused on appearance, losing five pounds in just a couple of days was amazing. I now know that was all water weight, both from sweating while dancing and what not, but back then I was so happy about it. I promptly went to the store and bought a huge bottle of those pills and proceeded to take them, as directed on the bottle. The entire winter break was a haze of running and working out twice a day (with all that new found energy, of course I would), and eating nothing. I can still remember what I would eat every day: 1 can of tuna plain and baby carrots. That's it. I had no desire to eat anything, so those were the best low-cal things I thought I could eat. In college winter break is one month, so for that entire time I continued to lose weight. I started dating a new guy, I was happy (diet-pill induced), and I felt like everything was in control.

When I returned to school, everyone was in shock. I must have lost 20 pounds. And when you're small like me, that kind of weight is noticeable. One of my suitemates had struggled with a serious, serious eating disorder in high school and immediately she was concerned. I didn't care though- I was loving all the attention, and compliments, and "Oh my god you look so skinny!" I couldn't get enough. I started a weird food journal, I started looking around online and found some "pro-ana/anorexia" sites; I became obsessed with getting smaller and smaller.

Here my struggle kind of shifted a bit. I was continuing to take the diet pills, but they had stopping working of course, as my body had built up a tolerance. And this is where my story gets really embarrassing for me to share, and I've gone back and forth in my head about whether or not I wanted to write this all out. But for the sake of being honest and open, I will. Even though it's incredibly scary to know that strangers are reading something that until now, until a few people have ever known.

Because the pills weren't working like they had been, I was getting hungry. I would allow myself to eat small things. My friends and I would go out to eat all of the time, and I would always just get a salad. And when I would let myself eat anything, no matter how small...I would go to the bathroom and throw it up. I don't remember how this started, but I just know that one day I just did it. And afterward I would feel so much better, in control of the situation again, and able to be skinny and light and without food in my stomach. I never was binger, but literally if I ate anything I would throw up- even the smallest things, like half a sandwich or a piece of fruit. Some of my friends were doing the same thing, and would exist solely on frozen yogurt so "it came up easier." That's horrible to even write, but that was the reality. At the time I didn't think too much about how shocking this behavior was, I only knew I wanted to be even skinnier. So even though the pills weren't working as they originally did, I was still able to restrict my food to very low amounts, so I was only doing throwing up two times a day maybe, but it was horrible. I would do it at home, at restaurants, at my parents' house, wherever I'd find myself eating. My daily meals were pretty much the same each day, unless I was out- a 1/4 cup Kashi cereal with skim milk for breakfast, carrots and mustard (gross, I know) for lunch, and a can of tuna fish and an apple for dinner. Overall that's maybe 400 calories. This went on for awhile. I continued to go to the gym from 6am-8am every morning and then again at night. Spring break started to creep up on the college schedule, and that became my new thing to work towards. I was going to Mexico with friends, and now looking back, I remember thinking I was so fat and being so appalled that I had to go in public looking as I did. It's sad to remember that. But to Mexico we went, and in my "food journal" I wrote that I only ate two tacos and three slimfasts the entire four day trip.

So my "sickness" had been going on for awhile, although I hadn't been showing bulimic tendencies for more than two months- looking back I feel very fortunate about this because I didn't do any damage to my teeth or other susceptible body parts. I was starting to fall into a depression- obsessing over weight had made me so single minded that anything that interfered with my exercise or food rituals would upset me, and then I got even more upset because I felt upset...it was bad cycle. One night my friend Liz took me to dinner at The Outback and confronted me about everything. Liz had been one of my best friends throughout junior high, high school, and college, and was more like a sister. She told me how worried she was, how she was going to tell my parents, etc...and how I needed to stop. I'm not sure what did it, but literally that night I promised I would never throw up again. And honestly, I never have. It's like I flipped a switch, I still don't understand how and why my mind just STOPPED doing such bad behavior. I don't get how I was so immersed in something, and then I could just stop so abruptly. But I did. It wasn't easy at all. I stopped throwing up, but I didn't stop counting calories and over working out. But eventually I did. I still can't eat salad without having a bad taste in my mouth, and I still have to remind myself that what I see in the mirror isn't always the true image.

To this day I somewhat struggle with seeing myself as I really am. I have occasional days when I look in the mirror and see a chubby person staring back at me. I hate it. It's not everyday, but it's enough where I have to ask Hank is I've gained weight. And it's not the typical "Baaabe do I look fat in this," it's a sincere question because sometimes I don't even know. On most days I know that I am small, I know that I am in great shape from my dedication to the gym. But on those bad days, which are few and far between now, I feel really sad. I am lucky though, because as I get older I stress less about things. I have someone in my life who loves me unconditionally. I was lucky enough to find him, and really, what else is there in life if there isn't love? So little by little I have gotten to the point where a day or two doesn't get me down anymore. And I think that's a great accomplishment. I can look in the mirror and know I am healthy and happy.

It's really easy for women to get caught up in thinking we should be stick thin and perfect all the time. It's easy to compare yourself to others, and it's easy to get caught up in hating your own body. The reason I shared my story is so any of you who maybe have gone through something similar know you are not alone- and you CAN get through it. I wish I could remember more of the inner workings of my head when simply telling myself to stop the bad behavior worked. I guess I would just attribute it to my strong willpower, both not to eat, and then to get through it and want to eat again. Like I said, I'm not at a place where I love myself every single day of the year, but I would say I'm at a 95% of the time loving myself place. And that's really awesome.

I think the main advice I could give would be to surround yourself with positive people at all times. You don't need anyone negative in your life, even if they're just being negative about their own self. If you constantly hear someone put themselves or others down, that will begin to rub off on you too. Also, realize that you will never ever reach "perfection." Even at my smallest I wanted to be smaller- it's a strange cycle that has no end. Try and work on loving you NOW, not loving the idea of some future self. Look in the mirror and say "I love you" ten times every night. If you're struggling, this may help you to start feeling the love that you've ignored for so long. Stop taking fashion magazines so seriously. I still read a lot of them, but I understand that those images are manipulated and changed to reach that unattainable level of perfection. Think about how you really only get one chance, one shot at this life- do you really want to waste it being unhappy and obsessing over something that doesn't matter in the long run? Take a walk outside, be out in the world and see how big and wide it all is. Often when I feel bad, I got outdoors and everything is put into perspective. Realize that you will always have bad days. Without those bad days, no good days can ever be fully appreciated. But when you do get into those down moods, acknowledge it, but accept that it's just a mood. Not you. Move on, get out of your house, and live your life. Don't let youself get sucked into self-hate. It's a waste of time, and a waste of your time. Do something active with your body, and realize that food sustains our body and gives us energy. It's miraculous everything we can do. Most of all, know that you are so beautiful- we are all such amazing people with so much to offer...and sometimes it just takes believing in yourself to see all of the other people who feel the same way.