Plagued by the obsession that I must look better!

I remember a time when I didn’t have a care in the world about my body, didn’t ever look in the mirror and think, “I look fat!”  It’s simple, I wasn’t fat and never had been so why I would think I looked that way?

I grew up an athlete.  I started swimming practically before I was even able to walk. I also started tumbling down the hallway in our house at about the same age...I’d say I was about 3.  That was when my parents decided I was destined to be a gymnast.

I was a competitive gymnast and swimmer for most of my childhood through high school until I sprained the ligaments in my lower back, ended up in a body cast for close to a month and my gymnastic career came to an abrupt halt.  I could still swim but swimming took a backseat to gymnastics.  

When I had to quit, I was devastated.  I really didn’t know what to do athletically at this point in my life because I didn’t really like anything else.  This was when the problems began, problems with self-esteem, self-consciousness, self depravation and self loathing.  

The girl who was so lively, goofy and happy with who she saw when she looked in the mirror, went away.  You see being an athletic child truly boosted my self-esteem and helped me to be strong, determined and motivated.  

...And, being an athletic child meant weight issues just didn’t exist. I was thin and toned and didn’t even have the faintest idea of what it meant to not have a good figure.  I was certainly NOT one of those high school girls who walked around ‘strutting my stuff.’ I had this cute little figure, but was clueless about it.

So, what happened to change this strong, determined, motivated young lady?  How did years of feeling good in my own skin go to feeling insecure, ‘less than’ and unattractive? 

I remember exactly when it happened.  Well, I guess I can pinpoint the year.  It was freshman year of college.  I had gone ‘across the river’ from St. Paul to Minneapolis to live in the dorm at the University of MN.  

I was living the life.  I didn’t have my parents around to tell me what to do, I could come and go as I pleased and I LOVED IT.  Problem was, because I no longer was the athlete I was in high school, I wasn’t constantly burning calories like my body was used to.

I was drinking A LOT and eating late night pizzas. Suddenly, the 100 pound girl who started college was up 15+ pounds.

When they say it’s so easy to put on weight, they aren’t kidding.  How did I end my first year of college at least 15 pounds heavier than when I started?  Where did this weight come from and WHY WHY WHY was I suddenly FAT?

I moved home for the summer and I gained even more weight because I was working at a restaurant and eating all of their food.  When I moved back to school sophomore year, I moved into an apartment with a friend who was SKINNY and the more I looked at her, the fatter I felt.  

I was miserably unhappy.  I constantly compared myself to everyone.  I always felt like the ugly overweight girl next to all of my pretty, skinny friends.

Instead of learning to eat healthy foods, get on an exercise program and lose weight the healthy way, I started purging. I had a friend who did it.  A friend who we tried doing an intervention on because she was so skinny, she was emaciated.  

I remember being horrified by what she was doing to herself and being scared that something would happen to her.  But one day, when I tried to put on one of my favorite pair of jeans and they didn’t fit, a light bulb went on.

If my friend could do this and be skinny, why couldn’t I?  And so the saga began...I started starving myself at first.  I wouldn’t eat anything but grapes for an entire week and I’d drink a ton of water to help me feel full.  Then, I would go to the gym and work out and I would be so happy when I was done, happy that I just burned calories I didn’t even eat...the weight should’ve just started melting off, right?

Well, not really.  

After starving myself for a while, I’d lose control and I would binge on everything I could get my hands on.  After I was done, I would feel so horrible about what I’d done and I was absolutely sure about how much weight I was going to gain from what I just ate that I’d purge it all up.  

When I’d wake up every morning, I’d look at myself in the mirror from the side. Purging can bloat your face so from the side, it would appear that I had a double chin and what did a double chin mean to me?  It meant I was fat! 

So it became this vicious cycle.  Starve, work out, binge, purge, work out again, starve, work out., binge, purge...look at my fat face and belly in mirror and start all over...

It’s sort of a long involved story about how I had my ‘moment of clarity‘ when I realized I needed some serious help and I started the recovery process.  But after about a year of this insane behavior, I went home and told my parents I was Bulimic, that I needed help and I started going to therapy.

About 6 months before I told my parents I was a Bulimic, I also admitted I was an alcoholic.  My life was just a mess.  My escape from all of the feelings I had inside about myself was alcohol and food.  The day I quit drinking was August 20, 1990.  I have not had a drink since.

Recovering from Bulimia though, wasn’t nearly as easy.  Not that quitting drinking was easy however, once I made the decision I never looked back.  I went through the hard times but I just made the decision that I wasn’t going to drink again and I haven’t.

Food is different though.  We must eat to live so therefore, we have to learn to eat, in a healthy way.

I struggled for a long long time and at first, I switched addictions.  I became an avid WORKOUT FIEND.  I can remember working out sometimes for 3 hours or more, per day.  What I ate, dictated how long I worked out and how intense the workout was.

I also did have slips for a couple of years after I started therapy.  I would overeat and then be afraid that I was going to put on weight so I would ‘get rid of it.’  But then, like I did when I quit drinking...one day I just made the decision that I was done hurting myself this way and I wasn’t going to do it again.

And I didn’t.  But that didn’t mean I still didn’t have the negative inner thoughts, the self-esteem issues, the insecure feelings, the self-loathing.  I still had it all and I had to figure out how to get better. 

Recovery as a whole really helped with all of this.  I attended AA regularly and I just applied everything I was learning there to my eating disorder.

But even years after, the eating was always the hardest part.  I never looked quite good enough.  I’d lost the weight I put on in college and when I look at pictures from that time, I looked darn good.  My belly was flat and hard and I had some great definition going on, all over my body.

But I was still plagued by this obsession that I must look better.  I tried different diets, even though I didn’t need to be on a diet. Or I’d try a new cleanse or a new wacky workout/nutrition regimen which really just meant I was still working out incessantly and not even remotely eating enough to compensate for the calories I was burning.

If a workout plan called for 30 minutes of something, I did 60.  If it provided a minimum amount of calories to eat per day, I ate less.  I was no longer binging and purging but I was still consumed by not gaining weight and in fact, plagued by the thought that I must drop more.  

I remember times when I’d be eating something ‘fattening’ and wonder if complete strangers would see what I was eating and think to themselves, “she should not be eating that.”  

I remember eating way too much at a meal and feeling like the button on my jeans was going to burst and white knuckling it so that I would NOT purge.  

I remember looking at my body in the mirror every morning before getting dressed to see how my abs looked, turning to the side and looking at myself from behind and then doing the exact same thing at night before going to bed to see if anything had changed.

I remember going to bed every night and going over in my head what I had eaten that day and either feeling guilty for something ‘bad’ I’d eaten or feeling good that I made it through the day without eating anything fattening.

I remember a time when I was baking cookies for a party I was going to and being so proud of myself for not eating any of the dough or any of the deliciously fresh, hot cookies I’d just baked. As if eating a cookie or two or some of the dough was the WORST thing I could ever do.

I remember obsessing about what I was going to eat when I was out with my friends because I wanted to ‘be good’ and have a healthy meal but what was I going to do if everyone wanted to go somewhere and share something I was afraid to eat. And then, I’d tell myself it was ok...that I was out for a special occasion and if I decided to splurge it was ok because I had worked out that day and I would DEFINITELY work out even harder the next day to burn off what I had eaten.

I remember being afraid to eat because I wasn’t sure if I could control myself from not eating too much and then having to fight the urge to purge.  This was especially difficult when I was home because I lived alone, with no one to see what I was doing.

It was EXHAUSTING and I needed relief.  

I’m not exactly sure when it happened but I did end up getting healthy.  I started to surround myself around people who were healthy.  I started running and had always wanted to run a marathon so the running friends I made, were healthy ones. They weren’t obsessive/compulsive people only focused on being thin, or too skinny for that matter.  They really just wanted to be fit and healthy.  This is what I wanted so desperately to be, so I did what they did.

I started reading and learning about what it means to eat healthy foods and nourish your body for optimal health.  I started to love the person looking back at me in the mirror and accept myself the way I was, no matter what my body looked like.  

I became, fit and healthy and HAPPY!  And it was contagious.  I had family members and friends who noticed and would start asking me if I could help them get fit and healthy.

Gradually, things just got better and I no longer thought about every last bit I put into my mouth and I didn’t obsess about my body anymore.

It was and still is a one day at a time deal though.  There was a time in my life, when I was at my lowest, when I didn’t care about my health.  I didn’t care about what I was doing to my body because I was obsessed with being SKINNY.  I didn’t want to be fit, toned and healthy.  I just wanted to be skinny and I would keep doing whatever I could to get there.

Today, even though I’m at a point in my life where I choose life, health and happiness over being skinny...I still have days when I don’t feel that great about myself and still wish I could ‘drop a few pounds.’  I like to think that’s ‘normal’ for lack of a better word as everyone has their bad days.  Fortunately, those days are VERY few and far between but I still have them every once in a blue moon.

Today, it is way more important for me to be healthy, inside and out...to live a long, healthy, happy life.

The bonus is that I get to love my body.

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