Well, here goes.
I apologise in advance for a long post
My full back-story. The complete novel about where I have come from. The dark thoughts that filled my mind, body and soul. The struggles, failures, successes and constant battles that I have endured in order to get to where I am today.
Throughout high school I was the ‘sporty’ one. I was known as the hockey and touch girl. I was in the 1st XI hockey team and premier touch rugby team since my first year of high school and captained both of these teams in my last few years of school. I felt like I had something to prove. I played in regional representative and premier club teams for both sports – which totaled to about 14 hours a week of trainings. My life revolved around my sport.
I didn’t ever think about the quality of food I was eating. I ate when and what I felt like without thinking secondly about whether it would go to my ass or not and to be completely honest, I didn’t need to worry about it. I was fit and healthy.
This blasé mentality stuck with me after school and into university. My first year living in halls of residence was the first time I was faced with responsibility about the food I ate and about whether or not I exercised. I didn’t have my Mum feeding me wholesome nutritious food and I didn’t have the duty to attend 9 intense trainings a week. In fact, I played a total of 2 hours maximum of hockey a week, and even then I would find any excuse to avoid or minimize it.
My social life became the most important aspect of my life. Looking back, it’s funny because these years were the most carefree of my life. Unlike other girls my age, I could not care less about my body, what I ate and how I looked. I didn’t compare myself to others. I never wanted to look like or be someone else. I didn’t pinch my stomach fat. I didn’t look in a mirror and scrutinize every single inch of my body. I loved myself for who I was. I only cared about passing university to an acceptable degree and having fun. My biggest worry was what I would drink for the night and whether I would have pizza, McDonalds or KFC for my second dinner.
Fast forward to the end of my first year. It wasn’t until I tried on some old shorts for the upcoming summer did I realize that somehow I had actually gained weight. Prior to this, I really didn’t think about the physiological and physical effect that food has on your body, fat composition and appearance. I could no longer fit my shorts past my now thunderous thighs and I didn’t recognize the chubby face staring back at me. Something needed to be done. Gaining weight was something that happened to other people. Right? [Insert body image disorder starting here].
I hated who was looking back at me. I started derogating myself. I was fat. I was useless. Weak. Unattractive. Worthless. How could I live with myself being like this. How did I let myself get like this? Who have I become? How would anyone love me if I looked like this? In reality I had only gone from a size 8 to a size 12 and my weight from 54kg to just below 60kg. But in my mind I might as well have been 160kg. You see, this is the power of our minds. The way I talked to myself was disgusting and all-consuming. It was like there was this voice in my head reminding me of how badly I had failed every chance that it got.
So, I set myself a goal and would stop at nothing until I achieved it. My portion sizes at meals reduced dramatically. I would run for at least 1 hour a day and gym with light weights in case I got ‘bulky’ (face palm – yes I was one of them). To me, this was all or nothing. I would not cheat. I would not give in. I would not be defeated. If I said I would do something, damn right I would do it. And I got congratulated for this behaviour, which served as positive reinforcement, only pushing me harder.
Once I moved back home from university for the summer I finally had complete control over what I ate and when/how I exercised. I would exercise every opportunity I had. I would do sit-ups, lunges and squats while watching TV or waiting for the mivrowave. If I was awake there was no excuse I shouldn’t be moving. I would only eat salad, lean meat, protein shakes and fruit. Some days I explicitly exercised for 4 hours. The remainder of my summer was spent looking at ‘ideal’ bodies, what they did to get there, meal plans, nutrition, exercise articles and what I should be doing. I would wake up before my mum would come in to say goodbye to me for the day in order to fit in an extra 10 minutes of burpies and crunches, and then get back into bed so she didn’t start to question my obsessive behaviours.
Needless to say, I started to see changes. My clothes fit for a while, before they became too big. I started feeling better, before worse. The folds of fat I would obsess over became miniscule, becoming nearly impossible to pinch. I had lost my period but that meant that I was finally ‘skinny’.
I had taken things too far. I was once again unhealthy, but at the other end of the continuum. This time, my skin was dry. My hair was brittle. I would have massive bursts of energy then even bigger crashes. I was moody, upset, unmotivated, angry, flat, depressed. Fundamentally my body had shut down and was in survival mode. Thoughts of food, exercise, self-loathing and comparisons invaded my mind. I was obsessed. I experienced immense anxiety around social outings. What if there wasn’t food that I could eat – which consisted of a very small list. What if people would say something about me not having desert. What if I over ate? How could I live with myself? It was literally the only thing I thought about and I was in so deep and so blinded that I didn’t see a problem with it. I was being ‘healthy’. I only ate organic, whole foods. I ate copious amounts of vegetables. I would only eat the leanest cuts of meat. What’s unhealthy about that?
This went on for about 2 and a half years. However, as I began to really educate myself about nutrition the obsessiveness became less intense. I changed my perspective from wanting to be skinny to strong. I wanted muscle and curves. I starting looking up to women like Paige Hathaway and Ashley Horner. I began educating myself on nutrition, training techniques, rest, and supplements. I started lifting heavy weights and reducing my cardio.
I saw positive changes in my body and mood. At first, I started to increase my strength and muscle mass. I started getting some curves, albeit very small. My downfall was that I was looking at competitors and following their competition diets thinking this is what they did all of the time. After months of reading thousands of articles on bodybuilding.com, watching Vlogs from Dr. Layne Norton, and reading from the women who shared their real stories – including off-season, I realized I was doing it all wrong.
I realized that I had a problem that needed fixing. Health care professionals told me that I might not be able to have children, I’m at increased risk of osteoporosis and I am susceptible to cancers due to reduced hormonal functioning. If that wasn’t enough to scare me, I don’t know what would have. So I reached out to my family for help. My obsessive thoughts and behaviours were not normal and I needed to feel free. I no longer wanted to be a prisoner in my own mind and body. Through their support and a year to focus on myself, concentrating on re-establishing my metabolism, taking up relaxation, practicing meditation, self-compassion, and self-love – I found myself. Finally, I realized that my clothing size or a number on a scale does not determine my self-worth. I am intelligent. I am determined. I am a good friend/sister/daughter. I am fun. I am dedicated.
For a period of time I cut back my training to no more than 30 minutes a day. I ate over 3000 calories in order to allow my body to trust me. After 4 grueling but liberating months of self-rehabilitation my period returned. People once again started telling me how great I looked, that I looked healthy, strong, and happy. Although I was not the smallest I had ever been, I felt absolutely amazing. I was so happy. I had so much energy and life was great.
The ironic thing is, when I was in the depths of my greatest despair and looked like a wasting away malnourished Albino, with thinning hair and dry skin, no one once voiced their concerns to me. But the second I started opening up about my struggles, everyone around me agreed that they knew something was wrong and that I needed help. Perhaps, I was silently crying for help. But in our society everyone is too scared to voice their opinions, especially when it comes to someone else’s body. If someone you know is showing these signs, speak up. It may save their life, their sanity, and a long & hard recovery.
The Now and Lessons Learned
Because I compete in bodybuilding competitions the people around me often voice concerns that I am slipping back into these restrictive ways. The thing is, I love competing. I love changing my body. I love the mental drive, the dedication, sacrifices you have to make in order to get on stage. But I will never again let myself get back to what I was. I am now aware when these thoughts start to creep back into my mind and I can catch them before they are too pervasive. I have learned so much since that phase of my life. I have learned about my body in ways I would not have been able to otherwise. I have learned that I need rest to grow. I need to eat upwards of 2000 calories to build muscle and feel strong. I have learned the significance of an off-season. You need to eat to grow and food to live. And from my own experiences I am welcoming this with open arms.
I am so grateful for my struggles as they taught me lessons very few people will ever learn. I learned how to love my body at every stage. That the size of my clothes does not define me. I am so much more than that. I love being strong, just as much as I love being lean. But there is a time for everything. I love fueling my body with wholesome, nutrient dense foods. I love knowing that I can pull myself out of darkness. I have learned that everything will be okay.
For now, this is my story. It’s still being written. I don’t doubt that I will still have struggles and setbacks. But I know that they will make me stronger and add to my character. Every mistake is a learning opportunity.
I told you I had a lot to say 😉