Well, I’ve been sitting on this topic for quite a while, and I decided that it was time to finally sit down and write.
We are currently in the midst of National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Eating disorders are still so misunderstood. Did you know that:
- Four out of 10 Americans either suffered or have known someone who has suffered from an eating disorder
- By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape
- 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life
- 46% of nine- to 11-year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets
- Even among clearly non-overweight girls, over one-third report dieting
I was not fortunate enough to not be part of these statistics. My journey of health – or perhaps to unhealthiness and back to healthiness – started around age 6. When I was 6, I began cheerleading, although I do not “blame” cheerleading for any of my struggles. I clearly remember that the girls that were smaller got to go up in different stunts. As a 6 year old, that seemed pretty cool, and I wanted to be able to do that, too. I was never deemed the appropriate size for that honor. Through my 10 subsequent years of cheerleading, that never changed, although I eventually was deemed strong enough to support others. But it was at the age of 6 that I remember thinking that I “needed” to lose weight. I recall making a commitment to myself that before the next season, I would be small enough to not be assigned to keeping my feet on the ground. I continued to make that commitment in my mind from season to season. Thankfully, I did not “diet” as a small child, but that thought remained. Looking back, I see how sad it is that a small child was so concerned about weight and a desire to be smaller to be deemed worthy. We have so much to do in our culture to change this. I am positive that I had a lot of great qualities as a 6 year old that had nothing to do with my appearance, weight, or size. I was kind, intelligent, caring, creative, and helpful. I was healthy.
Over the years, I developed bizarre and unhealthy food and exercise habits. My life became consumed by a desire to be something other than what I was, no matter the means. My life became small. Very small. At times, I was scared that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. After several years, I woke up one day and decided I wanted a different life; I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Tired of waking up in the middle of the night with muscle cramps from my body atrophying. Tired of my life being controlled by my thoughts. Tired of being scared and punishing myself. Fast forward some more years, I took my life back and regained my health. I focused on eating to nourish my body and strengthen my body through fitness. My goals changed from how small I could be to how strong I could be and how big my life could get with health as my vehicle. It took time and work, but it is worth it every day.
As I improved my health, I found opportunities to help others struggling with eating and body image issues and promoted body acceptance and overall wellness. This became part of my identity. Over time, I found my personal health suffering after a serious of unfortunate life events (heartbreak, stressful job, hormone imbalance, injuries), and the desire to lose weight returned. I struggled for a long time with whether it was an unhealthy thought or not. So often we see things so dichotomously: you either fall into the camp of full body acceptance or the you must diet and be as small as possible camp. the body acceptance camp seems to be anti-weight loss or changes to the body and the weight loss camp is often about hating how you are. Things did not seem that dichotomous to me. I accepted and loved myself, I knew all of the amazing things about me, but I physically felt pretty terrible. I felt physically uncomfortable most of the time and was struggling to do the physical activities that I loved – especially running. Who says that one can’t accept themselves AND want to change? Why must those things be mutually exclusive?
They don’t have to be. I decided that people could be critical of my choices and not understand them. And, that’s okay. I must remain true to me and my journey. Last spring I took steps to begin to improve my health. For me, that has also come with some weight loss. For some, improving health might come with weight gain, and for some no change at all. It is not a number that I like to focus on. What has been more important to me is fueling my body with mostly whole foods and having a healthy balance of treats. I may count the number of fruits and veggies that I eat, the weights that I can lift, the miles I can run. For me, this includes tracking what I eat and what I do to move – this helps me have the awareness I need. Years ago, this may have been something very unhealthy for my brain, but now it is what helps me be healthy. My body has changed, I have gotten stronger, I feel more like myself, and I am improving my fitness. I ran my first half-marathon since my injuries in 2014 and my journey continues!
You might notice that I am not one to actively promote weight loss. There’s enough of that in our culture and weight loss in and of itself does not mean better health. I want you to be healthy, to be strong, to live a full and meaningful life. If you know me and have ever wondered WHY health and fitness are so integral to my life, it is because they are what give me life. They are the tools that I use to stay well so that I can enjoy my time with family and friends, so that I may help others, so that I may do the things I enjoy – playing with my dog, running, puzzling, reading, cooking.
Please know that if you are not happy with where you are, you can change. Maybe that is your health, perhaps financial stability, maybe your current relationships or where you life. It is not too late to change your life for the better. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please know that recovery is possible. Make the changes to grow your life to be full and meaningful. You ARE worth it and it IS possible. Change can be scary and difficult. When I am approaching the desire to change something, I often try to ask myself which is worse – the difficulty that comes with change, or the pain from things remaining the same? If it will be difficult either way, why not choose the path that provides opportunity for better?
If you are desiring change and struggling with how to begin, please contact me through my website or connect with me on Facebook.
Love and light,