NEDA Week: Let's Get Real
This week is recognized as National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week - and the theme this year is Let's Get Real. So, let's do it. Let's get real.
I have had a complicated relationship with my body throughout the years, and today, it's at a place I honestly never expected it to be.
As a teenage girl who competed in high school and college cross country and track & field where the average body type is nothing short of stick-thin, a female student and sorority sister at Vanderbilt where emphasis was placed on appearance, a young woman in an image-obsessed state and a city in perpetual bikini season and as an individual whose weight has drastically fluctuated (plus-and-minus forty pounds on a short frame) over the last few years, I've struggled with body image issues time and time again.
I became conscious of my body in high school, when I noticed I was always a size or two up in cross country uniforms from my teammates (...and the only girl on varsity who seemed to deal with "chub rub"). While I was still small (especially looking back on photos!), I felt the pressure to fit in - and thought I could up my speed game if I shed a few pounds. So, for months and months, I limited my calorie intake proportional to my runs (800 calories in a day meant I had to run 8 miles...it hurts to write this, trust me) until my family and high school boyfriend expressed concern over my relationship to food and disrespect for my body. While I was offended, their chat with me seemed to snap me out of hovering right on the edge of falling off a steep cliff in my relationship towards food. Shortly after that, I headed out to college in Tennessee and became seemingly unconscious of my body for the following year until I finished my freshman year of college with an extra 35 pounds and 4 extra sizes. I quickly fell back into my old ways, relying on exercise instead of food limitations. I was unemployed over the summer and spending 2-4 hours at the gym everyday. My life, schedule and plans revolved entirely around my workout. And, when it worked...I didn't see this ever as an issue. At that time, I thought I was just extremely disciplined and motivated to hit a goal.
For the next few years, I fluctuated. I had months of putting on quite a few pounds, followed by months of drastic weight loss. I was never quite happy with where I was at - and was perpetually in a state of fear of gaining back the weight I had put on when I was at my "heaviest" (which, again, looking back, wasn't that heavy).
And, then something shifted (with some pitfalls and trials along the way; trust me, it wasn't instantaneous). In 2014, I wanted to PR my half-marathon time. I started focusing on fueling for the race in ways I hadn't before - between better food (with pizza and donuts included!), more time spent on my yoga practice and a little bit more of rest and recovery. Annnnd...I PR'd. Not at my lowest weight, not at my heaviest weight. After this, I started to notice my relationship to both food and fitness change. I started to eat and workout how and when I wanted - even if it meant a few pounds gained or lost here or there. But, more than that, I started to see my body as a vehicle for some really awesome things I could do. Legs that I used to consider thick were legs that carried me to a 1:30 half marathon, a tummy that was soft and undefined still was strong enough to keep me stable on a surfboard, my arms helped me carry my textbooks. Hell - it even withstood (and still does!) sitting at a desk studying for hours. Sometimes, a simple reframe and daily listing what I like about my body...well, it helps. I'm happy to say that this is how I see my body most days now.
More than that, I've realized that I am defined by way more than my weight. I'm defined by my courage, adventurous spirit, compassion, love of animals, my drive.
So, where am I at now on my journey with my body? Well, I've fallen in love with weightlifting and hiking. I love to see how strong my body is - and how badass I feel after my body helps me achieve something. But, I'm realizing the importance of rest and slowing down and letting your muscles recover. I believe in fueling myself for my active lifestyle...but won't turn down beer, donuts, pizza or carrot cake. I'm not at my thinnest and I'm not at my thickest - and I'm perfectly content. Thin, thick, calories, scale numbers...it's all been reframed in my head in terms of balance, moderation and strength.
In the end, I'm choosing to love all of me: my body (through all of its ups and downs and fluctuations and everything in between) and what's inside. And, I challenge you to do the same. What's one thing you love about yourself - and how can you get real about yourself to the one person who matters most (hint: that's you!)?
If you or someone you love is falling down a slippery slope, contact NEDA, a wonderful resource!