Getting Real, Again: Eating Disorders
Before even starting to write this I can feel swells of anxiety rising up into my chest and throat. This one won't be easy, so please bear with me. Many of the things I am about to share I haven't shared with people outside of my close-knit circle before. I've always been fairly open about my anxiety and depression, well at least for the last 8 years. But for the first time publicly, I am going to talk about my battles with eating disorders. Yes, your read that correctly.
August 2017 to August 2019 transformation photos.
My earliest memory of being self-conscious about my body I was about 7-8 years old. I was with my parents visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Georgia and we were driving the short couple of blocks to the neighborhood pool. There were too many kids for seats so I was sitting on the neighbor boy's lap. We were sitting there in our swimsuits, anxiously waiting to go swimming when he said to me, "How many jelly rolls do you have?". I was so confused. What did he mean by jelly rolls? Like, the food? No. I asked and he meant how many fat rolls did you have on your stomach. He proceeded to count mine and then show me his. I was mortified.
From that point forward I became obsessed with the size and amount of fat around my midsection. Mind you, I am in no way pointing blame on this kid. He was a year younger than me at the time and meant nothing bad by it. However, my 7-8 year old mind didn't take it so easily. There was no way for him to know that. He probably doesn't even remember this happening. Either way, that was the start.
A couple of years later, around the time I was 10 years old, I learned the term body dysmorphia. For those of you who don't know, body dysmorphia describes the incongruence of what you see in the mirror vs. what is actually there.
We were on vacation in Mexico and I kept looking in the mirror, fixated on my "fat". I was TEN YEARS OLD. My mom, frustrated and just wanting to make me feel better shook her head and claimed, "you must have body dysmorphia because what you're seeing in the mirror is not what anyone else sees." I was flabbergasted. How could I see something totally different from what's actually there? That couldn't be possible. But it is.
Our minds are a very powerful thing and can convince us of a lot of untruths. Does that mean we shouldn't trust ourselves? No. Of course not. All it means is, be mindful of the fact that your mind might be playing tricks on you. I know now that mine was, but it took years to figure that out.
The Teen Years:
My teen years were plagued with dieting, binging, purging, straight up not eating and everything in between. As a dancer, I was looking in the mirror a lot of the time and I spent a lot of time working out. But nothing ever seemed to be enough. I was wanted to be smaller, lose more weight, have less fat. If I reached one goal, I made a new one.
It was about 7th grade when I discovered I could go most of the day without eating just by claiming I already had ate. At school lunch I would either eat something small or make some story up to my friends about how we had a big dinner that night, I had a big breakfast, I just wasn't hungry. Whatever. Then at home for dinner I would tell my mom about the big lunch I had as I pushed food around my plate. Clever for a 14 year old, but not healthy at all.
Dance and the endless workouts certainly helped. It's easy to stay small when you're dancing 3-5 hours a day and practice runs through dinner. So as you can imagine, all was "manageable" until I quit dancing competitively.
I quit dance because I wanted to be more involved in school activities for my senior year. I joined class council, continued dancing with the school and made sure I always had plans with friends. For the most part, I was content. Halfway through senior year, I started to notice I was gaining weight. It made sense, I wasn't dancing anymore, but I wasn't happy about it.
By the time senior prom had come around I'd gained 15 pounds and no longer fit into the prom dress my mom and I found in the fall. So what did I do? I stopped eating, again. The entire week before prom I ate about 300-500 calories a day and finished off each night with an hour on the elliptical. I was determined to fit into that dress. Guess what happened? I fit into that dress.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd created a new habit. Crash dieting. It was a great short term fix, and why should I question results, right? There was nothing healthy about this new habit, though. It didn't help me establish a healthy eating lifestyle or a lasting workout regimen. All it did was teach my subconscious brain that if I wanted to lose weight, I could shed a few pounds very quickly as long as I was extreme about it. My brain didn't care whether I gained the weight back or not.
The Freshman Fifteen:
You've probably heard the term before, and if you haven't, where have you been? The freshman fifteen refers to the weight one gains their freshman year of college. It's easy. You're out with friends a lot, you discover frat parties for the first time, and you spend a lot of time studying and very little time in sports.
Surprise! I didn't gain the freshman fifteen, I lost it. After senior prom I did manage to get back on track a bit. I didn't necessarily do it in the most healthy way, but it was my first try at creating healthy habits. You might be thinking, "Kayla, you literally just said you creating an unhealthy habit." I did. But I created it subconsciously, it didn't resurface for about another year and a half. We'll get to that in a bit.
I consider this the period of my life where I created something in between crash dieting and creating healthy habits. Admittedly, I was a bit extreme with my weightless at this time in my life. It was characterized by a strict 1000 daily calorie allowance and 2-3 hours a day at the gym. Yes, 2-3 HOURS. I lost the weight, but also told my subconscious that that's what it would take to lose the weight.
It All Came Back:
If you think 1000 calories a day and 2-3 hours at the gym is sustainable, you're bonkers. Ok, maybe if you don't have a job. But anyone with a normal schedule will struggle to get to the gym that much. Not to mention, you'll be hungry and cranky most of the time. So inevitably, the weight came back.
The summer between sophomore and junior year of college, I was 107 pounds. At 5' 5", that's underweight. But I thought I looked great and wanted to lose another 5 pounds. No, I'm not kidding. I decided to take on the paleo diet and was only eating, meat, veggies and fruit. I look back at photos of this time and am baffled at where I thought that extra fat was, but alas, I thought it was there. A month into junior year I had a massive panic attack. I couldn't talk for over 30 minutes and was crippled by anxiety for days afterwards.
My parents took that as the perfect time to tell me I should probably start eating breads, rice and pasta again. When I look back I wonder if they were being opportunists and wanted me to gain some of the weight back, or maybe they just knew it would help. Well it did help. I had a burger the day after that panic attack and for the first time in months, my hand stood still.
So, I began eating more normally again. I'd workout, but certainly not as often. The weight slowly started to come back. I'd been starving myself for a year and a half so my body started storing fat, as the body does. In retrospect I realize a big part of the problem was that I never created a sustainable healthy lifestyle. I was utilizing a crash dieting mindset, paired with extreme workouts. Though it proved effective, it couldn't last forever.
By senior year I was back over 120 pounds and hating my body again. Have you ever heard the saying, "no one will love you if you don't first love yourself"? Well, I didn't love myself and I knew it. I began sabotaging my relationship at the time. I graduated. Tried to make things work, but never truly felt worthy. We eventually broke up. That was on me.
In one of the lowest points of my life, the summer after senior year of college, I decided to move home to Minnesota. At the time I was at a normal weight and looked great, but no one could've convinced me of that. I started dating again back home and probably not the most favorable of guys. I didn't really think I deserved much.
About a year after moving back, I started dating someone I knew from high school. He was funny, sweet, easy going, and I didn't think I'd have to worry about losing him. I knew if anyone, he could love me. Even if I didn't love myself. Remember when I said bear with me, let me say it again. Bear with me. This part is rough, but it'll be over soon. I'd know, I lived through it.
Things in that relationship were good. I truly felt loved for the first time in a few years. He taught me that I could be loved again at a time when I needed to learn that most. But those feelings of self-doubt and self-hate lingered. Other things happened in my life that broke me. Things I won't discuss here to maintain the privacy of those involved. Know that I was depressed, for a long time. It was probably my longest bout of depression as long as my memory goes back.
Ongoing depression led to unhealthy coping. I started eating more and more frequently. I stopped working out at all. I would drink, often. I'm not proud of that time in my life, at all. It was toxic. From January 2017-April 2017 I gained about 30 pounds. Thirty pounds in 4 months is a lot. It's 7.5 pounds a month, and almost 2 pounds a week. I was embarrassed, ashamed, miserable. I knew I needed to change something.
My 2 Year Transformation
That new relationship ended. Bet you saw that one coming. I moved to California, again, and set my sights on being better. I didn't really know what that meant at the time, all I knew was that something needed to change.
I dove headfirst into something called transformational learning. I took courses, went to seminars, read books. If there was a technique to achieving self-love and self-actualization, I wanted to know about it. I kept doing. I've always been good at doing. I was in a transformational learning course when the instructor told us that it's not about doing, it's about being. What a crock of shit, I thought. Excuse my language. I didn't want to believe that I was doing it wrong this whole time. There I go again with the 'doing'.
The idea of being instead of doing meant that you had to believe it in your heart first. You had to be healthy before you could look healthy. You had to be loving before you could love. You had to be first and foremost. Looking back it makes complete sense to me now, I just didn't want to accept it at the time. All of these books, seminars and classes taught me that if I wanted to create lasting change, I had to be lasting change. I had to recognize that lasting habits mean more than the bandaid approach.
Creating Healthy Eating Habits:
Over the last two years I have worked to create healthy eating habits. I've learned how to cook to the point where I thoroughly enjoy it. I've learned about how different foods fuel my body differently. I've learned that creating sustainability is more important that fast results.
I began eating organic and mostly home-cooked meals in the fall of 2017. I didn't start losing weight until the spring of 2019. Why? My body had to learn how to readjust to these healthy eating habits. I tell you this because I see so many times people give up if they don't lose weight within the first month of healthy eating. I was one of those people. I'd get frustrated, give up, try again weeks later. It became this yo-yo of some weightless, weight gain, frustration, anger, repeat.
Creating healthy eating habits has been essential because I've been able to retrain my body to function the way it was designed to. It makes going on vacation and eating whatever I want for a few days much less frustrating when I come home. I'm able to get right back on track and I don't lose my progress from a few days on vacation.
Food as Fuel:
One of the biggest mindset shifts I needed to make was shifting from "food is the enemy" to "food is fuel". As someone who's struggled with eating disorders since age 8, I had always seen food as the enemy. A necessary evil. Something I needed to survive, but was out to get me. You get the idea. This however, is not the case at all. Food is fuel. It gives us life, energy, nutrients and memories to last a lifetime. Food is a great thing. I've come a long way to be able to say that and believe it.
Do I still have bad days? Of course. I'm human and though I know in my heart that food is fuel, I still have days when I look at food or think about food and wish I didn't need it. But overall, I know food is the fuel my body needs to keep going.
Losing the Weight, Again:
I'm extremely proud and grateful to say I have now lost 25 of those 30+ pounds. It took me two years, but I did it. Sometimes I struggle with wanting to revert back to quick weight loss solutions to lose the remaining 5 pounds, but I never have. As I get closer and closer to that 30 pound mark, the weight loss has slowed. This is normal. I remind myself that I am still progressing, just more slowly and that's ok.
It's important to remember why I did all this and how much work went into making this happen so that I don't revert to unhealthy habits. If I told you it was easy, I'd be lying. So I'll say this, it's hard. Some days aren't good, but most days are far better than they were 2 years ago. Most days I am hopeful, excited and most importantly, proud. I've done something that for a while I thought I'd never be able to do and that's something worth celebrating.
My intention is to continue on this healthy lifestyle. It's brought me so many benefits other than weight loss. I am stronger than every before. I feel healthier than ever before. I've hardly been sick in a year and a half. I got a sore throat a while back that lasted a day. But other than that, I'm pretty healthy. Why go back to when I was sick every other week and hating myself? That would be silly.
One of my favorite parts about all this is that I've created a sustainable lifestyle. Generally I eat fairly normally and in a way that I could continue on for the foreseeable future. My workouts are manageable and can easily fit into my schedule and when they can't, I can modify them so that they do. Ultimately, it's about creating a consistent healthy lifestyle, not about a see-saw between crash diets and binging.
I'm sharing my story as a reminder that we all have a story and no one has to be alone. Whatever it is you're struggling with or have struggled with in the past, you're never alone.