In this blog, Rosie shares her "fitness" journey, struggles with body image and eating disorders, and how change was possible.
Trigger warning: Eating disorders
I always say my family did not give me the best set of genes. Heart issues and obesity could or should be my destiny, if I just let it happen.
I was the "fat" kid ever since the age of 5. And if you know anything about 5 year olds, is that they don't lie. So I was reminded often, with or without ill intent, about my body. The boys I liked never liked me back, and they always seemed to crush on the skinny girls. Growing up, all I heard were comments about my body, by virtually everyone. It was a way to approach me, to describe me, or to make fun of me.
I remember from a young age, I would watch my dad doing sit ups or push ups, and I would try to join in. I thought if maybe I did sit ups every day, then the fat would melt away. But I also remember loving food! A lot. One of my most vivid summer vacation memories involves eating one too many cheese sandwiches, at any and all times of the day.
Another one of my most vivid childhood memories was returning to school after summer break for 8th grade. And something happened during that summer, that I suddenly, lost my status as the "fat" girl. I don't know what it was! Maybe puberty, or maybe I just grew taller and thus filled out my body. But once again (not like it ever stopped) I was made aware of my body, but this time, the attention was no longer "negative". Boys started to look at me differently, and talk to me differently. The comments by everyone were praising me!
"Omg you look so pretty now!"
"Wow, you actually have a nice body now."
And "fat" was no longer my identity, and it was no longer an accurate way to describe me, or offend me.
In high school, my body changed even more as I grew into my adolescent body. And again, all the boys finally liked me. I was no longer the girl who crushed and crushed and did not get anything back. It was honestly a little weird at first because I was not used to it.
But the problem with the praise, the incessant comments over my body, whether good or bad, and the "positive" attention from the boys is that my body became my entire identity. And this led to an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, two things I still struggle with as an adult.
At 15 years old, I stepped foot at a gym for the first time. I liked it, but it felt like an obligation, that quickly became my only consolation prize for a day of "bad" eating, or arguably, punishment. And throughout my high school years, I became obsessed with weighing myself. I would do it every day in the morning (for a baseline measure) and multiple times throughout the day. I would become infuriated if the scale dared to tell me I had gained a few ounces. But I would have the best of days if the number was lower. Essentially, the scale dictated my mood and everyone knew it. If my parents or my boyfriend at the time noticed that I was in a bad mood that day, they knew what was up. So if the number was not what I deemed to be desirable, this meant I had to make up for it at the gym. If I ate one too many fries, I would make it up by pushing myself harder. This lead to a very unhealthy dynamic, and terrible relationship with food (because it was "bad"), with the gym (because this was my punishment for being bad), and needless to say, with my body.
As I continued to develop into a young woman, obsessed with food labels and "clean eating" and the gym (all for the wrong reasons, by the way), this obsession became stronger and worse. I remember a period of time where I would not eat anything that I didn't make myself - I had to make sure to use all wholesome ingredients, and measure my food precisely, and eat exactly a specific number of calories per meal. I also did not eat anything with ingredients I could not pronounce, or an ingredient list longer than 5. While this may not sound too terrible, this fixation is actually very unhealthy, and it is called orthorexia. If somebody invited me out to dinner, I would go with them to not miss out on the social interaction, but I would not eat anything (yep, I would go to a restaurant, watch my friends eat, and just sit there, mentally torturing myself).
In hindsight, this behavior sounds scary to me. But at the time, although internally I was miserable, the people around me were impressed by my "healthy" lifestyle. I received a lot of praise about my commitment, my strength and my willpower. This went on for years.
And that's what society does. It either punishes "bad" things harshly, or puts "good" things in the highest of pedestals. So it is no wonder so many of us don't understand balance, and cannot imagine how to achieve it.
How did I get out of this situation?
It was a day I will never forget (well, I forgot the exact date, but I know it was in March of 2019).
I was 21, almost 22 at the time. I had a long history with my unhealthy relationship with my body by this point.
I remember going to a wedding and that day, the scale was not on my side. So, I reminded myself that I was not allowed to eat anything at the wedding. But this one day, my willpower was simply just not there. And I ate, a normal amount of food, and a piece of cake. And oh man, was I disappointed in myself, because how dare I eat a piece of cake on top of it all, when the scale said I gained 4 ounces!
When I got home, I had the strong urge to weigh myself. And if you know how that stuff works, you are the lightest in the morning, and the heaviest at night or after a meal. So, I knew this was not a good idea, but I could not resist.
So, the disappointment was inevitable. I saw a number I did not like, perhaps an extra pound or two.
A lot of this is a blur, but I remember crying, screaming, slamming the scale on the floor, and just crying for hours. I was sitting on the floor of my bathroom, just hysterical. My mom sat next to me, making every effort to console me. My boyfriend at the time did not know what to do to help me. My dad, yelling at me that I must be crazy, because "this just isn't normal."
And it was this day, and this specific meltdown (because no, this was not my only meltdown, but it was my last) that made me realize that I needed to make a change immediately. And I am so grateful for that day, because I don't know and cannot imagine what my life would be like if I continued down that path. I made a decision for myself that I had to stop. All of it. The obsession over every bite I take. The fixation with the scale and the number, and the way that this was all consuming my every thought. Because, see, this was the thinnest I had ever been in my life, but I had also never been unhappier. The fat little girl who loved her cheese sandwiches was much happier than this. So none of it was worth it.
So I stopped, cold turkey. No shaping down, no specific behavior plan (I was a BCaBA at this time). I just stopped. I told my mom to put the scale away and only let me use it perhaps monthly. But when I saw the relief that it brought me to just live my life, with balance, without worrying about that stupid number, I honestly just stopped weighing myself altogether.
But it's not and has not been all rainbows and butterflies since that day. I still do fear the scale, and as my body has changed and I am now a full grown woman who lifts heavy weights, and no longer a 19 year old girl who only spends 2 hours at the cardio machines, I do fear what it may do to me to step on a scale right now. I ask my doctors to not tell me how much I weigh, or to skip that step altogether. I still have the instinct to overcompensate at the gym for a night out, or day of "unhealthy" eating. And every now and then, I have days where I feel very unhappy with my body. This most recently happened during my trip to Mexico, where I had some professional photos taken as part of an excursion package, and I was not happy with what I saw. I became grumpy for the rest of the day, and told my friends I was not eating anything else for the rest of the trip (at the all-inclusive resort we were staying at). Fortunately, this was temporary and no longer strong enough to ruin the rest of my experience. I did eat, and did not feel "disappointed" for not following through.
Perhaps the biggest difference between 26 year old me and that young girl in her late teens and early 20s is that I love myself now. I have learned that I am so much more than my body, although from my earliest days, that's what society made me believe. But I am more than this body (that I love now, by the way). And I don't just love it because I have shaped it into what I want it to be. Because I still have days where I wish I had a little bit of a slimmer frame, or don't feel as muscular as I'd like to be. I have days where I compare my body now to my body 3 years ago (because I don't know what happened at 25, but my curves came in strong, and on their own, and there is nothing I can do to make them go away). But I still look in the mirror and I love myself. I love the woman I have become, and I love that I have proved to myself who I am beyond the way I look. Five year old me did not know that. Fifteen year old me did not know that. Twenty year old me did not know that. But I know that.
I cannot make society change, but I can change the way I process what I hear. The comments over my body have never stopped. Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are not. But I have learned to not let that consume me (it wasn't magic, it was a whole lot of self awareness and self management, that now feel like second nature).
I want to emphasize that I still struggle with all of this - I am not "cured." But I have progressed and I have changed my perspective - on how I view the world, and how I view myself.
Along this journey, I have also learned balance. I don't overeat, but I don't under-eat. Some foods are fuel to my body, which I need, and some foods are just tasty, but no food is "bad." They simply serve different purposes and lead to different outcomes. Because I want to live a healthy and balanced life, where I feed my body the fuel it needs, majority of my diet serves the purpose of fueling, but I do also indulge in other foods just because they are tasty! (notice I said "indulge" and not "over-indulge). I don't punish myself because this isn't a race. I always have tomorrow to step back into the gym and continue to live a life that fits my values.
Because I have mended the way I view my body and food, I have therefore also done damage control to the way I view and experience the gym. It's not a punishment spot anymore - it's simply a place that I love going to, and it's a big part of my routine. I don't dread the gym anymore, and I 100% enjoy it. But when the days come (and they do) where I don't feel as hyped up to go, what keeps me going is not military style discipline, but rather it's just me behaving in ways that fit in with my own values. And when my body signals that it's tired and needs a break, I take the damn break.
"Healthy" is a balanced word. It's a mixture of subjectivity and objectivity. With that, and with this story, wherever you are in your journey, I'd like to encourage you to define "healthy" for yourself, and truly behave (or stop behaving) in ways that don't fit into that definition.
For me, crying over a few pounds, talking down to myself for enjoying food, and commanding myself to go to the gym as punishment while slamming the scale against the floor or the wall, is not healthy.
Fueling my body, being kind to myself, doing things I love at the gym, empowering myself and making decisions that feel good, and allowing myself to live this short ass life I was given, is healthy.
So I choose to lift, and I choose to live.