My Body & Me: A Love/Hate Relationship

Last was NEDA week. Throughout my Instagram feed, I read and saw so many incredible stories from so many incredible people. People that I didn’t know were struggling or had struggled. Others, who share bits of their story all the time. I saw beauty. I saw strength. I saw resilience.

I felt inspired.

I’ve shared bits of my story before, here and there, on Instagram and on here, but I’ve never fully written it out and posted it like I am about to right now. My two main concerns with sharing my story have been, one, that nobody really knows it. I’ve talked to very few people about it and even then have only said very little. I have never sat down with someone and told them the whole thing, I’ve never even said it out loud to myself. The closest I’ve come to talking about it has been through writing about it by hand and in a thousand different notes in the notes app. I don’t know if I’m actually ready to share it now. This post may sit in my drafts until NEDA week next year. But I’m going to try my best.

My second concern with sharing my story has been that it simply feels trivial. Even now I think to myself as I’m writing this, “Another middle-class white girl with food problems and self image issues, how original.” To me, my story never seemed serious enough to share. There are so many people out there who have it so much worse. I have never had an eating disorder, though I can confidently say that I have struggled with extremely disordered eating. I thought that to share my story would be to diminish the significance of those stories that were so much more severe. It wasn’t until this week reading everyone else’s stories that I realized how many other people out there were just like me. Reading their stories has inspired me to write down and share my own in the hope that I could do that for someone else. Or maybe there is a girl out there experiencing the same things that I’ve experienced, and maybe she’ll read this and feel less alone. Because I sure felt alone. Maybe she’ll read this and realize that she’s not alone at all. I’m writing this for her.

So here we go.

I was 10 years old when I first remember feeling bad about my body. I was running around by my pool in my plaid Justice tankini bathing suit. I smiled at the sight of the pizza my mom brought out for me and my friends to eat for lunch. Then I sat and glanced down at the rolls of my stomach and the spreading of my thighs across the chair. I had one quick negative thought, but then it went away.

One year later I was in middle school and I can specifically remember the day we all had to get our heights and weights checked for I don’t know what reason. I remember walking to the nurses’ office with the other girls in my class and waiting in a line going out the door. The nurse weighed us privately, but you can bet we were gonna talk about it afterwards. My friend was 108 pounds and she was talking about how fat she was getting. I was 118 pounds, but I lied and told them all I was only 112 because if she was 108 and she was fat then what was I?

Fast forward two years. I was 13, in eighth grade, and I hated everything about my body. Tumblr was all the rage and I had access to unlimited content explaining exactly how I could make my body look the way I wanted it to. According to Tumblr I had two options: I could starve myself, or I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I was able to throw it all up right after. I tried throwing up, and I mean really tried, but I physically could not get myself to do it. So that left me with option one. I just wouldn’t eat. I wrote out a plan in one of my notebooks to keep track of exactly how many calories I was eating everyday. 500 one day, 400 the next, 700, 300, 500, etc. Did I ever actually follow this? Not really. I tried, but it’s not easy to starve yourself when your parents are making you finish your plate at the dinner table—or at least eat your vegetables. So I struggled and I cried and I hated myself for about two years. I was able to lose some weight though and get to a point where I could be mildly content. I would have mini panic attacks here and there when I was out to dinner and saw the calorie count of each meal, but overall, these were more just dangerous thoughts than anything put into action.

High school was a weird time for me. I kind of stopped caring about my body because I was active—I played softball year round—and I felt pretty healthy most of the time. I honestly ate however I wanted, but, like I said, I didn’t care. I hadn’t even really noticed that I gained at least 10 pounds somewhere along the way before I got to college.

College was where it all really went downhill. For the first time I was totally accountable for myself and I did a terrible job at it. Freshman year was an odd combination of absolutely hating the dining hall and making more than half of my meals in my dorm room, and learning what it meant to regularly go to the gym. I’d had a gym membership all throughout high school, but rarely used it because of sports and homework and always having things going on after school. Now in college, with all the talk around me of the Freshman 15, I had to go to the gym or I would get fat. That’s what I thought. That is where my unhealthy relationship with exercise began.

Sophomore year of college someone (I don’t remember who) introduced me to the My Fitness Pal app. I tracked my food obsessively. Nothing went into my body without going through the app first. If it didn’t fit into my macros for the day, well guess what, I wasn’t eating it. I broke this rule at night though, when I was sitting with all of my roommates eating snacks and desserts and ordering drunk Domino’s. You bet that wasn’t going into My Fitness Pal, which made me feel even worse about eating it. I was obsessed though. All I thought about was food, from morning till night. I woke up thinking about what I would eat that day—the calories in it (yes, I had all my staple foods completely memorized), the macros. I realized about halfway through the year how crazy and mentally draining this was. It was not healthy to always constantly be thinking about food and I recognized that.

Spring semester during my sophomore year was when everything really went downhill. I returned home from an incredible study abroad trip, feeling stuck and bored with my life and myself. Things were changing all around me. Certain things that I’m not going to talk about happened that destroyed any self-confidence that I thought I had. I was unhappy all of the time and when I looked in the mirror there was just another thing to be unhappy about. I truly felt like I had lost control of my life—like it was being run for me and I was just sitting back, watching. I needed control over something. That something just happened to be food.

At first I just re-downloaded the My Fitness Pal app and was tracking through there. I was obsessed again and I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I couldn’t stop myself. I was living in a constant state of guilt for what I’d eaten and what I was going to eat. I forced myself to “enjoy” running on the treadmill—first 1 mile, then 2, then a minimum of 3 each time I went to the gym.

That summer (this past summer), I continued on with what I was doing. I was eating, but only healthy and clean foods. I told myself I could eat as much as I wanted to as long as it was healthy. I made these weird rules for myself, I was running 3 miles a day 5 days a week. My legs were always sore and tired, my body felt exhausted. I was sleeping 5 hours a night. I was burnt out demanding to go to a doctor that could tell me what was wrong with me and why I felt the way I did. I was taking so little care of myself though. I knew why I felt the way I did.

But I couldn’t stop.

I spent the summer terrified of going out with my friends, ordering black coffee at midnight because it has no calories, staying home and having panic attacks in my bedroom while my family went out because I was afraid of the food that would be placed in front of me, skipping meals, throwing away my lunch, then eating everything in sight when I got home because I was starving. But hey, at least I looked good in a bathing suit, right? That’s what I thought. It was worth it to be dying on the inside if my outside didn’t match.

School started and I told myself I was done. Done with the rules and the hating myself. I was mentally exhausted and could not take it anymore. I was skinny enough so I thought I could just go back to normal.

I was wrong.

Every bite of food, every sip of alcohol—everything that I put inside my body weighed down on me like 6,000 pound truck. I wanted so badly not to feel that way, but I couldn’t control it anymore and it was easier to just give in.

Let me tell you, it is really easy to starve yourself when nobody’s watching.

I was on my own and nobody was paying attention to whether or not I was eating lunch, so I stopped. Lunch became the easiest thing to give up because I was rarely ever home during the day and then I could just eat an earlier dinner to make up for it. It was fine and I was fine, I thought. I even got to the point where I stopped feeling so hungry all the time, but then people started to notice. When I went home for the weekend my family noticed. My best friend noticed. I had been waiting so long for someone to notice. Now that they did, it felt horrible and I felt so ashamed.

I still went a couple of months living by my food rules and feeling the ever present guilt every time I ate. It took months of more panic attacks and tears and sitting alone in my bedroom to get to a point of okay-ness. The biggest thing that honestly helped me get out of that toxic place was being forced to challenge it. When my boyfriend made me spaghetti for dinner I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I wouldn’t eat it, so I did. When I went home for winter break and I spent days in the kitchen baking the Christmas cookies that I used to make with my Grandma, I couldn’t not try them. On Christmas Eve when my family celebrated with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, my favorite meal of the entire year, I could not miss it. Cooking two Hello Fresh meals every week with my boyfriend forces me to eat foods that I previously was terrified of and would never eat. Twice a week I force myself out of my comfort zone and break through all of the rules that I so-strictly set for myself.

I’m not perfect now, but I’m okay. I’m at the point where I can sometimes get coffee with real milk and real sugar in it and be okay. I’m not so afraid anymore to go out with my friends and to enjoy my life in every shape and form possible. I don’t constantly think about food anymore. I don’t always feel tired. I’m able to exercise when I want to and feel good about it knowing that I do it for both my physical and mental health, not to burn off the calories I ate at lunch.

I know this was really long and if you read this far, thank you for your love and support. If, as you were reading this, you realized that you relate to any part of it, reach out to someone—your best friend, your mom, anyone—talk to them. Sometimes even just saying it out loud can help. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, please message me on Instagram, email me, find me on Facebook, talk to me. I am here for anybody who needs me no matter who you are.

I want to finish this off with a quote I’ve seen on Pinterest and Instagram and loads of other places that may help some of you, even just a tiny little bit:

“Those extra 5-10 pounds, that place where your body naturally wants to be—that’s your life. That’s your late night pizza with your man, that Sunday morning bottomless brunch, your favorite cupcake in the whole entire world because you wanted to treat yourself. Those 5-10 pounds are your favorite memories, your unforgettable trips, your celebrations of life. Those extra 5-10 pounds are your spontaneity, your freedom, your love.”

LifestyleLaura Mays