It seems like I have been ignoring or in battle with my body all of my life.
Anorexia became my way of life when I was fifteen years old. It didn’t begin with trying to lose weight; it was a control issue. My mother and stepfather wouldn’t let me have any money except lunch money, so I stopped eating to gain control, both emotionally and financially.
Quite by accident, I found out that if I didn’t eat breakfast, I wouldn’t be as hungry at lunchtime. Within six months, I was going without eating for 2-3 days at a time.
My mother and stepfather didn’t question it when I refused dinner. “I’m not hungry,” was enough and I would go to my room to do homework while they ate. It seemed that the longer I went without eating, the less the hunger pangs came.
My mother took to weighing me occasionally. Though I believed I was fat, something made me wet the towels I wrapped myself in before I got on the scales. My body image was seriously skewed by the time I was sixteen.
One aftereffect of anorexia is tendency toward obesity. Because the body has been in starvation mode for so long, it becomes extremely efficient and stores calories as fat. My weight yo-yoed all over the place. My pre-pregnancy weight was 98 pounds (including the wet towels); I weighed 165 pounds two weeks before he was born, and refused to step on the scale after that. Once the baby was born, I began doing aerobics to lose the weight. I got down to a flat belly 8 weeks after he was born, but never got back into my size 0 jeans. It didn’t stop me from trying.
I quit trying when the exercise show I loved was cancelled.
Over time, my clothes got tighter. I blamed shrinkage and bought new clothes, though I wouldn’t throw the old ones away. My son was almost ten years old when I stepped on a scale and it read 165. I had reached my threshold of pain. I was at a full-term pregnancy weight, and had no pregnancy to blame.
I began to exercise, and it was never enough. I walked a mile that first day, and felt my legs ‘pinging’ as the muscle fibers twitched in protest of this new activity. Within a few weeks, I had extended my route and was running part of the way, though I have always hated to run. A month later, I was riding my bicycle to and from work, five miles each way. A group of guys talked me into roller-blading with them at lunch. My neighbor would come over after work and beg me to go on a walk with her so she could blow off steam.
I was exercising three hours every day, and I began to melt away. A co-worker asked me if I had AIDs. My body fat was in the teens. I developed spontaneous sprains of both ankles due to over exercising, and I still thought I was fat.
Until I saw a photograph… in a side view, I looked like a piece of paper with bumps for breasts and butt. I weighed 119 pounds, but it wasn’t good enough.
My belly wasn’t flat enough, my breasts weren’t perky or firm enough, I had a birthmark on the back of my left leg, and my nose was too big. That was just the short list.
No matter what I did, I wasn’t good enough, so I punished my body through exercise.
Looking back, it is clear that my issues had nothing to do with my physical form. They were a reflection of my emotional state and beliefs.
Exercise has long been a demon for me, a sort of necessary evil. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, exercise had long ago become synonymous with punishment. Good, thin, pretty girls didn’t have to exercise. Writing this now, I’m realizing it probably started in school. When we were bad, we had to run laps. After joining organized sports, running laps was standard punishment for not playing “hard enough.”
Just another shot of not good enough.
I’ve been overweight for the last 18 years. After a traumatic assault, I ballooned up 30 pounds in a month. Even after resolving my issues with that, I was never been able to get the weight off. Chronic inflammation was part of the problem, but not all of it. My weight has still yo-yoed and I have still struggled with exercise as punishment.
I had a breakthrough yesterday.
As I was cycling my standard 20 mile ride, I felt how crunched up my body was. It felt entirely defensive.
Having been in the Coaching field for over 5 years now, I checked in with myself. “What’s that about?” I questioned internally.
I was feeling the punishment.
I was feeling not good enough.
Looking for another perspective, I remembered recently rereading some books from my childhood. I’ve always loved horse stories, especially about racing, and these were what came to mind.
As I mentally played with the image of these horses stretching out to enjoy their run, I chose to drop the thought of protecting myself from the punishment of exercise and imagined myself stretching out to enjoy cycling. My body loosened, my legs pumped with ease, my body shifted and flowed with the rhythm of the bike.
For the first time I know of, I had the sensation that others associate with endorphins, and I had only gone three miles.
I made it to the 6-mile mark, feeling I had only gone three.
At the 10-mile turnaround, I wasn’t even breathing hard. I had gone up an overpass in the top gear on my bike, reveling in the open stretch of my body.
I shaved 15 minutes off my time, and had taken my normal number of stops.
I even stopped to enjoy honeysuckle along the way.
It was amazing.
Small, incredibly powerful shifts in perspective can have huge impact in our lives.
What perspective would you like to shift today?