Note from Hollie: I hope everyone is having a Happy New Year! My goal is to raise 1000 dollars by January 1st and I’m at 730. Please consider donating any amount is welcomed and appreciated! I cannot thank everyone enough. Thank you everyone for your support and continuing to submit and share your story. If you are still interested, there is plenty of time to share your story and I would absolute love for you to email me. Feel free to share this story (or any story) with others.
‘Tis the season for resolutions, and if you’re the resolving type, chances are, you have a fitness or health related goal on your list.
But I don’t believe in yearly resolutions, because for me, commitment to my health is a daily one.
Which probably seems obvious to those of you who know me, because you know me at my 38 year old self, a serious runner and Pilates instructor, a fairly healthy person who occasionally indulges in dark chocolate, cheese dip, and rye whiskey.
But my relationship with my body and food have not always been this healthy.
Growing up, I was a very active, healthy, normal kid. I was a tomboy, often spending my days outdoors, climbing trees, swimming, and practicing gymnastics in the backyard. I don’t remember ever being aware of my body or weight or food.
That all changed with a cross country move and the onset of puberty, which seemed specifically aimed at my chest. When my friends were getting excited about training bras, I was 85 pounds, five feet tall, and shopping for D cup bras with the old ladies at the local Belk. My chest threw off my center of gravity for gymnastics, which I ended up eventually quitting because I was so self conscious (that, and most competitive teen gymnasts haven’t experienced puberty yet–a totally unhealthy practice for another day and another post).
I exercised less (mostly because it required two bras, and also because I had developed asthma), and I withdrew into more creative, sedentary activities like music and writing. I became hyper aware of food and my weight. I remember crying the summer I was 13 and topped 100 pounds on the scale. I started keeping a food journal and exercising obsessively in my room (hundreds of sit-ups and push-ups, my Mom’s jazzercise records, anything I read in a magazine) to try and get back under 100.
That obsession lasted throughout the summer, but I made it through high school unscathed without it becoming much of an issue again. I had a breast reduction after I graduated from high school and was a very healthy 125 pounds (at 5 ft. 3) when I entered college. I had given up eating most meat a few years before, and well, when you don’t like meat or vegetables, the only options are carbs and sugar. Which I ate in massive quantities, thanks to unlimited cereal, bagels, and soft serve ice cream in the dining hall.
I gained my “Freshman 15” in about eight weeks. I struggled with my weight throughout college, always gaining 10 or 15 pounds and losing them, swinging from 125 to 145 and back again for four years, never really dating, exercising off and on, and in general, being very body conscious and insecure.
The summer after college, I went for a doctor’s check up and topped the scales at 148. I knew something had to change, so I started tracking my food and going for daily “runs,” which were more like run/walk intervals. I changed my diet a bit (still mostly carbs, but fewer of them), and continued these habits throughout my two years of graduated school. I lost nearly 30 pounds, the slow and healthy way. I ran my first 5K, and then my first 10K. I didn’t obsess about food or exercise. I just tried to move more and eat less.
Then I moved to Atlanta and got my first real job. I had moved for a boy I was dating, but suddenly, I was in a hostile living situation, with a new, stressful job, in a new city, and everything felt out of control.
And that’s how it began. My roommate never made me feel at home. She didn’t even bother to fully empty the closet in the room I was staying in. She made negative comments every time I cooked food. Silly things, like “wow, that has a lot of garlic in it,” or “oh, no one gets cheesecake right on the first try” (I did), and I just stopped cooking. Which meant not eating dinner, unless I happened to grab a smoothie after running for an hour on the treadmill at the gym (a new daily habit) or perhaps some cheese and crackers. That controlling behavior slowly creeped to the rest of my meals. Peanut butter sandwiches with an apple and yogurt turned into just the apple and yogurt, then to just a small bagged salad, lettuce only–no dressing, protein, or other vegetables.
I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I was cranky. I was sick.
Ironically, I didn’t lose much weight. Maybe five or ten pounds. But my race times slowed. Probably because I had no energy. My friendships and relationships suffered, because everything revolved around food and basically eating enough (or pretending to) to get by.
It wasn’t living.
This went on probably for year or two in earnest, and while I gradually started eating more, I lived with some form of disordered eating for the next seven or eight years. Every meal was stressful, deciding what and when to eat, putting it off as long as I could, not really enjoying the taste of food or act of eating. Eating was a chore. A necessary evil. Drudgery
I share this because I suspect most types of disordered eating are like this. We never really get sick enough to be hospitalized, we get by just enough to go undetected, and we don’t ever talk about it because we feel caught in the middle–not sick enough to be truly sick, but just sick enough to not be well.
But our disease has a name. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV calls issues like mine Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), and it’s estimated that EDNOS accounts for 52% of all eating disorders.
I suffered from EDNOS for at least twenty years, and while I never received formal treatment, I can say that today, I’m 99% recovered.
Why? For one, I discovered racing. Not just running, but racing. And if you get one too many stress fractures while training, you realize the importance of fueling your body. Understanding food as fuel really transformed my perception of food. I’m still not 100% comfortable eating in front of others, but it’s helped me enjoy exploring food and remembering that eating well allows me to do the things I want to do in life.
I also started discovering real, whole foods. I wrote more about this journey a few years ago (link), but sourcing food at local farmers’ markets, experiencing it prepared by some of the best chefs in the city, learning to relax and commune and celebrate with others over food–all have transformed my attitude toward food.
My body image is always a work in progress. Ironically, I weigh less now than when I was starving myself. And I still have my ups and downs, but they are measurable in single digits.
I now see food as a source of energy, nourishment, community, and fellowship. I’m running faster than ever. I don’t freak out every time I get on the scale (and yes, I probably shouldn’t weigh myself).
I’m living fully, and eating fully.
I wish I had had someone to talk to, to share with, to explain what I experienced all of those years, who would help me see to the other side.
That’s why I have shared my story.