Laying the groundwork
I’ve always been a happy person, but at times that happiness came at a great expense. I was raised in a two-parent home in the affluent suburbs of Boston, went to good schools, had an extensive friend network and was involved in an array of extracurriculars. Basically, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Though it may have seemed like I had it all, I really just maintained my composure well. In reality, I was tearing myself apart inside.
It all started in middle school. We had just moved into a new home, in a new town when my dad experienced a stressful life event. It was beyond his control, but still one that would have lasting adverse affects on our family for some time. Somehow, actually, not somehow… I know exactly how lol Type-A control freak in me, I allowed his stress to become my stress and unfortunately, my mechanisms for coping were…not good. I say this now, in retrospect, but at the time I thought everything was completely normal. With so much beyond my control, my stress began to manifest itself in tight control over what I could control: diet and exercise. This would quickly spiral into an obsession with perfection in all areas of my life.
Ironically, my struggles with food and exercise were not rooted in weight, or body image issues. After all, I had positive female role models all around me including a tremendously supportive mom and sister that I now call my best friend. Rather, my disordered eating and over-exercise behaviors developed as a mere symptom of my internal battle with myself.
High school was tough. I excelled on the field and in the classroom at one of the top high schools in the state, but so didn’t everyone. With the competition at school and the stress at home, I was living my life in a pressure cooker. So how did I cope? Think two-hour long dates with the treadmill or elliptical, AFTER practice, running on only 800 strategically-planned calories each day. I dropped weight that I didn’t have to lose, and became obsessed with having a perfect body, ALL of the time. I’d developed an intense fear of food, which I’d labeled either “good” or “bad”; bad was off-limits. Eating disorder rumors were rampant, threats from coaches ever present and widespread worry among family and friends. I was in major denial. I wore baggy sweats to hide my shrinking but still clinically “healthy” frame, avoided any and all social activities where there might possibly be food, and even skipped both of my proms as my body insecurities were so real that even the thought of wearing a dress terrified me. I refused the help that I so desperately needed and was scared, but determined to figure it out on my own. Perfectionists don’t need help, right? SO wrong!
Somehow I survived high school, though full of regret, and looked forward to the fresh start that I imagined college would provide. Still, I was naïve as to the new challenges that would await me on campus. Terrified of the weight I knew I needed to gain, I spent that summer before freshman year putting a valiant effort toward restoring my health to a somewhat more acceptable degree. What I neglected to realize then was that this battle was as much mental as it was physical. Yet, all of my focus was external.
I entered college with a huge life plan for myself. One that included medical school, marriage and kids, all by age thirty (does that scare you? because it honestly kinda freaks me out!). I’ve since come to the realization that life doesn’t always go according to plan, that it’s okay to not have a plan and that sometimes, it’s all for the better. I’ve learned to trust that, in the end, everything will be okay.
My college years got off to a shaky start. I spent a semester at the University of Maryland- College Park before transferring to WakeForestUniversity the spring of my freshman year. There, I declared a major in Health and Exercise Science as soon as I was able. Despite my past, it was what I loved and I wanted to learn everything there was to learn about it. Even then, it was in the back of my head that perhaps one day I could use my knowledge and personal experience to help other girls through similar struggles. Though scoffed at by some as the “gym teacher’s major”, I didn’t give it second thought. It seemed relevant to my intended career path and I’d figure out what to do with it later.
I’d be lying if I said my time at Wake was easy as those years were, in fact, some of the most stressful years of my life thus far. I had just begun to get over my issues when I was thrown into an environment where many girls had just set foot down a path that I’d long ago discovered. I scheduled engagements around my workouts (if you could call them that; I only ran) like I would a class, maintained a strict vegetarian diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, protein bars, dry cereal and Whole Foods salad bar, almost exclusively (I became a vegetarian at the ripe old age of 12, really only as a legitimate excuse to cut out entire food groups). If I was going to be drinking at night, you can bet that there was some serious restriction going on during the day to account for those extra calories. And even when I drank, I never exceeded a calorie count that hadn’t been allocated for. I never once came home from a night of drinking and ate, and sadly never took part in late-night Papa John’s with my peers. Ironically, I wanted none of this but I’d been practicing these [destructive] behaviors for so long that they’d become habit.
From a weight standpoint, I guess you can say I spent those years in maintenance mode. I didn’t gain and I didn’t really lose, but only now do I realize just how unsustainable my maintenance mode really was. I subjected myself to twice daily weigh-ins, and allowed that number to define my day. A cardio queen at heart, I was running for HOURS each day on little to no sleep and insufficiently fueled. When I wasn’t in class, studying or playing dorm mom to my first-year residents, I was either running, planning the day’s eats, or with friends, assuming the latter two items had first been accomplished. I ran when I had nothing to do, even if I’d already been out for a run earlier in the day. It was my outlet… for everything. At the time, I convinced myself I loved it. So much so that one semester I ran 9 miles each morning before class in preparation for a half-marathon. It sucked.
Toward the end of my sophomore year, one of my classmates took part in a weekend-long certification seminar offered by Metabolic Effect. There, she was introduced to The ME Diet, which apparently she thought crazy runner-girl me needed to read. She couldn’t have been more right (go add to your library, now!!). Let me note here that this classmate was merely an acquaintance, and one to whom I will be forever grateful. Following that certification weekend, she approached me after class and told me about the book. I was intrigued, and couldn’t totally write off this stranger who cared enough to share in her experience. I won’t spoil it for you, but authors Jade and Keoni Teta introduce the idea of hormonal exercise within the context of a fat-loss lifestyle. Not a plan that you are on or off, rather something that anyone can do, anywhere…forever. And, it’s science-based… a huge draw for the school-nerd in me. Though I wasn’t ready for change then, the seed was planted: exercise could be efficient, and nutrition didn’t have to be a daily stress. Still, I continued to run.
Junior year was followed by a relatively uneventful senior year then graduation, the festivities of which I did not take part. Not having attained the GPA standard I’d set for myself, though strong, I elected (and later regretted) to not walk with my class. And, I had no plan- a Type-A’s worst nightmare. Somewhere along the way, I chose not to pursue medical school. Instead, I thought I’d take a gap year and enter PA school after that. I realize now that I never even really wanted PA school, but that it was a socially acceptable alternative to the highly respectable profession I once desired.
First year post-grad; the turning point
I found myself a week out from graduation employed as a Wellness Coach at a YMCA. I worked mostly with guys who gave me a hard time, half-jokingly, about my cardio habits… “Why would you run when you can lift weights?” They all offered to train me, but despite the knowledge that my body needed weights, stubborn me was determined now more than ever to not “lift weights” lol. Then, I crossed paths with Danny. Like the rest of the guys, he too offered the training but took a different and arguably more effective approach. Instead of attacking the running so-to-speak (yes, the old me interpreted their generous training offers as an attack on my running…funny how the mind works, no?!), he said something along the lines of “I know running’s your thing but if you ever want to train, just let me know,” and left it at that. I had no intention of taking him up on his offer, but I was a tired runner and little did I know, about to hit rock bottom.
I was out for a five-mile run onto which I’d added three miles as punishment (since the first five weren’t fast enough) and near tears. I’d gotten pretty good at running through pain, but my body was breaking down. I remember sitting at home post-run, on the couch, icing everything and overwhelmed by defeat. My body had failed me. It was at this point that I realized that this was no way to live and that I was ready for, or at least open to change. So, I texted Danny.
It’s definitely been a process, and an ongoing one at that, but my head is finally in the right place. It’s been almost a year since our first session and not only am I hooked on weights, but that obsession with long-duration cardio has become a thing of the past. That number on the scale? I have no clue and I honestly don’t care. I haven’t weighed myself since I started lifting weights, but I feel
good strong and am probably the healthiest small I’ve ever been.
Realizing that I was and am not alone in having these crazy thoughts (yes, I still have them…I’m just better able to respond) has given me the confidence to share my story with all of you.
So, that’s me in a nutshell. Welcome to the blog!