It’s hard to know you have a problem when you are encouraged to have a problem.
It crept up on me at age 12, rite after my third knee surgery. I was incredibly depressed from another six-month recovery period. No matter what anti-depressant, fried food, or processed piece of meat I stuffed into my mouth, I just couldn’t feel better. I felt hopeless and out of control. And having no control over the steady decline of my physical appearance seemed like the end of the world.
Every time I wore a tight t-shirt or sundress my belly bulged round like the blueberry girl in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My feelings were beyond normal middle school angst. It was the first time I ever questioned the meaning of my own life, and contemplated suicide.
But my outlook on the world started to look (somewhat) brighter when I first visited a well-known Pasadena nutritionist. The nutritionist introduced me to the acronym BMI, or body mass index. I would quickly become obsessed with keeping track of my BMI online. She also showed me what exactly one pound of pure fat looked like inside a human body. She also helped coordinated “a healthy living style.” A life that constricted me, a 12 year old, to “4 treat meals,” and precisely measured meals.
What should have been a temporary post-surgery diet continued into a controlled eating lifestyle that would affect my body and mind for the next eight years. I quickly formed a terrible habit of eating very little and burning every single calorie afterward. I remember staring at the calorie counter on the treadmill, on the stationary bike, even on the Nike running app. “In preparation” for my freshman year of high school I dropped a whopping 21 pounds in three weeks. I had reached a new low- I was 5’8 and 130 lbs. I weighed less than I did in the sixth grade at 4 ’11.
I knew my love for exercise had turned into a compulsion when I began to cry if I missed a day of working out. I would exercise until I could not stand. I would disregard the pain in my knee and “just keep going.” I had to reach a certain caloric mark to feel good about myself. Like many people with eating disorders, my weight fluctuated throughout high school. But the pressure of college applications resulted in thirty pounds of binge eating over the course of just a few months. By the end of my senior year, I had reached 179 pounds at 5’9.
I did not believe I would make friends in college if I were an extremely overweight freshman. So I dedicated the summer before my freshman year of college to work out classes.
I started taking Bar Method work out classes at the Pasadena Studio. Anyone who knows me understands that I enjoyed it (too much). I would skip out on social events to work out at “Bar,” once or twice a day. I would turn Bar Method into a social event by taking friends and family. I would even work out after going to Bar Method twice in one day.
By the fall of my freshman year in college I began to look frail. I had decided to attend a small, liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia. The deep-fried and dairy-filled food in the cafeteria made me feel compelled to skip out on meals after just getting so healthy. But I still worked out as much as I did before, which resulted in regular dizzy spells on my way back from the gym. I found myself calling my best friend to talk or even walk me back to my dorm.
If the gym were closed for holidays or faculty meetings I would panic. Gym hours were more important to me than my class schedule. The gym was my place of sanctuary, and my work out schedule was programmed into my phone. I would speed walk from class to class in leggings and high socks, while most of the women at the college strutted around in strings of pearls and studded heels. But I didn’t care, and thought I had just taken extra precautions to remain committed to my suburban California roots. When in reality, I was struggling with a serious case of (undiagnosed) anorexia athletica.
The term “anorexia athletica” has been used to distinguish between true anorexia nervosa and disordered eating associated with training and sports performance.” I had denied my serious psychological problem until my body started to experience physical problems as a result of all of the compulsive exercise and restrictive eating. What I didn’t realize at the time, is that 4% of people with anorexia die as a result of having the disease.
In my second (and final) semester at that small liberal arts college in Georgia, my compulsive habits took a serious toll on my physical health. I was diagnosed with a severe case of Irritable Bowl Syndrome, after getting a colonoscopy and endoscopy.
I still take medication for my colon every day. This serves as a constant reminder of: who I was, what I wanted to be, and why I’m more than okay with the self I’ve become.
For years I genuinely believed that if I was not underweight that I would never be loved. Because the women I saw walking on the beautifully paved sidewalks under Pasadena’s oak trees were incredibly thin- even rite after having children. Many families in Pasadena consciously drill this food obsession into their children’s minds. There is an expectation to “only eat cheese or grapes” for snack, to eat “brown rice sushi” for lunch, and to only drink “almond or soy” milk.
This pressure has resulted in permanent damage to my own body because my colon literally rejects unhealthy fats. And despite the fact that my anorexia was entirely about self-control, now I have very little control over my weight. Because of my obsession with weight, I essentially lost a battle against myself. But part of me still thinks at least I’ll be thin, like I always wanted.