Let me tell you a story about a girl.
This girl was just beginning her life as a student, a dancer, and as a developing human being plagued by the pressure of society’s impossible beauty standards.
She read Teen Vogue and Seventeen and fawned over how thin and beautiful all of the models were. She’d go to school and realize that she was bigger than every other girl in her grade, and she was haunted by her chubby days. “Remember how fat you used to be?” her classmates would jest, her fake smile and laugh reverberating back as if by instinct.
She’d stare in the mirror in ballet class and compare herself to everyone else, wishing she could look as skinny as them. One day, she decided she was tired of it. She downloaded MyFitnessPal on her iPod Touch (the good old days) and thus, her obsession with calorie counting was born.
She set unrealistic goals, pledging to lose 5 pounds in a week and striving to eat as little as possible. She’d go to dance for four hours with only an apple or a yogurt and a Diet Coke in her stomach. Every time she ate three full meals, she felt guilty and hated herself for “giving in” to her hunger. At one point, she kept a journal of what she wanted to look like: sickeningly thin, bones exposed, but to her, beautiful. In her mind, being thin equated to being happy, and she would do almost anything to achieve it.
When the weight began to fall from her bones, she felt so proud. Many things were not right in her life, but at least she could control what she ate and how she looked. The compliments began to rush in. “Did you lose weight?” they’d say, or, “Wow, you look really great.” In typical psychological behavior, this positive reinforcement only motivated her to continue her destructive behaviors.
When her family got a gym membership, she’d spend hours on the elliptical, trying to burn more calories than she had consumed that day (which were little to none). She’d stare in the mirror, nitpicking every inch of fat that had to go. Her entire day was centered around her eating or lack thereof, and her mood reflected it. She didn’t realize it, but something had to change.
I’m telling you a story about a girl: me.
The worst part? I was only twelve years old when my unhealthy eating behaviors began. Twelve. So how did I get out of it? Let me tell ya.
After years of self-destructive behaviors both physically and mentally, something snapped within me. I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was, but I woke up one day and realized that I was only hurting myself. I had read stories about girls who died from anorexia, and I didn’t want that to be me; I couldn’t let that happen. Begrudgingly, I began to accept food back into my life. I got myself a boyfriend who happened to work out and it motivated me to be better. But most important to my recovery? I found clean eating blogs!
I owe the reconciliation between me and food to Fit Foodie Finds, Hummusapien, and The Healthy Maven, among many, many others. I started reading healthy lifestyle blogs and began to see how happy these people were while living a fit lifestyle.
I did my research and finally came to terms with the fact that food is fuel and we need it to function. The myths in my mind were busted when it came to weight loss, nutrition, and healthy living. Things began to change: I traded hours of cardio for the weights, I began eating real food rather than “low fat” and “100 calorie” varieties, and realized that the number on the scale will never define me.
With sufficient nutrients and knowledge of weight-training techniques, I hit the ground running towards becoming my best self. It took me a while to get a hang of it, but I stuck with it every step of the way. When I began to see results, I realized that my past behaviors were the polar opposite of fitness.
I was happy with how I looked, but I didn’t obsess over it. At that point in time, staying healthy was more important to me than staying thin, and luckily that mindset persisted. I had been practicing yoga with my dad since age 10 and let go of it when I was at my low points; I tapped into the powers of yoga again, allowing my mind to heal with my body. Yoga gave me a mind-body connection and gave me the ability to control my mind through breath, an incredibly powerful practice that I continue today.
The gym and the yoga studio gave me confidence. They allowed me an hour to escape from the world and work towards becoming a better me, surrounded by people with the same mindset. I looked forward to going because I knew I would see the same people every time, and that comforted me. Friendships sprouted from my fitness journey and have continued to grow until today; heck, I wouldn’t be writing this if that wasn’t true!
What I’m trying to say is, though it may seem strange, the gym helped me find myself. It taught me strength, discipline, and self-love, values my ballet training taught me as a child but had slipped away in my later years.
As a dancer, foodie, yogi, and (very) amateur bodybuilder, I am proud of who I am. I look back at that twelve-year-old girl who hated herself and love every ounce of her because she had no idea how to love herself.
I look to those who want to get fit but don’t know how and reach out a hand to them, because I was once that person. I see people who are afraid of the gym and offer guidance, because the hardest part of a journey is the beginning.
Today, I live a healthy lifestyle and am happier than I ever have been; let me remind you: mental health is just as important, if not more, than physical health and it should not be overlooked.
As a sophomore in college, I never thought fitness would be my passion yet here I am, studying to become a dietitian and personal trainer. I live and breathe fitness and love all things kale or maca (don’t forget the nut butter), but it wasn’t always like this.
Appreciate where you are and where you came from, but continue to get better. Fitness is more than a goal, it’s a lifestyle, and it should be treated as such. Stay fit y’all!
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