Goals. We all have them. Academic goals, career goals, fitness goals… I have been setting my own goals for my entire life.
For most of this time I was a competitive athlete, so many of my goals were athletic. As a competitive swimmer, my goals (like getting a certain time in my event, or shaving off seconds in a relay) were pretty positive, and they propelled me towards success.
To me, it’s always been simple; goals equal hard work. And hard work equals success.
At 18 years old, I stopped swimming competitively and found an interest in fitness and nutrition. I started treating my body differently, since I was no longer putting in work in the pool. I began tracking my nutrition and my fitness, and it became obsessive.
This, in turn, quickly became destructive. The goals I set for myself weren’t driven by positivity or self-care, but were instead driven by a deep and painful self-hatred. My belief was that once I attained a certain weight, I would be happy. I was convinced that being “skinny” a reaching a certain weight would solve everything. Being thin would solve all my problems and all the negative things I felt about myself would disappear.
My rationale behind this was that if I could be successful with my weight loss, this success would transcend into all other aspects of my life. Once I was thin, I would be successful in school, at work, and in my relationships.
About six months ago, I hit that goal weight that I so desperately thought I needed. What I found was that this did not make me happier. In fact, I was miserable. In working towards this goal, I had lost myself.
I became obsessed with tracking my macros, staring at myself in the mirror and in pictures, picking apart my every “flaw”, weighing myself like clockwork every morning, beating myself up when I got hungry or ate food that was “forbidden”. I became absolutely terrified of food. My relationships suffered and friendships were lost. I never wanted to be outside the comfort of my home where I could control everything. I needed control of everything. Every meal I ate was perfectly portioned. I would spend hours putting my body through intense workouts to the point of exhaustion.
When a friend asked me to hang out or grab food, I always declined. I was either too tired from my workout that day or terrified of eating anything outside my home. My mind would immediately jump to calories, to how many hours I would need to spend at the gym before and after in order to “afford” that time with my friend.
My physical health took a toll as well. My immune system was becoming weaker and fatigue set in quickly and often.
The worst part of all, though, was my constant judgment of myself. I hated myself. Every part of me. I wasn’t beautiful at this weight. I still thought of myself as fat, ugly, worthless.
My mom recommended I seek help about around the time I reached this “goal weight”. I spent a lot of time trying to solve my internal issues myself until they overflowed and I reached to her for support. I was clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder, which only made me feel more damaged. My worth was determined by the number on the scale and the perception of the person in the mirror. I was in a hole so deep that I couldn’t even see the light.
Hitting that goal weight was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.
One day, my younger sister texted me and asked me to help her “eat more healthy” when I come home from school. This broke my heart. While I will always believe in living a healthy lifestyle, the thought of my little sister—the most important person in my life and an athlete herself—being at all concerned with food, broke my heart. I ached at the thought of her ever thinking about herself in a fraction of the way I think about myself. I realized then that I needed a change. I needed to change for her, for everyone in my life, and most importantly, for myself.
Insert, my transition to intuitive eating. With the help of my doctor, I have begun to transition into something called intuitive eating.
Basically, this is a “normal” and healthy relationship with food, which is something I learned that I have never had. Intuitive eating involves rejecting the diet mentality and relying on physical hunger cues to tell you when to eat, what to eat, and how much. It is eating what you crave when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.
As you can imagine, this scared me. Not tracking my calorie intake and eating until I was physically satisfied was something I can’t remember ever doing. This took some getting used to and still does. I obviously can not unlearn the things I have learned through my unhealthy lifestyle, but I try and tune them out as much as possible. I know now that they are not only lonely, but ultimately dangerous.
I am dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle but truly healthy. This means not depriving myself and it means listening to my body physically. I still struggle with this and with my self-image. But I truly know that this is leading me towards a happier life. One day, I will no longer feel weighed down by the fear of gaining weight. One day, I will not be afraid of the food I used to forbid.
February is Eating Disorder Awareness Month.
I urge you and anyone you know who may be struggling to tell yourself what I try to tell myself: The number on the scale is JUST a number. It is private. No one else has that information but you. It cannot determine your happiness, and how dare it try?
You are a human being. You are capable of love, of solving difficult problems, of fostering meaningful relationships, of making someone laugh and smile. That is stunningly beautiful. You have an enormous amount of worth. You may not feel this to yourself, but your presence in the life of others is immeasurable. You are needed. Stay. Be. And most importantly, know that you are never alone.
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