You know you really do not have the body type or physique to be a professional ballet dancer, Hayley, maybe you should set your sights on something else…
The first time I questioned and disliked my body I was 9 years old. I do not even remember who said this to me but it stuck and from then onward I would see my body as “big” or “chubby” and at some points downright “fat” and gross.
3 years ago, I decided it was time to make a change in my life. I was tired of hiding behind baggy clothes, being physically tired, struggling with acne, dreading having photos of myself taken or heaven forbid I be asked to wear a bathing suit etc. The list goes on of reasons why I decided to start exercising regularly and change my diet, but the biggest reason was that I was unhappy with my body and myself and I was convinced that losing weight would fix all of these issues because society had told me that being skinny would fix everything. Little did I know that losing weight would not fix any of my issues but rather would cause me to spiral down a dark hole of hating myself and my body.
Mind you this was not my first diet rodeo, I had tried and failed to lose weight and change my body composition since I was 14. I distinctly remember the first time I dieted when I was a sophomore in high school and I had read that eating nothing but celery and carrots for a month would help me lose 20 pounds. This lasted for maybe a week before I was sick in bed with the flu because I had been depriving myself of nutrients and calories for 7 days.
Next in college, I tried keto/carb free/ south beach or whatever they call it now and all carbs became the enemy. I lost weight for sure, but I looked like a war victim. My body was weak and small because I was stressed and barely had time to eat anything and no food was worth ruining my progress for. The weight came back that summer and soon I was falling back into my old habits of not exercising and eating whatever I wanted, when I wanted with no control or discipline. That fall, while I was studying in Europe, I quickly gained back even more weight than before and the next thing I knew it was summer before my senior year and I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. Broken, defeated and unhappy, I decided it was time to change my life for good.
In August of 2017 I started working out again by doing HIIT videos in my parent’s basement and then in my room at my sorority house in the fall when I got back to school. I would wake up early or stay up late doing a thousand burpees on end. I started using my fitness pal to track calories and I thought the magic number to force my 155 lb body to get smaller was 1200 calories. Much to my surprise, the weight fell off fast. I lost 22 lbs in a matter of 3 months and had been averaging 900 calories a day. Nutrition was the last thing I cared about. I saved calories to binge drink, I saved calories to eat an entire bag of goldfish for dinner, I was broken. Nothing tasted as good as skinny felt I repeated to myself as I celebrated the days when I burned 300 calories and ate only 1100. I finally got my first tattoo because I was not deeply ashamed of my body and was no longer trying to hide it any chance I got. Every person in my life cheered me on and showered me with compliments on how good I looked as my body wasted away and I fell deeper and deeper into a hole, getting harder to dig out from all of my negative thoughts and habits.
Next in January of 2018 I made it my goal to weight train and be better to myself. Enter the slim thick trend and year of the donkey kicks. I followed a super basic weight and resistance routine guaranteed to give me a nice butt and slim toned body or so I thought. I continued to struggle with food even when I started tracking macros. I would cry about eating something I deemed “bad” or “unclean” then I would say screw it and would drink 7 drinks on the weekends and eat tacos, ice cream cookies or anything I could find and pretend it did not happen. I would wake up on Sunday and starve myself and do extra cardio to make up for the treats and misdeeds. This cycle continued until April when I experienced my first heartbreak and romantic relationship failing of adult hood. It was time to hate myself skinny again, in hopes of that winning back the unworthy man who left me me broken. I cut my calories and increased my exercise until I was working out for 2 hours a day 5-7 days a week. I continued to shrink as I started to train for my first triathlon because I was “fitspo” now right? The workouts got longer and harder, the cardio increased and my food intake continued to go up yet no amount of food could satisfy the pain I felt trying to hate myself into another shape or towards a new goal.
Friends and family continued to praise me for my discipline and life style change, little did they know I was struggling and losing myself. My roommate saw my cry my eyes out in my bed because my co-workers had peer pressured me into eating a slice of cake at work that day. Every bad bite or meal or missed workout was a tragedy warranting me berating myself over behaving like my old (read: fat) self. At one point the shame and anxiety about food and exercise go so bad that I literally resorted to throwing a fit and crying over being asked to attend a wine festival with my friends because it was “an orgy of empty calories and bad foods that will undoubtedly make me gain weight”.
Rock bottom came the day after my triathlon when I cried the entire plane ride home feeling lost and confused about what came next. I trained for 4 months for that day and it was over in less than 100 minutes. I was finally the skinny I always wanted to be, I finally wore a bikini with pride, yet I had never felt so empty. I did not know what to do next, I did not know what to eat, and most of all I did not know what my next goal was. In November of 2018 I decide it was time to get help, to talk to someone professional who could help me fix my disordered relationship with food, my body and exercise. I joined a CrossFit box because my brother recommended it. CrossFit is about function and about being a strong athlete and team member and most importantly for me it is a mirror free, judgement free zone that is not necessarily focused on aesthetic goals. I met people of all shapes and sizes and ages. I saw mothers of 3 deadlifting 250 lbs and running 7-minute miles, I saw high school girls lifting confidently in their tank tops and most importantly I met incredible, genuine humans who supported one another no matter what shape or size they were. Slowly, as I started going to the box more and more, I was incentivized to heal my negative relationship with food, exercise and my body.
I hired an amazing nutrition and life coach name Jen and worked with her for a full year before embarking on my next journey of learning to trust myself with food and exercise. I got uncomfortable as hell for a year and half before I finally felt like I had healed my negative mindset and let go of the emotional baggage that was dragging me down. I made peace with my inner demons, cried a lot and often and was super vulnerable with the people closest to me. I unpacked that emotional baggage, I cried in front of the man I was dating and stopped trying to white knuckle all of my negative thoughts and feelings. I confronted my body policing demons and still do every day. I got uncomfortable, I skipped workouts, I ate pizza, I went on vacation and did not exercise for days or weeks at a time. I forgave myself for the terrible things I said to myself and did to myself. I forgave everyone in my life who did not realize that their compliments were feeding into my toxic habits. I show up for myself every day now, I thank my body for things it does for me and places it takes me.
It has taken me roughly 3 years, 30 pounds, one triathlon, hitting rock bottom and spending a lot of time being uncomfortable and facing my fears to come out from the dark hole I was in about my body. But the biggest thing is that my journey is just beginning!
Everyday I wake up and remind myself that each day is a chance for me to grow and I challenge myself to lean into situations or conversations that provide me an opportunity to better myself and to focus on my overall health and wellness. These days I try to remind myself of where I came from and where I want to go. Do my I love my body every day? No, but that’s okay because I am grateful and appreciative of where I am at with my mental and physical health and am committed to treating myself with love, kindness and respect no matter what. And am I finally happy? Yes