Note: This is a potential trigger warning for anyone who has battled or is battling an eating disorder.
As a young girl, I grew up witnessing family members struggle with their weight and body image. I watched my loved ones tackle just about every food restrictive diet you can think of. You name it, I've probably seen it in action. Dieting was a norm and I didn't want anything to do with them. I remember becoming increasingly aware in middle school. At the time, my perspective on my body was somewhat neutral. I knew I wasn't skinny, but didn't care to be because I was focused on competitive sports. I was usually the first pick by the boys at recess for sports teams and I was well aware of my strength and athleticism. I was young, but I remember thinking that there was no way I would ever let my weight determine my livelihood and happiness. Ultimately, I tried to ignore the obsession of dieting and weight loss that consumed the people around me.
My world quickly shifted as I began high school. It had only been a few days of my freshman year when the word circled back to me that some of my classmates had called me fat. "Huh?" I thought, "but I'm an athlete." I was one of the few that made varsity on our high school's state championship team as a freshman. I was feeling confident and empowered. At the time, I was confused by the words, and felt that they didn't apply to me. However, it wasn't an isolated incident. My friends continued to inform me about what other classmates were saying and over time, I began to accept that others had truly perceived me that way. Towards the end of freshman year, I began to slowly gain weight. I went through coping stages, but I remember that processing all of it began with denial.
It didn't take long for me to start to notice the changes. Running became more challenging, I was slowly outgrowing my clothes, and my confidence began to vanish. My excitement of starting high school was diminshing and I felt myself slipping into depression. At the time, social media was becoming increasingly popular. Myspace and facebook were beginning to consume our time as teenagers. I specifically remember signing onto facebook and opening messages from classmates and upperclassmen that said, "you're fat and disgusting," or "your legs are huge." I continued to experience different forms of bullying on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis and it only increased as I put on more weight. The hurt manifested into anger. My relationship with myself and others began to suffer. I remember going to one of my best friend's house after school one day. We were talking about what a classmate had said about me, when I replied, "well maybe she's right. I should just stop eating." I will never forget her response. She replied, "My mom and I were just talking about how pretty you would be if you lost some weight."
My struggle with my weight and fitness only worsened throughout the remainder of high school. My relationship with running became so terrible that I ultimately walked away from a verbal committment and scholarship to play Division I soccer in college. After quitting soccer, I lost even more control of my health. The world of dieting and food restriction that I had ignored for so long began to take over. I started to explore dieting my senior year of high school. I had diet pills in my locker, and I specifically recall taking appetite suppressant pills every day in religion class before lunch. My weight fluctuated as I teetered back and forth between starvation and binging. Of course when my weight dropped, I would receive compliments. Nothing like being rewarded for wildly unhealthy and dangerous habits. It all seemed to only get worse in college. No longer an athlete, my body struggled to keep up with the drinking and lifestyle of the majority of college students. I was sick often and in the worst shape of my life. Diet pills, appetite suppressants, laxatives, and binging became a cycle until graduating.
My road to recovery began post college. I had managed to lose almost 50 pounds before our wedding and was feeling better than I had felt in a long time. My eating habits were healthier, however a little extreme now that I look back on it. Working out was also non-existent throughout this process. After getting married, I knew it was time to tackle my fitness. For the last 7 years, I had only worked out with the intention to burn calories. When I did workout, which was rare, I spent the majority of my time on cardio machines such as the eliptical and treadmill. I hadn't cared about getting stronger, I just wanted to see the scale go down. Now that I had a better relationship with food, I knew that it was time to find a workout that would make me feel like an athlete again. That's when Orangetheory came along. Anthony and I were hooked after the first workout and it quickly became apart of our routine. We slowly developed healthier eating habits together and became increasingly selective about the restaurants we ate at, the groceries we bought, and the choices we made. For the first time since high school, I began to value my health and improved strength. Although I had progressed significantly, the trauma of my past and overall fear inhitibited me from intuitively trusting myself when it came to food and exercise. I became obsessive about counting calories, working out too much, and not giving my body enough recovery time. I eventually pulled my hip flexor and slowy began to regress. I started to battle the regret of binges and feared that all of my hard work would be for nothing.
A few months had passed and Anthony and I were ready to start a family. My pregnancy with Amaya began in an interesting place. Although I was filled with excitement, I was extremely anxious and fearful of suffering a miscarriage. I was obsessively watching my heart rate in workout classes and didn't want to participate in any "compromising" movements. Due to my fear [and nausea], I took some time off from the gym. In addition to this, I seemed to only be able to stomach bagels, and couldn't stand the thought of vegetables (or anything healthy for that matter). I couldn't tolerate the guilt anymore and I finally decided that I was going to live my pregnancy carefree; I wasn't going to obsess over food and exercise any longer. In fact, I was going to enjoy it to the fullest. Although the weight began to pile on, I was able to see the bigger picture. I was blessed with the opportunity to bring a healthy baby girl into this world and for that, I was thankful.
Motherhood hit me like a ton of bricks. Hellloooo reality... This isn't what it looks like on Instagram?! My hormones were a mess, my body was unrecognizable, and the sleep deprivation sure didn't help. As things settled and my body healed, I became aware of how out of shape I was. I was out of breath on walks in the neighborhood and I didn't have any energy. I watched my daughter grow before my eyes and expected my mind and body to naturally return to what it was. Of course, it didn't. I returned to teaching and struggled to get up every single day. Looking back on it now, I am aware that I most likely was battling some level of postpartum depression. I was unhappy, moody, impatient with myself and others, and felt guilty for all the places I was coming up short. Fast forward to a year later and I still could barely run on the treadmill. Everything hurt... My hips, knees, ankles. Yes I had a baby, but I knew the additional weight didn't help.
Many people who have experienced a drastic transformation talk about a time in their life where the lightswitch clicked; Where they finally had had enough. I don't think that happened for me. I felt the "lightswitch" go off many times, but always returned to my old habits of restrictive eating and then binging. However, I eventually came to realize that it was time to take care of and prioritize myself. I wanted to lead by example and become someone that Amaya would look up to one day.
My first goal was to move my body and get the endorphins going. Due to all my aches and pains, I knew that I had to start with something low-impact. I bounced around at some cycling studios and slowly got into a rhythm. After a few months, I tried out a heated sculpt class. That was a game changer. If you've never heard of them before, heated sculpt clases are a total body workout in a 105 degree room that focus on a combination of plyometric movements, free weights, and cardio. The heat warmed my body up immediately and the intensity was unlike anything else. Although brutal at times, these classes ultimately empowered me as they reveleaed what I was capable of. After all, burpees, lunge jumps, and jump squats in 105 degrees ain't no joke. Since the sculpt classes were located at yoga studios, I eventually explored heated vinyasa yoga classes. Yoga was in many ways, life changing. The practice focused on gratitude, which helped shift my perspective on my body and working out.
I felt like each workout class offered something valuable, so I got into a habit of incorporating a variety of workouts into my weekly schedule. This ultimately helped me find a balance and intuitively listen to my body. If I woke up feeling rested and energetic, I would schedule a sculpt or Orangetheory workout. On the other hand, if I was sore, I would do some restorative yoga. If I was in the mood to party, I would hit up a cycling class. These workouts eventually became my favorite part of the day (aside from my time with baby girl, of course :)).
It didn't take long to see results. My body and mind began to evolve. I am extremely critical of myself and I quickly learned how damaging my self-talk was. I wouldn't even say things to pity myself, but rather in a matter-of-fact kind of way. For example, I remember struggling in a sculpt class earlier on (not unusual, but this was a little more extreme). I was light-headed and pretty dehydrated, so I took a knee. I remember looking around the room and thinking, "well of course you are struggling... you are by far the fattest in this room." Now, I cringe at the fact that I would have ever thought something like that. But at the time, it was happening far too often. I noticed that most of the time I wouldn't even process what I had said to myself; It was unfortunately so normal that I was unphased. However, it undeniably impacted me subconsciously. I tried to take what I had learned about gratitude and apply it to my daily life. I made the decision to wake up each day and immediately tell myself 3 affirmations. They varied each day, but they were usually along the line of:
I am enough and worthy of love
I am strong and capable
I am becoming a better version of myself
Simple, but it made a profound difference. I noticed that I began citing these affirmations when I was struggling mentally. I began to acknowledge when the negative self-talk would surface and would immediately translate it into something more positive. Shifting my mindset made an immediate impact on my overall perspective. I noticed that I began to care less about the weight loss, and more about my holistic health. I began to feel a sense of gratitude for what my body could do, especially after everything I put it through. I became intentional about what I put in my body. I began rewarding and fueling it with nutrients because I noticed how much better certain foods made me feel. I stopped obsessing over calories and began to eat intuitively. I started to incorporate more plants into my diet because of the outcome- I felt and performed better (shocking, I know). I'm allergic to dairy, so I decided to stay away from it for the sake of my stomach and skin. I tried to eat less meat and include more plant-based proteins. Due to my past with restrictive dieting, I was intentional about not labeling myself as "vegan." I didn't feel comfortable completely eliminating any foods as that was triggering for me. I finally learned to trust myself on what and how much I put into my body.
I slowly began to notice that binging was becoming a thing of the past. Do I have times when I occassionally "splurge" and eat something out of the norm? Absolutely. But the guilt isn't there after, and that's the difference. Studies have shown that binging and depression are strongly linked. Of course, other factors, such as body dissatisfaction and insecurity can contribute to binging as well. It makes sense that as my mindset shifted, my habits did as well. As all of this began to align, the weight really began to come off.
These pictures are almost 2 and 1/2 years apart. To say the transformation was gradual is an understatement. It wasn't until a year ago that I truly started to feel like I had control over my health for the first time in my life. My confidence around this control continues to strengthen to this day. It'll always be a work in progress, but I never thought I'd be here. I've lost over 60 pounds since giving birth to my daughter, but I have gained so much more throughout the process.
Struggling with my weight and battling eating disorders is a significant part of my past, but I've finally realized that it doesn't define me or my worth. Just because it's something that controlled a portion of my life doesn't mean it has the same power over me now. I chose to write all of this with the hope of making a difference, albeit small. I've learned that vulnerability breeds a deeper level of empathy, connection, and compassion among others. I think we all need that right now. While we all face our own unique challenges, we have more in common than we know and I think we could all benefit by leaning on each other a little more.
Thanks for reading. As always, reach out to me if you feel inclined. I am always willing to share more of my story and would love to hear yours as well. Wishing you love, happiness, peace, and health throughout this crazy time.