Admitting you have a problem is never an easy task. Trying to break an addictive habit seems nearly impossible. Attempting to alter a state of mind that you’ve believed to be true for so long feels like a never-ending struggle. It all feels hopeless, but nothing good ever comes easy, right?
Flashback to high school Rae; running track, playing basketball, skinny little frame, eating whatever I wanted, and not gaining a pound. Bless my metabolism and my genes. Throughout high school, food was never a problem for me except for the fact that I was an extremely picky eater. I would not touch a vegetable, but you could guarantee I would have myself a big bowl of ice cream, or two, before bed each night. I was probably the pickiest, yet unhealthiest, eater who still managed to stay extremely petite. I know, you hate people like me.
Fast-forward to college Rae; enjoying dorm food, randomly going to the gym only when it was convenient, and not worrying about the empty calories from the many enjoyable drinks. Life felt at ease as I was transitioning into my first year in college.
During my sophomore year, I noticed I was getting a little flufflier, so I started making the gym more of a priority. My gym routine included about 30 minutes of running or the elliptical, followed by 10 minutes of abs, then finally, if I was feeling ballsy, lifting some 10lb dumbbells. I would occasionally use a machine or two, but I felt like such an amateur and didn’t want to look dumb or weak, so I stuck to the ab mats and dumbbells. Typical girl.
It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that something completely shifted in my head. Long-story short, I was cheated on. I hit a low point and felt completely undesirable. I started to blame myself and think that I didn’t look good enough anymore. Something in my head changed with how I viewed myself, and this is when my problem began. This is when my restrictive/binging and exercise bulimia phase took over.
During my last two years of college, I suffered from this restrictive/binging eating cycle while exercising almost every single day. In my mind, I needed to have abs, I needed to be able to wear crop tops, I needed to have thin legs, and I just needed to be lean overall. I would completely restrict myself from food and eat as little amount of calories as possible. This would last for a few days and then I would binge since my body was completely malnourished and deprived. I would purposefully not buy a lot of food from the grocery store so that I would not be tempted to eat any of it.
During these cycles, I was in the gym almost every day. I would run on the treadmill or use the elliptical for about 30 minutes, stretch and do some abs for about 10-15 minutes, proceed to do some strength training with dumbbells or machines (switching off upper-body/lower-body days), then finish off with another 30-45 minutes of cardio. After these extensive workouts, I would head home and eat a fruit smoothie and a protein bar.
It was an obsession. If I couldn’t get to the gym, I would feel antsy all day long. I would schedule my day, and even register my classes, around convenient times to go to the gym. I would eat less food during the day knowing I was going to have a few drinks at night. I wouldn’t eat any sweets because I categorized them as “bad”. I would constantly check my stomach and pinch it to see if I had abs and make sure I wasn’t gaining any more fat. I would do crunches and pushups right before going to bed to try and burn some last minute calories before the day was over. My life was centered around food and the gym, and not in a healthy way.
I knew this was a sickening habit, but it consumed me. I knew people noticed that I had an addictive problem, but it was too hard to fight it.
During my final college semester, I had been following a fitness chick, Kayla Itsines, on Instagram for a while. She would always advertise her 12-week Bikini Body Guide and post amazing transformation photos of women who had used her guide. Her workouts consisted of 30-minute circuits, 3 days a week. Since I had moved back home from college that semester, I thought this was the perfect time for me to try out these workouts.
I also started to become more interested in the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) diet. I began researching how to eat using IIFYM (eating a certain amount of fats, carbs, and proteins based on your body weight, height, activity level, goals, etc.) and I knew I wanted to give it a try, hoping it would give me some positive results.
This combination only made my sickness worse.
During this time I was student teaching in a classroom from about 9am-3pm, Monday through Friday. I decided to do the circuits every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before school since they only took 30 minutes each, AS WELL AS go to the gym every single day (literally #nodaysoff) to do more cardio and weight lifting. I adopted the IIFYM diet, but I, unknowingly at the time, was miscalculating my macros considering the amount of activity I was doing. I was still under eating… by a lot.
After those 12 weeks, I dropped down to around 102 pounds, but in my eyes, I looked great. I had abs and I was super lean. Goal accomplished… right?
Wrong. I was underweight and my body fat percentage was extremely unhealthy. I was eating dinky little salads and protein bars while working out 7 days a week (three of those days being two-a-days) and was on my feet all day teaching in a classroom. I was destroying my body.
After those 12 weeks, I finished the “Bikini Body Guide” and I was a stick. I honestly looked like I would break in half if you even flicked me. On top of that, I was getting sick and tired (literally) of my stupid little bite-sized meals and my routine in the gym. I knew something had to change.
I decided to turn to bodybuilding.
Although at the time I was worried that strength training would make me look “manly”, I followed a few women on Instagram who preached about lifting and flexible dieting (IIFYM) and they looked absolutely amazing. I so badly wanted to gain a strong and healthy physique, so I thought I would experiment with weight training and pair it with an IIFYM diet, but with the correct calculations.
If you read my “Will Lifting Make Me Look Manly?!” ramble, I delve into my weight lifting journey in more detail. My journey began with a “bulk” where I ate in a caloric surplus to gain more muscle mass (Chipotle burrito bowl, double chicken, por favor). After about 4 months, I began my “cut” where I ate in a caloric deficit. The purpose of the cut was to lose some of the extra body fat I gained during the “bulk” so that I leaned out a bit, but still appeared healthy and strong. I continued an IIFYM diet during both my bulk and cut, and it gave me incredible results.
Slowly but surely, though, I began to realize I was trapped in yet another eating disorder…
For those of you who have never heard of, or tried, IIFYM, it does allow you to eat flexibly, but it can be extremely restricting. I absolutely loved it and still do love the concept, but I started to realize how much it took over my life, and once again, I started to stress about food.
IIFYM preoccupied my life. This diet requires a food scale so that you can weigh your food portions in order to calculate your required fat, carb, and protein intake. This diet gave me amazing results, but I had to make many sacrifices in order get there.
Since I had to know EXACTLY what I was eating and the EXACT amount, I had to plan out and make every single one of my meals, otherwise I would become anxious. When my family would ask me to go out to dinner with them, I always declined. When I ordered Chipotle, I became anxious and worried that the portions they gave me wouldn’t match what their nutrition calculator said. I couldn’t go “grab food” or “grab drinks” because it wouldn’t fit my diet regime and I didn’t know the macros.
I would plan out my day’s meals the night before using MyFitnessPal so that the next day I wouldn’t stress about making certain foods fit into my required macros. Whatever I had planned the night before, I was stuck eating the next day, and usually it ended up being the same exact meals each and every day. Talk about boring, right? This routine worked, but this routine was exhausting.
I was at my breaking point.
I was completely fed up with food and how it dominated basically every aspect of my life. I wanted to enjoy food! I wanted to be able to go out to dinner with my family! I wanted to be able to eat what I wanted, when I wanted it, and not feel as if I was a bad person for it! I’m only 23 and I was already restricting myself from all the various food options the world has to offer. I couldn’t live like this! I NEEDED A BEER!
Luckily, I discovered intuitive eating.
In short, intuitive eating requires you to create a healthy relationship with food, your mind, and your body. You need to learn to listen to your body’s cues and be mindful of its natural hunger signals; eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. It sounds simple, but after mentally battling various eating disorders for a while and labeling foods as “good” and “bad”, it can be extremely difficult to get to that point.
I THINK I may be close to this point. I no longer track macros and I no longer weigh out my food portions. I’m trying to not label foods as “good” and “bad” so that I don’t completely restrict the “bad” foods from my diet and binge cycle like I used to. I’m eating what I want (which is still pretty healthy since that’s what my body is accustomed to) and I’m eating when I’m hungry. I’ve been going out to dinner, I’ve been grabbing a few drinks, and I’ve been indulging in some of my favorite sweets, all while going to the gym about 5 days a week.
I still feel as though counting macros has now made my mind naturally view foods as “fats”, “carbs”, and “proteins”, but I’m trying to not let that completely rule over my eating regime. My history of counting macros has given me a great knowledge base as to how to naturally balance my meals while I’m transitioning into eating intuitively, which is helping my progression towards a healthier mindset with food overall. I may not be completely free from an eating disorder, but I’m getting there. I’m learning it’s all about balance and moderation, not elimination or deprivation.
I’d like to say I’m on the right track to a happy and healthy life, both mentally and physically. I’ve made some major leaps in the past year, so I can only hope to keep truckin’ along. My body knows what’s best for me and I’m finally trying to listen to it.
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”