As lots of women do, I grew up fighting a love-hate battle with my body. The first time I remember feeling “fat” was in the 5th grade. I was growing faster than all the boys… upward and outward. I wore baggy clothes to cover up. By my junior year in high school, I was at my heaviest… 5’7” and over 200 pounds. I saw a picture of myself with a friend, and decided it was time for a change. I taught myself about calories and nutrition. I started packing healthy, low-cal lunches. By the time I graduated, I was 50 pounds lighter. Sounds great, right? I was certainly looking healthier on the outside, but on the inside, I was far from it. I never sought professional help and was never officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I battled an unhealthy relationship with food for much of my college years and early 20s. I was so terrified of re-gaining the weight I had lost, that I’d starve myself for days. Then, I’d binge on things I’d never normally allow myself to eat. Pizza, ice cream, chips, cake… you name it. Occasionally, I’d purge… or eat so much that I’d throw up. I’d go on hating myself until I felt “skinny” again. I was out of control. I never felt pretty. I never felt healthy. I never felt like I was good enough. What a horrible way to live, right? I was embarrassed, so I kept my struggles a secret. And to make matters worse, while all of this was happening, I was competing as a division one college athlete! Imagine practicing for 3-4 hours a day on nothing but Diet Coke, dry salads, and canned green beans. No wonder I always sat the bench.
Then… in 2003, during my junior year of college, I underwent foot surgery for a broken bone. Almost immediately afterward, I began experienceing intense, debilitating pain in joints all over my body. It wasn’t long until a doctor diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic auto-immune disease with no known cause and no cure. I was forced to quit the team because of the pain. I became depressed. It took years to get a handle on the disease. Finally, thanks to a great doctor, great drugs, and a healthy lifestyle, I’m almost always pain-free. And nearly 10 years after my diagnosis, this past October, I finished my first marathon.
I only share this story, because I think a lot of you out there can probably relate in some way, shape, or form. Acceptance of yourself and your body isn’t easy. It takes some time, but I’m proof that there’s health and happiness on the other side. Food is fuel. Food is nourishment. It is NOT the enemy. Our bodies are incredible machines that deserve respect, and if you give yours the love it needs, it will love you right back!