I don’t exactly remember when it happened. That moment when my relationship with food went from one that was normal and healthy to one that was incredibly unhealthy and potentially life threatening. I do know many girls who were in my peer group during high school and college faced a similar challenge. I also know that I was one of the ‘lucky ones.’ By lucky I mean I never lost so much weight that I required hospitalization or professional treatment.
One measure used to diagnose anorexia nervosa is the BMI index. A BMI below 17.5 is considered an indicator of anorexia nervosa. At my worst, my BMI was 17.33. I was 19 years old, 5’8″ and weighed 114 lbs. That probably doesn’t sound very low in the big picture of eating disorders, and it really is not. That is also why BMI is only one indicator. Having an unhealthy relationship with food is not about the number on the scale and it is not about the food, it is about the emotional relationship with food.
The only reason I even weighed 114 lbs was because of a team of the most loving and selfless college boys who are now no doubt loving and selfless fathers and husbands. One of my indicators that I had unhealthy relationship with food was my eating became very ritualistic. Food on my plate was bad, food on someone else’s plate was ok within very limited parameters. I am pretty sure I am alive today because my friend Jud noticed I would eat a handful of french fries from his lunch plate. I have no idea how many days Jud sat next to me with a plate of fries. The rest of the team included Andrew, Eddie, Randy and Kevin. My team required that I weigh daily in front of my roommate. If my reported weight fell below 114 pounds, a member of my team would contact my parents. I think this was my very first experience of the incredible power of an accountability group that surrounded me with love and support. I look back on this time in my life and will always be grateful and hold an indescribably special place for these men in my heart. As young college boys, I doubt they realized nor currently remember the crucial role that each played in carrying me through that challenging time.
My first glimpse into the world of starvation was in high school. I was on the swim team. What started as an innocent challenge to lose weight and get fit for the season, ended with my first experiences in ritualistic eating. Eating only certain ‘good foods’ and trying to avoid any contact with ‘bad foods’ was one of my rituals.
The long term problem of this particular ritual was the list of good foods grew shorter and shorter while the list of bad foods grew longer and longer. By college, I knew the calorie count per serving of every item on each list. I painfully sorted through fitting in the good items while finding enough time to run off any future bad items. I would run an extra mile or two just in case I slipped up and ate over my allotted 300 calories per day. I had to manage this and do my best to keep close to a 4.0 GPA. I ran, studied, slept and avoided food.
I still don’t know if I completely understand what causes the actual trigger point that creates and emotional relationship to food. Obviously struggles with self esteem, acceptance and control are all suspected players on either side of the equation, for both those that eat too much and those that don’t enough. I have my doubts if anyone knows for sure. I also don’t understand what made a food good or bad. I still wonder how Jud’s french fries made the good list. In my experience, the unhealthy relationship with food very quickly spilled over to unhealthy relationships in general. While I never danced with the eating disorder devil as close as I did in college, I certainly bellied up close to other devils in the relationships I chose to pursue or allowed to pursue me. Looking back, I now believe those choices were simply another reflection of the same image.
After college, my road to recovery started with joining a gym and involving myself with a trainer that taught me the relationship between food, nutrition, fuel and fitness. Having a clear understanding of the function of food as fuel was critical for my healing. Because this knowledge was so valuable for me, I now offer a monthly Clean Eating Focus Group to help empower others with the knowledge that food is the fuel required for real fitness and real health.
Having an unhealthy relationship with food more often than not goes hand in hand with having an unhealthy relationship with fitness. Exercise Bulimia is another type of eating disorder that often goes undetected because exercise is viewed as healthy. Just as anorexia is not about the food, exercise bulimia is not about the exercise. It is about the relationship with each. My team offers a daily accountability group to inspire those struggling with either end of the of the spectrum (from motivation to excess motivation). Sometimes challenging yourself and pushing your boundaries is about learning to do less and not more.
For me, learning to have a healthy relationship with food was far easier than learning to have healthy relationships in general. I finally felt complete and whole once I accepted that God loved me, therefore I was worthy of being loved. Just learning to love yourself and accept yourself as God loves and accepts you can be a huge but valuable hurdle!
One reason I became a Team Beachbody Coach was to inspire athletic people to improve in sports performance. I love how each program has added a layer to my performance with my horses. I love being challenged and enjoy how surrounding myself with other athletic people inspires me. Our 30 day Team Real Fitness Challenge is a great environment for those ready to face that challenge in a fun, positive and supportive environment.
A second and more personal reason I choose to invest my time as a Team Beachbody Coach is to share my story in hopes it will reach others that have faced or are facing challenges with nutrition and fitness and are seeking a supportive, positive and loving environment through a team accountability group.
No, I am not a doctor nor a health professional. I encourage anyone currently facing these challenges to seek support from someone who has those credentials. I am someone, however, that has faced those challenges and landed on the other side healthy, whole and knowing I am loved…ready to pay forward that love that was once and still is shown to me.
Horse Lover Tip: Eating Disorders are prevalent yet rarely discussed in the horse community. The pressure to be lean and attractive in equitation and dressage classes can trigger and unhealthy relationship with food. If you or someone you suspect is facing this challenge, please seek professional help. An eating disorder can quickly escalate into a life threatening issue.