The Baby Years
I don't remember anything about this time. I was not breastfed, like my siblings were, so I probably have all kinds of "love-witheld" issues buried deep within my psyche but, alas, I can't remember the details and thus can't use the memories to torture my mother. All I know is that I was a happy, normal-sized baby, born on an island, and I loved to be nude at the beach - sand in my crack and wind in my very large ears.
Most of this time was really happy. I don't recall ever being encouraged to limit my food intake. It was the 80s so no one cared about health (just kidding! But seriously....) and my favourite thing to do was watch inappropriate movies starring Tom Cruise, while sipping Coke through a Twizzler straw.
Weird body memories from this time:
- My sister was the "skinny one" and I was the "athletic/stocky one" and, despite the fact that I was a totally normal sized kid, I understood that "stocky" meant I was bigger and that being bigger was a not-great thing. I remember sitting in the back of our silver K-car one summer, bombing down the highway on the way to see the Anne of Green Gables tourist attraction and I kept staring and pinching at my things because they "spread" when I sat. I imagined how much better my thighs would look if I could just "cut off" my inner thigh fat (read: adductor muscles).
- My mom was REALLY into aerobics in the 80s. She'd go to the gym for classes every day when my dad got home from work. It was a very Jane Fonda, lycra thongs, pink carpet, glossy leg press machine and super un-safe sit-ups kind of place. When I was around 10 I got to attend an open house at her gym and I was pretty friggin' excited to get to see where she went everyday....it felt so sparkly and glamorous and special. When I got there I tried the machines and checked myself out in the mirrors and then I grabbed a hot dog and a drink. Two of the instructors asked if I wanted to hop up on the scale and I said "sure!" because how grown up is that??? And then they made a few jokes. Now, the jokes were about the weight of the hot dog in my hand and not about me.....but I didn't realize that until TWO YEARS AGO. I held on to their comments as if they were about me for, like, 25 years...until one day I was minding my own business and the memory popped into my head. For the first time, I heard their words with adult ears and realized it had nothing to do with me.
I don't want to glaze over these years because there was obviously lots of awkward "growing into my body" stuff. I gained some weight before I got my period (totally normal by the way, even though no one ever told me that - likely, because they didn't know), I leaned out again, grew uneven boobs, and spent almost NO time caring about shaving my legs. That said, I went through most of those years as a fit, athletic gal who didn't really think that deeply about her appearance.
A couple of things:
- I was really good at school, sports, and social stuff, so my self-esteem wasn't based on my weight. I felt successful and pretty and, even though I knew I didn't look exactly like Shannon Doherty, I was pretty sure that at some point in life I'd figure *it* out (not sure what I thought *it* was) and then my body (the final frontier to perfection) would fall into place and I would BE Shannon Doherty and get Luke Perry and the porsche, etc. NBD.
- So, I wasn't dieting or manipulating my body but clearly the fantasy thinking of diet culture was setting in. I was the "before" in the Tony Danza movie where the girl gets her braces off and exercises compulsively, and starves herself...and then suddenly she's the MOST popular girl in school. I already loved exercise and I didn't even have braces! YAY!!! I was just ONE grapefruit diet away from high school perfection....if I ever felt motivated enough to actually do it. Which I didn't.
The Early 20s
This is where things get sticky. After an amazing but hyper-stressful first semester in university, playing soccer and studying science.....I entered second semester with enthusiasm for only one thing: drinking (I also loved to dance and eat pizza....but only while drinking). I felt uninspired and disconnected, I gained weight, realized I hated my degree program and didn't want to be a doctor, and that the only solution would be to quit everything and move to Paris. Obviously.
I spent a fun summer working outdoors, saving cash, and getting a tan. My weight normalized and I headed off on adventure.
The year away introduced me to naturopathic medicine and "clean eating" before "clean eating" was even a thing. By the time I got home, I'd changed my degree, committed to becoming a naturopath and started minding my food - just a little. I read tons of books on nutrition and started to spend some time with a local ND, exploring the idea of holistic health.
I continued to play soccer but life was so different, I needed a change there too. I joined the university running team, mostly because the coach lured me with a guy (who became my husband! Relax!) and so, on top of watching my food.....I was also running more than ever.
I lost weight. I'm not talking 100lbs.....but maybe in the ballpark of 15-20lbs (not sure because at that point I didn't weigh myself) and an amazing thing happened: I became f&*king Shannon Doherty. In my ever-so-slightly smaller body I was congratulated constantly on my weight and appearance, guys flocked to me, and I felt adored.
It was incredible...
for like, 10 seconds.
At which point, I started to worry...what did I look like before? How bad could it have been? How could I possibly ever go back there? The simple answer was, I couldn't. So, I figured the best thing to do would be to make my food even MORE "clean" and run even more.
Over the course of three months I became so underweight it was frightening. Though I was restrictive, I never stopped eating. I never purged. I just obsessed about the "healthiness" of my food and my commitment to exercise until I was so thin that the compliments turned to insults. I was "disgusting" and "revolting" and a "bitch". There were obviously lots of supportive friends during this time and I remember them much more vividly than the mean people...but the names have stuck. It was really confusing and traumatic to be so harshly judged on my appearance - to find that there was such a small window of appropriateness within which I could (and would) be considered desirable. The pressure was incredible.
I became more worried about my health. I sought out advice from a doctor (who told me my obsession with food and exercise was just "being healthy" and poo-pooed my worries about my lost period and request for a bone density scan), told to eat junk-food by a dietician, and couldn't find an eating disorder counselor anywhere (note: I did eventually find a counselor but my eating/body issues didn't come up on her screening tests as an issue because orthorexia - I'll mention it later - wasn't a thing yet).
I figured I was on my own.
Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. Orthorexia sufferers often display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that frequently co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders.
Pretty much consists of me trying to get out of the hole I was in. I suffered from extreme diet backlash every time I tried to loosen my grip on clean eating and felt the need to eat constantly in front of others to prove I actually ate.
Even though I overate regularly, my weight didn't go up until I took a year out of my naturopathic degree to move to England, quit running, and really focus on ME. I gained lots of insight from my travels, the books and I read, and the health professionals I met along the way. I learned about "orthorexia" for the first time. I decided that I would never again allow myself to manipulate my body in a harsh/unhealthy way. I started eating nachos again and did yoga and re-discovered my love of digestive biscuits.
My new mantra became "there is nothing healthy about being obsessed with health".
I gained some weight and it felt pretty great (except of course for the three people who asked me "when I was due" as I got back to school. WTF? Remember I mentioned that "window of desirability" and how small it is? There is was again...just out of my grasp). For the next 8 years ish my relationship with food and exercise got mostly better and better.... until.....#drama
Next week I'll talk about the final bump(s) in the road that forced me to go from 80% better (which I thought at the time was all the way better because it's common for SO many women to live in an on-going struggle with food and body) to 100% better. Or maybe 99% better? Is anyone ever really totally better? I don't know.
Anyway I'll cover all that next week because it's big and important and I've bored you for too long. Hop on my email list to have it delivered straight to your inbox (along with my free ebook: Find Food Freedom!).
Have a story you want to tell me? Feel free to email me back! I'd love to hear!
UPDATE! Part II is RIGHT HERE!
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