Body Love Part 2: My Toxic Relationship

Body Love Part 1: Where It All Began

Disclaimer: Those who have had issues with body dysmorphia or are currently experiencing issues with body dysmorphia should be advised, as the following article may contain sensitive topics.    

When I decided I was going to rid myself of the unwanted fat on my body, I didn’t realize how long and difficult it was going to be. Originally, I was hoping to lose the weight through increased exercise, but at the time I was dealing with a knee injury, so what I was cleared to do fitness-wise was somewhat limited. My injury prevented me from running for a couple of months, so I focused more on strength-based exercises at first. Around this time, 30-day challenges were up and coming, so I overheard most of the girls in my school talking about them regularly. The idea of a 30-day challenge was to take something like squats, start off with doing 50 of them and increase the number of reps with a rest day approximately every three days. The end goal was to be able to do something like 250 squats on day 30. Being only fourteen, and not knowing much about the gym or establishing an exercise plan, I stuck to these 30-day challenges like it was my religion. In theory, this may have been a good start, but I wasn’t playing soccer or dance at full capacity due to my knee injury and the increased exercise wasn’t enough to combat the fact that I was still eating like I was. So, although I wasn’t really gaining weight, I wasn’t losing it either. 

After completing my 30-day challenges, I hadn’t seen any changes in my body, and I began to feel frustrated that my work wasn’t paying off. Despite my feelings of frustration, I kept going with my strength training and began to push myself more. It started with trying to fast track the 30-day challenges without rest days and escalated to middle-of-the-night alarms because someone had told me that waking up and doing sit-ups at three in the morning burned fat more efficiently. Months went by and although I noticed my stronger legs and increased ab strength, I still wasn’t getting my desired flat stomach or thigh gap. I finally decided I needed to start focusing on my diet.

I started by skipping breakfast and trying not to eat after 8 pm. I thought that if I ate less and gave myself more time before bed to burn my dinner calories, I would start to see changes. Instead, this had the opposite result. I was always hungry by the time I got to school, ate my lunch way before lunchtime, and was starving by the time I got home. Because I was so hungry when I got home, I would eat almost a full meal after school, skip dinner, and end up eating more than just a snack before bed. After a few weeks, I decided I had to push myself harder so I stopped bringing food to school altogether. I was old enough to be making my lunch in the morning, so I decided I wouldn’t make one. If I didn’t have anything to eat, then I would be able to stop myself from eating. I would tell my friends that I forgot lunch, or that I had a stomachache in the morning and I didn’t feel like eating. Although this prevented me from eating at school, it didn’t stop me from overeating at home. 

Through all of this, I still was not getting any thinner. I began to resent my body for refusing to change, and myself for not being strong enough to change it. The feelings of failure and imperfection continued to grow in the pit of my stomach, so I started to push myself into crash diets. I started small with the five-bite challenge, which essentially says that you can eat whatever you want, but only five bites of it. Now I would have loved it if this could have become my new way of living, but as it sounds, it was way too good to be true. The other crash-diets weren’t much better, and by the end of tenth grade, I still wasn’t seeing the success I wanted. After two years, the changes in my body were only minor, and the number on the scale was growing from the muscle I was gaining and my self-esteem kept plummeting. 

The summer after tenth grade, I started my first real diet. I began tracking my calories, limiting myself to no more than 1000 calories per day and upped my exercise. My knee injury still caused me some trouble, but I could run, so I did. I started to get up at 6 am and run five kilometers most weekday mornings. Things started off well, but after a few weeks I could really feel the exhaustion from the calorie deficit hit me. It started to make my morning runs more difficult, but I didn’t care. I had lost about 10 pounds within the past three weeks and I felt like I was finally progressing towards my goal, so I kept going. Some days, I lacked so much energy that I couldn’t make it more than half-way through my five km run. Despite this, I kept going because I was finally getting somewhere. Some days I would push myself to the point where I felt like I was going collapse, and on those days I knew my mom was up and getting ready for work, so I would call her, say that my knee was bothering me and ask her to pick me up. With two weeks until school started up again, I had managed to lose 20 pounds. Although I still wasn’t at my goal, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment for getting to where I had and doing it ‘healthily’ through diet and exercise. 

Near the end of the summer, we got the news that my grandmother in Finland had fallen ill very quickly, and most likely wasn’t going to make it much longer. My brother and I hopped on a plane with my dad and went out to visit one last time. Although that trip wasn’t much of a family vacation, we tried to enjoy the food and the sights as much as possible. For the two weeks we were there, we would get up and run as a family every day or two. I felt good for keeping up my exercise, so I let myself indulge a little too much in the high-calorie food that was offered to me. Two weeks of eating more calorie-dense foods than I had all summer after putting my body on such a restrictive diet was more than the light exercise routine I adapted on vacation could handle. Within the two weeks I was in Europe, I gained back 15 of the 20 pounds I had worked so hard to lose. I was devastated that I had nothing to show for my hard work and that I had allowed myself to slip up so quickly. I didn’t want to go back to school looking the way I did, so when I landed back in Canada, I did the only thing I could think to do to get back to where I was before the trip. 

Over the next two weeks, I restricted my diet more than I ever had before and started my first fast. My goal was to make it three days without consuming anything other than water, and as hard as it was, I was so disgusted and put off by all the weight I had gained in Europe that the three days seemed to fly by. The feeling of emptiness became a feeling of comfort and success, and after the three days were up, I felt so thin and I pushed myself to keep going. I never made it more than five days in a row without eating, which at the time felt like I gave in too soon but looking back on it now, I can’t imagine depriving my body of nourishment like that. Over the next few weeks, I only ate if I had to and tried to limit my calorie consumption on days I did eat as much as possible, allowing myself only veggies or a few bites of food here and there. Within 15 days, I had dropped 10 pounds according to my bathroom scale. I knew in my head that what I was doing wasn’t healthy and that it was mostly just water weight I was losing, but I didn’t care as long as that number kept getting closer to zero. It took me another two weeks of highly restrictive eating to knock off the last five pounds, but by the time October hit, I was back down to the weight I had been before that trip to Europe.

I was feeling good about my success, and I wanted to keep losing as much weight as possible, but I had promised myself that I would go back to "normal" eating once I lost the weight from Europe. I started to increase my calorie intake and meal size, but after all my restrictive dieting, my stomach couldn’t handle big or complex meals. The first few days that I ate anything with more than a handful of ingredients, I found myself getting sick in the bathroom not long after. As much as I hated throwing up, I soon learned that I hated the feeling of being full more. On days when I ate what used to be my normal portion size, I would feel so disgustingly full that I would do almost anything to make that feeling go away. My experience with fasting had given me more self-control than I previously had, so I got into the habit of eating next to nothing throughout the day at school and having dinner with my family at night. Whenever I felt like I had overindulged at dinner, or eaten something that was unhealthy, or too calorie-dense, I would run the shower after dinner while I was getting sick over the toilet, and then hop in to throw off suspicion. I knew how dangerous this could be, and I had heard of the damage that it could cause to your esophagus, but I convinced myself that doing it two to three times a week wasn’t often enough to cause damage. 

Through all this, I was barely losing weight anymore, nor was I at my ideal body, but I stuck with it because I wasn’t gaining weight and it felt like I had maybe found a compromise between eating what I wanted, and being smaller than I previously had been. This system worked for me until the start of November. On the morning of November first, I had a head-on head collision playing soccer and suffered a concussion that kept me out of school for about four weeks, and bedridden for about two. Although I wasn’t particularly eating more throughout the first weeks of November, I was sleeping or in bed about 20 hours a day, and I began to gain weight again. A sense of failure started creeping back into my head, and I pushed myself into a toxic cycle of fluctuating between days of not eating, days of overeating, and days of eating followed by purging my body of everything I had put in it. Being out of school made it easy for me to cover my tracks as I spent most days home alone. 

Four weeks of being out of school may have sounded like a dream to some, but it didn’t take me long to feel incredibly lonely. I had friends visit once and a while, but no one wanted to come over and hang out with the girl who spendt 20 hours a day in a dark bedroom. The lonelier I felt, the worse my cycle of eating habits got, and the more weight I gained. It didn’t take me long to realize that I associated my worth with the number on a scale. The more I felt validated by those around me, the more self-control I had, and the more I could keep my weight down. If I felt upset or lonely, or like I didn’t matter, I got into horrible cycles of binging and purging, which in turn resulted in weight gain that made me feel even worse. This cycle was a dangerous one and hard to break. I found myself stuck in this for most of the eleventh grade, and although I had periods where I was handling myself relatively well, I couldn’t help but think of how everything I ate was only going to make me bigger and push me further from my goal. 

I associated how I looked with how I thought people were going to treat me. In my head, my friends would like me better if I was thinner. I thought that being thinner would make me prettier, and that if I were prettier, then maybe one of the guys in my grade would take an interest in me. From the experiences I had, the only way for me to become skinny was to not eat, but I didn’t always have the self-control to deny myself food for more than a day. I began to hate myself when I ate for pushing myself further from the life and the body I wanted. But I hated myself when I didn’t eat because I couldn’t find the strength within me to love myself for who I was and how I looked. I felt better if I ate a carrot than if I ate a piece of bread, but no matter what, I always felt like every calorie was adding inches of fat to my body. I started to divide everything into good food and bad food. If I ate only good foods in a day, I felt like I was worth something because I managed to control my eating, but eating a single bite of bad food made me feel like I was weak and worthless. I hated that I looked like I overate, and eating in public made me feel like everyone was staring at me because I felt like I looked like I shouldn’t be eating. I hated the way my body looked in the mirror in the morning, but not nearly as much as I hated the way I looked after I had eaten. I couldn’t stand the way that I looked in group photos because I felt like I drew attention to myself since I wasn’t as thin and pretty as the girls standing around me.

By the end of eleventh grade, I had convinced myself that no one could ever love me the way I was because how could I expect someone to love me if I couldn’t love myself? I was never going to be thin, I didn’t have the self-control to make myself thin, and I felt like I couldn’t love myself unless I loved my body. I had been through about three years of fluctuating weight change, and here I was, heavier than when I started. I had failed myself over and over again, and I didn’t know what else to do. After days of research and trying to hatch another plan that would finally get me to my goal body, I landed on something that I decided would change my life. Little did I know, it would not change my life in the way that I thought it would.