I’ve never been able to sit still in one place for very long.
It used to bother the people around me. I’d be sitting on the carpet during story time and my first-grade BFF would be pressing down on my leg to stop it from shaking beside her, just itching to get up and run around outside. Or, I’d keep my hands busy with a Rubix cube during fifth period in high school before the bell rang and I hurried off to Monday ballet class. Even now, I’ll be visiting home and my dad will murmur at me to stop fidgeting on the other side of the couch because it’s distracting him from whichever game is on TV.
I wake up with morning yoga. I walk for fun. Moving and exercising my body has always come naturally to me, and growing up playing sports and competitive dance, I learned the importance of taking care of my body at an early age. As a kid, the more I physically exerted myself during the day, the hungrier I would be at the dinner table later that night and the more I would eat. That was the extent of the relationship between myself and food for a while. My body was running at full speed all the time, and food was fuel. It was that simple. Until one day it wasn’t anymore.
In seventh grade, my gym teacher asked the class to start a log and keep track of what we were eating for three days. I was training for a 10k race at the time, going to dance, and playing on the school basketball team, so I was eating for all the physical activity I was doing.
Still, I remember one of my friends looking down at my log at the end of the three days and asking, “Woah, how do you eat that much for breakfast?”
I looked down at the sheet of paper and my brow furrowed. I’d jotted down two whole wheat slices of bread with peanut butter and cut-up banana on top, and a spinach smoothie.
“I never eat in the morning. It keeps me light,” she said, and I glanced down at her sheet. Sure enough, the breakfast category was empty.
I’d never really thought about my meals that way before. I satisfied all the recommended fruit and vegetable portions for every meal, I stayed hydrated throughout the day, and I ate to sustain my body with all the physical activity I was doing.
But I did have a 10k race coming up, and I wanted to be light enough on my feet to beat my training times on the day of the race. I thought maybe it wouldn’t hurt to try out a different eating system.
I hadn’t factored in that my friend who skipped breakfast was significantly more sedentary than I was, or that different bodies have different needs. But at 12 years old, sitting in health class and thinking to myself about how my friend had just insinuated that I was eating way too much, I didn’t care.
I skipped breakfast for the next few weeks, and started training more. When I weighed myself the following month, I was lighter than before.
On race day, I placed second in my age category and beat my record time by 10 minutes.
Later that evening, my family went out to a sushi buffet in celebration of my accomplishment. With my newest medal tucked neatly underneath my oversized sweater, I hid several food-stuffed napkins in my sleeves before dumping them into the restaurant toilet that night.
Being lighter had worked, so I kept going.
Soon, I was no longer eating the food on my plate to sustain my body for the exercise I was doing, but I was overdoing the exercise to compensate for the food on my plate, which was looking smaller and smaller everyday.
My body ached all the time, and it hurt to sit down at school because of the thin layer of pasty skin between the chair and my butt bones. When I stretched a certain way doing yoga, you could see the skeletal build of my back. My teeth looked too big for a face, which looked pale and hollow. By the time summer rolled around, I was shivering in the middle of July. My athletic performance weakened too. I felt too sluggish to run long distances, and too tired to move around much.
By the following September, I was a shadow of the person I had been before. I stopped attending cross country practices. I looked exhausted running up the stairs on late mornings before the bell.
People started to notice. Friends asked me if I was feeling okay at school. My little sister stopped telling me about her school days because I had become irritable and impatient with her. I could hear my parents’ loud whispering at night, arguing about my condition and what to do about it.
One night, my heart rate dipped below 40 BPM while I was sleeping.
I spent the next week going hospital jumping, and by Friday, I had been diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder defined by an abnormal personal body weight, a fear of gaining it back, and a “distorted perception” of weight. As a result of my eating disorder, I had also been diagnosed with Bradycardia, a heart condition that could have stopped my heart if I hadn’t gotten help soon.
What ensued after that was my reluctant enrollment into the eating disorder recovery program in the hospital a city over, a year of physical treatment, four years of mental treatment, and absolutely no running. I was allowed to dance, and that was it.
It took one year until I could physically perform at the same athletic ability as before the illness. It took two years for me to start fidgeting again, and four before I could finally feel good moving around in my body again.
I’m not alone in this struggle. At least 9% of the worldwide population will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, as reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association. And according to a Harvard-supported study, it can affect kids as young as five years old to adults 85 years old. 10,200 deaths per year are a direct result of an eating disorder, which equates to one death every 52 minutes.
It’s terrifyingly easy for young girls to be taught that they need to watch what they eat, or how they look. Whether it’s the concept of the “bikini body” for summer, or the amount of weight loss content on social media apps like TikTok, we’re influenced by opinions that seem innocent at first glance, and the consequences can be dire.
Thankfully, things are starting to change for me. I live on my own now, and I’m going into my third year of university. I go for runs around the city and aim to get 10,000 steps in every day. I eat three meals and one snack a day, and still now, sometimes I find myself second guessing if my breakfast is too heavy for the amount of exercise I’m doing for the day.
Even now, my eyes glance over at the big number in the top right corner of the nutrition information of my green yogurt. But my body was made to move, and sustaining it with food allows it to do all sorts of amazing things, from dancing with my friends at the club to biking to the beach on a sunny day.
I exercise because I am thankful for my body. Everyday, I’m grateful to be healthy and mobile, to be able to play sports and practice yoga. I’m grateful that I’m still here today, that I was able to make a full recovery from anorexia and that those distorted thoughts don’t take up space in my head anymore. Our bodies were made to move, and our bodies were made to eat, and we deserve to live a life that doesn’t revolve around those two statements.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.
Arcelus, J., et. al. (2011). Mortality Rates in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders. JAMA.
STRIPED. (2020). Social and economic cost of eating disorders in the United States of America. Deloitte Access Economics.