Whenever I go to the gym, run a race, or see people trying out new diets (ahem, “lifestyle changes”), I wonder what the impetus is. Do these people Crossfit to lose weight? To get stronger (duh)? To work on their butts? Do my friends eat Paleo so that they can get leaner? Or maybe they are thinking about the long term health benefits of changing the way they eat. I don’t really care what the answer is because it’s none of my business. I just know that for me, exercise and nutrition have played so many different roles in my life and I am once again seeing their evolution now that I am a mother of three, just scrambling to keep my head above water many days.
The background on this
somewhat totally rambling, TMI post is this: during pretty much every minute of my 20’s, I had an eating disorder. I vascillated between bulimic and anorexic although I never looked thin like the celebrities and models whom everyone labels as anorexic. I know exactly when/why it started in college, but that’s not something to get into here. The only salient point is that I became bulimic for a number of reasons, one being that I loved food more than I loved myself. I loved the way donuts and ice cream and cookies made me feel. But then I hated gaining weight. So being the brilliant college student I was, I figured purging was a way to get the best of both worlds: eat a lot and not gain weight. Oh wait. As any bulimic will tell you, you definitely do not lose weight with binging and purging. In fact, you may (I did) gain weight. And you feel GROSS. You also feel like you are deceiving so many people around you, including your loved ones.
Right before my senior year of college, I decided the bulimia thing wasn’t working for me. I needed to find a different way to get control because bulimia made me feel out of control. So I switched gears. I started counting calories and stopped drinking (Uh, I mean, I was only 20 so actually I made the decision not to start drinking when I turned 21 in the fall). I lost a LOT of weight because I was swimming 4 hours a day, doing one hour on the ellipitical between practices, and subsisting off of chocolate chip scones, frozen yogurt, and salad. I allowed myself 1300 calories per day but I was burning close to 4000. The weight melted off and I tipped the scales at 116 before the season started. I think my weight at weigh-in was 136 the year before. But I got a lot of positive reinforcement because I swam faster. And my back fat was gone, so of course I was thrilled about that.
After graduation, I didn’t have all the hard core swimming to keep my weight in check. So back to bulimia I went. My bulimia peaked while in law school. The stress of studying and being away from my friends and family, the feeling of not being even close to the best but actually being below average when everything depended on your class rank… I just could not handle it. Things got so bad during law school that I considered taking a semester off to go to some really expensive recovery facility to deal with my eating issues. The cost was just too huge of a deterrent. I knew I was going to develop some serious health complications from my bulimia if I didn’t stop. I decided I wanted to start running again to see if that would give me some of the self esteem I had lost after college. I also thought it would help me lose all the weight I put on from my binges.
Picking up long distance running in 2005 was the first turning point in my eating disorder. I had something to focus on besides “where am I going to get my next meal… which will end up in the toilet?” I began to feel better about myself. I ran a half marathon after 6 months of training and was pleased that I ran under an 8:00 mile pace for my first half marathon. A few months later I ran a half marathon around a 7:20/mile pace. My grades improved significantly. The problem that lingered is that I continued to be bulimic, but it was more like “bulimic light.” As long as my training went well and I had a good run, or a good race, I didn’t rush out to buy ice cream and other junk. But if I had a bad day or missed a run for some reason, I backslid into my old eating habits.
This pattern pretty much continued even after I became a real grownup, with obligations like law school debt, a car payment, and a mortgage. It wasn’t until I became pregnant with Super Girl that I had a wake up call. I could not, I would not, do anything to harm this baby just because I was too ignorant or scared to deal with the underlying issues that contributed to my eating disorder. I needed to make smart choices for myself and this child. I continued eating biscuits and ice cream, but instead of just using it to stuff down my feelings and anxiety, I ate it to enjoy the way it tasted. I ran during my pregnancy because it made me feel strong and empowered. Yeah it burned calories too but I don’t think it’s a crime to run an extra mile because you had an extra scoop of Ben and Jerry’s. Nobody is perfect.
I never really lost that focus on my weight and body image though. I was determined not to gain more than 30 pounds and I “accomplished” that goal with Super Girl and Super Toddler. The number on the scale was so important to me as it had been for years. So even though I wasn’t bulimic anymore, I still cared so much about a silly number. After I had them, I was frustrated my body didn’t just snap back to a version of me that never existed anyway. Some Gisele Bundchen-esque figure with a 36 inch inseam and tiny waist. I didn’t lose any sleep over it but I tried diets here and there hoping that I could get to my “ideal weight” of 130 pounds. Never happened.
During this pregnancy, I really lost site of nutrition even though I was lifting and running a lot during the first two trimesters of the pregnancy. I had so much anxiety because I didn’t know how we could handle three kids. Also, I was worried I would have post partum depression again, as I did (really really badly) with Super Toddler. So I ate my feelings, my old crutch. I would joke with people about my Bojangles Baby, and I still do from time to time- okay, yesterday. I rationalized that if I was working out that hard, I could eat whatever I wanted. I had been making that argument for YEARS. I think it goes back to my swimming days in my teenage years when we quite literally could eat just about anything and never gain an ounce because we were burning so many calories each day. But eating whatever I wanted wasn’t healthy for me or the baby. And again, it was just a way I dealt with stress, as it always had been.
I watched the scale creep higher and higher each week. When I delivered Super Girl, I had gained 38 pounds. Wowzers. I officially weighed more than Super Dad the last three weeks of my pregnancy. And I delivered 3 weeks early. So yeah, that’s kind of scary. After having her, I have been focused on slowly getting back into my workouts because I was on bed rest for the last 6 weeks of the pregnancy. But on the other hand, I would get so frustrated that the number on the scale has not just dropped by double digits every week.
I finally had an epiphany last week after Super Girl got on the scale three days in a row and asked me what her weight was. She had been seeing me do it. It broke my heart. She wants to gain weight because she will be a “big girl,” but I don’t want the number to be something she obsesses over when she is old enough to care. I don’t want her staring in the mirror examining her stomach or “Cabbage Patch Abs” as I call mine half-jokingly. I don’t want her to think that exercise is a means to an end of keeping her weight down or getting boys to like her. I want her to feel empowered by sweating, the way I do every time I go on a run or finish a Crossfit workout. When I was doing a WOD on Saturday, I felt strong even though it was only my second time back since Super Baby was born and I was lifting a lot less weight. I felt hope for how much stronger I could get with each passing week. I felt like my daughters would be proud of me not because of the number on the scale, or how my thighs don’t touch, or how much definition I
hope to one day have on my stomach, but because I work out to be a better mom to them and a better wife and just a badass who loves herself.
I am not 100% comfortable with my body and I don’t know that I ever will be, but I’m getting there. Being a mother has helped me realize that I can largely overcome the insecurities and issues that led to my eating disorder, because I would never ever wish that kind of torment on my children. I just want them to see that eating and exercise do not have to be rewards or punishment, and that they can be strong and happy no matter what the number on the scale is. And that’s as real as it gets folks.