Today I’m going to talk about something that I think affects a lot of us. It’s a personal story kind of day; there’s no prompt. However, this is going to lead into my next Year and a Day Journal, so keep an eye out for the follow-up.
Food is one of the most complicated and yet most integral parts of our daily lives. We simultaneously love it and hate it, and need it to survive. I don’t know if people’s relationships with food were always so complex–somehow I think it’s a symptom of what we consider modern fashion–but in any case, nobody alive today doesn’t know what I’m alluding to.
As for me, I’ve had a weird relationship with food for a long time now. (Cue story time.) It intensified in college, unsurprisingly, and the scariest part was that I didn’t even realize how messed up it was at first, even though I had been pretty thoroughly educated on eating disorders. Basically, I’ve always been a kind of endomorph (one of the three basic body types you learn about in high school health class). I’m tall, I have big features, and I naturally carry a little more weight. I also had some very tiny friends growing up, and I often compared myself to them. I mean, I think the first time I was self-conscious of my body was when I was six. I remember sitting with my knees drawn up to my chin and poking my little calves and watching them jiggle and thinking, “Is this normal? When did this happen?” I was also always the tallest kid in my class, and when I was in second grade our teacher wanted to show us how to make averages, and he got our height and weight from each of us. There were only two kids in my class who were over 100 pounds, and yep, I was one of them. It really wasn’t because I was heavy or anything. In fact, my whole childhood I was very active and a normal weight. But I was just so tall and averagely proportioned, and I was never this skinny little thing you see kids being. And so I compared myself, and it never felt good.
In high school, it was of course more of the same thing, but even worse. I was absolutely normally sized, but I was on a dance team with a lot of girls who were extremely skinny or very athletic-looking, and even though I did a lot of exercise I just never looked that way. In comparison to the other girls, I always looked big. And I always had to order large dance wear because my limbs were so long. I remember a track jacket that we had as a uniform once; they were meant to fit tight and cute, but because we had to dance in them, I had to make sure it covered my wrists when I moved my arms. So my jacket was loose and frumpy, while everyone else’s was little and adorable.
In college I had more control over my schedule. I was able to choose everything I ate and make time to go to the gym. I was a bit happier with my body and felt okay with a lot of things. I even lost eight pounds instead of gaining the freshman fifteen.
My sophomore year I continued to work out nearly every day, but unseasonably brutal weather made me kind of sick and I didn’t feel like working hard when I went to the gym. I don’t think I gained any weight, but in October I was in an improv comedy show where I wore I skirt, and I saw a picture of myself later, turned around so you could see my thighs from behind. I couldn’t stop staring at them, and I felt mortified. It was like, all this time my thighs have looked disgusting, and I didn’t know it?
About a month later, I ordered a book called Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman. It advocates for a nutritarian lifestyle. Now, I still really like this book. I think it is a great resource and it gets at one of the fundamental problems of our culture–not eating in excess, but eating the wrong things. When I found this book, I was dead-set on following the plan, and I did. I basically went vegan cold-turkey (perhaps “cold-turkey” isn’t the right phrase when you’re going vegan…), along with some other diet choices. I dropped another eight pounds, but this time over the course of one month. By Christmas I was, proportionally, the smallest I could remember being.
Unfortunately I began to obsess, and my diet slowly fell apart. I had the mentality of an eating disorder; I would eat the same things every single day, I would justify strange behaviors, and I changed other things in my life to surround food. My friends started going to eating disorder workshops and seminars held by the college to see if their suspicions were correct. On the surface I thought it was crazy, because I had tons of food on my plate every day (almost entirely vegetables). But my problem wasn’t about not eating–it was about obsession.
I would binge on the wrong things or drive myself crazy with food choices. Very slowly I gained a couple pounds back (probably normal, actually), and I panicked. I ran to the Internet and found a different lifestyle, HCRV (High Carb Raw Vegan), or Raw Til 4, which is the lifestyle of Freelee the Banana Girl, the YouTube personality. Her tight bod and her videos had me in love. I immediately was eating a ton of fruit a day, but not much else. And I’m not saying this diet doesn’t work, because it might in the long-term or it might work better for some people than others. But I gained a lot of weight back, and my self-esteem went into the toilet.
Now, I’m actually proportionally the biggest I’ve ever been, although I don’t look unhealthy, in my own opinion. I’m certainly not really skinny, but I’m not about to sign up for The Biggest Loser or anything. I’m actually blessed that I’m so tall, because I carry weight very well on my body. That being said, I know that while I’ve been abroad, I have not been eating the way I want to eat. My roommate and I eat lots of sweets, a lot of processed starches and relatively few vegetables. Spinach, which was one of my biggest staples in the U.S., is really hard to come by here, especially in the quantities I used to eat it.
I’m hoping that when I return to the United States in about a month, I will have the opportunity to make health one of my main focuses. Of course, I want to slim down, but I want to do it the right way, with the right goals in mind. I’m going into the adult world, and I have to start seeing things as an adult–no longer as a college girl, for whom everything was all-or-nothing. So, for example, I’m cool with going nutritarian again, or being vegan as much as possible, but I also understand that maybe that can only be a 90% thing. Sometimes you want to go out for dinner, or you want to eat a piece of birthday cake. And those things shouldn’t be off the table.
I know my boyfriend also wants to get in shape, so I’m hoping we can do it healthfully and together, with each other as support.
I’m talking about this because our spirituality is only as healthy as our minds, and our minds are really connected to our bodies. I’ve never liked the idea that our bodies are secondary or that they’re dirty things that need to be rejected for religion. I think they’re crucial. And unless we take care of our bodies–including eating well and having a good relationship with food–we are going to have a hard time being spiritual.
My next post is going to bounce off of this one, so look out for that coming soon.
Thank you for reading.