My insecurity began very early in life as I imagine it does for everyone. A shy, awkward only child, I wanted nothing more than to fit in and be accepted by my peers. I remember watching the Summer Olympics with my mother; the gymnasts wore really cool leotards and were hugged by their teammates after each performance. I wanted that feeling of belonging, and of course, the chance to wear those dazzling outfits.
I signed up for weekly gymnastics classes and quickly moved from beginner to intermediate to the advanced team. But it consumed much of my time outside of school. We worked so hard each night that I would often cry. With shins bruised from the inside out and hands worn and bloodied from torn blisters, I was sore every day yet I had a place where I belonged. As long as I fit the part and continued to excel, I had a team of people who liked and accepted me.
As a competitive gymnast my potential in the sport was largely correlated with my body type. When puberty set in at age nine, I became acutely aware and ashamed of every change. By the time I reached 11 I had grown to my mature height of 5-foot-7 and lost favor with my coaches who had switched their focus to girls who were late bloomers. I became so insecure I quit the sport.
After gymnastics I signed up for soccer, volleyball, track and basketball but the activity from these sports combined was not enough to compensate for the amount of energy my body was used to expending. I began to fill out, which attracted the attention of much older boys and increased my own self-loathing.
I started dieting at age 12, an obsession that lasted for 17 years. No one knew that I had an issue – not my friends, not my parents, not even myself. It was not until a therapist pointed out my disorder that I realized my obsession was abnormal. In my late twenties I learned I was a compulsive eater.
Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia cause noticeable health problems but compulsive eating for many is only in the mind. I was trapped in a hell of feeling like I was starving all day long while consuming more calories than most adult men. I would exercise compulsively to keep from gaining weight but all I could think about all day long was food. No matter how much I ate, I could not fill the void that seemed to grow deeper with each day.
The only solution is through self-love. I had to change my relationship with myself before I could change my relationship with food – getting in touch with my feelings and learning the difference between biological hunger and my desire to numb emotions with food. I had to remove the restrictions I put on certain foods and allow myself to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted while paying attention to the way that the food I ate made my body feel. I stopped exercising to punish my body for what I had eaten and began viewing exercise as a positive way to keep myself strong and to increase my energy levels and endorphins.
The media plays a large role in teaching yo-yo dieters that following a certain food plan is the answer to their weight problems. While eating healthily is a necessity, the answer to a dieter’s weight problem is in a dieter’s head. An occasional piece of dessert or a few slices of pizza will not make someone gain weight but binging on those items will. Making healthy versions of a favorite dessert to avoid weight gain from the real thing is a Band-Aid. Eating healthily six days a week and then binging on two pizzas on a cheat day is a Band-Aid. These are signs of someone who is in an emotional state of deprivation. While these techniques work to keep the dieter healthy on the outside, they perpetuate the issue on the inside.
If you find yourself in a similar diet trap, I encourage you to take a deeper look at why you are eating what you are eating. Overcoming my addiction to food and stepping out of the cycle of self-torture has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. It has been seven years and now I can honestly say that I eat whatever I want whenever I want. I relish my body and food is no longer my focus. I hope that you too will find this freedom.
By Nerissa Weeks
Nerissa Weeks has a master’s degree in Public Health specializing in health education and promotion. Her background is in school and corporate wellness programs. As a lifestyle coach and avid adventurer, she enjoys pushing her physical boundaries through trail races, high altitude trekking, snowboarding and spearfishing.