What do you see when you look at the girl in the picture on the right? Most people look and see someone who is fit, healthy, athletic…some might even say “wow I want to look like that”. I see pictures like this every day on social media and people go crazy for it. We look at these images of people who appear to be healthy and happy, and suddenly we aspire to be like them, without knowing anything about them. Would you believe me if I told you that the girl in that picture was actually in the worst mental state of her life? Well, that girl is me, and I can tell you right now, you don’t want to be her. What you see on the outside is only a mask that covers the mess on the inside. Let’s talk about that. This story is not about how I got to be the fit chick in that picture, but how I got to be the mentally strong woman that I am now. This is not about how amazing it was to make a transformation from fat to fit, but from being fit to actually healthy. Because “fit” and “healthy” don’t always mean the same thing.
Growing up, I never felt self-conscious about my weight. I was never overweight, and I was an athlete starting from a very young age. Everyone in my family played ice hockey, and my brother used to stick me in front of the net and just shoot pucks, tennis balls, and nerf balls at me. About 10,000 shots and one broken nose later, for some reason I decided I wanted to play hockey too. Long story short, I dropped ballet, tap, jazz, gymnastics, and figure skating and took up ice hockey of all things (my mother was less than thrilled), and ended up playing until I graduated college.
At the end of my sophomore year of college, I had a meeting with my coach. I sat down and he had this really disappointed look on his face. He looked straight at me, took a deep breath and said, “Why do you think I should keep you on this team?” I stared at him blankly. I was just expecting to have a quick chat, I didn’t expect that question. He spoke again, “You’re overweight, lazy, incompetent, and I can tell you right now if you don’t come back next year in better shape, I’m cutting you from this team.” I didn’t even have words. I cried and begged for him to just give me a chance to prove to him that I was none of the things he had just mentioned. As an athlete, especially a college athlete on scholarship, sports feel like the only thing that matter and ever will matter in life, so to say I was desperate is an understatement.
I cried that entire afternoon and evening. I remember going back to my dorm room and looking at myself in the mirror, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t like what I saw. I laid in my bed that night and felt the skin around my stomach pinching together. This was the first time I can ever remember feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, all because someone else told me I should be. That was the moment everything changed for me, and not necessarily in a good way.
I woke up the next morning early before class, a very foreign concept to me, went outside, and I just started running. I absolutely hated running, but I was so angry and determined to prove my coach wrong that I just kept going. I started lifting weights, downloaded MyFitnessPal, tracked my calories, watched what I ate in the cafeteria, and I saw it starting to work. I remember the first time I looked in the mirror and my thighs weren’t touching each other. I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in a few months and she put her arms around me and said, “wow what did you do, I feel like you lost 10 inches!”. That felt really good. I went home for summer break and the I’ll never forget how amazing it felt to see the look on the faces of my family, they were in shock. My mom actually said to me, “you’re too thin.” Little did she know it was about to get a lot worse.
The reactions I was getting from people about how good I looked made me feel powerful, that’s the only word I can use to describe it. That was the first time in my life I ever felt like people complimented my looks, and it motivated me to want to do more. At this point, I didn’t really know anything about fitness or nutrition, so I started researching and implementing what I was reading on random blogs, Instagram pages, and websites.
I spent that entire summer working to do one thing and one thing only, prove my hockey coach wrong. I spent every free moment I wasn’t working reading about weight loss, weight lifting, and how to improve my body. I would wake up early and go train and some days I even worked out twice. I decided I wanted to “eat clean” and so I taught myself how to cook, planned my food out every day and brought it with me everywhere. I would even bring tupperware containers to restaurants to save myself the stress of having to order off the menu. I cut out all sugar, flour, bread, refined processed foods, milk, cheese, butter, chocolate, anything I didn’t consider to be a “clean food”. The more I saw my body change, the more I wanted to know, the more I wanted to do. I isolated myself that summer from all of my friends and picked a lot of fights with my family. I wouldn’t let anyone or anything get in the way of what I was trying to accomplish. I lost 15 pounds and was in the best shape of my life, and I walked back onto that college campus with my head held high.
I can’t put words to the feeling I felt the first time my coach saw me again. He looked at me literally with his mouth wide open, and so did all of my teammates. Suddenly, I was faster and stronger than the majority of my team. I started coming in first instead of last in our drills, I took 30 seconds off my 300-yard shuttle, and I felt better than ever before. My teammates and friends started coming to me for advice on training and nutrition. If I thought I felt powerful before, now I felt like I ruled the world.
This spurred me further into wanting to change my body, and this is when things started to get really bad. The more I saw my body change, the more I hated it, because I just never felt like it was good enough. I wanted more, and I still looked at myself in the mirror and saw myself as fat. I would pinch my fat and check for my abs, making sure they were still there. I started to get really meticulous with my food, not just planning out what I was going to eat, but now how much I was going to eat. I started counting my calories and macronutrients down to the gram. I hired some “fitspo” coach off Instagram to help me get shredded, and I would sit on my couch every night putting my next day’s meals into a food tracker until it was perfect, and I wouldn’t go to sleep until it was done. At this point, my body was the only thing I felt I had complete control over. I started a food blog and a fitness Instagram, posting pictures of my food and my body, looking for validation from strangers that my body was perfect. I still didn’t see it that way. At this point, I had lost over 30 pounds and my family started getting concerned. Instead of listening to them, I silently judged them for being jealous of me and called them crazy and continued doing what I was doing.
When the macro counting wasn’t working the way I expected, then I did the worst thing I could have done, and I dropped my calories way down and started exercising way more. I woke up every morning at 4:30am and did hot yoga for one hour. Then I would go to classes, lift weights at lunch, have a 2-hour hockey practice, team workouts, then go to bed and do it all again the next day. I was working out somewhere between 3-5 times per day, any my body was telling me to just stop.
During those last two years of college, I decided to become a personal trainer, and landed a job before I graduated back home working at a really nice facility. After a few months there, still in my same mental space and eating the same way as before, I was running on the treadmill and I felt something crack. I fractured my tibia on my left leg; it just snapped. I was so malnourished that my body was finally giving in. I didn’t even freak out because I fractured my leg, no, my first thought was “how am I going to work out?”. After spending 6 weeks in a boot, unable to work out, I fell into a really deep depression. I completely let myself go. After almost 3 years of excessive working out, calorie counting, and weight loss, I found myself standing in the pantry eating anything and everything I could get my hands on. I drowned myself in self-pity and boxes of cereal, and gained back all the weight plus about 15 lbs. Now all of the sudden I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life, and I absolutely hated myself for throwing away so much time, blood, sweat and tears. I felt like I had lost the only thing that I ever felt good about in myself, my body, and now I was just done.
I started having debilitating anxiety for the first time in my life, and spiraled into an even deeper depression. It wasn’t until my best friend looked at me one day and told me I needed therapy, that I even considered doing anything about it. After 2 years of pretty intensive counseling and a lot of resistance, I have started to make my way back to good mental health, and I’ve definitely come to a few conclusions.
The thing is, I had never felt like a pretty girl, and I never got called pretty. My mom always told me I was gorgeous but I just thought, “she has to tell me that, she’s my mom”. When I was younger, in my middle school and high school days, I was really good at avoiding things that made me uncomfortable or that I didn’t know how to do. I didn’t wear nice clothes because I didn’t feel like I was pretty enough to wear them, or knew how to even put a nice outfit together. I didn’t know how to flirt, so I didn’t talk to boys. I didn’t know how to put on makeup, so I never wore any. And I was way too stubborn to ask.
So when I figured out how to be fit, that changed everything for me. I got really good at controlling my body, and I thought that if I could make my body perfect, it would make up for the fact that I never felt pretty.
These behaviors carried over into my adult life as well. After that day of being criticized by my coach, I decided I never wanted to be criticized again. So what I did was I just turned into my own worst enemy. I criticized myself for everything I could think of so that it wouldn’t come as a surprise when someone else did it. I never allowed myself to get excited about much, because I didn’t want to feel the disappointment of it not happening.
My perfectionism was a way for me to stay out of judgement from other people. I didn’t want anyone to see my flaws and imperfections because I didn’t want to be criticized for them. I’ve always had this really bad fear, and if I’m being completely honest, still do, that one day I’ll just wake up and the people who love me the most will have decided they don’t anymore. I struggle with a deeply held belief that I am unlovable, so I tried to make myself as worthy as I could by trying to be perfect. This belief doesn’t come from the people in my life making me feel this way, but because I didn’t love myself enough to believe that anyone else could ever truly love me. So I never really let anyone too close, because I didn’t want to lose them. Like I said, it was easier for me to live disappointed than to feel disappointed.
I am introverted by nature, which fits really well with my need to not be seen by other people. I’ve always thought that if I just stayed small, stayed out of the way and went unnoticed, that all of my flaws would too. If I don’t talk, I can’t say anything stupid. If I don’t dance or sing, I can’t look like a fool. If I’m not confrontational, I don’t hurt anyone. If I don’t date, I can’t get dumped. If I don’t take pictures, I can’t look fat or ugly. If I don’t wear nice clothes or put on makeup, nobody will notice me. It was the perfect plan, zero vulnerability required. I’ve gotten really good at appearing calm and collected on the outside while screaming on the inside. I had to. During that time in college my “fit” body was just a mask for what I was feeling on the inside, and trust me, I was drowning.
Five years later, I am finally dealing with myself for the first time, and trying to come at my life from a place of worthiness and self-love. I can’t do to my body what I did to it before. I down-regulated my metabolism so much that I’m still suffering the consequences. The paradox of this whole thing, is that the less I obsess about my body, the more I see it change for the better. I am definitely a work in progress, and I have to make a decision every single day to wake up and take on the next 24 hours with a positive mind. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I’ll have that thought that maybe if I just go back to the way I used to do things, it will work out this time and I can look like that girl in the picture again. But I also have taped to my mirror three quotes that remind me not to do that. They are:
“You are enough.”
“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful” and,
“I am worthy of love and belonging.”
I see these every morning before I walk out the door, and they remind me to love myself exactly where I am in this moment, and not to judge, not to perfect, but just to be. I may not have as ripped of a body as I used to, but my mindset is in a much clearer place, and honestly I’ve never been happier.
The moral of the story is that a perfect body won’t make you happy. How we feel about ourselves in all aspects is what’s important for happiness. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. This is why Beautiful U Journey means so much to me. I want to take this 365-day journey and learn what it’s like to truly love myself, so that I can love and be loved by other people wholeheartedly.