Control Is Overrated
“April? As in, last month?”
“No, April, like 13 months ago.”
She pauses, looks up from her notes, confused. My mom quickly interjects, “She’s an elite athlete, that’s why.”
Part of me wants the nurse to do something, say something, intervene, and part of me is praying that she just lets this go. I haven’t had my period in 13 months because my body is starving, and each month that it doesn’t come, I breathe a sigh of relief—my body is congratulating me for succeeding at staying thin.
The nurse decides not to say anything, and my mom and I leave, neither of us acknowledging it again. I breathe out a sigh that’s half relief and half devastation.
I had always been at least peripherally aware of food and diets and weight (I put myself on my first diet when I was eight years old), but for most of my childhood and early teenage years, weight wasn’t something I had to worry about. I could eat pretty much whatever and as much as I wanted and still stay thin. But right before I turned 16 years old, my body started to change, and I panicked. I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand it. And I couldn’t control it. I needed the control back, and I decided to start counting my calories casually, just to see if I was able to lose the couple of pounds I had naturally gained from going through puberty.
It quickly escalated into something that was not casual. Food and eating became my entire life—my entire existence. I started weighing myself 10, 11, sometimes 15 times a day, and my mood and happiness were completely dependent on the number on the scale. I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to sleep until I spent at least an hour compulsively researching and calculating calorie counts. I threw a fit if my parents wanted to go out to eat at a restaurant that didn’t post its nutritional information, and I found myself lying to my family and friends about how much I had eaten or that I “already ate” when I hadn’t.
I had swim practice four to five hours a day and ate just enough to get me through each practice, but I felt perpetually exhausted, cranky, and worn down. Sometimes I would eat something “off limits,” and the hate and shame and guilt I experienced from caving into one of those cravings was overwhelming—crushing. I was addicted to the control I had over my eating, but soon I started hoarding large quantities of high-sugar foods just to chew, and then spat it all out, ensuring that I hid the wrappers so my siblings or parents wouldn’t find them. I was disgusted with myself, but I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.
It was a downward spiral. I avoided going out to eat at all costs, and isolated myself so I could chew and spit. I would look in the mirror and tell myself, “You’re still too big. You can do better. You can lose more weight.” I would look at pictures of girls with anorexia and feel they were better than me, more successful than me, because I wasn’t nearly as thin as them. I read their stories about how they subsisted on only an apple or a few carrots a day, and hated myself for not being able to do that. I felt weak compared to them. Inferior.
I honestly don’t recall exactly when or how I decided I needed help. Maybe it was after too many nights of driving home from swim practice and contemplating driving my car full speed into a pole. Maybe it was stepping on the scale, seeing I had gained half of a pound, and breaking into uncontrollable tears. Maybe it was lying to my little sister when she asked if I everything was OK, and remarked that my jeans looked looser than ever on my hips.
But I did finally get the help that I needed, and talking to a therapist—an objective third party who wouldn’t judge me—helped me understand that what I was doing to my body and to my mind was not healthy. They helped me see I couldn’t continue to use food as a way to control my life, and that how much I weighed and how others perceived me was not the ultimate determination of my self-worth.
It’s been a really long journey. I’m now ten years older, almost 30 pounds heavier, and training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai, sports where my natural strength and build are advantageous, where I enjoy fueling my body with food so that I can train longer and feel stronger. There are still times when I sneak away to the kitchen at work to have an extra snack and freeze in guilt and embarrassment if someone sees me eating, terrified that they’re judging me for being fat and having no self-control. There are days when I weigh myself and the number is higher than I’m comfortable with, and I have to remind myself to take a deep breath, to separate that number from my mood.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that I am worthy because of how I live my life, how I treat others, my intelligence, my values, and my empathy—not my weight. I often remind myself to live by the “reverse golden rule.” That is, I would never call a friend fat or disgusting or ugly, but I say these things to myself all the time. We should treat ourselves the way that we would treat others and the way that we would like others to treat us, but oftentimes our self-talk is so cruel.
I’m not sure exactly how many calories I ate today, and I haven’t weighed myself in weeks. I’m far from perfect, and that’s OK. Perfect isn’t any fun anyway.