I am exceptionally proud of my body, it is truly the healthiest it has ever been. But I seldom post before and afters to “inspire” because I know it only accomplishes 2 things: validates my insecurities and provides a basis for comparison to those most vulnerable.
Eating disorders live inside of “healthy weight” bodies, “overweight” bodies, 6-pack abs, powerlifters, bodybuilders, personal trainers and runners, alike. Gyms are a breeding ground for people with poor body image and a place where you find others with disordered eating behaviours that normalize them by calling it “dedication.”
If that last part ticks you off, you’ve come to the right place.
Social media fitness is the 21st century gateway drug for eating disorders. In the last 4 years I have watched a wave of influencers go from hardcore fitness zealots to body positivity accounts. It’s not a coincidence.
“I’m not sick enough to need professional help, therefore I’m not sick,” is what I told myself 2 years later.
I was exhibiting behaviours that spanned several disorders, so I didn’t have enough symptoms for any single diagnosis. I was not well, but not clinically ill. I wasn’t obviously underweight, or throwing up after meals, so I didn’t say much out of fear of being called an attention-seeking fraud.
I still don’t know if I ever had one to be honest, but at my lowest point, I self diagnosed with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), which is now referred to as OFSED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder).
And maybe I didn’t have an illness, but I got really damn close. I remember the Ben and Jerry’s stomach ache that kept me up until 3am as I frantically scrolled through #bulimia and #binge on instagram for advice on how to move on with my life. I remember realizing I could not have a 5th bowl of cereal because I was out of milk. I remember not going home on weekends because I didn’t know how many calories were in my mom’s cooking.
I cried myself to sleep, several times, praying I wouldn’t wake up and fulfil the diagnostic requirements for mental illness. I think some days I was more scared of being branded with a clinical diagnosis than the actual harm that would come from it.
I identified with Anorexia Nervosa in that I had a powerful fear of gaining weight or becoming fat and had (still have) a distorted image of my weight and shape. In addition to all of this:
- Depressed mood
- Anxiety (especially social anxiety)
- Irritability, insomnia, and intense preoccupation with food
- Feelings of inefficacy
- Rigid, all-or-nothing thinking
- Strong desire for control
I identified with Bulimia Nervosa behaviours such as recurring episodes of food restriction followed by binge eating, negatively evaluating my weight and shape and feeling like they matter more than most anything else about me. Compensatory behaviours usually included reduced calories the next day or forced cardio.
I identified with binge eating disorder as soon as I was outside of my “calorie controlled” kitchen. The days I didn’t track food I ate very quickly, regardless of hunger cues, even if I was already full, and would try to eat secretly due to embarrassment about the type and quantity of food ingested and lived in feelings of disgust and guilt.
My behaviours and thoughts spilled over into informal eating disorders such as anorexia athletica and orthorexia. Orthorexia symptoms included an obsessive focus on only eating clean foods and anorexia athletica symptoms included being unwilling to miss a single workout, focusing on exercise while sacrificing enjoyment and obsessive behaviour with calories, fat and weight.
Do all these things just sound like your average #Fitspo? Exactly.
The rise of Social Media #Fitspos
I genuinely started pursuing weight loss for better health. I was not expecting to end up with a mind more broken than before I lost a single pound.
I did not recognize my behaviour as problematic because an entire online community was living like that and preaching: #nodaysoff, #beastmode, “If it was easy everyone would do it,” “sore today strong tomorrow,” “if you want something bad enough don’t stop until you’ve got it,” the worst part is that it was all masked as “fitness and health.”
- Every meticulous meal prep made me feel like I wasn’t dedicated enough
- Every off-season bodybuilder calling themselves “fluffy” would make me feel like a walrus
- Every 6-pack would remind me that every fit person should have one
- Every girl who said she ate 1700 calories a day pushed me to eat 1300-1400
I sought out social media accounts that would spread motivational quotes and messages to keep me on track with my progress. All well intended, but the longer you stare at images of “fit” women who look nothing like you, the more you learn to hate yourself.
Once I reached my goal weight I publicized on social media. My facebook post blew up.
I was being messaged from people I hadn’t spoke to in years. People who would otherwise ignore me commented, “you look amazing!” Family turned to me for advice, people could not recognize me in public. Everyone was so proud.
And I was too, for about 2 weeks. Then the high started to diminish and I needed to strive for something more. Because for the first time in 19 years, people were seeing me, and yet ironically, that’s when I started to disappear.
In University, like most, I lost my high school identity. But now, I had this “fit” person image I decided to roll with. What’s stopping me from taking my physique to the next level, to prove I am truly part of this community? Calories.
Everyone know abs are made in the kitchen. I followed every female bodybuilder/bikini competitor and told myself they were my goals. I was convinced I would, and should, look like them, because that is what fit people look like, and I was now decidedly fit.
Where I stand now
If you think I am a bundle of sunshine, roses and body acceptance please allow me to apologize for the deception. I am better, much better. But some days I slip… hard.
But what I’ve learned is that it’s okay to be temporarily upset at a photo taken at an unflattering angle. Bad days happen, but you can still have a good week and you don’t need to strive for 52 weeks of positivity.
I still exhibit several symptoms I touched on in this post, but I have learned to cope productively and have even eliminated a couple (like the need to eat only clean foods).
I have said powerlifting saved me, and it has, but I am aware I need to be cautious. I will always be at risk for falling down the rabbit hole of disordered eating and just because I lift heavy and don’t starve myself, it does not make me immune.
Skipping social outings to lift and inappropriately wanting to drop a weight class are decisions I face and force me to establish boundaries. It is awareness that has helped me avoid resurfacing truly disordered behaviours.
One more time for the girl in the back
Healthy and fit comes in all sizes and body proportions. Abs say absolutely nothing about your fitness level. Eat when you are hungry. Unfollow every account that promotes a zero excuse mentality, glorifies cheat day bingeing and is 96% abs and ass.
And if no one around you views food and eating the way you do, there’s a good chance it’s not a them problem, it’s a you problem, so please find help. Talk to someone who will listen and realize you will not change your mental health by just choosing to eat more.
*All definition are sourced from the NEDIC (National Eating Disorder Information Centre) website.