In a world of diet pills, 21 day fixes, and carb-cutting protocols, dieting is painted to be a glamorous lifestyle that all women should partake in. While dieting can certainly be helpful for improving one's health markers, it can become detrimental to our mental and physical health when it goes to far. When restrictive eating, obsessive exercise, and social anxiety start to take over, that is when dieting and working out should be reassessed. For many years I struggled with a healthy balance with fitness and health, but after months of inner work, I recovered from my unhealthy obsession with fitness. Here is my story:
Like many young women, my weight loss journey started very young, unfortunately. At age 14, I started working out consistently and learning about dieting while growing up in a house that was always filled with diet program pamphlets and meal kits. As my exercise and dieting progressed, the pounds started to fall off and I started getting noticed for my lean physique. During these key developmental years I received praise for losing weight and dieting, which set me off on an unhealthy journey.
I struggled with food anxiety and weight-loss addiction through most of my high school years, and then again in college. My first year in college was a blur of vending-machine junk foods and too much alcohol as I rebounded from being underweight. I quickly put on the freshman 15 (more like 20) and started feeling very uncomfortable in my skin again. That's when my old, unhealthy dieting habits kicked in and told me I needed to lose the weight to feel good about myself. The vicious cycle restarted.
I started up at a new gym where I noticed some incredibly fit women walking around. I soon learned that these women were "bikini competitors". I had no clue what that meant, but after a few google searches I was fired up and had quickly created a new goal to become one. I then created a 12 week plan for myself to lose 20 pounds. It was pretty strict, but I was motivated, naive, and had nothing better to do so I dove right in. 12 gruesome weeks later I stepped on stage 20 pounds lighter. In case you're thinking "that's amazing", just know that 20 pounds in 12 weeks is a rapid weight loss that is not recommended.
I went on to compete in fitness competitions 15 more times over the next few years. Despite the attention I got from my peers and social media, I was dying on the inside. My menstrual cycle halted, my hair fell out, I was cold all of the time, and I had lost nearly all of my social life. I started struggling with insecurities around my fitness obsession, but it was so out of control that I didn't know how to stop. Although I was addicted to using food and exercise to manipulate my appearance, it was really consuming me and stealing my joy. I had no freedom from my diet and training regimen - I became a slave to the scale, gym, and calorie counting app.
I started seeking therapy and reaching out to other fitness competitors for support. For years I dabbled with the advice I received but never truly committed. It wasn't until I moved to another state that had less access to fitness competitions that I truly started to heal. I started to see that not everyone needed to be ripped and lean to be happy. I learned that you can exercise in moderation and eat pizza, without spiraling out of control. I looked around and for this first time in a while, I saw healthy examples of balanced eating and exercising.
With time, I started to loathe my two hour workouts and compulsive calorie counting. I saw how much fun everyone else was having just living their lives for enjoyment, not abs. This is when I really started to relax more and switched from using a nutrition tracking app to simple food journaling. This baby step into letting go of some of the number-obsession was a pivotal moment for me. I started to view food as nourishment rather than just calories again, as I once did as a child. I learned about intuitive eating and improving my relationship with food, and a few months later I was ready to stop writing down my food completely.
Many months went by where I still struggled with some body-image issues and anxiety around food, but every single day got better. With a wonderful therapist and new hobbies other than exercising, I started to see my value outside of just my appearance. I am so much more than a girl with abs. I am a friend, daughter, student, coach, dog-mom, and wife. During this process, I naturally gained some weight (that I very much needed). Instead of viewing myself as "too big", I decided to embrace the extra weight and be proud of the mental wins I was experiencing. There were days that I ate too much, but rather than getting hung up on it and feeling guilty, I used it as a learning experience to aim for more balance the next day. When we are healing our relationship with food, things can get messy, but as long as we keep going it will get better.
Healing my obsession with dieting and exercising was a long and difficult journey, but I am so thankful to be on the other side. I know so many women struggle with this in secret, and I feel we need a voice. It's okay to admit you need help, and it's okay to say "I have taken this too far". Fitness is a learning journey, and we're all doing the best we can with where we are at and what we have.
You can reach out to me if you need support, I am always open to providing advice.