The Healthiest Year of My Life: Part 1/2
From 88lbs to 200lbs, and everywhere in between, my physical body has been all over the spectrum. But the physical transformation I’ve experienced doesn’t hold a candle to what happened to me on the inside.
To understand why this past year has been so different and life changing for me, I should give you a little background. There are a few things about me that have remained pretty consistent throughout my journey thus far. One is that I’ve always been into sports and/or working out. From a young age, I can remember running laps around my parents yard, or jogging on their treadmill, attempting push-ups in the basement, or doing exercise videos on VHS (yes, TAPES).
Around the age of 14 or 15, my relationship with food and exercise changed. I wasn’t an extremely overweight kid, maybe a little fluffy. However, it’s funny how little moments in our existence can change our path drastically.
I was standing with one of my best girl friends and we were chatting with a boy, I don’t remember about what. But, at some point in the conversation he was describing someone else to us and placed her in the “bigger” category, and then he turned to me and said “no offense”. I wanted to cry. Although I don’t think he was intentionally calling me a fat ass, he was obviously insinuating that I too, was “bigger”, and in this sense “bigger” is never better.
It was around this time that my parents went on the ever popular Weight Watchers diet. I had never been interested in dieting up until that point, but without telling them, I started the diet too. At first it was pretty innocent. I didn’t set out to lose a huge amount of weight. And although I suppose the kid’s “no offense” comment was in the back of my mind, I wasn’t even thinking about that.
I always felt some sense of embarrassment stepping on a scale. Even at home, I would sneak in my parent’s bathroom when they weren’t at home and see how much I weighed. I was always scared if someone else was around when I weighed, they might ask what the number was. Again, nobody was bullying me about my weight, nobody was telling me i was fat, nothing in my outside world was making me feel this way. It was just the way I felt.
As the weeks went by, I was weighing myself more often, and the number on the scale was going down. I had educated myself on all the “rules” of the diet. What was “good”. What was “bad”. How much of everything I was supposed to eat. How much water I was supposed to drink. I became obsessed with every aspect of it. And I loved the control that I felt with watching the number on the scale go down by what I was allowing myself to put in my body.
At some point I changed the Weight Watcher rules to Jessica’s rules. If I could watch the number on the scale go down by doing what I was doing on the plan, I’ll just amp it up a little and I can do it better. Overshooting the mark became a common theme in my life.
My friends and family started to catch on that I was getting a little crazy with the diet. When the questions starting coming at me, I knew I didn’t want to stop what I was doing, so I started lying. When I would pick at my dinner and only eat a few bites, I would tell my parents it was because I had a big snack after school. When I only packed a small salad for lunch at school, I would tell my friends that my family and I were going out that night for an early dinner.
I was weighing myself multiple times a day. I started lifting my shirt to examine my stomach in the bathroom mirror on every trip. I remember over Christmas break I was at home all day by myself for a couple of weeks. Because I knew I would have to eat when my parents got home so they wouldn’t catch on to my behavior, (not that the fifty pound weight loss wasn’t a dead giveaway) I would only allow myself to have one peppermint and a small orange for the day. I also started watching the Food Network non-stop as a way to make myself feel like I was getting food in one way or another.
During this time I can remember my energy level being almost non-existent. I would lay on the couch all day, not talking to anyone, not going outside, not playing sports, or doing anything. I remember my hair falling out in clumps when I would wash it. My normally thick and curly hair had turned into thin and wispy hair. I was freezing all the time. No matter how many clothes I put on, I was freezing. And I was wearing a lot of clothes on purpose so it wasn’t so apparent how tiny I had become.
Another moment that remains burned in my mind is the morning I weighed myself and the number read 88lbs. II think my goal had been to stop at 100lbs. Again, something that became habit for me….overshooting the mark. I was 5’9” and 88lbs. Seeing the number on the scale that morning didn’t alarm me that much, probably because it had been inching that way for a while. What did alarm me was later that afternoon when I mustered up enough energy to drag myself out of the recliner and into the bathroom. On the way out, I lifted up my shirt to look at my stomach like I always did, and what i saw in the reflection scared the shit out of me. Ribs and bones were sticking out all over the place. My hip bones protruded from my frame. For the first time, I was truly concerned.
I decided that day that I needed to stop losing weight. Not that I was ready to gain weight by any means, but I knew that if I continued the way I was going, I would be dead by my 17th birthday. So, I made the first of many promises to myself to stop my own behavior that was killing me.
For weeks after that day I truly tried to eat “normally”. As much as I didn’t want to die, I was so afraid that I was going to get fat just by allowing myself to eat like a normal human being. I felt out of control when I wasn’t restricting myself. I hated not being in control. So, as much as I tried, I found myself unable to stop the behavior. I was eating enough to stay alive, but only allowing myself to eat boiled fish and steamed vegetables. Finally, one night at dinner, my Dad had enough. I gave him another bullshit excuse about why I wasn’t eating. He got up from the table and declared with his voice shaking that he wasn’t eating until I started eating. My Dad is one of the strongest, smartest, and most favorite people on this planet, and to see the fear and pain on his face that night, truly shook me to the core. Okay, I would start eating I said. And this time I was serious.
The next day I was still serious and planned to uphold my end of the bargain. It was so hard for me to deliberately eat food. I had such emotion around it after such a long time of severe restriction. Eating felt foreign to me. It felt really bad. So, I unknowingly learned how to shut my emotions off so I could. Turn out the lights, party’s over kind of shut off.
I started eating, but in a very unhealthy way. I started eating uncontrollably by myself. I felt ashamed to eat in front of people, so I would seclude myself somewhere in the house (usually in the pantry) and eat mindlessly for as long as I could. I tried to put time parameters around it, such as “I will allow myself to eat from this box of cereal for the next five minutes”. But, then the five minutes would be up and I couldn’t stop. I would extend the time frame over and over until I was either full, or someone or something interrupted this ritual. The first few times I overate, I felt really horrible. I had gone from eating barely anything, to gorging myself multiple times a day. I tried several times to make myself puke after some of these sessions, but I could never make it happen. So, I just continued bingeing as often as I could, as long as it was by myself. This shame around eating would stay with me for years to come.
If you’ve never experienced thoughts or behaviors like these, you’re probably pretty alarmed and thinking “Jess, this is crazy”, and that’s exactly what I felt for most of my life. The alarming fact is that this is pretty common for people who suffer from eating disorders. It seems “crazy” to an outsider, but it is real and it is serious for those experiencing it. I never knew other people thought like this until I shared my story with some other women, and I heard many “me too”s.
Over the next several years my weight fluctuated from my low of 88lbs to over 200lbs at some point in college, and then everywhere in between. I restricted to feel different, and then when I could no longer do that without dying, I started bingeing in secrecy. Again, to feel different, or perhaps not to feel anything at all. I also found other substances during this time to assist in numbing my feelings, along with trying every diet and way of eating, including veganism (just another form of restriction for me and not about animal rights) for about four years. I exercised 6 days a week throughout all of the weight fluctuation. I did CrossFit, interval training, yoga, ran marathons and a couple 50ks. I treated exercise as a form of punishment for my body because I hated the way it looked and the way I felt. Exercise was supposed to make skinny, and being skinny was supposed to make me feel happy. Or so I thought.