My Food Story
**I have edited and removed any triggering numbers or pictures while trying to tell the full story so as not to offend or harm anyone**
I wasn’t always obsessed with food. When I was younger, I’d think nothing of scarfing down a half-pound burger at a chain restaurant, and then order an enormous piece of chocolate cake for dessert. I could afford to eat like that; I was a competitive swimmer.
Then, in March 2010, I was scheduled to get surgery on my foot, which would mean no exercise for at least 5 weeks. I was terrified of gaining weight, so when swim season ended in early February, I started making drastic changes to my diet. I began playing the substitution game.
I honestly didn’t think I looked any thinner. I just felt healthier, more attractive, even. My parents didn’t notice until we went to Jamaica for vacation at the end of April, after I had already gotten pulled out of class a couple of times and my coaches had begun to make comments for about a month. They cut me off exercise (my primary means of weight loss) and watched me eat all week. I ate more food than I had eaten in months and still lost weight. They also made me an appointment with my doctor, who classified me as anorexic/exercise bulimic and sent me to an RD immediately.
On prom day, I weighed the lowest I’d been since elementary school. I still didn’t think I had a problem until I saw the pictures after and realized how terrible I looked. I had been trying, in my eyes, to gain weight (not because I wanted to). I had started counting out one serving of cheez-its for a snack as a compromise. My best friends since preschool stopped talking to me and I completely screwed over my prom date. I wrongly assumed they were jealous that they couldn’t eat as “healthy” as me. I was moving to Rhode Island for the summer and leaving for college in the fall, where I was recruited to swim. My mom and my doctor told me that if I didn’t gain the minimum amount to reach a healthy BMI by the end of the summer, I was not swimming in the fall. I’d be lucky if they let me go to school at all.
The first RD I visited didn’t work with me. She wasn’t willing to meet me halfway with my limited palate (I’ve been a picky eater since I was 2) and told me that “food is like medicine-sometimes we have to eat things we don’t want”. I saw her twice and never went back.
I got to Rhode Island and family friends were asking me if I was okay. At home, everyone was asking my mom about me. It had become extremely awkward for my family. Once I moved to RI, I was living on my own so I didn’t have to listen to anyone, but I did have to prove to my parents that I was making an effort when they came to visit on the weekends and continue seeing an RD. Even though I was resisting, I knew I had to gain weight if I was going to meet my weight requirement at the end of the summer. I was making some progress, but not enough.
I was referred to Pam by a family friend. I was sceptical after my first RD but seeing someone was part of the conditions of me living on my own. Pam had a very organic personality that very much clashed with my rigid type-A one but somehow it worked. I could tell right away that she had a very different approach from the previous RD I had been to. At first, I thought she was crazy. But she listened to me.
Pam didn’t give me a calorie count and she threw my meal plan out the window. Her focus was on adding things that would taste good to me. Together we created a trail mix with sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, and cinnamon cheerios. I was given weekly “homework assignments,” like trying one new food a week. She understood how angry I was about the lack of exercise so she suggested low-intensity activities such as kayaking, yoga, and walking. I could have ignored her, but I didn’t. That summer, I ate milkshakes every night, tried new foods weekly, and became comfortable with eating out again. My love for dessert grew during this time.
By the time August hit, I had done everything I could but I still hadn’t gained enough weight. My doctor saw how much progress I had made in just 8 weeks and signed the papers for me to swim, provided that I continued to make an effort. Freshman year, the swim team was the best environment I could have been put in. I made friends who love food and we bonded over it. I did relapse when I joined the track team, but as soon as I left for Rhode Island for the summer, I got back on track.
Sophomore year I gained more weight than I was comfortable with due to a knee injury that kept me out of the pool for most of the swim season. That summer, I left for Denmark, again relapsing into my disordered behaviours of overexercising and undereating, but as soon as I got back to Rhode Island, I was able to get healthy again.
Junior year was a very stable year for me throughout the fall semester, although I developed a binge-eating habit as a result of all the restricting which I tried to compensate for with running far too many miles for my legs to handle. I gained a considerable amount of weight, although I was never overweight. That summer, I found myself injured and unable to run for almost two months, and while that would have triggered unhealthy behaviours in the past, I was able to maintain some semblance of normalcy in my diet with a few slips here or there.
Senior year had its ups and downs as well, but I’m proud to say I came out on top. I’m finally in a place where I consider my relationship with food completely normal for the first time since early high school. I attribute this progress to suffering through another injury that kept me from running for 4 months. I was forced to face everything head on and when I was able to run again, I developed a new appreciation for my body. I’m more in tune with how I feel that I’ve ever been before.
Now, I love pizza as much as carrots, ice cream as much as apples. Today, I found balance.