I used to have a very toxic relationship with my body, with food and with exercise. Although it has taken hindsight for me to realise this, I once had zero respect for my body and didn’t treat it with love. I’d flog myself in the gym, restrict my eating, count calories, weigh myself not just every day, but after every meal and I used to hurl abuse at the person standing before me in the mirror. I used to take selfies in the mirror to watch my ab progression and make sure my ribs and hipbones started protruding a little more each day. I’d starve myself for days leading up to an ‘important event’ to make sure I was ‘skinny enough for it. I didn’t realise at the time how unhealthy it was and the damage I was doing. In fact I thought I was killing it! I was fit. I was skinny. I had abs and quads. Biceps and hard rounded glutes. I was healthy. I was disciplined. I was in control.
I was under the illusion I was healthy af. Even despite my sister coming to me from a place of love and telling me I needed to calm my farm, I thought she was cray cray. I thought she was delusional and possibly even envious that I had such discipline. Pfft! How self-righteous of me!!! But now, now I can see that she was right. I was the delusional one. It was excessive. I was excessive. I would exercise every single day, mostly twice a day, and sometimes 3 times a day. I used a calorie-counting app to track every single morsal of food that entered my mouth, down to each individual almond. It wasn’t a successful day unless I out-exercised the calories I put in. On days when I knew I’d only be able to exercise once, the only thing I would consume was a small can of tuna. Other times I even tried to be in calorie deficit (burn off more calories than I consumed.) When I discovered that, it quickly became a dangerous obsession. It was a new challenge. How does any of this sound healthy?
No part of me was listening to how my body felt. It was all about how I looked. Exercising and feeding my body wasn’t coming from a place of love but a place of fear. A fear of ‘getting fat’, a fear of putting on weight. A fear of being ugly. A fear of loosing muscle definition. A fear of being unattractive and unworthy of love. I exercised because I hated how my body looked, not because I loved the way exercise made my body feel.
I was never formally ‘diagnosed’ with an eating disorder or body dismorphia but now it’s blaringly obvious that’s exactly what it was. My earliest memory of what I now know are signs of disordered eating is age 10. 10! I was in year 6! I remember going to school with no packed lunch. Intentionally. With a busy shift-working Mum, I was expected to make my own lunch at that age, which worked perfectly for me because I could get away with not eating. I thought I was fat (at age 10! Wtf!). So not eating meant I had control over my weight. After school I would binge, out of pure starvation. This continued (and probably worsened) throughout high school. But by then it was noticed by my friends and my mum, who tried to intervene and threatened to take me to a physiologist on many occasions.
That was obviously the beginning of some unhealthy habits but the issues really peaked when I was in my early twenties. Low self-esteem was already raging and then I got into the bikini-modelling world, which I’m sure you can imagine really didn’t help my lack of self-worth and only exaggerated my ‘need’ to be ‘skinny’. I look back at photos from those days and remember exactly what I was thinking in those moments. I genuinely thought I was fat! I remember going to competitions, having not eaten all day (but still somehow having completed two hours of intense exercise), a tiny-framed 47kg girl and thinking I was huge next to the rest of the babes there. I wasn’t though. I was the furtherest thing from fat. Photo evidence and hindsight has made me realise that I was tiny! I looked fit and healthy because I had abs and defined muscles but I was verging on too skinny. What was going on in my head was the epitome of self-loathing, disrespect for my body and a completely dismorphed view of myself. I may not have appeared it, but I was unhealthy af. Every workout was fuelled by self-hatred and every meal (or lack there of) was eaten with underlying guilt. Nothing about how I approached my health and fitness was healthy! (Yes, this was about the time my sister had words).
A few years later, I went through a stage of binge-eating, purging then overeating again. It was fuelled by depression. I was living in a small apartment with a not-so-social housemate. I was lonely, I’d had my heart stomped all over by someone I trusted and things just spiraled. I still exercised, but not as much. And when I did, I felt so self-conscious and uncomfortable in my body that I didn’t like being at the gym. I knew so many people there that I was embarrassed to show face. I would lock myself away from the world and I would secretly overeat – searching for happiness through food. At this time I was the unhappiest, the unhealthiest and as a result the heaviest I have ever been. It took an eye-opening conversation with my Mum to realise I was depressed and needed to get help.
Like Oprah, my weight yo-yoed for years. (Just trying to connect myself to Oprah ya know?) I did so much damage to my metabolism that my body didn’t know what was going on. It had gone through starvation and then overeating, to starvation again. Throughout my adult years I have been as light as 46kg and as heavy as 63kg. None of these weights or any numbers in between were ever healthy. Because throughout all those years, my relationship with myself, with food and with exercise was toxic. It was based on hatred not love.
Fast forward almost a decade from those undereating, over-exercising, calorie-counting, gym junkie days, and here I am, the happiest in my body that I have ever been! But more than anything, my mind is the healthiest it’s ever been. My whole philosophy around food and exercise has transformed. I approach my health from a place of love and respect. So much so that I only want to do what’s best for it. I listen to my body. How it feels, when it needs fuel and when it desires movement. I don’t have a regimented fitness routine like I once did or plan my meals out down to the minute. I eat when I am hungry and exercise when I feel like it. I fuel my body with nutrients and nourishing foods. But I treat myself too. I don’t bust my ass in the gym daily. Gone are the days when I would approach training with the objective to look good. I no longer focus solely on aesthetics and how I looked in bikini. Now I exercise to feel good. To feel fit and healthy.
Weirdly, once I stopped acting from a place of fear (of getting fat) and started acting out of love for my health, my body seemed to find its own happy weight. Sounds strange I know. But when I used to slog myself at the gym and feel guilty about the food I was eating (especially if it wasn’t a salad), I was never happy. My body wasn’t happy. There was always something to improve or weight I couldn’t shift. But now, I’m pretty fucking happy with how I look. My body has healed itself from all the metabolic damage and within the last few months I’ve unintentially lost weight and dropped a size without even trying. (And I’m stoked about it!) I didn’t put a plan in place or start weighing my food or even weighing myself. It just happened when I shifted my focus from aesthetics to how my body feels inside. I guess there really is something to this whole ‘listening to your body’ thing.
Of course I’m not completely healed from my low self esteem, disordered eating, body-dismorphia years. Fear still rears it’s ugly head every now and then. But I tell you what, I’m pretty fucking happy to be in the place I’m at now. My relationship with food, fitness and my body has completely flipped. I may not look the fittest or strongest I’ve ever looked but mentally I’m the healthiest me I’ve even been. I’m comfortable in my skin. I eat to fuel my body now. I even eat chocolate and ice cream and other ‘no-go’ foods sometimes. If that’s what I feel like, then I have it. (I seem to do better without self-inflicted restrictions). I probably only go to the gym 1-2 times a week but still move my body most days. I don’t even own a set of scales and couldn’t even tell you the last time I weighed myself. Numbers shnumbers! When I’m hungry, I eat. When I want to exercise, I move. I understand the importance of looking after my body from the inside out. It’s the place where my soul resides so I have to and I WANT to look after it!
Health is not a number on the scales, a particular shape or a specific size. Health is all about how you feel. From within. Not how you look. Remember that.
Love Eloise x