I gained about 40 pounds between my first and second years of college. I’m not sure the exact amount; I didn’t own a scale and wasn’t going to look for one.
I don’t have a lot of pictures from that time; I hated how I looked, sure everyone noticed and wondered what my problem was, and how I could let myself go and lose control (especially as a former elite gymnast). I avoided the pictures I could and if I needed to be in one, I tried to hide in the back, camouflage myself in black, and stick out my neck to avoid extra chins.
Of the pictures I was in, I threw out a lot in a garage purge about six years ago; I remember having a visceral reaction when I opened the photo box and saw myself. I was still struggling at that time though it had changed forms – more alcohol with occasional food binges (previously binge eating disorder and bulimia).
While I had lost quite a bit of the weight I’d previously gained by then, I see now that the daily thoughts barraging my head were still in a very similar vein, diet and body focused. Somehow I thought that if I could avoid taking pictures and get rid of those I did have, I could erase that period of my life, treat it as a blip that wasn’t anything. “See? Now I’m healthy so I’m just going to put the remaining photos back in their hiding place – I’m okay now. I am, really. Right??”
Another six plus years later, I look back at both of those young women, one falling into the depths of eating disorders at 20, 21, 22 and the other struggling, flailing into recovery at 26, 27, 28. I’d hug them if I could; I’m learning to love them.
At times I’ve raged, vowing I’d never go through it again if I had to go back. I now see the bravery, courage, and determination it took to keep moving, and I’m appreciative my younger selves did.
Today, I know my biggest gifts have come from those times. Seeing what didn’t make me feel good has helped me keep reaching for what does, and the biggest factor in feeling good has been surprisingly simple: learning to listen to myself.
Learning to hear what foods energize my body (morning smoothies!), how much happier my head is with water over wine (I can actually think most of the time), how my body feels when getting enough sleep (less than seven hours leaves me feeling like a grouch), and how exercise is a non-negotiable (20 minutes in the morning goes a long way to setting me up for the day).
There was both beauty and intense pain in those years. Those young women were doing the best they could with what they knew at the time. They were recognizing something felt off, something felt wrong. They didn’t know what to do and got stuck in cul-de-sacs of “shoulds” and the distraction of dieting as well as listening to external “wisdom” of who they “should” be. However, eventually they somehow got back on the road and kept moving, flat tires and all. I’m grateful for their stubborn grit. The view from today is amazing.