I crane and twist around in the mirror examining to my utter horror how there seems to be a slightly bigger roll on the left side of my back than when I checked earlier this morning. Rational me knows I would have to have consumed 5,000 calories to even gain a single pound in one day, but that thought is fleeting as my mind races to recount every morsel that has entered my mouth. I curse myself for indulging in that unnecessary spoonful of almond butter I added to my oatmeal at breakfast and I begin re-adjusting the rest of my day to make-up for the 90 calorie blunder.
Addiction comes in many forms. Rather than the strung out homeless man shooting up heroin that many people think of, I don’t get my high off drugs. For me it’s a different set of feelings, like when I’m running a personal best, or that extreme hunger when my stomach feels like it’s going to eat itself and any sudden movement causes my vision to go black as I struggle to stay upright.
Yet, many people would never know about my addiction because at 5’4” and 110 lbs. I’m certainly small, but I don’t look like I’m about to end up in a hospital bed with a feeding tube jammed down my nose. And that’s not my goal (though I don’t think anyone ever sets out with that intention).
Chances are if you ask what I’m thinking about it’s probably food or my workout for the day. I spend countless hours meticulously planning what I’m going to eat for the day and how fast my intervals should be. If this carefully constructed plan starts to fall apart I basically lose my sh*t. Adapt is not in my vocabulary, hence I’ll finish my 13 mile run even though tears have been welling in my eyes since mile four thanks to the latest stress-fracture I’ve suffered. Despite how unenjoyable this may sound working out is almost always the best part of my day–it makes me genuinely happy.
A lot of you probably spend far too much time thinking about food. While many people don’t let health control their lives as entirely as it does mine, it still has a huge impact. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched fellow students, like me, walking through Alliot stop to read the little sign above the soup or pasta that declares it contains 384 calories and then quickly put the ladle back down and move sullenly to the salad bar. Restaurant menus have starting adding nutrition facts and there are countless apps to help people count calories, but I fear that these numbers, rather than help us, have only served to create more stress and categorize food as “good” or “bad” based upon how many calories or grams of fat are in it. You don’t have to look or even act like me to have a bad relationship with food.
Like any addict nothing frustrates me more than when people tell me (out of love) that I should change my actions, like it was some simple choice I made to live like this. No drug addict suddenly decided one day that it seemed like a good idea to do heroin, and I certainly never chose for nutrition facts to control my life. However, I am beyond thankful for all the friends and family who have futilely tried to help and that do their best to understand my insane behavior. They make me want to change and get better at times, but unfortunately those urges never seem to last. At the end of the day I have no desire to relinquish the vice grip I have on my life. I am more terrified about the idea of gaining weight than I am of the very real possibility that I won’t be able to have a little blonde mini-me running around some day.
How addiction crippled me
Over the course of 10 plus years I’ve slowly forced my body to adapt to this lifestyle, though it has come at a cost. My strict routines puts a strain on relationships with friends and family. People either become concerned about my behaviors or think I’m judging them because they don’t measure out every once of food they consume, or even worse they feel both simultaneously. I’ve caused my mom endless anxiety and my best friends alternate between frustration (why can’t I just “live a little”?) and genuine concern. It upsets me that I have such an impact on those around me. I hate myself even more for the fact that I can’t change even for them. I’ve been on that side as well, watching a friend spiral down a similar path, and it sucks.
Aside from causing problems in my relationships I’ve also managed to destroy my health (ironic for someone addicted to health I know). Living off only about 1000 calories a day of almost straight fruits and veggies doesn’t leave the body a whole lot with which to work. As a result I’m perpetually exhausted (sorry to every teacher I’ve had for falling asleep in your class), I’m constantly sick, and ALWAYS injured. I’m talking five joint surgeries in almost as many years and more stress fractures than I can count. Here’s the thing, when you eat so little and that little amount contains a miniscule portion of protein things just start to fall apart. I haven’t had my period in just about six years, which not only contributes to my bone problems but more concerningly puts my ability to have kids in jeopardy.
I always thought I’d have limits, points at which I’d finally be content with myself but with every goal achieved the standards just got pushed higher. First it was run a 10k, then half a marathon, but once those were achieved my mind jumped to the next thing because why not try to qualify for Boston?
Reaching these goals does not bring you lasting happiness. The happiest moments of my life have been those random nights with friends sipping on wine while we watch the latest Siesta Key episode or laying on a hidden beach with my family laughing about my dad’s attempt at speaking Spanish with our waiter at breakfast that morning. These are times I wasn’t consumed with how many calories I’d eat or miles I’d run and that’s the kind of bliss I wish was eternal.
Maybe some of you recognize pieces of yourself in these words and I don’t mean to scare with the realities of where this rabbit hole may lead, but rather use my story as a cautionary tale and be comforted by the fact that life does not go on like this forever. I knew long ago that I had a problem, yet I always refused to fully admit it, to say it aloud. Talking about it though forces you to stop hiding from the truth, and this doesn’t mean you need to sit in front of a therapist and spill your whole life story (that certainly wasn’t my cup of tea). It’s simple conversations with a friend, significant other, family member, or even that stranger you’re sitting next to at the bus stop. It gets easier the more you talk about it and I’ve learned that people genuinely care, so accept their help in whatever small way you are capable of in that moment.
People wonder why I care so much and part of it’s just who I am. Ask anyone that knows me and they tell you I’m the most competitive person they’ve ever met. But one only has to take a quick gander through Instagram to see another reason that drives this insanity. Long ago people began setting this unachievable standard for beauty where one must be long and lean yet with curves in just the right places. Considering 99 percent of the spring break pictures I’ve scrolled past in the last 10 minutes have been airbrushed with waists pinched in and a convenient little ab crack drawn down the center of every stomach, I am clearly not the only one that feels this pressure to fulfill these standards.
This is a standard that has me perpetually cursing my genetics because at 22 I’m still build like a 12 year old boy and have a face that hasn’t aged since the sixth grade so any attempt I make to appear “sexy” simply results in me looking like the latest prosta-tot to walk down the runway of Toddlers and Tiaras. So I’ve made it my life’s work to eliminate any other possible points of critique on my body because hey maybe if I have abs no one will care that my butt is one tenth the size of Kim Kardashian’s.
Despite the picture these words may have painted for you my life is not sad or deserving of pity. As I sit here wrapping up my thoughts I have a smile stretched across my face as a result of just having finished a glorious run in 50 degree weather under a bluebird sky, and I recently accepted my dream job in Spain, so no my life is not tragic. Not everyday is as intensely stressful as what I’ve written here. I find moments of joy everyday and do even ironically love food (dark chocolate will never be turned down). And I find laughter and light with my friends and family.