“How Many Calories Are In Spinach?” - My Disordered Eating Journey
So this is the thing… I have had quite a few mental health issues. I grew up as a perfectionist and chronic people pleaser. I had absolutely no boundaries, but honestly I thought I was fine because on the outside, everything seemed great. It wasn’t until my eating started to become very disordered during my freshman year of college, that I realized my coping mechanisms were actually very unhealthy. This is the thing, I gained a freshman thirty. Not a freshman fifteen, not a freshman twenty, a freshman THIRTY! Given, I probably had 2% body fat from being a track athlete in high school so I probably needed to gain some healthy weight. But give me no exercise (finally) , endless servings of cafeteria food (I didn’t know what a calorie was), and a whole lot of freedom, then yep you guessed it… I am gaining thirty pounds in three months. Which do not get me wrong, for many people this is not a bad thing, but for me personally, I had never been able to gain weight before in my life. Growing up, my body was actually commented on all the time for being “too skinny”, so gaining that much weight that fast, messed with my mind and my body image.
This is the thing though, I was going through A LOT my first couple of months in college. I had gone through a horrendous break up where I thought I lost the love of my life (and it was all my fault), I had a very close family member of mine get diagnosed with cancer, and I moved away from home for the first time ever. Basically, I was severely depressed, so I coped the best I knew how…with food.
This is when I started to see my appearance change in the mirror. I didn’t have a thigh gap anymore, my butt was getting much bigger, and I had a little extra fat on my lower belly (which in high school I used to pray for because I hated my track built six pack, we truly never can win, huh?!). I started to weigh myself, which may have been my worst idea and then, actually no this was my worst idea… I wrote down my weight and every single thing I ate. I tried to bring my calorie intake to 500 calories a day (y’all, if you don’t know, a two year old can’t even thrive off of that amount of food!). I would ask my friend if eating an apricot after lunch was okay or I would ask my mom how many calories there were in a handful of spinach. All I could ever think about was numbers… whether it be the amount I weighed, the amount I consumed or didn’t consume, or the amount of time I exercised… numbers were all I ever thought about.
At this time, I started to get obsessed with health blogs and health Instagram accounts. I spent hours watching “What I Eat In A Day” videos and I spent hours on the treadmill and doing HIIT workouts. What I stopped spending time on though, were things that actually mattered to me like my friends, creative projects, and something as simple as going to the beach. All that I could focus on was the calories in versus the calories out and how my body looked in the mirror.
As I scrolled through the endless “What I Eat In A Day” videos on Youtube, I noticed an up and coming trend called Veganism. I know I didn’t “invent” Veganism or anything, but literally no one I knew was Vegan. I mean jeez, this was back in 2014 and health blogs were only starting to get a rise on Instagram. That said, I THREW myself into the vegan lifestyle in full force. I cut out products that were cruelty-free, I only ate plants, and I educated everyone I knew on the topic. Lucky for me, my friends only made fun of me a little and when I started to throw documentaries in their face, some actually started to become vegan too, which was a dream come true of mine back then. I was finally starting to eat again and I felt like I was getting my power back. Little did I know though, I was only fueling my disordered eating (PSA: I am not saying Veganism fuels eating disorders, I am saying the way I went about it did!!).
I watched these videos and read these books that told me to eat obscenely large quantities of food. Like 8 bananas in your morning smoothie and three bowls of rice and potatoes for lunch and dinner, type of huge. Oh, and I read that I should cut out pretty much all fat and not eat any oil. I guess some people’s bodies can thrive on this type of diet and honestly, for about four and a half years, I made myself believe that mine could too. The truth is, veganism was only a mask for my eating disorder. I had developed orthorexia where I had an obsession with only eating foods that were healthy, which only led me to binging on bowls of cereal at night. I devoted my life to exercising and not going out as much, unless it was to dance because dancing is exercise haha. I really believed that I was happy, and full of love and light, but looking back now, I was hurting pretty badly. I hated what I saw in the mirror. I was completely self conscious, I felt completely unworthy, and the things I thought about myself made my life hell. If I hadn’t found a good group of friends back to pick me up from time to time, I really think that I would have been completely miserable. This type of eating and dieting lasted for about three and a half to four years until finally, I was pretty much forced to stop. Moving on to the last chapter of this journey… I started to do hot yoga pretty extremely, which once again is not a bad thing if you do it in balance. I, on the other hand, took about two hot yoga classes a day, and would teach one or two a day, averaging three to four hot yoga classes EVERY SIGNLE DAY. Folks, this is what I call excessive. I also, was barely eating two meals, and was wondering why I was so god damned tired all the time. Nonetheless, I continued on with my four jobs and my 18 units of college and my social life and my crazy exercise and my limited amounts of food. I was always getting sick and I could not, for the life of me, figure out why. Well, now looking back I can tell you exactly why haha. It took me getting severely ill to really check myself and my habits. I had gotten mold poisoning and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t work, I could barely even walk. I was basically bed ridden and it only left me with time to think. I did so much damn research about everything and was trying every holistic measure under the sun, until one day I went home to see my doctor and my family. It wasn’t until my dad asked me, “Would you rather be half dead or try SOMETHING, like changing your eating habits?” This is when everything really started to click. I started to change things and then I saw myself change.
No, this was not my cure for my physical illness of mold poisoning, but it was a cure for me in how I thought about my food. Somehow, my eating started to become more intuitive. I started restricting myself less, and I started feeling much more free. I started experimenting with things that I used to have so much control over. For instance, I started eating some fish and eggs (not saying you have to do this if you are vegan), but this was absolutely pivotal for me. This is because I started to give up control and rules I tied myself to for YEARS. I started to give up the reigns one by one. I started to honor my body and really listen. For example, I still don’t eat dairy because I truly don’t have a desire to because it would make me feel ill, and I eat gluten here and there when I feel like it, but not all the time because it doesn’t make feel the greatest. You see, I started to get in touch with what I actually wanted and not what others wanted from me. I stopped placing importance on my looks, but instead on my health. The only thing I could focus on was healing, I didn’t have much time for anything else.
Now, it’s been almost two years of honoring MYSELF and I feel balanced and I feel GOOD. It has been a long journey with food and self-worth, but I finally feel like I have made it.
I know this is not everyone’s story. Some struggle more than others, but if you are struggling with disordered eating, please reach out and talk to someone. There is absolutely NOTHING shameful in it. Once again, if I didn’t have the support system I had I don’t know where I would be. And if you don’t feel like you have a support system, you can talk to me, connect with someone online, or better yet, TALK TO A THERAPIST. Because therapy is fcking amazing!!!! This is my journey. Any negative comments about it aren’t welcome. I have already walked through this journey, I don’t need to take steps back. With love, Riley <3