By Laura Furney-Howe
When I was 8 years old, I crawled in bed nightly and prayed that no one would kidnap me before sunrise and that I would wake up skinny. I’d promise to not do whatever sin I thought I’d committed that day in exchange for an answered prayer. Half defeated every morning, I found myself safe in my own home, housed in my chubby body.
When I was 13 years old, new to my middle school, I penned my sweet and loving mother a letter asking for “cool kid” clothes, sure that a revamped wardrobe would conceal my embarrassment over my physique. I was so ashamed and guilt ridden to be asking this of her that I hid under the dining room table while she read my innocent request.
When I was 17 years old, a few weeks shy of high school graduation, I found myself in the renowned Comprehensive Care Eating Disorders Program at Stanford Hospital. Desperate to not go off to college a fat girl, I effectively stopped eating and sentenced myself to a full-time exercise regime. I starved and over-exercised my way to a 100 pound weight loss over 6 exhausting, mind-numbing, and heartbreaking months. Losing so much weight so quickly strained my heart, and I was reportedly a couple of workouts away from heart failure when they admitted me to the eating disorder clinic. I had literally broken my own heart.
I was not diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, and this was before orthorexia was commonly thrown into the conversation. I felt like a nuisance, not “thin enough” to be there. Much to the dismay of the psychiatrists in residence, I had no diagnosable condition – I simply hated myself as a result of a body type I’d concluded to be unacceptable. In my mind, I had been large - obese - and now was thinnish – all my problems would melt away, just like the fat had.
Of course, the weight and the problems had nothing to do with one another. After my release from the hospital (read: heart is better but not fixed, your spot needs to become the next girls’ deathbed), I went off to college, yo-yo-ing dramatically for the next 5 years. I struggled daily with food and exercise, torturing myself about what foods were “good” or “bad”, if I could ever truly workout “enough, “giving up” and gaining weight, “being good” and hurriedly (recklessly) shedding weight. Every day I surrendered to the adage that one “never really recovers” from an eating disorder, convinced I’d be a prisoner to this self-hatred for life.
I wish I could say there was a magical moment when everything changed, but the truth is I simply got tired of hating myself, at my biggest, at my thinnest, constantly. I looked at my large frame with nothing but disapproval. I wanted to be happy and I felt it was in my control.
So I got a trainer. I started lifting weights. My body firmed up in ways I’d never given it the chance to. I started going to spin classes. With the loud music and inspirational instructors, I felt comfortable and motivated sweating among strangers. I hiked. I ran outside – on busy streets! I went to barre classes. Boxing classes. Learned interval workouts. Indulged in overpriced workout pants. Took pole-dancing classes. Braved pilates studios. Napped in restorative yoga.
Exercise could be fun? Could be social? Could be rewarding? Could feel worthwhile not because I was losing pounds, but because I was gaining strength, blowing off steam, feeling alive? Exercise was not a punishment? These were notions I’d never once entertained before and baffled me as I slowly shaped into my healthy, natural weight and have now maintained it for over a year.
It’s no coincidence that exercising for my mind – not for my body - changed how I looked at food. Beliefs about “good” and “bad” began to fall away. I was eating to refuel. I embraced eating every couple of hours instead of stubbornly striving for starvation. My metabolism is on the mend, and I’ve found delight in the early stages of enjoying everything in moderation.
I’m proud to say that with these discoveries – the joys of movement, of endorphins, of self-made strength, that food is fuel, and nothing about our body makes us good or bad - I’ve moved myself into a new home, a body to be proud of, a heart that is healthy, and a mind that doesn’t pray to wake up someone else.