As I sit here, on the eve of my impending surgery for an exercise-induced ankle injury, I can’t help but notice how nicely the exercise addiction that necessitated this surgery dovetails with the soy-free summer.
As I mentioned in my last post, at the beginning of my soy-free summer, my relationship with food was fairly uncomplicated: if I could unwrap it, thaw it, and nuke it, then I probably ate it. By the end of the summer, I was basically eating peanut butter and plums, and scared to death of touching the unhealthy packaged foods of my childhood.
But something else, besides heightened grocery store awareness, happened to me that summer: I learned how to exercise.
Now, this is usually a good thing, but as a human person with probably low serotonin stores (i.e. the kind of gal who needs a good sweat to get a good mood on), an addictive personality, and all of the prerequisites for a developing eating disorder, exercise went from fun activity to obsession faster than you can say “body dysmorphic disorder”.
It started innocently enough: every morning at drama camp, our choreographer led us in a “dance warmup” that ended in an abs routine that I routinely couldn’t do. I was embarrassed that I was so out of shape, and I hated watching my garlic-roll-and-baked-ziti-induced pudge bunch up while I huffed through my crunches.
So I started doing the abs routine every night at home, in addition to doing it in the morning. Simple enough.
Then I realized that the JCC (where I was attending camp) allowed campers over the age of 13 to take advantage of the gym without having to pay for an expensive membership. Mom was already picking me up late, so I just used the time between camp and carpool to explore the as-yet unknown mysteries of the gym.
I had no idea what I was doing, and I cringe now to think of the damage I was doing to my body while I tried to figure out how to move the many levers and pulleys on the traditional resistance machines. The only one I ever really figured out how to use was the assisted pull up machine, although I never grew the balls to graduate to body weight. I preferred to do cardio–and an hour on the elliptical was my drug of choice because a bony tumor in my knee made it hard to run.
From there it was a slippery slope (again, one not made slippery by brain-eating prions, but rather by sweat). I started biking to and from the gym on non-camp days. I did my abs routine every night, even–and especially–after my gym sessions. I continued to restrict my calories and macronutrients like fat and protein (although I didn’t know at the time that was what I was doing). I dropped down to 97 pounds that summer. I was 5’4″.
That summer, I fell in love–my first, most lasting, most toxic, and only: ED. ED, short for Eating Disorder, became a part of my life on July 4th, 2001. I can still remember the exact moment I laid eyes on ED, the moment where I went from “allergic and out of shape kid trying to do the right thing” to full on anorexic: on July 4th I stood in front of my bedroom mirror in a bikini for the first time–and I looked good. I had abs. Boys at camp wanted to date me (and I even had my first “boyfriend”). I felt confident and beautiful and strong, and the fact that I had abs was the icing on the cake (which I wasn’t eating, because there was probably soy in the icing).
I looked at my reflection, and I decided that I never wanted to look any other way. A lightbulb clicked in my head: extreme food (calorie) restriction plus extreme exercise equals beautiful. A beautiful reflection makes ED happy. And no person, no achievement, no award could ever satisfy me as much as pleasing ED.
It was the best and also the worst moment of my life, and I remember it in such detail that I don’t know if that feeling can ever be erased. It was the moment I became a woman, the moment that I renounced being a functioning human, the moment that will forever define the direction my life has taken me.
And all it took was a couple of crunches and a few less Crispy M&Ms.