A Measure of Worth?

Just a quick note: we’re getting into some of the most recent (and, frankly, most difficult) parts of the ED here. I just wanted to post a little disclaimer here that NONE of this is to be considered “pro-ana” AT ALL–please, if you feel yourself identifying with some or all of the thoughts and behaviors I’m posting here, please please please seek help. Tell a friend or family member. Find a doctor. Reach out. An ED is a very serious disease with some very serious consequences, both psychological and physical, and you do not deserve to live in pain. Please don’t isolate yourself: there is hope and there is help outside of your own mental prison. 

Moving back to Florida felt like failing.

Here I was: 23, salutatorian of my high school class, having both graduated from college a year early (and summa cum laude) and successfully managed a high school drama department, and yet now I couldn’t manage my own life. I was moving back in with my mother. I wasn’t going to get my MFA from an Ivy League or become a dramaturg at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or work for the New York City Center’s Encores!.

I felt like my life was completely out of control. Fortunately, ED was right there beside me, offering the magic pill: control your body, control your life.

I was aware that I had a problem–that I was addicted to my new Eat-Clean lifestyle–but I was hellbent on not giving it up. Even though I didn’t yet have a car or a job, I went to the Busy Body Fitness Center up the road each day and worked out. I was nearing the end of my eight-week transformation challenge, and I refused to miss a muscle-building moment.

My post-“transformation” photo

As soon as the transformation challenge ended, I knew that I wasn’t thin enough. Looking at the pictures of the other women online, I knew that I still had work to do. I beat myself up, knowing I hadn’t been compliant enough with the transformation diet–some days I had had a bowl of cereal before bed (old habits die hard) or had even god forbid snuck a handful of chocolate chips past ED.

At the gym, one of the trainers there asked me if I was training for an NPC* competition. I said I wasn’t, but immediately went home and signed up. This was going to be how I made up for my transformation failure: I was going to train for a Bikini competition.

My reasoning was this: if I wasn’t good enough to use my brain to impress everyone–my Ivy League dreams were still stuffed inside the boxes I’d shipped home but never unpacked–then I was going to use my body to prove I was worth something.

I started a new regimen of training, which involved alternating squat and deadlift days–with plyometric days in between. I cut down on some of my cardio since I was no longer running to and from the gym, but I still managed to log hours upon hours on the arc trainer. I poured over pictures of figure competitors and studied training logs and meal plans in my copies of Oxygen, Muscle and Fitness Hers, and Fitness RX while I elliptical-ed away my calories.

I was also becoming more and more obsessed with eating–and eating the right things at the right times. I was downing protein powder two to three times a day (whey in the morning after my workout and mixed with water and cinnamon as a pudding for my mid-morning snack, and casein mixed with water and cinnamon as a pudding for dessert). I cooked batches and batches of boiled chicken and ground turkey and stored them in the freezer for easy access. I made egg-white and oatmeal pancakes. I ate sweet potatoes and green beans and lettuce and didn’t taste a single thing.

The Eat-Clean Diet told me to eat six meals a day, spaced three or so hours apart. I took that to heart and, of course, to the extreme: If I wasn’t shoveling tasteless fuel into my body every three hours on the dot, I would start to panic. ED would start to whisper threats in my ear: My muscles were going to shrink. All of my hard work was going to be thrown away. I was going to gain weight. If I couldn’t get to my cottage cheese and blueberries or dry tuna fish, I would start to hyperventilate, my chest closing up and my head spinning. I felt like I was going to die.

That also may have had something to do with the hypoglycemia from the fact that, despite eating six meals a day, I was starving myself.**

This was no way to live my life. I knew there was something wrong. But I loved looking in the mirror and seeing my beautiful muscles and knowing that they were my justification for not killing myself. My muscles were going to prove that I had worth.***


*NPC stands for “National Physique Committee.” It is one of the amateur bodybuilding, fitness, figure, and bikini organizations, and certain NPC shows act as qualifiers for a pro committee like IFBB (International Federation of Body Builders).

**I lived my life from meal to meal because I was only eating 100-200 calories at a time. I was constantly hungry, counting down the seconds until I could eat again. When it was finally time to eat again, I would inhale the food, torn between consuming everything as quickly as I could and savoring every last bite. When the food was gone, I would sink into a depression that would last until the next meal time. Needless to say, I wasn’t much fun to be around between meals–and god forbid you get in my way when I was cooking…

***I spent most of my time worrying about what my friends from high school would think of me. I had been one of those “most-likely-to-succeed”, type-A kids who everyone just assumed would go far. I had such a low sense of self-worth, that I took their dismissive “stop-worrying-you’ll-be-great-at-whatever-you-do’s” as threats–in other words, if I wasn’t great at whatever I did, then I would be a complete failure. I was so afraid of disappointing everyone, that I just went ahead and disappointed everyone (read: myself) to prove they were wrong for having had faith in me. It’s taken me a long time to start to separate myself from this need to live up to what I have falsely believed are other peoples’ expectations of me. (And there are still days when I wake up and wish I had a better life to display for those acquaintances on Facebook. On those days, I have to remind myself that I am on my own, non-traditional journey–and that I can’t base my destination on what I imagine is someone else’s ideal.

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