Fitness Friday: Oxygen Magazine is Coming Back…and I’m Not Happy About It

oxygen-magazine-oh-yeah-nutrition-ad

Before I even start this post, I just want to say something to all of you who are going to get offended/upset by what I’m about to write: this post isn’t about you, the end user, and your choices. I’m … Continue reading

UN-Podcast 019: UNtimed

Moon-Silhouette

[source] I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating (again and again, since it seems to surprise me every time): our paths are inexplicably intertwined with the paths of those who need to be a part of our … Continue reading

Sex with ED, or Let Me Be Frank*

Muscular legs in heels

*Just a note for those of you who know my father, no, this has nothing to do with him or the Elektra complex. I’m talking about Eating Disorders, or ED for short, thankyouverymuch.     During my very expensive mistake … Continue reading

“But You Still Have To Go To The Gym”

This commercial makes me so angry–it embodies pretty much everything that’s wrong with the state of fitness and nutrition in our country today. There are so many things wrong with commercial that it’s almost hard to find a place to start. So I’ll do my best to focus on the main reason why this seemingly innocuous Cheerios commercial makes my blood boil.

Looking past the fact that I no longer agree with the contention that the whole grains in Cheerios are part of a “heart healthy breakfast,” the majority of my ire today comes from the last line: “But you still have to go to the gym.”+

Now, as a certified personal trainer and an incurable gym rat, I’m happy that General Mills is suggesting that fitness is an important part of anyone’s “heart health” and “weight loss” regime; however there’s a more insidious message behind the commercial, and it contains that ugly, 7-letter “C-word.”

Calories.

(If I never have to hear the word again, it will be too soon.)

The crux of this commercial’s message is: no matter how healthily you eat, if you don’t burn it off, you’ll get fat. (And Cheerios carries disordered food messages throughout much of its marketing strategy. Dr. Deah Schwartz, a Health At Every Size blogger, did a great post on the disordered implications of its “more whole grains, less you” message on Peanut Butter Cheerios boxes).

More Grains, Less You: negative body image from Cheerios Ad

This is disgusting to me on so many levels.

Here’s the thing: calories in vs. calories out does work. But only for so long.

It goes something like this: I start eating well and working out. I eliminate processed foods but don’t change my portion sizes. I buy a pair of running shoes and go for a 12+ minute mile jog 3-4 times a week. I lose weight. And then, all of a sudden, I plateau. So:

I lessen my portion sizes slightly and keep up with my running. I lose weight and then plateau. I get a personal trainer and lift weights several times a week in addition to the running. I lose weight and then plateau. I read some broscience forums and realize that I need to tighten up my diet. I eliminate fats (because fats make me fat amirite?*) and start working out 6 days a week. I lose weight and then plateau. Fine. Now my choices are to either make my portions even smaller or eat nothing but egg whites and tuna with steamed broccoli. I do both just in case. My metabolism slows. I become leptin resistant. I am hungry all of the time. I need to work out more. I go to the gym twice a day or do more than an hour of steady-state cardio every day, because who needs rest days?**

And in order to maintain, I have to continue manipulating my food or my workouts in an ever lessening/increasing ratio.

Exercise should be about rewarding the body with endorphins and strength, not about punishing your body for what you've eaten

FACT.

WHY. Why would anyone–anyone–do this to him or herself? What’s the point of spending your entire life worrying about how small, bland, and tasteless you can make your portions or how long, bland, and exhausting you can make your exercise? For some aesthetic goal? (Because it’s certainly not for health, despite what the fitspo images are assuring you. If you were healthy, you’d be able to go to a restaurant without freaking out when they cook your chicken breast in oil, or stay out late without worrying about whether or not you’ll be able to wake up in time to do an hour on the elliptical before work.)

Sorry to be absolutely blunt here, folks, but calories in/calories out is a really tragic*** way to live.

But what’s the alternative?

Well, let’s start at the beginning.

– K.

+And I can guarantee you’ve all seen this couple at the gym, too–you know, the woman sweating it out on the treadmill for an hour, lifting a light dumbbell awkwardly while reading a magazine, the man sitting on the pec-deck machine for an hour, doing endless sets of chest flyes with his neck jutting forward and taking 20 minute breaks between sets to chat with his friends…

*No.

**Everyone

***I was going to use a different word here, but I figure I’ve maxed out my curse word allotment for this post by using the “c” word again.

Forgetting Fitspiration

A quick thought before I go back into the science and history of the calories in/calories out myth: 

 

My physical therapist wants me to start going to the gym again. And I am utterly terrified.

 

I know it’s silly, especially since I’m hoping to make a career of fitness and nutrition, but I can’t help it.

 

The gym has always been both a haven and a prison. It is where I saw some of my greatest triumphs and my hardest falls. It is where I learned to love my body and hate it, to gain muscle and lose my mind.

 

Yoga is one thing, but going back to the gym is definitely another.

 

I just find this very relevant now, as I start to understand the myths that fueled my ED and exercise bulimia–as I start to explore why calories in/calories out is a fallacy, and how obsession is fueled by the false advertising of the fitness and health industries.

 

I’m not sure how to reconcile the fact that my PT wants me to start doing 5 minutes of steady state cardio with my former impulses to do hours of the same. I’m not sure how to reconcile 3 sets of ten light-weight negative calf raises on the leg press with the desire to deadlift 100+ pounds on the first day.

 

Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated, fitspiration

So said the voices in my head. But sometimes, obsession is really just obsession.

I’m terrified of finding myself listening to the voices that once upon a time told me the lies that led to my pain.

 

That being said, I feel a little bit better about the fact that I know that the voices tell lies. That I know that ED is always going to be waiting for me to start listening again. That I know how to tune the voices out–that I want to tune them out.

 

It’s funny: I was listening to the most recent Paleo Solution Podcast, and someone wrote in with a question regarding the Health at Every Size movement. It seemed strange–Robb Wolf, of The Paleo Solution Diet fame, is all about nutrition and strength training; HAES is more about body image and mental health/perspective. The question seemed out of place, being answered by a man who doesn’t struggle with an eating disorder and really hasn’t focused on Paleo or strength training as a method for coping with overweight or obesity in his own life. And something in the question stuck out at me: it was sent in by a personal trainer who noticed that the several of his overweight/overfat clients who had made significant gains in their health and vitality were the ones who were more likely to be upset when they didn’t see the same results reflected in belly or underarm fat.

 

What is so striking to me is that those people–people whose health has dramatically improved, whose lives have become infinitely better, whose chances at surviving to live a long and happy life have just increased–were unhappy because they aren’t physically “perfect” (whatever that word means).

 

All of that to say that I don’t understand why we spend so much time trying to equate health and fitness with aesthetic ideals.

 

I don’t understand–even though I’ve lived through it–why we have to equate flat abs with health and First Lady arms with longevity.

 

You know what? I no longer have completely flat abs. My triceps don’t pop anymore. I can’t deadlift or do a pull up (or ten) like I used to.

 

But you know what I’m more concerned about? The fact that I can’t run up a flight of stairs–or even walk it without getting winded. I’m more concerned about the fact that my gut health is still affecting my skin. I’m more concerned about the fact that walking my dog isn’t easy.

 

And because I’m spending more time worried about my lack of physical fitness, I’m spending less time worrying about my lack of a six pack. Funny how priorities change. (Would I like a six pack? Sure. But if it means having to starve myself or eat tuna and egg whites six times a day, then it’s not worth it.)

Me with flat abs after Muscle and Fitness Hers Challenge

In order to take this picture, I starved myself, ate nothing but tuna, egg whites, and protein powder, had no friends, went to the gym 7 days a week, and cried a lot. NOT WORTH IT.

 

So maybe I will be okay to go back to the gym. Maybe I finally have the perspective that I was missing when I was spending hours on the elliptical, hoping for the “perfect” body (whatever that is). All I want now is the perfect body for me, where I am today. One that will keep me healthy, happy, and living a good, long life.

But that’s just me. More soon,

Love,

K.

Dirty Secrets From Eating Clean: Food Addiction, Part II

To read the whole series in order, start here: 

Dirty Secrets From Eating Clean: Food Addiction, Part I

Let me be clear: I was already a food addict. A different kind of food addict, but an addict nonetheless. I’ve been a food addict since I was at least 10 years old.

I can remember back to my Friday night binges on baskets of garlic rolls at Mario’s or Dominic’s, eating between three and six rolls before digging into an adult-sized baked ziti entree; my anticipation of pizza night on Saturdays with Dad, and how we’d have to buy at least two boxes from Pizza Hut because I could knock back five slices on my own–and follow them up with a huge chunk of Tollhouse cookie dough without stopping to consider hunger; my ability to eat both servings of boxed Stouffer’s french bread pizza and still want finish off the tortellini I’d cooked for me and my sister; my insistence that my favorite food–above even chocolate and candy–was bread, and my inability to stop wanting after two and then three pieces of toast for breakfast…

Greasy garlic rolls

I like these more than chocolate.

After the soy-free summer, my tastes changed somewhat. When I cut out processed foods, sugar, and soda, I cleansed my palate of the hyper-sweetened and -salted foods that had “nourished” my childhood. Instead, I became dependent on my breakfast cereal and peanut butter sandwiches, living for my second and third helpings of spaghetti. (And once I reintroduced soy, I reintroduced chocolate–unable to concentrate after lunch in school if I didn’t buy a pack of peanut M&Ms–not because the stimulants in the chocolate helped me focus but because the cravings became more important than anything my teachers had to offer.)

A large part of my anorexia–the part about which I was conscious and in which I was aware of my engagement–was my attempt to control my addiction to volume. The irony here is that “anorexia” literally means “without appetite.” Rarely, I think, is that actually the case with this disease. In my own experience, once I start eating, especially breads, sweets, and even fruits, I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. Even when I’m full. And anorexia, a rejection of that fullness, was the only way (I thought) that I could control myself.

“There is a very simple, inevitable thing that happens to a person who is dieting: When you are not eating enough, your thinking process changes. You begin to be obsessed with food. They’ve done study after study on this, and still we believe that if we cut back fat, sugar, calorie intake, we’ll drop weight just like that and everything will be the same, only thinner. Nothing is the same. You want to talk about food all the time. You want to discuss tastes: What does that taste like? […] Salty? Sweet? Are you full? You want to taste something all the time. You chew gum, you eat roll after roll of sugar-free Certs, you crunch Tic-Tacs (just one and a half calories each!) You want things to taste intense. All normal approach to food is lost in your frantic search for an explosion of guilt-free flavor in your mouth, an attempt to make your mouth, if not your body, feel full, to fool your mind into satiety. You pour salt or pepper on things. You eat bowls of sugar-coated cereal (no fat). You put honey and raisins on your rice.”

-Marya Hornbacher, Wasted, a Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

When I started my intensely restrictive “eat clean diet,” I thought that I was finally free. I convinced myself that I was no longer hungry, that I was sated by my 100-300 calorie meals. But in the time between meals, I thought about food. I ached for it. And not the dry turkey breast and 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli, I ached for sweet and starchy. I used stevia (a “natural” sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant and 200-300x sweeter than sugar) on nearly everything, faking out my tastebuds in order to trick my lizard brain into thinking it was satisfied by egg white pancakes. I ached for my morning oatmeal. I substituted stevia-based whey protein powder for real food in as many meals as I could justify to myself. I spent my entire day in anticipation of my stevia-sweetened casein-and-peanut-butter pudding every night.

Low Calorie, Low Fat Powdered Peanut Butter PB2

And then I discovered low-calorie, low-fat powdered peanut butter, and all bets were off…

And worse, I watched the Food Network obsessively. I subscribed to allrecipes.com and read their daily baking email. I scoured the internet for decadent recipes, reading blogs like Cookie Madness and The Picky Palate so I could live vicariously through someone else’s Pretzel Caramel Shortbread Bars and Brownie Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. I baked, constantly, so that I could at least have the smell of warm cookies saturating the air, enveloping me like an old friend.

Even as a vegan, I was still addicted to sugar and grains. It was all I ate, all I craved.  Moreover, my vegan diet was just an animal-free facsimile of the bodybuilder’s regime: I inflicted upon myself the same rigid routine, eating small meals every 2-3 hours, aching with longing for the next helping. I sweetened my green juice with Stevia, and I couldn’t get through a morning unless I followed my green juice with low-sodium sprouted grain bread. Rice cakes were my midmorning salvation. My sugar addiction found a new home in extra servings of fruit,* wads and wads of bubble gum, packets of stevia poured onto anything that should taste sweet but didn’t. I still looked forward to my after-dinner peanut or almond butter (now with vegan chocolate chips added) with an intensity that defied explanation or avoidance (and I was usually so depressed about finishing my snack that I would open a box of cereal and eat that–dry–and then go to bed feeling painfully full but unsatisfied).

And through it all, the only thing I could think about was the food I couldn’t eat, wasn’t eating, wanted to eat.

– K.

*3 apples a day plus the pear in my green juice, entire 2 lb. bags of grapes in one sitting, etc.

One Rep Max

Before I get started with the (red) meat of today’s post, I just wanted to thank those of you who have reached out to me about your own struggles with ED, food, and body image. I know how difficult it can be to tell others about your struggles or to ask for help, and, frankly, I’m amazed by how many of us are out there. 

It’s funny: when we suffer from ED, we see ourselves imprisoned in this horrible, dark, windowless tower, hidden from rescue, alone and miserable. But in reality, those metaphorical towers are all lined up, one next to the other–windowless, perhaps, but not impervious to sound. 

So if you find yourself alone, allowing your jailor ED to make you waste–your body, your life–away, call out. Chances are, someone else–someone just one tower to the right or left–will hear you. And you will know that you are not alone. Together, you have hope. 

(And please, if you ever need to call out, my tower isn’t that far away. In fact, I’ve started carving windows into it, and I can see that there is light outside. Don’t hesitate to call, text, facebook message, comment, tweet…just reach out. I’m here.) 

Ask any truly knowledgable fitness professional about lifting your one rep max, and they’ll probably advise that you don’t attempt it too often. It’s something you aim to increase and improve, sure, but not a feat you seek to pull off every day. It’s an extreme act, meant to be performed in moderation.

In a way, my life had become a poorly executed one rep max: extreme and ultimately unsustainable in the long term.

My nightly excursions to hear the MT’s band play or to sing karaoke with my coworkers–often followed by all nighters and a nine-hour shift at work–were beginning to take their toll on me. Moreover, I had been promoted to full time at work (and given a semi-promotion that involved the same amount of pay for more responsibilities and a ton of extra stress), and I was no longer working out. My diet consisted mainly of apples, egg whites and protein powders laced with acesulfame-K. (Okay, I also ate a lot of peanut and almond butter and deliberately turned a blind eye while I over-measured the 2 tbsp portions).

I started putting on weight. My pants were getting tighter and tighter, and I felt uncomfortable in my own body. I needed new motivation to get back into the gym and get skinny again.

Karaoke night at the Dubliner (and singing, ironically*, No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs”)
*And I mean “ironically” in the Morissette-ian sense, better defined as “unexpectedly coincidental”.

ED suggested that I revisit my bikini-body dreams. So I hired an IFBB pro to train me.

Darrem Charles was one of the trainers at my gym. He had worked with amazing competitors like Erin Stern, and we had struck up conversation after he noticed me doing my daily squats/deadlifts/plyos before my back injury.

My first training session left me with DOMS* like I will never forget: I was in so much pain that I spent both of my fifteens at work and my hour-long lunch in the service hallway, attempting to loosen my knotted muscles with a tennis ball. I didn’t let that faze me though. I was thrilled to be working with Darrem, eagerly anticipating the body that we were going to build together. ED was nearly jumping out of my skin with excitement.

And then my mother moved to California.

Mind you, I was living with her rent-free while I tried to rebuild my life with retail, so when she moved, it forced me to go back into the real world and start to fend for myself like an adult.

World of Beer with my amazing coworkers

Fortunately (or so I thought), I had become incredibly close with two of the guys at work. I considered them my best friends, and they were both also in need of a new place to live. We three found what can only be described as a dream house, and decided to move in together.

The only downside that I could see was that I had to give up my training sessions if I wanted to pay the rent.

I signed up at a new gym close to the dream house, and I prepared to take matters into my own hands. I was going to shape myself into a bikini competitor if it killed me.

Things were looking up, and I was going to hit a new PR. What I didn’t realize was that I had already passed my one rep max, and things were about to change drastically.

-K.

*Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Where ED Wasn’t

The new year brought even bigger changes.

It started like this:

Even after months of working side-by-side with literally more than one hundred other employees in a fast-paced high-volume retail box, I would occasionally encounter employees whom I had never seen or interacted with. Somehow, between the increase in sales attachments and the averted tech support crises, there were people who just slipped past me unnoticed.

And then one day, I found myself in the tech support area of the back of house, begging one of our technicians to help me figure out a complex customer issue–when I noticed a technician who I had never actually spoken to. We were both waiting for our respective customer issues to be resolved, so we struck up a conversation. It came out that he was in a band, and that his band would be performing that weekend, and that I should come and check it out.

My throat closed up. I nodded a hurried, “sure,” knowing that the only thing I was sure of  was that I wasn’t going.

The following weekend, some of the employees who had been hired just a month or two after me invited me to go bowling. It was a Saturday night, and I didn’t exactly have an excuse not to go (because “I have to stay in and eat my Casein, Peanut Butter, and Cinnamon Pudding” is not an excuse that most people would understand or accept). I also had another open invite to hear the technician’s band play.

Here was a multi-layered dilemma: First and foremost, ED didn’t want me to go. I would be missing a meal and potentially staying out late enough to make me miss my morning gym session. Second, I would have to go out and interact with multiple people outside of work. This was like going from talking about spiders to holding a tarantula without any of the intermediate steps.

My therapist was therefore astonished when I told her how much fun I had going bowling with my friends and then staying out until sunrise at the technician’s gig.

Something had shifted inside of me. I started going out nearly every night (after I had eaten my casein pudding, of course). I stopped hanging out with my work/gym buddy. I started having a drink or two at the band’s gigs. I pulled all-nighters and missed gym sessions. I made up for my alcoholic indiscretions* by trying to eat less, although I found myself craving sugar all the time (and since my managers would put out an economy-sized bag of LifeSavers mints at the start of each shift, I found myself reaching my hand in once or twice an hour).

At an *actual* restaurant with my cousin and sister

Hanging out with the musician-technician (henceforth MT for brevity’s sake) brought me into contact with an entirely new group of people and a range of experiences that opened up a side of me that I never believed I could possibly share.**

For several hours each day, I was free of the Monster in the Mirror: I traveled from my windowless, mirror-less retail box to the dimly-lit, mirror-less dive bars where the musician-technician played, and I was too busy having a good time to look for ED.

But he came back full-force when I actually managed to make it into the gym: My progress had, obviously, begun to stall, what with my new sleeping and eating habits. I was frustrated by my loss of strength, and so I decided that I would make up for it by lifting heavier and heavier each time I made it into the gym. (Obviously, the personal trainer inside of me was pissed that I’d ignore common sense and good gym practices, but ED didn’t give a damn about what common sense had to say at this point.)

Things finally came to a head–or, rather, a slipped disc–when I tried to Romanian deadlift about 10 lbs higher than my previous 70-80% 1RM.***

I could barely walk the next day, but I went to work anyway. And then stayed up all night with the MT and his friends. The following day can only be described as one spent in a fair amount of agony.

I knew what this meant, and the thought hurt more than my injury: I was going to have to give up the gym until I healed.

And though I wasn’t looking in the mirror when I had the thought, I knew ED was smiling, because he knew that this was his way back in.

-K.

*I didn’t have more than one or two drinks pretty much ever, and I never actually got drunk. These were “indiscretions” because they were empty calories–even a vodka and soda still comprised 100 non-nutritious calories.

**No, I didn’t do any drugs, but thanks for your concern. 🙂

**1RM stands for “one rep max,” as in the maximum amount of weight you can lift once if you are going all-out, balls-to-the-wall. You shouldn’t be able to do a second rep after that lift, hence the singularity. It’s suggested that,when you strength train, you lift about 70-80% of that maximum for multiple reps. In this particular injury’s case, I was lifting closer to my 1RM than I should have for many more reps than I should have with worse form than I should have.

Retail Therapy

I’ve been thinking a lot about Stefani Ruper’s post on Paleo for Women about doing away with our mirrors in order to promote a better self-image. I think it’s such an empowering idea (if not a little difficult)…can you imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have to answer to our own judgments? Ever since I read that post, I’ve had Sesame Street’s “Monster in the Mirror” Song stuck in my head. I find it kind of fitting, though, when thinking about my ED. 

“Saw a monster in the mirror when I woke up today
A monster in my mirror but I did not run away
I did not shed a tear or hide beneath my bed
Though the monster looked at me and this is what he said:

…’Do not wubba me or I will wubba you.'”

In the song, Grover wakes up and has to face a scary looking monster in his mirror–a monster who, he realizes, is actually him. And he has to learn how to sing along with the monster or else the monster will “wubba” him–sort of like how I learned how to deal with my ED. Because the stronger ED became, the scarier he was–and the harder it was to summon the strength to look at my reflection. I had to learn how to stop looking–or find a way to sing along without letting the Monster “wubba” me. And for me, that song was Retail.

“…If your mirror has a monster in it, do not shout
This kind of situation does not call for freaking out
And do nothing that you would not like to see him do
‘Cause that monster in the mirror he just might be you…”

I found myself thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t being forced into inpatient treatment now that I had found myself an effective form of retail therapy. Instead of being force-fed bagels and weight gain shakes, I supplemented my high-protein, bikini competition diet with a steady stream of metaphorical Kool-Aid.

And it’s no wonder that the Kool-Aid worked wonders: for the last several months, I had been entirely alone with my own thoughts and constantly confronted with ED, the Monster in the Mirror. Once I had a job at the mall, I was stuck for 9-plus hours in a windowless box, confronted with an endless stream of other people who had problems to solve and needs to be met. And my meal breaks were programmed into my day (each small snack eaten on a 15 or on a 30-minute or hour-long lunch), so I didn’t have to worry that I wouldn’t have time to eat. For the first time in a long time, I was focusing my attention outward–and like garlic to vampires, other people helped me ward off the Monster in the Mirror.

Moreover, I finally had “friends.” No, I still went home directly after my shift and panicked if I had to go out after dark, but I at least had an incredible, dynamic, amazing cast of characters to look forward to seeing each time I worked. No, I never called any of them or offered to sit with them in the food court, but I felt accepted and loved, if only for a few hours a day.

My therapist urged me to get to know these people better. She saw a breakthrough coming–and so did I. So I did the only thing I knew how to do: resist it at all costs.

With the holidays approaching, my managers started approving massive overtime, so I was working constantly. I was still a part-timer and not receiving benefits, but I needed the money, so any offer my managers made for extra hours I gladly accepted (so long as those hours did not overlap with a feeding time for which I hadn’t packed and planned).

During this time, I also started taking my fitness to a different level. I was doing serious squats and deadlifts, and turning heads at the gym with my strange-looking plyometric routines (remember, this was before box gyms started buying into the whole “functional fitness” thing and stocking their new, open, functional areas with bouncy medicine balls, battle ropes, and speed ladders). I cut way down on my cardio (mainly because I just didn’t have time, now that I had to get to work after my workout), and started picking up heavier and heavier weights.

I even ventured into the gym with one of the guys from work–my first real friend in this new life I was living. I gave him some tips on training, and we spotted each other at the squat rack. I even spent time post-workout with him–talking about nothing in particular and worrying about the future. It was liberating.

My food, however, was still a major issue.

Because I had so much less time to cook (and because working a retail schedule meant unpredictable hours, all of which spent away from a source of healthy, non-mall food), I started to rely more and more heavily on egg whites and protein powders. In fact, my entire diet became based on combinations of egg whites and protein powders. I learned ways to mix in oatmeal, apples, berries, cottage cheese, peanut or almond butter and massive quantities of stevia, cinnamon, and cocoa powder in order to provide enough variety for six meals per day.* Sure, I still had my boiled chicken and dry turkey breasts with defrosted stir-fry vegetables, but those taste sensations didn’t stop me from craving my protein-powder-and-baby-food puddings. Yes, I ate baby food. I was hitting nutritional rock bottom.

My body started giving out on me during my workouts, and I was showing up at work with an impinged shoulder or a pulled hamstring.

I pushed through these “minor” injuries, and continued working out. Since the store wasn’t open all night and my shifts couldn’t last forever, working out was all I had to keep the Monster in the Mirror at bay.

ED couldn’t follow me to work, but he damn sure tried.

-K.

*I think some of these recipes are actually better than the crap that I actually shoved down my throat, but here’s an idea of things people actually do instead of eating real food : “20 Delicious Protein Powder Recipes That Are Not Shakes“+

+”Delicious” is disputable, although I suppose it’s a subjective thing; anything is probably delicious when you haven’t eaten anything but plain chicken for six months. And if you add enough fake sugar, well, then anything is possible.

Fitness Models Don’t Drink Kool-Aid

It’s difficult to adequately describe the absolute physiological and mental agony of anxiety if you’ve never experienced an attack; however, suffice it to say that I suffered from the throat-closing, chest-crushing, dizzy/nauseous symptoms* from the moment I got the email inviting me to interview for my retail job to the moment I met the store leader.

I was fortunate to, for whatever reason, completely circumvent the entire hiring process and just meet with the store leader at the mall directly. (Normally, the company makes you go through several rounds of group interviews over several days at a hiring event.) I spoke with her for about half an hour, and, rather than invite me back to meet with a second manager another day, she pulled a manager and had me interview with him right then and there. Two days later, I came back to meet with the head of our market, and by the following day had an invitation to come in and fill out my paperwork.

I was both delighted and devastated.

Here I was, technological know-nothing with no sales experience and an eating disorder keeping me prisoner in my own house. How was I going to function as a high-volume sales rep–and, more importantly, how was I going to continue my eating habits while working retail hours?** (Not to mention the fact that I had gone from 21-year-old high school teaching rock star to 23-year-old part-time retail employee who had completely failed to live up to her prep school’s Ivy League expectations.)

I wanted to die.

The good news (?) was, if I continued on my “health” trajectory, I was going to.

Sure, I could do pull ups, but it looked like my arms were going to break while I did them.

A visit to the physician brought me some disturbing news: I was 112 lbs and severly underweight. I had dropped below 15% body fat (somewhere around 12%), and was testing positive for osteopenia, bradycardia, and secondary amenorrhea. That meant I was at risk and on track for osteoporosis, heart failure, and an early menopause. In other words, I had turned myself into an old woman. Death couldn’t be that far away.

I’ll admit that scared me.

Unfulfilled threats of suicide are one thing, but complete and impending physical failure are quite another.

Shredded abs…and not enough body fat for healthy reproductive function.

I didn’t know what to do, so I did the only thing I could: go to work.

And work, my friends, is what saved me.

On the morning that I left for the first of my three days of corporate employee training, I told my mom to kill me if I came home having drunk the “Kool-Aid.” She didn’t kill me, but I drank that metaphorical Kool-Aid with the fervor of a three-year-old on a sugar binge. There was something absolutely compelling–a sense of purpose and a company culture of openness and forward-motion, perhaps–that made me feel almost high every time I clocked in.

It turns out, I was very good at retail. And being good at something was fun. Although I was still freaked out about downing my whey-protein-cottage-cheese-and-spinach shakes on time, the very act of working at my new job calmed some of the anxiety. I felt needed. I felt useful. I felt okay for the first time in months.

And though I had the opportunity to train to become a staff personal trainer at the gym where I still worked three days per week, I quit. I wanted to commit to my new Kool-Aid job and work my way toward a full time position as quickly as I could. I never wanted to leave.***

-K.

*These are the same symptoms that led my pediatrician to misdiagnose me with asthma in the 6th grade. I’ll touch on the issue with anxiety in another post, I’m sure.

**I tweeted about my concerns (as whimsically Millennial as that sounds), and I was answered by one of the fitness models and pro figure competitors who I followed. Apparently she had done the retail/fitness thing, and had lived to tell the tale. While her answer wasn’t a complete panacea, it certainly did a little to alleviate my immediate concerns. I mean, if she could do it, then why couldn’t I?

*** On the days I worked, I hated sitting at home and waiting to put on my uniform, so I’d leave early and wait outside of the store until I could go in. In fact, I used to show up at the mall on my days off just so I could say, “hi,” and make sure that the store was still functioning without me. After a few months of this, one of my managers actually yelled at me to go home when I showed up unscheduled on a Saturday.