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.

Health Update

Well friends, I’m not going to lie: I’m exhausted. For the first time in a long time, I have an excuse for being exhausted, and it’s a surprisingly good, fulfilling feeling. That said, I’m going to have to make this fairly short. I’m also going to have to apologize for the fact that my posts are going to be made a little less often, because I’m working on THREE big writing projects, all of which have NOTHING to do with this blog, nutrition, or health in general. (So any time that I spend not writing is time spent doing research…my brain is exploding from all of the information it’s trying to absorb, interpret, and feed back into the world…)

I did, however, want to give the concerned among you a couple of quick health updates:

In re: my acne, things have gotten horrible again. Maybe it was good old Murphy and his not-very-awesome law, but as soon as I posted about my face clearing up, I broke out again. This probably has to do with the fact that I stopped my hormone replacement therapy (more on that later), so my body is freaking out because it doesn’t know where to get estrogen if I’m not popping it in pill form every morning. I’m hoping that things calm down soon.

My dog lying on my foot

Frida wants my feet to heal.

As for my ankle, according to the doc everything checks out structurally; it’s just the pain that’s a little worrisome. (I also still don’t have full range of motion or the ability to stabilize–watching me try to do a squat is kind of sadly hilarious.) Not only does my ankle still ache, but now I also have crazy, burning nerve pain that makes it difficult to do things like wear shoes or touch my ankle at all. My physical therapist, who happens to be all kinds of wonderful, has made some great suggestions for helping to rewire my brain so that it stops focusing on the “pain” message that my ankle keeps sending, however erroneously.

So far, I’ve stuck my foot in a bag of rice, tried doing ultra-light massage, exposed it to various different textures of blankets, macguyver-ed a mirror box, and identified left and right feet in rapid succession using an iPad and Google Image.

Using a bag of rice to desensitize my foot, CRPS, RSD

This is exactly as silly as it looks. (But much more painful.)

It’s been a weird couple of weeks.

I’m trying to start building up some strength by walking a bit every day, but I still spend more time on my butt than I’d like.

I’m still just taking baby steps and allowing myself to go slowly. My PT gave me some reading to do about how our brains create pain, and it’s allowed me to forgive myself a little; there is nothing more frustrating and confusing than chronic pain, and some days the lack of change or progress can get really overwhelming.

But for now I’m going to just keep pushing through, and hopefully I’ll be past this plateau soon…

That’s all she wrote…

Using a mirror box, CRPS, RSD

It’s almost like I have two normal ankles!

Now back to writing!

– K.

We Interrupt This Program…

…for a couple of random updates and thoughts:

– First and foremost, the surgical procedure was short and simple, and now my ankle has no choice but to heal. The doctor put me in a hard cast this time so that there would be less chance for reinfection. So now I’m once again hopping about on crutches, but hopefully for the last time.

cast, crutches, surgery

The doctor chose a white cast–don’t they know that white is taboo after labor day?

– The allergic reaction also appears to have calmed down. It still hurts to run my skin under hot water, but I ate grapes without dying, so I suppose that’s a good sign.

– Most importantly, I am absolutely flabbergasted by the response to my blog. It’s funny: when I started writing a few months ago, I was just planning to share this new way of eating and living that had helped start to free me from my ED, and it’s become so much more. As I started to explain why I first ate red meat after 13 years, I fell down the rabbit hole that was my introduction to ED, and in the process, was forced to face some of my hardest truths–truths from which I’d hidden for a very long time. And that inspired me to go out and seek help.

But nothing has helped so much as your support, and your willingness to share your own stories.

And I can only hope that, as I get through my story and start sharing solutions, that you will continue to share your stories with me. I can only hope that this blog becomes a place for recovery–not just for myself, but for all of you out there. I can only hope that we can, together, find a way to stop becoming a nation of starving girls, yo-yo dieters, fad dieters, overweight-and-hating-it, calorie-counters, over-exercisers, and people out of touch with our own bodies. I can only hope that we can all work together to find a solution.

Anyway, I promise to keep up my end of that as best I can, and I hope that you’ll stay with me–and invite others–along the journey.

Dog, Babysitter, Puppy Love

Home after surgery, with a dog on my shoulder!

Thanks for sharing the love, guys.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming!

-K.

P.S. Be sure to check out my spiritual bucket list below. Maybe it can be inspiration for one of your own?

New Challenges

Despite the heat of the dog days, August ushered in a much more tolerable end to an intolerable summer. Although my ankle was still sore, my relationship with my body was still impaired, and I had not yet gotten a promotion, the stars started to align for healing in all of these areas. Or so it seemed, anyway.

In August I was asked to co-facilitate my first new hire training seminar. I had, in the past, been invited to mentor new hires, but I had never been able to directly influence their learning (and their induction to the kool-aid culture) as I would facilitating. It was a huge honor–made grander by the fact that I was asked to facilitate by my mentor. If he had the confidence in me to handle such a huge responsibility, then I knew I could muster the confidence in myself. I was beside myself with excitement, especially because I really do love that company, and I was getting paid to spend three days doing nothing but sharing that love with others. It was pretty much a win-win.

The seminar itself was a smashing success. No, I wasn’t perfect–and yes, I still had a lot to learn as a facilitator. However: what I did learn–about facilitation, about myself, about learning styles, and the like–was hugely important to me, and I was happy to use my mistakes as an opportunity to grow.

My torn sports bra was an unsettling reminder that I was still heavier than I wanted to be.

I was ready to grow. I needed to grow. The summer had been, if anything, a chance for me to start seeing how the seeds of ED had been sown among the seeds of my success, and I was ready to start pulling the weeds. Or so I thought, anyway.

At the seminar, my mentor (who knew I was a fan of yoga*) suggested that I try a 30-day challenge at our Bikram yoga center. For the uninitiated, Bikram yoga is a style of Hatha yoga as created by Bikram Choudhury.  Unlike your typical gym yoga class, which might rotate sequences of postures, all Bikram classes consist of the same 26 postures performed for the same amount of time every single class. Also unlike your typical gym yoga class, Bikram yoga is performed in 105 degree heat, with 40% humidity. It’s a little nutty, sure, but it’s an amazing experience if you can convince yourself to just stay in the room through your first class.

A 30-day challenge consists of 30 days of consistent practice. That means doing one yoga class every single day (although some studios make allowances for, you know, reality, and let you do doubles to make up the classes). I knew that it would be a little bit difficult to fit in 30 consistent days of yoga with my crazy retail schedule, but I decided to give it a try.

30-Day Challenge Sign Up

I also decided that it was time to make a change in my diet. I was still consuming my mostly-protein-powder calorie-restricted pseudo-figure-competitor diet, and I, to put it eloquently, felt like crap. I figured that yoga might help some of my physiological issues, but I wanted to feel better inside and out. That meant drastically changing my diet.

One of the MT’s good friends (who had become one of my favorite people left on earth) worked at Whole Foods and had blogged as she did the Engine 2 Diet. Engine 2 was created by a vegan firefighter (who converted his entire unit to plant-based living), and it advocates a 100% plant-based diet. After I read Engine 2 and did some research, I stumbled upon Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet, which takes the plant-based living to the extreme: raw, vegan, and lots of juice.

Green Juice

So, because I can’t ever do anything halfway, I bought a juicer, threw away my whey protein powder, and invested in hemp, kale, and broccoli.

A few days after I began my vegan-and-yogi experiment, I got my promotion.

Everything seemed to be falling into place. Or so I believed, anyway.

– K.

*I’m going to do a separate post dedicated specifically to my romance with Bikram yoga, which is why I haven’t really written about it yet.

An Interlude on Recovery

Before I go on, I wanted to say a few thing about recovery:

I am not recovered. I am closer to serenity now than I have been for many years, but I am not recovered.

When I first started out on this path toward recovery, I was thwarted by myself. I wanted a magic pill to erase the years of hurt. I wanted to wake up and say, “Today, my ED is gone, and I am all better.”

I’ve tried diets; I’ve tried overdoing “fitness.” I’ve hidden in academia, and I’ve run away from my dreams. I’ve picked up my life and moved across the country. But always I have forced myself in the direction of “being all better.”

But I’m learning that recovery doesn’t work like that.

ED is like a virus–once it’s in your system, it imprints itself on your DNA, becomes a part of you, changes you in subtle, but insidious ways. You can “get better” when you have a virus, sure, but “better” doesn’t mean that the virus is gone. It stays in your bloodstream, waiting for a moment to flare up and attack your immune system again.

All you can do is build up that immune system and learn how to fight through the symptoms.

I’ve known this fact for years, and yet I’ve spent those years trying to disprove it. Knowing that I will always have an ED was incredibly depressing to me. And yet the more I sought to control the virus’s symptoms, the sicker I got.

Today, I’m throwing my hands up and waving a white flag of surrender. Not because I give up–far from it. But I am giving up the control.

I will always have an ED. I accept that I am powerless.

Now, instead of fighting, I can focus on building up my immune system instead. By being powerless, I become powerful.

To those of you who are out there who struggle to fight off the symptoms of their own ED virus, just know that you are not alone.

Build up your immune system by reaching out and talking to others who suffer. Take time to meditate. Find a support system. Engage in positive self-talk (even if you don’t believe it) or find someone who will help you see the truth behind ED’s lies.

We don’t have to suffer forever. There is hope.

I’m not perfect. I’m not recovered. But if you ever need me, I’ll be here. And together, we can fight.

– K.

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.

Walking Into Spiderwebs

Imagine that you were afraid of spiders. Not just “get-your-roommate-to-squash-it-with-a-shoe-because-you’re-too-scared-to-do-it-yourself,” but also “too-scared-to-venture-out-of-the-house-without-a-can-of-RAID-just-in-case.” The kind of afraid that leaves you physically unable to function at the very thought of leaving the house and entering a world where spiders could potentially jump out at you from any corner or fall on your head as you walked through your front door. Sounds like a pretty miserable existence, right?

Well, by mid-summer 2010, life outside of my kitchen had become a giant effing spider.

By late July, ED and I had taken up residence in the corner of the kitchen. We two spent nearly all of our waking hours standing at the counter and surfing bodybuilding and fitness meal plan blogs.* Even when I wanted to leave, I had nowhere to go–the other areas of my house were filled with mirrors (from which ED would leer at my not-yet-perfect body), and to leave the kitchen meant that I was separated from my food. To go anywhere but the gym would send me into a panic that left me nearly incapacitated and suicidal.

At the suggestion of my poor, beleaguered psychologist in NYC (and much encouraged by my parents), I found a therapist who practiced “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” I figured I would try it, since CBT is intended to help lessen anxiety through exposure.

To give you an idea of how CBT works, we can use our fear-of-spiders example: In the first few sessions, you might talk about spiders. Eventually your therapist might bring in a picture of a spider. Soon, you’d have your sessions with an actual spider in a cage on the other side of the room. Perhaps one day you’d be able to go up to the cage, or even touch the spider.

For me, CBT meant leaving my house for something other than a trip to the gym or Publix. CBT meant attending group sessions and building relationships with the other women who attended. CBT meant being okay with leaving the house without a cooler filled with snacks just in case. CBT also meant letting go of my obsession with becoming a bikini competitor.

Dying to be a bikini competitor. Literally.

The problem with therapy was that, while I wanted help, I was still in love with the ideas that ED had planted in my head. Why couldn’t I be healthy and also a Bikini competitor? If the way I was behaving was keeping me thin, what would happen to me if I gave up those behaviors? Though I wanted help, I wasn’t ready for it.**

I argued with my therapist in every session. I attended the group CBT classes grudgingly, and I refused my therapist’s repeated assertions that I should come to her weekend eating disorder meetings. I had no faith in her methods; she was beautiful but overweight, and therefore a repulsive example of what I could become if I listened to her. She and I disagreed on what foods could be considered “carbs” (she said that vegetables weren’t carbohydrates, and her ignorance made me hate her). She wanted me to go out and make friends. I wanted to stay in and build muscle.

She wanted me to go to a physician so that she could have tests run to prove that I was an anorexic. But first, I needed insurance. And that meant I needed a job.

I had been putting my resume out various places, and was finally hired by a gym to work the front desk. This was a part-time, no benefits position, but at least if I had to go out I was going somewhere I felt comfortable. At the gym, people understood me. There were bodybuilders who ate every three hours like me, men who brought in tupperwares of tuna and steamed broccoli or downed their whey protein during their 15 minute post-exercise window for optimal protein uptake by the muscles. There were the spin and boot camp devotees who were as addicted to their post-cardio endorphin highs as any druggie. There were the women who would stop me in the locker room and beg me to tell them my “secret” for looking “so fit.” (And I would smirk, because I knew that no one else had the dedication to do what I was doing, so they would never be as thin as I was.)

Too thin.

I would wake up at 4 am, get to the gym by 4:30, have the coffee brewing and the doors open by 5, make small talk with the old men who came to “work out” (read: do a couple of pec-deck flyes and then socialize for a few hours before going home), and then exercise as soon as my shift ended at 10. It was an almost perfect arrangement. I just needed that insurance.

As August drew to a close, I got an email inviting me to interview for a part time retail position. This wasn’t just any retail position, however; this was a position with a Very Important Technology Company. One that doesn’t just grant interviews willy-nilly, and one that even more rarely grants the interviewee a job. Since I had no background in either sales or technology, I was ready to write this one off.

But I went to the interview anyway. Just in case.

-K.

*So many of these blogs were just thinspo/pro-ana in disguise–often unbeknownst to the women who where writing them. Looking back at my bookmarked and most-visited pages now, I realize just how sick so many of these women actually are. It’s one thing to have a healthy interest in food and its effects on the body/body composition, and it’s another to spend one’s entire day obsessing about manipulating macronutrients and photographing tupperwares filled with protein powder pudding.

**If you’re in the same place I was–where you can acknowledge that you have a problem but aren’t yet ready to change–don’t despair! If you can, try to find a therapist or a person who you can talk to. Sometimes, just talking helps. Eventually, you will be ready to accept change, progress, and hope for your future.