"We, both men and women alike, have been bred to believe that a thin or muscled body will also win us love, acceptance, respect, and social status while a body in and of itself can do none of those things. What it can do is hug our loved ones, climb mountains, lift heavy things, pet our animals, hold hands, make music, make babies, make art, tell stories. A body can do all of those things regardless of its size."
The essay that you are about to read, needs to be read. It needs to be read by EVERYONE. Not just women. Not just parents. Not just addicts. Not just people with diagnosed eating disorders. Not just people with undiagnosed eating disorders. EVERYONE. Because even if you are not struggling with any of the issues brought to the forefront in this essay, you know someone (perhaps unbeknownst to you) that is.
Kate's essay was a late submission to the SA Essay Contest. Never have the words, "Better late than never" been truer. This essay is a reminder of the destructive cycle of self-loathing that can be centered around body image issues in all types of individuals. Our society continues to perpetuate an image that shames "bigness" and harms men and women, young and old alike. Kate's essay is also a reminder that you never know the pain that an individual is hiding behind a smile. I never knew an ounce of this information until she shared it in this essay. Be kind. Be supportive. Give folks the benefit of the doubt.
The fact that Kate credits Shoreline Athletics with any part of her metamorphosis is beyond gratifying. If, in the eight years that we have had our doors open, THIS was the only feedback that I EVER received as a business owner/coach, it would be payment enough.
So, thank you Kate. Thank you for sharing this story that I am confident will spread beyond the doors of Shoreline Athletics to help someone who is involved in this struggle.
This is my story, but it is not an uncommon story. It’s the story of everyone who struggles with acceptance of their body on account of the fact that we live in a culture that is afraid of bigness.
Summer 2012. I was 25 and living like a superhero with a death wish. By this point, I had already been battling eating disorders varying in type for ten years. Dieting had been my drug of choice from a young age and being in control of food was a high for me. Food was always there; always a variable available for obsessive compulsive manipulation. Even after experimenting with alcohol and many types of recreational drugs, the high I got from micromanaging my food intake was my real addiction. To be in control of my food and my body meant being in control of my life, being in control of how other people thought about me--whether I felt accepted and loved. And then there was always the inevitable loss of control. This was another high. The release that followed the white-knuckling. Hanging on so tightly to a rigid diet, to an idea of perfection, to a number on the scale, to minutes of cardio. It makes one so very exhausted and there is always the inescapable fall into the abyss of a binge and eating everything. Everything.
In the summer of 2012, I was playing in a band that performed every Friday at a local bar. I drank for free and I drank like the world was ending. I drank and smoked and got high all weekend, then dieted all week, fitting in cardio workouts at the local YMCA on weeknights after work all in an attempt to make myself smaller. My thoughts for the previous 10 years had been dominated by this one belief: if I were smaller my life would be better. I was miserable.
I could talk about what drove that belief, how I had learned it and internalized it, how so many young girls do. Again this is not an exceptional story and that is a very important point to make. This is my story, but it’s also the story of everyone who struggles with acceptance of their body on account of the fact that we live in a culture that is afraid of bigness. We, both men and women alike, have been bred to believe that a thin or muscled body will also win us love, acceptance, respect, and social status while a body in and of itself can do none of those things. What it can do is hug our loved ones, climb mountains, lift heavy things, pet our animals, hold hands, make music, make babies, make art, tell stories. A body can do all of those things regardless of its size. I digress.
From the ages of 15 to 25, everything in my consciousness revolved around the belief that the smaller I was the happier I would be. From the ages of 18 to 25, I would gain and subsequently lose approximately 50 pounds every year. At my heaviest, I was 210 lbs and at my lightest 130. When my body would intuitively revolt and I would binge after trying to eat less than 1000 calories a day, I would then throw up the extra food. Vomiting didn’t begin until 2010 when I was 23. At first it was only once or twice a week, but by the spring of 2013, I was binging and purging multiple times a day. By that time, my mind was a battlefield. I was constantly bargaining, shaming, and abusing myself and I hadn’t had a menstrual cycle in many months. I battled these demons while simultaneously trying to live the life of a “normal 20 something”, never thinking I was sick enough to need to get help because, like many who struggle with bulimia, I was not- what may be considered by medical standards- at an unhealthy weight. By the time I was 25, I had dropped out of college twice, moved in and out of my parents’ house innumerable times, had no close friends on account of the fact there was no room for relationships beside the one I had with my addiction. The longest I was able to hold a job had been about one year and both my mental and physical health were steadily deteriorating.
In May 2013, I visited my brother and sister in law in Florida and they told me about how they had started CrossFit and were loving the group atmosphere and physical challenge. Desperate for any kind of handle on my situation, I got on the computer when I came home to Connecticut and found Shoreline CrossFit. I sent an email saying I was interested and got a phone call back from Chu. In typical enthusiastic and friendly Chu fashion he asked me questions like, what are your goals? What is your background with athletics? Are you physically active?
I was terrified to answer these questions. What are my goals? Maybe to be able to feed myself like a normal person? Maybe to stop weighing myself compulsively? I told Chu some bullsh*t about wanting to feel fit again like I did back when I played sports at the beginning of high school.
Though I wouldn’t admit it to Chu or to myself at the time, my goal when I started Crossfit was still to become smaller because that insidious belief- the smaller I was the happier I will be- it would take years to unlearn that. But over the years, working out at Shoreline has evolved that desire for smallness into a desire for strength and health without regard to my body’s size.
What got me to my first free trial class was something I completely cannot explain. It was scheduled for a weekday evening. I had worked during the day and it had been a bad one. I had already binged and purged several times by the time I’d gotten home from work and I felt wildly out of control. I had done these behaviors yet again after promising myself that the last time was the last time.
This is the demoralizing credo that any addict knows all too well; the flood of shame, guilt, and self-flagellation that violently knocks you down without warning. You’ve been blindsided and you’re flailing helplessly out of control. You can’t face anyone. You feel powerless to do anything but marinate in your own despondency and continue to engage in the escapist behavior that brought you to those depths to begin with. Like quicksand, the more we struggle to escape and to numb, the deeper we sink.
But as I struggled to keep my head above the flood of fear and doubt, one weak but impetuously hopeful thought would not be neglected: just get to that one first class and things will get better. Just get to that one first class and you can turn this around. Just show up one time.
Somehow I did show up. Rachel took another new girl and myself through a really simple workout that made me breathe and sweat so hard I almost cried. But when it was over, I could feel a shift had happened. It was as though I had sweated out a bit of the self-hatred I had been cultivating for years. Maybe it was the surge of endorphins, but it felt like the salty sweat dripping from my pores had begun to cleanse me from the inside. And just like that, I realized something any CrossFitter will tell you about why they love CrossFit: sweat is cathartic.
I chose to cling to that weak, but impetuous hope that day. By completing that first workout, I chose to hope that my body was still capable of doing hard work after a decade of abusing it and I chose to believe that I could beat my eating disorder.
Coming to that hope that day didn’t magically heal me. The four years that followed that first class have been extremely difficult, but nowhere near as painful as the ones that lead up to the turning point that was starting on-ramp at Shoreline. Over the past four years, I have become friends with my body. I have learned to respect and appreciate it rather than to punish it and I’m constantly amazed at the things it can do and how much stronger it has become since 2013. I have learned to rest it when it is tired, to feed it when it is hungry, to move it and stretch it. I am still learning to eat all foods in moderation with an intuitive approach. I still mess that up a lot. But now it’s easier to find the flicker of hope inside of despair, pick myself up and keep moving. I still have days that I don’t like my body or I think life would be easier if I were smaller. But I realize now that just about everyone with a body has those thoughts from time to time and we are all unlearning lies we have been told about our bodies. The spectrum of disordered eating is incredibly vast and many people feel like their struggle isn’t worthy of professional attention because it may not adhere to a bulleted list of DSM criteria. If you’re struggling with your relationship with food or your body, please talk to someone you trust before it gets worse. Talk to me. If you want to find out more about body positivity or the ‘Health at Every Size’ movement go to haescommunity.com. Let’s be open. Let’s be a community that can support one another in talking about things that really matter.
I can’t tell this story without acknowledging all the help and support I’ve had on this journey and that includes all of the athletes and coaches at Shoreline. Anytime I sense self-doubt start to creep in, whether or not I’m in the gym, I can hear Chu’s voice in my head yelling "GET YOUR MIND RIGHT!". Get your mind right, Kate, you can do hard things. You do hard things.
Dave, Lauren, Kelly, Rilla, Chu, Rachel, Paul, Shlee, Megan, and Bradley. With your training and encouragement I am stronger and faster and freer than I have ever been in my life. You didn’t know it but you have all had a part in my story. At one point or another you have all believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. You told me I could pick up the barbell when I felt too tired. You knew I could run faster when my lungs were on fire. Just by being there to open the doors of the gym and put on the music you effectively say come in and remember what it feels like to inhabit your body, to breathe and to know your strength.