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Fitness While Healing Body Image Disorders

Michelle has battled with being overweight and eating disorders for years. Her fitness journey has been triggering but eye opening.

Your mind isn't always right

Your mind isn't always right

The Start of an Unhealthy Relationship

Growing up, when I hit 10 years old, I became a chubby kid. I stopped being outgoing. I stopped playing sports, rollerblading, bicycling, and even hanging out with other kids. I isolated myself in my room and started writing poems. I was convinced that the bullying by certain kids was because of my weight.

The body image insecurities I had already cultivated within my social circle were worsened at home. I had a big appetite, and my parents encouraged it. They gave me second helpings and celebrated my overeating. When they themselves wouldn't finish their plates of food they would say, "Give it to Mikey! She will definitely eat it!"

I gained more and more weight as time passed. Snacking at night was my biggest vice: two bowls of chips, pasta, hot dogs; whatever I was craving I would eat. And my mom let me. I remember one night, my mom said, "One day, you'll be so big, you won't fit in the chair". My smart-ass remark was, "Then I'll sit on the floor".

I was young. I didn't know any better. I didn't understand that you could develop an unhealthy relationship with food. I didn't understand that my eating may have been related to my emotions.

By the time I was 12 years old, I was 180lbs. My dad's nickname for me was "the fatty" (in French). Summers rolled around, and I would purposely wear sweaters to hide the fat on my body only to be met with my dad's pleas to take them off due to the heat while he would continue calling me that ugly name. I must be ugly too. These beliefs were cemented when the smaller girls at school got the male attention I wished I had. Every night for years, I cried myself to sleep wishing I looked different.

Fitness: A Love-Hate Relationship

The first time I dedicated myself to a workout routine, I was 15 years old. I was in 11th grade and still hated myself. I hated my body. I wanted to be skinny. I wanted to lose my stomach. I wouldn't be beautiful until I did.

I knew nothing about fitness and healthy food relationships. My parents had taught me nothing—not out of malice but out of their own lack of knowledge. I resented them for a very long time for not teaching me better.

In my mind, it was simple. Cut out junk food, eat less and move my body. So I went hard. I realize now I had an unhealthy approach but back then, my only focus was to lose those extra numbers. Everything my mom served us was high in fat and calories so I did my best: only one slice of pizza here, a plain hamburger there, only 5 fries here, etc. And I starved myself come evening.

When I wasn't being strict with my food intake, I was dancing in the basement in front of a mirror—from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, only stopping for meals. After 2 months, I lost 30lbs. I was skinny. I had no stomach. Everyone was complimenting me. I even got my first boyfriend.

But what I didn't take into account was that fitness doesn't stop once the weight is gone. And my mental and emotional issues don't disappear just because I am not fat anymore.

So what happened? I started overeating again, and the weight came back. I fell into a black hole of self-hate, resentment, blame, and depression. Every fitness effort I made after that fell apart. I wasn't 15 years old anymore. I didn't have entire days to work out, therefore, the results took much longer. I had a child and a boyfriend to feed so starving myself was impossible with all the temptations. I gave up. Every. Single. Time. I hated working out. I hated the pain. I hated how hard it was. Most of all, I hated not seeing the results I wanted to see.

Fitness and Mental Health

For years, I was convinced that fitness wasn't for me. I was convinced that I hated physical activity except for walking and fun activities like bicycling.

Every time I tried to work out, my mental health would plummet. I was constantly reminded about the importance of a healthy food relationship for fitness efforts to work. I had to diet. I had to eat salads and fruits. I had to drink more water. I had to resist the cravings. I had to cut out junk food. I had to refrain from eating after 7 pm. I had to count calories. I had to weigh my portions. The raw diet. The keto diet. The soup diet. I tried everything but my binging got worse.

My emotional state got worse. I was the woman in the cookie aisle bawling because I wasn't "allowed" to eat cookies or else I would get fat. Every single time I failed to stick to a fitness routine or relapsed with my food intake, I would fall hard. I would give up. I would rebel against the status quo. I would get angry. I want to be thin! I am ugly. I am a failure. I am stupid. I am unworthy.

This on-and-off relationship with fitness and food lasted for 11 years. A year ago, I was starting a new life as a single mom and healing was the only way up. I still wasn't sure how to approach it, but I knew what didn't work. I did know that every time I tried to gain control over my physical state, my mental state would tornado into chaos. So I gave up on fitness and diets, but this time I didn't just give up and wallow. I focused on healing my past, my old beliefs, my childhood traumas, my anxiety and depression roots. If I wanted true change, I had to heal my pain.

A New Destination

Healing taught me about self-awareness, self-love, self-acceptance, kindness, compassion, and letting go. I let go of the "rules", the status quo, the societal picture of beauty, and the pressure of being perfect.

Once my mental state was healthier, I started working out again—but not to be skinny. Instead, I wanted to be strong; to heal my back pain; to heal my mind; to feel free.

Healing my mental illnesses allowed me to face my fears and my emotions without losing myself. I still get triggered. Recently, I was convinced by the higher number on my scale that I was failing myself again due to back pain and a month-long mental exhaustion episode. My ego tried to play in my old insecurities. You're fat again. I stressed for a second. Then I remembered that I loved myself regardless. When this happened, I was able to recognize the truth and the illusion created by my past. By my hurt inner child. I had new muscles. My body was transforming and adapting. I felt strong. That's what fitness should be about. I worked out this morning.

I AM made for fitness.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Michelle Brady

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