Part 2 of my journey starts in my college years, where the diet mentality kicks in and disordered eating starts to snowball out of control…
Part 2: Journey into Diet La-La Land
[If you haven’t read PART 1 of my multi-part “From Disordered Eating to Empowered Living” series, I invite you to start there.] During my senior year in college at UNC-Wilmington, I became addicted to exercise and ephedra… What a combo! I would take “Diet Fuel” pills and get all my studying done while doing cardio at the local Gold’s Gym.
It was at that gym that I met my later-to-be fiance. Unlike the other boyfriends I had during college, Brent had his shit together. He was several years older than me and owned a gym consulting company. When I graduated, I started working with Brent. Life and gym became synonymous. We would travel to different gyms for 3 months at a time doing consulting work and membership drives.
Having an awesome body is the best advertising for anyone working in the fitness industry. Knowing that, I started taking my workouts to the next level. As my workouts became more intense, I started experimenting with my food intake.
Being an ethical vegan, there was never a thought of eating anything but plants, but there were plenty of ways to create dietary “rules” even as a vegan. Vegan protein shakes, consuming tons of soy and legumes, and cutting out grains was do-able. In the tradition of the fitness buff persona, I experimented with being super strict 6 days, and allowing myself one “cheat day” per week. This is a totally “normal” dietary routine for bodybuilders, figure, and fitness competitors, Even though I wasn’t competing at the time, my desire for the “perfect body” was becoming stronger.
My lifestyle supported my obsession with diet and exercise, so I did not look at my habits as problematic. Everyone else was doing it (in their omnivore way) and I felt I fit in. It’s funny because I had spent the previous 8 years emphatic about NOT getting married. All of a sudden though, my life had become so enmeshed with my boyfriend’s and with our work, I started to think marriage wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
So Brent and I ended up getting engaged, and moving to Miami to open up a new line of women’s health clubs. It didn’t take long for shit to hit the fan… but that’s a juicy story for a different day. Let’s just say we split on bad terms and I all of a sudden found myself in the heart of South Beach without a job and with literally a suitcase to my name.
What came next seems like a whirlwind looking back. Setting the scene, let’s take it back 20 years… I was a 2-year old who was so determined I fought to put on my own diapers. When I was 6, I gave a strong case as to why I should be allowed to drive a car. Needless to say, no matter how upset I was about the break-up, there was no way I was bailing on Miami to take refuse back home in North Carolina.
Long story short, I crashed on my friend’s couch in the huge condo “commune” called the Flamingo in South Beach. Thousands of people lived in this community, ranging from professionals to drug dealers and porn stars. If you ask anyone who has been in Miami Beach for a long time, chances are they started out at the Flamingo. It was in a perfect location right on the bay, with pools, docks, markets, and a super nice gym. So I finagled my way into a job at the gym, starting as a front desk attendant and quickly moving up the chain until I landed the Fitness Director position, pretty much running the show!
During that time I also caught the attention of an MMA world champ, Pat, who was teaching classes at the gym. It was like he could see right through me. No matter what tough front I put on, he saw my emotional weakness and took me under his wing as my Muay Thai coach.
Pat’s teaching methods were unconventional, though I wasn’t really aware at the time. You see, he didn’t believe in sparring gear. He believed in learning to block punches and kicks by being punched and kicked enough that blocking became a reflex pretty damn quickly! If you know Muay Thai though, you know that shin on shin blocking is no fun for either party. I took to the training quickly. No amount of physical pain could compete with the emotional pain I was in. Muay Thai became my form of moving meditation. When sparring, I had no choice but to be present in the moment. If my mind wandered, I paid for it! Needless to say it did not wander much after the first few weeks.
For the first time since high school, I had discovered a sport I could practice with a group of passionate people who became a family to me. In many ways, the next several years of my life were the most exhilarating years of my life. Hangin’ with a group of fighters who ruled South Beach… how could it not? We partied it up and trained hard core. I practically lived at the gym (I had rented a studio at the Flamingo as soon as I had the money).
As incredible as those years were, there was a dark side to my life I was not apt to share with anyone. I had taken the feeling of being powerless over my break-up, and found a sense of control through food and exercise. I was working out like crazy between the Muay Thai, classes at Crunch gym, weight lifting, and cardio.
The purpose of the cardio at that time was to burn calories. I wanted to be leaner, but couldn’t see how l lean I already was. I looked in the mirror and saw fat that simply wasn’t there. I was happiest when my stomach was empty and flat. I measured my oatmeal, set timers to let me know when I was “allowed” to eat, and picked at salads when going out to eat.
Looking back, I qualify myself as experiencing body dysmorphia and disordered eating at that time because my thoughts and anxiety around my body and food felt all-consuming. Whether or not I would have been officially diagnosed as having an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder I don’t know because I was not sharing what was going on in my head… And really, who cares. I have no desire to be labeled. It was what it was and, spoiler alert, there’s ultimately a happy end to this story!
At one point I decided to play a game with myself to see if I could drop below 100 pounds. Now that you know more about me, you can probably guess… I won! I remember getting on the scale, seeing 99 pounds, and feeling proud of my achievement. How I was able to maintain a body fat percentage that couldn’t even be measured with calipers, and workout as hard as i did, I really have no idea. But again, leave it to me to prove I could defy the odds!
On that note, I am going to press pause on my story. Part 3 is coming soon, so stay tuned! (If you want to be notified when I publish my posts make sure to sign up to receive my newsletter.)