Among my clients — all ages, all shapes and all ethnicities — their main goal is to be thin. Women in particular feel pressured to meet society’s outrageous standards of a teensy-tiny, almost fat-free body.
Certainly, an obese person has more health risks than someone who is height/weight proportionate. As a trainer and nutritional therapist, I am all for weight loss in these situations. But I encounter many people obsessed with being thin even though they are not overweight.
Thin. The very word conjures up images of a sleek, flabless physique that looks fantastic in a tight dress, a swimsuit, a pair of shorts. Emaciated and photoshopped supermodels greet us on the cover of fashion and health magazines, smiling exuberantly, supposedly the picture of happiness. Media sell skinny as the equivalent of health, sex appeal, beauty and success.
Is thin all it’s cracked up to be?
I found a subject who’s been to thin and back again — and is willing to share with readers one of the most difficult experiences of her life: Forcing her body down to a size 2 in an effort to look and feel more beautiful. She’ll be forthcoming about the determination, focus and hard work it took to maintain such a small size — and why she made the grueling decision to put the weight back on (and then some) after just two years.
The subject? Why, it’s me.
Journey to a size 2
After struggling terribly with my weight through my teens and early 20s — yo-yo dieting my way up to a size 12 — I finally embraced a healthy lifestyle. Through active living, regular strength training and 80 percent clean eating, I was able to maintain a size 4 figure and 125-pound body for 15 years, without ever having to diet (going hungry is something I am strongly against as a health professional).
After several years working as a personal trainer and exercise instructor, I decided I should be even leaner and look more fit. I wanted to get really tight and sculpted, and walk the talk as a professional in the fitness industry. And so I did.
I set a goal to lose 10 pounds. I eliminated sugar and processed foods and lived on veggies, fruit, lean protein and healthy fats. I had a portable cooler of acceptable food with me at all times. I ate small meals, frequently. One day per week, I allowed myself a piece of dessert, slice of pizza or other indulgence. I lost at a slow and steady pace: 1 pound per week. I meditated daily, focusing on achieving my weight loss goal. I hired a personal trainer.
In just over two months, I reached my goal and weighed in at 115 pounds, wearing a size 2. I was ecstatic. In my mind, I looked great, and the sense of accomplishment was empowering.
Six months into my size 2 life, I had just opened my own fitness business and had the body to match it. I loved my athletic look and was working damn hard to maintain it with fiercely disciplined eating and vigorous workouts.
Eight months in, my period became sporadic, which had never happened before. A few months later, my hair started thinning and my skin became dry. My libido vanished.
I consulted my doctor but he did not tie it to my weight loss, as I was 5 foot 3 and 115 pounds — perfectly normal, according to his charts. Blood test results were also normal, save for my estrogen levels being low. It was recommended I go on hormonal birth control to regulate my periods. Concern on the doctor’s part was minimal. But I was concerned. What was going on with my body? I was in my late 30s and exhibiting symptoms of perimenopause.
As unsettling as these issues were, they weren’t enough to make me consider the possibility that my body was under stress at this lower weight. I looked and felt healthy and fit; I was not “bony-skinny” at all. So I continued on at this small size, and as the months progressed, another development took place, one that slowly took over my conscious (and subconscious) mind: An all-consuming obsession with food.
Over a year into living the thin life, my small size became increasingly difficult to maintain. Even the slightest deviation from my eating program caused me to gain weight. I became extremely rigid with my food intake. I measured portions religiously. I went hungry. I counted calories, something I had not done or needed to do in over 15 years. I avoided dining out or social gatherings that involved buffets or potlucks because I did not want to risk the temptation of eating foods that were off limits. This was no longer clean eating. This was dieting, the very thing I was against.
Eating was on my mind, 24/7. At night, I regularly dreamed of gorging on forbidden food, waking up in a panic, thinking I’d actually consumed these calories. If I wasn’t preparing or eating food, I was worrying about food. I was fearful of eating anything that might put fat on my body. This was no longer fun.
The final straw came with the “free meal” that I allowed myself, once a week. This once enjoyable indulgence had turned into an hour of gluttony, where I would eat way past the point of satiety. I would finish the meal with a stomach ache, feeling bloated, heavy, and angry with myself.
Make no mistake of it. I was losing control of this size 2 ship.
I knew I had to put the weight back on, but I couldn’t bear the thought of it. I didn’t want to give up my washboard abs and sculpted arms. That unhappy, overweight teenage girl still existed in me, believing thinner was better. But I realized this was no longer healthy.
My business, Lift To Lose Fitness, is about caring for ourselves out of self-love, not fear and rigidity. It’s about eating healthy and exercising to feel strong and happy, not forcing ourselves into a size that does not work for us. Ironically, I was doing the dead opposite of “walking the talk” as a health professional, which was the original goal with my weight loss.
With great ambivalence, I made the decision to gain back the lost weight. I’d love to tell you that I slowly gained back the 10 pounds and felt at peace with returning to my original size 4 figure. Not quite. What happened next, when I loosened the slack on my stringent eating, was an out-of-control food binge that brought me to my knees and challenged me to the core of my being.
Anyone who has been on a deprivation diet knows the hell of losing control and eating everything in sight, and the painful feelings of shame, disgust, anger and remorse that accompany such behavior. So it was with me. As soon as I softened the reins on my rigid, controlled eating, something snapped. A fuse blew in my brain, and my body went absolutely bonkers.
I stuffed myself with anything I could get my hands on. I gorged until my stomach hurt. I ate crappy food, I binged on sugar. I was horrified as my body took on a mind of its own, cramming down mouthfuls of food without even tasting it. It was a battle with powerlessness and loss of self-control, and one of the most grueling experiences of my life.
After packing on almost 10 pounds in three weeks, I frantically put myself back on my “size 2” diet. I lost three pounds. I binged and put on 5 pounds. I dieted down 2 more pounds. I binged back 6. Classic, yo-yo dieting. Now I can clearly see (and appreciate) that this was my body refusing to go back to that tiny size, but at the time, I viewed it as utter failure on my part. I was at war with my body — dieting being my weapon, binge eating being my body’s retaliation. It was holy hell, and I had brought it upon myself. Golly, I maintained a size 4 for 15 years without issue — why couldn’t I have just left well enough alone?
The diet/binge cycle went on for well over a month and I shot up to 135 lbs. (So much for 125, my original starting point.) The only thing that kept me from losing my mind was my husband’s infinite love and patience, and exercise. I still cherished my workouts and performed them religiously. I always felt energized and refreshed after hitting the weights and getting my heart rate up, extra weight be damned. Exercise kept me sane and was the highlight of my days during this painstaking ordeal.
After two solid months of yo-yo dieting, I surrendered. I was whipped, teetering on the brink of an eating disorder and beaten into submission by my very own “healthy weight loss” endeavor. If I ballooned, so be it. Anything was better than this insanity of losing weight/gaining weight.
Upon surrendering, the heavy binge eating immediately stopped, but I continued to overeat for another three weeks and put on more pounds, to my deep despair. I had to allow myself to overeat. I was done fighting.
Then, quietly and without fanfare, it all stopped. It was as if someone yanked my body’s “overeat plug” out of the wall. Food was no longer on my mind unless I was hungry. The drive to eat past satiety completely vanished. Ever so slowly, my body lost about seven pounds as it resumed its old, healthy pattern of 80 percent clean eating. It settled at 130 pounds and a size 6. Ten months later, without dieting, I was back down to my starting weight of 125. Confident that I was no longer going to force it to return to skinny, my body regained its equilibrium. I was, and still am, free of diet hell.
Farewell to skinny
Even after the hell I put my body and mind through, I still kept my size 2 wardrobe in my closet for another year, hoping that I’d figure out a way to fit back into them. WOW. This mentality is, I believe, why things went south.
On the surface, I can blame the whole fiasco on the fact that I did not pay attention to the red flags my body was sending me, alerting me that my small size was not healthy. But the real issue and root of this debacle is why didn’t I listen? Because my desire to be thin (and thin equaled beautiful in my mind) trumped my desire to be healthy. So I miss a few periods and my skin is dry — big deal. Sure, I obsess over food, but isn’t this rock-solid physique worth it?
Believe me when I tell you it is not worth it.
Do I miss my flabless arms? I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t. My sculpted abs? Yes, they were pretty sweet. But the mental and emotional freedom from food obsession and dieting far surpasses the pleasure derived from being a size 2.
Now that I’ve recovered from skinny, I can appreciate the experience as one of the most powerful events of my life. I developed a deep understanding and respect for my body. With the wisdom I gained, I built a nutritional program that is diet-free. I will never diet again, and I do everything in my power to convince my clients not to, either.
What would you be willing to give up in order to have the figure you long for? Peace of mind? Contentment? Ladies, your ability to ovulate? Thirty percent of your hair? I gave all of that up to maintain my dream body, thinking it would fulfill me and make me happy.
Being thin did not bring me happiness. Recovering from thin, did — and if this article moves even one of you to reconsider your desire to be skinny, then it has been worthwhile writing.
I have made the journey to skinny, and I am back. For good.