Sunday, July 15, 2012

Exercise, Self-Esteem, and Eating Disorders

By Anna Boom

Sharing some not so fun stuff........
While running around the web recently, I spotted a link to Amanda Beard's new book, In the Water, They Can't See You Cry:

I admit, I didn’t know who Amanda Beard was as I am not a huge Olympics follower. In case you are like me, Amanda is a three time Olympian, seven-time medalist, a professional model:

And as you can see, she is gorgeous and has athletic talent beyond what us normal human types can ever fathom.

That is why the title grabbed my attention. How could SHE feel anything but sunshine and bunnies everyday? Surely she must have it all and it must have come so easily to her, right?

Even with her status, her beauty, her success, Amanda still struggled with low self-esteem. That shocked me! I read the summary of the book and an interview and a few articles on her to find out more.

Due to her low self-esteem and constant media and athletic community's attention to her body, Amanda suffered through depression, drug and alcohol abuse and eating disorders. Thinking of how critical we are on our own bodies, imagine the world judging you all the time on how thin or not thin you are. Her frankness on these difficult topics brought tears to my eyes.

Not many know that I also suffered through a few eating disorder issues of my own. When I first came into running, after college, I was a little more...let's say, fluffy. Eating cheap, convenient food, working at an ice cream shop, many nights going out...even though I played tennis for the team, did not lead to a svelte shape. I looked okay but was seeking perfection, which I thought was just on the other side of being skinny. As I ate less and less, my idea of being skinny enough was never enough. I began down the path of looking and acting like an anorexic, where I would only allow myself three bites of food at any meal. I kept running longer and eating less and soon I was down to around 110 lbs and sliding down quickly. Yikes! Even writing that now, I think, YIKES!

For whatever reason, I listened to my family and friends around me and allowed myself to start eating a little more. My running naturally improved as it is a very very fine line between being a lite runner and not having any energy supplies, essential to run long.

Looking back now, I see how intoxicating it is to control eating, that necessary human behavior. It made me feel strong to know I didn’t think I needed to eat. Again though, it is a very very fine line between controlling eating (which I do now) to obsessing over eating. I was obsessed with every calorie that went in and out and it quickly became very unhealthy.

Having kids most certainly turned my eating disorders completely around. Once I found out I was pregnant, I gave my body up to growing my little one inside. I knew she was gonna need some major nutrients so I ate and felt happy about it. Okay, not always happy, especially around month 8, but at least resigned to it. Since having a second daughter, I also see that what I do and how I react to eating, affects what they do and how they eat. I am hoping that I can lead them down a healthier path than I traveled.

Thanks for reading this today. It is not a topic I ever discuss but one that I thought was worth sharing. We all struggle through moments of not being enough. When that happens, look to your family, your friends, your children and know that you are, just as you are at that moment.

By Jannine Myers

When Anna told me her intentions of writing a post on this topic, I was a little hesitant but behind her decision to do so. After all, I think it's a pretty safe bet to suggest that most women struggle on some level to fully accept themselves. But when Anna proposed that we do a joint post I have to admit, I was afraid of exposing areas of my life that I've so far managed to keep relatively private.

Just as Anna battled with an eating disorder during her college years, I also battled with similar issues during my high school and early adult years. There are two distinct memories I have of my childhood, which I believe were the precursors for what turned into years of low self-esteem and ultimately a cycle of binge-eating.

Neither of these memories are of events that were particularly life-changing, or traumatic, but they left an indellible mark on my impressionable young mind that greatly affected how I looked at myself. The first of those memories, is my father referring to me by what he would say was really just an affectionate endearment; he loved to call me by the name Podgy.

As a toddler, I was my dad's shadow. I went everywhere with him, and he loved it. I was not one of those slight, pretty little girls with the frilly dresses and cute hair ribbons; I was just the opposite. I was the little tom-boy who always ran around in denim shorts and tshirts, and my hair never tied back. I was also a little "chubby," but it was the kind of chubby that people would comment on and say, "Awe, she's so cute!". And that's how my nickname, Podgy, evolved, and like so many childhood nicknames, it stuck - right through to intermediate school (middle school).

Not a very clear picture, but here I am at maybe 3 years old, with my mother and brother in the garden. Wishing my dad was home, since I didn't care too much for gardening.

A few years later, with by brother. Note - no shoes on my feet.
No comments about the clothes please - it was after all, in the 70s.
The second memory takes me back to my pre-teen years, when I was visiting my mother's family in the Cook Islands (near Tahiti).

Raking the leaves outside my aunt's house - I was 10 or 11 at the time

I recall overhearing a conversation between my aunts and a woman who was asking questions about my sister and I. I clearly remember one of my aunts saying, "Oh, Karen is the smaller one." Now, in saying that, neither my sister nor I are very big, and nor are any of the females in my mother's immediate family. However, my young teenage mind distorted what I heard that day; what I really heard was, "Karen is the small one, therefore Jannine must be the big one."

So now, I'm not only big, but I've obviously been big all my life, because for as long as I can remember my nickname has been Podgy! Silly, right? In hindsight, yes! But in the mind of a child, these two things had me convinced that I must lose weight. Hence, I fell into a vicious cycle of binge-eating; I would starve myself for as long as I could, and then gorge myself whenever the hunger pains became too unbearable. My weight went up and down, up and down, and when it was down I was happy, and when it crept back up I was incredibly depressed. So much so that I would lie beneath my bed covers at night wishing I could stay there and "hide-out" until I was slim again.

My breakthrough came when I began working in the fitness industry in my mid-twenties. I landed a job as an administrative assistant at a prestigious fitness center, and under the counseling of one of the nutritionists who worked there, I began to learn for the first time in my life that I could get free of the hold that food and weight obsession had had over me. I learned a whole new way of life, one that encouraged eating, and not only assisted in both weight loss and weight maintenance, but also improved my health significantly.

I still experience the occasional mind battles - the kind of battles that send me off into my self-loathing moods where I allow myself to say terrible and negative things about my appearance. But unlike my former self, who lived with these kinds of destructive thoughts on a daily basis, I now live for the most part, with a much more positive and self-loving mindset.

I think the pastor at my church said it best when he pointed out in a sermon recently, that we should care less about appearance and more about character. It occurred to me as soon as he said it, that some of the friends I love the most, are loved by so many, not because of their outward beauty, but because of the beauty that radiates on the outside, from within.

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