She had one tooth, and a huge smile, standing, excited, by the tiny round table in the lobby, after we walked the red carpet and watched the documentary, Beauty is The Beast, at the GRRRL LIVE 2018 event in Las Vegas. The event brought together women who are passionate about body positivity, the radical concept that our bodies are good things.
She told me she was hit, and her teeth were knocked out. I thought she was a boxer, so I thought that her having knocked-out teeth was cool.
Instead, she is a survivor of domestic abuse.
I tried to apologize for the lightness of my response, but she wasn’t much interested; instead she asked me how I fit in at GRRRL LIVE.
“I run a program for girls. Our main focus is on body positivity and focusing on–”
“But why?” she interrupted.
Everyone here could tell the story of what they do. It was refreshing to be asked why this matters to me instead.
That weekend in Vegas, in late April, eventually convinced me that my fear– of restarting my blog and helping as many girls as possible– was because of some voices in my head that were telling me I’m not smart enough, organized enough, or business-minded enough to do it.
So, here I go again.
I suppose why is a good place to start.
I wrote some blogs back in the day. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do again. I got some negative feedback to an already severely wounded and guarded writer’s brain. As I grew in my professional practice, I realized a lot of what I had written was judgy, dogmatic, and orthorexic. I deleted my blog. I actually haven’t wanted to re-read them until just recently– and now I can’t remember my password.
Oh well. I tried a few other times to start blogs and vlogs, memoirs, and poetry classes. Judgment and growth. Lots of fear. I’m not sure how this post is different, but it feels like it is. Maybe it’s not. Maybe posts that aren’t posted aren’t worthless anymore.
Stay with me.
I was in 2rd grade, and my mom took me to Old Navy to get a swimsuit for a last-day-of-school pool party. My mom lectured me that the size on the tag didn’t matter, but all I knew was mine was bigger than my friends. I hated to hear her say the word “tankini” like it was fun, like it was a good thing. I decided to not go to the pool party. I told my mom I had a stomach ache.
In 3th grade, I gave my food away, and the teachers said they were concerned I wasn’t eating. I told them I already ate, and I told myself I was on a diet, but really I just wasn’t eating. Not eating is surprisingly easy when you start before puberty.
In 4th grade, a girl told me she threw up after she ate. I wanted to tell her she shouldn’t do that, and that that it is bad for you, but instead I asked her if it worked. She said yes, and I was jealous, so I didn’t say anything.
I checked out a book from the library about Anorexia and Bulimia and used them as a reference guide.
In 5th grade, at the 4th of July celebration, my friends made a circle around me, so no one would see me as we walked, together, to the mall to get me new pants. I had taken a handful of my friend’s grandma’s laxatives a few hours before. I had heard that taking laxatives would make you skinny, but I didn’t tell my friends that. I just told them I had a stomach ache.
I had to get a physical before 6th grade, so I could play sports. At the top right corner of this sheet of paper, to have your doctor fill out was “WT:______” 162.8.
That number, 10 years later, almost killed me. The number itself. Trying to get below there. I never did. I never will. Most people aren’t smaller than they ever were in 5th grade, but, fuck, did I try.
I folded up my paper. I decided, I would never, ever let any of my friends, coaches, or teachers see this number. This number was my fault. It is a representation of my weakness, and I will never let anyone know how weak I was. (Today, I am 30 years old, and eight people, in total, have seen my number. Two were medical professionals, five were weighing me in for a weightlifting competition, and one was on accident. I’m still hung up on the number. My therapist and I talked about it yesterday. I’m still working on it.)
When I was in 6th grade, my older brother, who had been studying Taekwondo for many years, was trying to get his black belt. He wasn’t allowed to eat for three days, as a fast was a requirement for the test. My mom was terrified. She weighed him everyday and checked his temperature and blood pressure. He had lost a few pounds in the three days, and achieved his black belt. I was amazed at how easy that was.
I remember the day I decided to stop eating. I ate on Sundays and sometimes Wednesdays, and I liked it. I liked how black and white it was. I liked how in control I was. I liked having a secret. I liked the pain in my stomach. It was evidence that change was happening. I liked watching the scale go down.
In 7th grade, I went back to school, and everyone told me I looked skinny. I loved it. The first time I was told I looked skinny, I was wearing a white t-shirt with red buttons on the sleeves. It became my favorite shirt. I started to crave people telling me I looked skinny. I got worried when they didn’t.
Later in 7th grade, I stopped hearing that I looked skinny. I started volleyball, and I started working out. I gained some muscle mass rather easily, when I was trying to shrink. I got my period and started gaining the hips and breasts that often come with being fourteen. My hunger became hard to deal with; my brain was losing its battle with my body– and I gave up the battle with the mirror.
By 8th grade, being in control of my life meant not eating, and, with hormones and puberty and sports and stress, not eating stopped being an option. I lost the battle with being in control of my body, and now I was losing my mind. I blamed myself: My brain was weak, and my body was the punching bag. My binges got intense. My restrictions became more important. They started to be all I cared about.
By 10th grade, I was numb. I took pain pills to not feel my hunger. I turned mirrors around, pissed that mirrors existed. I refused pictures. I hated when my friends would make me go out, because that was just longer I had to be awake. I associated awake with hungry. It was better to sleep. I did all my homework, got straight A’s, did my workouts, worked full-time, relentlessly studied exercise and nutrition books in secret. I was a happy, pleasant girl at school, and I felt absolutely out of control with every aspect of my life.
In 11th grade, I was obsessed with working out. I woke up at 4:30 am before school to work 5:00 am to 7:30 am, as a lifeguard, making $7.00 an hour. Then I would do an hour of cardio before school. I managed some time on strength machines at night. I never felt like I knew what I was doing. I saved up enough money to afford to hire a trainer, who had me keep a food journal.
I made an honest attempt to stop my restrictive eating and increased my meals to 4 to 5 times a week, becoming obsessed, however, with only eating healthy food. I found balance hard. It was much easier to not eat than to avoid the cheesecake biscuit from the vending machine at work. I lied to my trainer about what I ate. I always found it so disheartening that I was paying her to help me, but I was lying. I was a fraud. I wasn’t trying hard enough, and I knew it. This was all my fault. Not because I wanted to lie– I didn’t– but because I couldn’t bring myself to write things down on paper and have to look at it. And to have to wait for her response. (That one certainly took awhile to understand.)
One day, I had a binge. I’d completely lost count of how many candy bars I’d eaten. I told her. I said, “I was having a good weekend, but I had a binge on Saturday.” It took her an eternity to respond. When she did, she said, “God. Don’t do that again. Do you know how far back this sets us?” I thought, “I never wanted to in the first place,” but I only said it in my head.
I decided to study nutrition and fitness in college, because I imagined, there is no way I could be a fat dietitian who works out everyday. Literally, I could not have cared less about my career at the time. I just didn’t care about anything other than losing weight and allowing myself to exist again.
“I got so, so scared”
College sucked, but it distracted me from hunger. Being busy makes it easy to not eat. I went back and forth from not eating for 3 to 5 days at a time and then binging like crazy on “eating days” to obsessive calorie counting and following My Plate recommendations, which was the new, updated version of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s Food Guide Pyramid. I tried to run a lot. I’d spend hours on the elliptical. I’d try to burn off every calorie I consumed. I gained weight. I got scared. I feared my inevitable morbid obesity and my complete lack of control. I got so, so scared.
I think I was my heaviest when I graduated college. I developed a disassociation with my body. Body Dysmorphia, which I was eventually diagnosed with, is a disconnect between the brain and body. I stopped existing in my body. I became imprisoned in it. I developed habits to not look at or feel my body. I hated the folds in my skin so much that they hurt when they touched each other, so I found positions to not let it happen. It would be almost seven years before I would be able to put my own hand on my stomach again. I wore hoodies and jeans or sweatpants only. I stopped letting people see me. “I will do whatever it takes; I have to fix myself” was the first thought in the morning and last thought at night and, eventually, my only thought.
22 years old: I joined a new gym. I got a new trainer. Some girl at work did it and lost weight. I had so many bad experiences with trainers, but I was willing to try anything. I didn’t know what else to do. We did some powerlifting. I kinda felt strong, and I kinda liked that. For the first time, exercise had a purpose besides weight loss– the first positive in my life in so many years.
23: I went to CrossFit, and I signed up after the first day. The intensity absorbed me, imprisoned me, dominated me, consumed me.
I loved it.
I loved punishing myself. I loved leaving drenched in sweat and dirt. The angry music. How much it hurt. I loved putting everything into something. I’d never done that before. I felt like I existed for the first time.
Up to this point, my life had had no art, no creativity, no direction, no purpose, no awe. Honestly, I think my first CrossFit workout was the first time I’d ever felt alive.
I needed more. I intensely hated myself, and I had found an instant way to punish myself.
In 2011, with CrossFit came the Paleo diet dogma. I quickly developed a deep hatred for the conventional information I had learned about food and exercise in school. I felt betrayed, alone, taken advantage of. I hated everyone, especially the college and the government for sabotaging me. I was ready to fight– I had found the solution. I had light at the end of the tunnel, this long, dark, terrifying tunnel I had been sludging through my entire life. I finally understood why I couldn’t lose weight: I had to lift weights and to eat like a Paleolithic human would. Not cardio, Food Guide Pyramids, or not eating at all. How silly I’d been! My angst for, really, anything conventional grew. At the same time, my determination to rid myself from myself grew exponentially.
I was obsessed. I did months of paleo and CrossFit; small changes that weren’t enough. Clothes that hurt to exist in. Workouts I was never good enough at.
I wasn’t working hard enough. More workouts. More nutrition books. More classes. More lifting.
Paleo to Primal eating to Whole30 to no gluten to organic to high fat to low fat, low carb, no carb, carb cycling to intermittent fasting. Meat only, counting macros, a diet called Complete Human Nutrition. My orthorexia grew. More Branched Chain Amino Acids, and eating meditation, diet coaches, hippie diet gurus and macro kings, doing what my friends did, and doing what they didn’t do.
I spent all my time, money and energy on researching or weighing food or doing whatever strange protocols the diet called for. I didn’t change much. (In retrospect, I was probably doing fine, I was just desperate and impatient. I think about this a lot now, when I’m feeling desperate for proof of results.)
“I was at war.”
I decided to stop eating again. I don’t remember when I decided to try anorexia again. It was never much of a cerebral process. I just couldn’t handle the stress of food anymore. It happened organically. Only, this time, I knew it was bad for me, but I didn’t have control of it.
I spent months only eating two or three days of the week. When I did eat, I continued the yo-yo diet game of which diet plan I was on. I was so desperate for that feeling of figuring out what I had been doing wrong, why I was so broken– OH! So that’s what I’m doing wrong! Ok, I finally found the REAL answer!
I had dreams having of cancer or major illness that was causing my weight gain. I would wake up disappointed to not have cancer, because I still didn’t have a reason why I was still fat. These feelings scared me: I woke up deeply disappointed that my dream of having cancer wasn’t real. I knew I had lost my mind to my pursuit.
The body dysmorphia never went away; it turns out it never will. When I started CrossFit, I finally gained some hope. I could finally, for the first time in my life, imagine myself existing in my body. But as my failures keep coming up, over and over and over, the dysmorphia made its dissent on me in a way only life-shattering desperation could allow for.
This time it wasn’t gradual. About a year after I thought I’d figured it all out, my brain attempted a complete breakup with my body. I wasn’t at war with my body, anymore; I was in denial that I had one, in denial that the body I lived in was mine.
Still 23 years old: Not eating was easy after that. I liked the pain. The pain was the enemy screaming as I burned him with my torch. The pain was me winning the war over my body. I was at war.
The binges were caloric enough that I was no longer in a deficit, although I spent nearly every moment hungry and in pain.
I may have lost some weight, but I really don’t know. My memory is just stamped with failure, not of any objective information. I didn’t look at, notice, feel, or measure my body whatsoever. There was zero acknowledgment of my body’s existence. I gave up on fighting my body, I had murdered it. I won the war. But it felt nothing like victory, and everything like complete isolation.
Binging. Denial. Restriction. Isolation. Months and months.
I wish I could say that was rock bottom. It was. I couldn’t get much lower, but somehow I kept finding a little hope, but then losing it again, at a new rock bottom. Over and over. Rock bottoms are bullshit. There are just too many rocks.
The details of this year of my life are blurry. Everything I did was an attempt to lose weight. Nothing else mattered. I was too tired and exhausted to care, but I didn’t know how to stop.
My old powerlifting coach was 19 years older than me. He was covered in tattoos, coercion, abuse, secrets, warrants, cocaine, and a depression much darker and deeper than mine. I hated my small town life, my boring job, and my routine existence. I was terrified to end up just like everyone else. At one point he was interesting, in a world that just seemed so not, so I followed him, mostly to see where I landed.
I had overheard him tell some woman that wanted to lose a couple pounds that he had a steroid she could take, and she would lose 20 pounds of fat in a couple weeks. I was pissed that such a thing existed. I was pissed because it could be so easy for someone. I was so mad at the woman receiving it, at him for never asking me if I wanted any, at myself for being around him and not knowing how to get away from him. I was mad that he let me hear about it. I was mad that he had no idea how much pain I was in. I was mad that if he did know, he would try to find a way to make it about him.
I couldn’t sleep. I had dreams that I took the pill, and I was skinny. I dreamed almost every night of being skinny. I dreamed of touching my stomach and feeling muscle. I still have that dream sometimes. I dreamed of looking in the mirror again. I dreamed of wearing clothes that weren’t baggy and hot. I imagined summers without being forced to wear a hoodie. I wished to never be so so hot but unable to take my hoodie off again. I imagined myself in a sports bra.
I imagined not ever having the episodes where I had to go home because I just couldn’t be seen— and these were happening more and more, consuming my sick days at work. When I got home, I still had to exist, and I didn’t want to. I still had to feel the weight of my body. Seeing number in my head of what my weight might be, as I would notice the heaviness of my steps on the floor. Watching the shower reflect of parts of me that were too big. Deciding which way water would hit me if I were different. Lying in bed and feeling the weight of my chest compress my lungs, afraid of how heavy they might get, and how much my lungs could support. Knowing that sleep apnea was right around the corner if I DONT FUCKING FIGURE OUT HOW TO STOP BEING A FAT WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT. I dreamt of no longer falling in and out of lying in bed for days, without rest, and no comfortable positions. The belly fat that flops to the side, the way my breasts separate when I’m on my back, feeling the folds of my skin when I sat up. Days when my body existed were good days. Bad days were being only a brain, because my body didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t be there anymore.
I took the pills. I lost weight. It was possible. In a way, that may have saved me. I’m not sure I could have found any hope otherwise. I know I wouldn’t have committed suicide. I know that. But, man–
I don’t remember why or how I stopped. I’ve been really, really racking my memory to try to remember, but I can’t. It’s not in there. I was checked out. And I was in denial about all of this for some 7 years. Looking back, I’m surprised I was able to stop, however. An indication now of how truly strong I am. Maybe, really, it wasn’t about the weight loss as much as it was just regaining some control. Once I had that, I was just ok enough to keep breathing.
All I remember is that I took them for about 2 weeks, and they were hidden in my closet for years after. Two years later, when I told another boyfriend about it, he tried to use it against me when we broke up. They were still in my closet and I’d take them out and look at them sometimes. They always reminded me I was both strong and weak, and I’d put them away.They were with me until I moved to California, some 5 years later. And I threw them away because I didn’t need my safety belt anymore. I was strong enough on my own. And I forgave myself.
I broke up with another abusive boyfriend. He left behind a book Hardcore Zen, Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and The Truth about Reality on my bookshelf. It would be another year before I read it.
“I found my why”
24 was, unfortunately, a lot like 23, only sans abusive boyfriends. Weaving in and out of hunger and hope. Disconnections, binge and restriction, turning over new leaves and losing my body to dysmorphia, wishing I’d lose my mind instead.
Crying into jars of almond butter in the grocery store parking lot. Spooning it out with my fingers, in my car, head tilted down so no one could see me. I was binging. My fingers and tongue were swollen from the influx of calories. My skin around my abdomen felt like a corset. It was almost midnight, and I wouldn’t be eating again for days. I couldn’t stop binging, no matter how much eating hurt.
Some days were better: Doing the math. Calculating every drop, weighing and measuring. Hours in the grocery store, planning every once. This was the Chelsea I presented to the world.
I had lots of very healthy, ripped friends. I was begging, pleading, bargaining with the vanilla cake at the party to not win. I know where this goes. I don’t have just one piece of cake. That’s not something I do. If I have one piece of cake, I’m bad. I’ve done bad. And once I’m bad, I can’t stop myself. I called it The Fuck It Bucket. Binges that happen on days when I am supposed to be eating normally, always result in not eating for days.
Not eating for days when you’ve been eating lately hurts. Hunger hurts when you care, when you have hope. Hunger doesn’t hurt as much without hope.
The secrets. The lies. The hiding. The isolation. The loneliness.
Cut to me on the bathroom floor (this is a true story) about 25, with a coffee enema up my ass– it was supposed to flush my liver and help me lose weight. (You think I’m joking when I said I’d try anything.) I saw the book my boyfriend had left behind, Hardcore Zen, Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and The Truth about Reality, and I had 20 more minutes of the enema, so I started reading it.
Brad Warner, the author, spoke of enlightenment and how wonderful it is and how it’s totally bullshit. (I also believe enlightenment is bullshit, but that’s for a different blog.) As I read, I learned about impermanence, about how nothing exists independently of itself. I looked up, and everything looked different. I could never and would never go back to who I was before I understood that. It’s hard to summarize, but basically, I saw that nothing really matters, and we are all one thing. I got a symbol of emptiness tattooed on my wrist that night.
I think it started with the book Intuitive Eating. Then Eat The Food, a Facebook community group for people in various forms of disordered eating recovery, and then Health at Every Size, a body positive social movement.
Eventually, right before I turned 26, I got a therapist. I’m still in therapy.
At about 26, I went past a car reflection, and I actually saw myself. Pragmatically, judgment free, just saw how I was and who I was and how I existed without bias. I’ve had body dysmorphia most of my life. I looked up, and there I was. I saw me. I gasped. It was me. “There I am!”
I stopped dieting. I ate what I wanted.
I stopped stressing about when I eat junk food. It’s ok.
I had mental breakdowns about losing everything I learned, or it not being real. And going back into The Fuck It Bucket after a treat.
Restrictions were more and more controlled, binges got slightly smaller.
I was lifting, and I made a video of myself, to watch my form, and I liked the way I looked. That had never happened to me before.
27: I wore clothes I liked. Not clothes that hide me. I had a style. I liked clothes for the first time.
I took my shirt off in yoga, and I felt good.
I wore a tight shirt and wasn’t ready.
The scale went up and down.
I stopped blaming myself.
I got off the scale.
28: Someone told me I was sexy and I believed them.
I wore a bikini and practiced confidence.
I had horrible binge eating/restriction relapses.
29: I wanted to eat healthy foods. Like, did it because I wanted to. I exercise because I like it.
I worried a lot about losing everything.
I wore a bikini and didn’t think about it.
I saw weight loss pills, and they still seemed enticing.
A 13-year-old girl at work told me she never felt ok with herself until she met me.
I found my why.
30: I realized I am in complete control over my choices.
I feel empowered by my food choices.
I see so much of my former self in so many young girls I’ve worked with, and I know I am doing the best I know how to positively impact them.
I had a thought creep into my head that I might be losing it, and I immediately knew it wasn’t true.
I realized writing is a bigger mental challenge to me than my relationship with food.