A Bulimic Athlete

I left you behind because you belong in my past not my future. I had a full circle moment this past week and I’d like to share it with you. I began swimming when I was 5 years old and was very good by the time I was 8. I held records all through my childhood and on into middle school and high school. I had 5 records when I graduated and still have one standing, over 20 years later. Sometimes I wonder how much better an athlete I would have been had I been a healthy athlete.

As a farm girl with 2 older brothers, I ate quite heartily, and never thought twice about it until I noticed I was “bigger” than most girls my age.  People told me I was pretty, they never told me I had a good body. I subscribed to Sassy and Seventeen magazines and became sort of obsessed with the waif-like beauties in these magazines. I created my first 1200 calorie diet when I was 12 years old. I ended up binging on a half gallon of blueberry frozen yogurt that very night. My inability to last one day on that diet set the pace for the next 28-ish years. I would never be good enough.

Restriction and binging became my thing as all I knew was I had to cut calories to lose weight, so I starved myself all day and would binge at night, sometimes going for a late run or walk after. Eventually I was throwing up and taking laxatives as I couldn’t keep myself from overeating. These thing don’t work, by the way, and your body still processes a lot of the food, so I continued to gain weight.

My freshman year of high school my swimming coach introduced us to weight training and we all got gym memberships at Flex Fitness in Holland Michigan. Being the beefy girl I was, I noticed I was strong and genetically built muscle easily, so I loved it, maybe more than the swimming. Our early morning weight training sessions felt like home to me.

My diet all during high school was basically drinking half a pint of fat free milk and a bunch of grapes at lunch, and drinking an 8 ounce drink box of grape juice before swim practice, and then binging for most of the evening after I got home. I don’t know where I came up with this diet?! Starving myself all day and burning upwards of a thousand calories a day through early morning weight training and 3-hour afternoon swim practices was the best set up possible to cause a binge eating disorder. Through lots of research, and time, and self discovery, I eventually figured it out. But, sometimes I do wonder how things would have been different.

This picture on the left was me at 133lbs and 17 years old. I thought I was huge and fat. Incidentally the picture on the right is me at 136lbs. Body fat percentage makes a huge difference. Circumstances and attitude and drive will change that body fat percentage.

Fast forward 22 years. I was staying at my parents house in Holland this past week and decided to revisit my old stomping grounds. I trained and went into the locker room at Flex Fitness to wash my hands…standing in front of that mirror where I used to get ready for school 3 mornings a week during swim season brought back a flood of memories. How I loved my teammates, and constantly pushed them, lead them, made them laugh, and prayed with them…all the while hating myself and my secret eating disorder. But, thankfully, that’s not who I saw in the mirror. This girl, was an adult…and so strong now. Tears filled my eyes mourning the loss of my childhood, but at the same time celebrating a victory of who I had made of that troubled little soul. Who I am is not defined by what I look like, but I wanted what I look like to help define who I am. So that’s what I did, through years of trial and error, I overcame the doubt, the self hatred, and the addiction, and I redefined myself and accepted her. I accepted me.

Sometimes I think change isn’t about changing at all, but really acceptance. When you accept yourself in all your faults no one can use them against you, even you, and it frees you to become whomever you want to be. I changed my definition of beauty to fit my criteria and then I did work. I love the result, I’m happy with the result, and I’m finally at peace with me.