The Under Eating Journey

27 Feb

Nearly 11 months ago now, I confronted my severe under-eating issues. It was never a case of trying to starve myself, just a case of complete ignorance.  Everything I read said to eat 1200-1500 calories to lose weight. So I ate about 1800 calories to maintain my weight.  But instead, because I burnt an extra 1000-2000 calories daily exercising, I still ended up in starvation mode.  I never realized that I needed to eat my exercise calories back.  So last April 1st, I began the journey of eating enough.

Life is richer and fuller now that I attacked this issue and dealt with it.  There’s always new issues to deal with but putting this one behind me makes me want to celebrate.

April-May I concentrated on eating enough.  This meant religiously counting calories (but to force myself to eat more, not to stop at a certain number).  It meant adjusting my idea of portion sizes.  It meant carrying snacks with me so I never had an excuse to not eat.  The first few months were horribly hard.  It took daily emails from my Mom and a lot of encouragement to feel like I was doing the right thing.

Making yourself eat when you are not hungry feels gross.  And for the first month, I made myself eat 2500 calories each day.  And to eat back 3/5ths of my exercise calories.  It felt like a lot of food.  It also meant that I started gaining weight which is a psychological battlefield all on its own.

And then something happened in late April – my stomach started growling.  I had forgotten that stomachs growl, I don’t remember the last time that mine had.  But once my body was convinced that I wasn’t starving it, it began to test me.  I’d wake up at 2 am or 3 am with my stomach growling and flipping. So I’d eat – an apple, a peanut butter sandwich, a banana and almonds.  I began to say “Ok, stomach.  You don’t believe that I will treat you right. I am going to show you that you can trust me.”  So I’d eat.

It wasn’t until late May that this stopped happening.

June-August Because I don’t think calorie counting is a very healthy thing for me (maybe it works for others), I decided to go cold turkey and stop counting calories.  Now that I had a better idea of a reasonable idea of what my intake should look like, I was ready to start “living the rest of my life.”  I had always known that calorie counting was not a long term plan.  I limited weighing myself to once a week and very quickly settled at a weight that my body was happy at.

I wasn’t happy at that weight.  Most of my pants didn’t fit.  I had to pull out the two size 4’s I had stashed in the back of my closet.  But I also knew that being healthy was more important than wearing a certain size. And I felt stronger and happier.  (But that’s not to say there was not a lot of anguish, once again directed at my Mom, that I looked terrible in my clothes).

September-December I ran an ultra-marathon relay race in the Appalachian mountains.  I trained and completed a marathon in Philadelphia.  And through it all, I lost only a couple of pounds which made me happy – I was learning how to fuel properly.  I began to understand when I need extra protein and what my body craves after runs and bike rides. I also realized that a long run on Saturday and a long bike ride on Sunday meant I had to eat extra food the rest of the week since I couldn’t get enough calories in my body on those days alone (without resorting to unhealthy food that I won’t eat).  I still thought about food a lot – hard not to when you are training for races – but saw it as fuel and a necessary tool, not a hinderance.

January – present I still have occasional struggles with eating enough.  That’s always been an issue of mine since I was little.  And being in class two or three nights a week until 9pm makes it difficult to eat at regular times.  The night after the marathon and on a few other recent occasions, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night hungry.  But I’m now proud that my body has a nifty built in warning system to tell me when I need to eat.

My size 2 and size 0 pants fit again. Nothing like good old weight training and switching up your routine to get in shape. I’m probably the only person who gained weight in the summer and then lost it during the winter holidays.  My weight has now settled between where I was last spring and where I was this summer. My body fat has increased but I know that is a good thing. Skinny is not always healthy.

I no longer count calories.  I hardly even think about them.  I eat healthy whole foods and cook most of my own meals. But I eat cookies now and again like everyone else.  I no longer come home from exercise and find I can’t keep myself from eating handfuls of Cheerios (I used to hate myself for my inability to stop eating them.  First, I probably ate 200 calories worth of them. They’re not exactly a calorie-dense food.  And second, it was clearly my body saying it needed carbs pronto.  Instead, I saw it as my own inability to control myself.  And that made me unhappy.)

Like anything in life, what we need in order to survive can be so easily twisted until it seems it is bad. I thought I was taking care of myself but, in my ignorance, I was really hurting myself.  I had no idea that listening to what other people and magazines and blogs said about what I should be eating and when was silly.  Those people and magazines and blogs weren’t training for the races that I was.  They were catering to the masses, not to me.

Having some time off from running has meant dialing down my intake.  And I’ve been able to do that instinctually – just like more other normal people. It feels good to feel normal.  To feel that eating is no longer a task.  But an enjoyable daily part of life.

Which is why I am ending this here so I can go eat a cookie.



One Response to “The Under Eating Journey”

  1. meg February 27, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Thank you for sharing the whole journey. I am rejoicing with you!

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