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02/21/2010

I never thought much about my body image while I was growing up.

 

My mom was always slim and fit. I was always slim - and I was on the gymnastics and cheerleading teams in high school. Then I got to college. Midnight pizza. Snacking all the time. And I wasn't on a sports team anymore. You've heard of girls gaining the freshman 5? The freshman 10? I gained the Freshman 35 and went from a size 6 to a size 12 or 14. Suddenly, I looked at my body - and it was alien and grotesque.

So, I decided that eating was a bad habit I'd gotten into - and I should just stop. So, I did. And, in my 18 year old logic, I thought that if I had a glass of water and an apple every day, that would be enough to keep me healthy. I felt hungry sometimes, but I was going to be the queen of willpower. I lost about 20 pounds and then decided I'd start eating "normally" again.

Well, the first time I tried a breakfast of cottage cheese and cereal, my stomach clenched in pain. I curled up on the floor of my room for about three hours before my roommates found me and took me to the student clinic. The Doctors there examined me and after determining that I was too dehydrated for them to even take blood, they said, "You have a condition that we typically see in prisoners of war who have been starved to death, then forced to eat. Have you recently been starved to death, then forced to eat?" Hm. "Maybe I should tell you," I began, "I've been dieting a little."

Recovery wasn't fun. They basically had to wean me back ONTO food. I put some weight back on, then decided that I would have to take it off slowly - cut the sugars and simple carbohydrates, exercise more, drink a lot of water. And I did. Slowly. Gradually. Healthily. I didn't put it on overnight, I wasn't going to take it off overnight.

I yo-yoed a bit after that, then settled into a routine of workouts and healthy eating. Oh - and I threw away the scale. I was not going to let a number dictate how I should feel about my body. Now, as long as my clothes fit, I don't worry about my weight.

So, this isn't the tale of someone with an eating disorder who almost died. This isn't even the tale of someone who had an eating disorder for years and did irreparable harm. This is someone who DABBLED in an eating disorder and recovered - mostly. You see, my own body image will go up and down with my self esteem. I know that I'm 5'6 and a half, I weigh 125 pounds and usually wear a size 6 or S in most clothes. But as to whether I'm a banana, an apple, a pear or an hourglass - that all depends on what day it is. I honestly couldn't tell you.

But here's the other funny thing that happened since that time in college. I can't tell what anyone else's body really looks like either. Unless someone is morbidly obese or dramatically tall or short, I look at them and assume that they're about the same size and shape as I am. I don't know whether that's good or bad. It just is.

I also know that I have a daughter entering adolescence - and I want her to feel good about her body, even as it's constantly changing. So, I encourage her physical activity (she's a springboard diver!). We talk about what healthy eating is, what unhealthy eating is, what "moderation" really means and what all different types of bodies look like. I try to set an example for her. I run and ride my bike regularly. I cook with whole grains and fresh vegetables. We snack on fruit and carrots - and yeah, *sometimes* cookies or ice cream.

I also make sure that when she sees me getting dressed or looking at a mirror, she sees me smile at my own reflection. She doesn't see me worrying about my body. She sees me using it and having fun. I love that I get to catch her doing that, too. It makes me very proud.

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