I used to be a perfectionist. In high school I got straight As, was in the top 5% of my class, and was nominated “Hardest Working” for the Senior Yearbook awards. I played soccer, in which I was also awarded “Hardest Working” every year. I always strived to be the best I could possibly be.
After I quit playing basketball my Sophomore year, I started going to the gym every day after school for two hours during soccer offseason. I started reading fitness magazines. I thought I knew quite a bit about nutrition and exercise growing up playing sports, but after reading more, I didn’t realize you were supposed to count calories and that I should only be eating so many calories a day.
So, being my perfectionist self, I decided to follow the recommendations I'd read in fitness magazines. What they didn’t tell me is that a restricted-calorie diet is quite unhealthy for an active teenage girl who works out or plays a sport almost every day. Or that cutting out all fats and sugars and telling your body “no!” will ultimately lead to feelings of deprivation, cravings, overindulgence, and in my case, a full-blown eating disorder.
But that’s exactly what I did. I started cutting out fats, and started strictly controlling what I put in my body. This only lasted so long until the bingeing and purging began. Then the self-hate. The feelings of “why can’t I just be more in control?!” The “I’m going to work off every last calorie!”
My senior year, I had dropped over ten pounds. Not a lot, but a lot for my size and body type (I'm only 5'1.) I was getting compliments. “You look so good!” people said.
What they didn’t know is that I was starving myself. And then bingeing and purging each night before bed. I started eating “diet” meal replacement bars, foregoing whole foods for low or no calorie versions.
This continued through my senior year, and into my early years of college. It’s no wonder I transferred twice my freshman year in college: I was either depressed or anxious most all the time. I went to see school counselors, a nutritionist. I was put on anti-anxiety meds. I had stopped listening to my body’s natural hunger signals for so long that I had to completely re-learn how to eat properly. When I was hungry. Until I was full. Foods that my body wanted and needed to be healthy.
Slowly, I was starting to get a handle on my eating disorder. I had eventually stopped purging and over-exercising, but continued to binge, although less frequently. I had gained a little weight, which was scary for me.
Then one day, I had a bit of a waking up. I had just gotten out of the shower, and was criticizing my naked (and curvier!) body in the mirror. And then it dawned on me. Would I be happier if I lost five pounds? How would my life be different? Does it really matter?
And the truth is, it didn’t matter. It hasn’t mattered. It never will. I was healthy enough to play the sports I loved, exercise, move freely in my body. Slowly, I was learning. That if I didn’t start treating myself with love and respect, if I continued to tell myself that certain foods were “bad,” or feel ashamed for not working out that day, that I was never going to truly beat this thing.
Ten years later, I still struggle occasionally with disordered eating. I overeat, think too much about what I’m eating, or obsess about not working out on occasion. But the uncontrolled binge sessions, the thought of punishing myself through purging or exercise are long gone. Realizing that there is so much more in life than striving for the “perfect” body, has freed me in a way I never thought possible.
Yoga has played a huge part in helping me let go of my perfectionism and just be, as I am. I have learned, through my breath work, to become more aware of what my body wants and needs. I have learned to let go of situations I can’t control, of feelings that pull me down.
I have learned what life can be like if we learn to love fully, ourselves and others, and live in the present. That there are greater things in life than appearance.
These days, I exercise because I want to. Because I like the feeling it gives me. Because I like taking care of myself. I eat a lot of whole foods, cook delicious healthy dinners, and splurge when I want to.
These days, I’m truly living. Happy, and free.