This was a guest post I wrote for a long-time friend, former teammate and fitness coach, Rachel Ngom, posted on her website on February 13, 2014. I wanted to share it with all of you as well!
“Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Do not be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It is the greatest instrument you will ever own.”
I met Rachel a decade ago (whew, time flies!) on a court of blood, sweat and tears. Ok, maybe not the blood so much, but lots of sweat, and occasional tears, plus the scent of dreams in the making. Method of choice: volleyball. We became friends at a point that was pivotal for Rachel in her pursuit of health and wellness and I was able to watch her grow and learn how to take good care of her body.
It was a pivotal time for me as well, but I was on a completely different path where my health was concerned. Rachel was one of the first people I told that I was struggling with an eating disorder. She was the first to know outside of a couple close friends from school. Despite my urging for her to keep quiet, her decision to speak up and get adults involved led to the treatment journey that eventually gave me my life back. She fought for my health back then, and now she’s still fighting for health, this time with all of you.
Today, so many messages we hear tell us we need to lose weight AT ALL COSTS. We hurt our bodies and minds in the pursuit of thin and lose the point along the way. Sometimes we even lose ourselves. The point isn’t thin, the point is health and a full life.
Rachel always emphasizes, “You must eat, even to lose weight!” And I’m here to reinforce that today, especially with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week approaching February 23rd to March 1st. I didn’t eat enough for years, and I NEVER got skinny. I maintained a normal weight throughout a decade of fighting anorexia and bulimia. But on the inside, it was a different story. In my quest for thin at all costs, my internal body screamed for help. At times my kidneys showed beginning signs of failure, my cells started breaking down and releasing CO2 into my body, poisoning me from the inside as if I were sitting in a closed garage with the car engine running. Heart palpitations became normal and a random blood test showed my blood sugar level so low, I should’ve been in a coma or dead. Somehow my amazing body remained resilient and kept me alive so I can be here today to warn you of where that path leads.
For the body, depending on gender and weight, we need a minimum of 1200 calories per day just to have enough fuel to sit and do nothing! When we eat too little, our metabolism slows down to hang on to every bit of fuel it can. If you aren’t eating enough, your body doesn’t know there are fast food establishments on every corner and a fridge stocked full of food. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it voluntarily, your body will go into starvation mode. This is the nature of self-preservation.
What happens if you don’t eat enough?
-problems with memory (not enough fat in the diet)
-increased food preoccupation
-muscle loss (muscle cells break down to feed protein to the body)
The human body is truly amazing in how it heals itself and fights for self-preservation. After years of not adequately feeding myself, my body took over and fought for itself. I started sleep-eating. I would sleepwalk and eat in my sleep, with no memory of doing so. My evidence was missing food, empty containers on the counter in the morning, and sometimes remnants smeared over my face, pillow and/or clothes. Of course I’d want to compensate the following day for all the calories I ate during the night, so I’d undereat more, and the next night the cycle would start all over again. This went on for many months, sometimes several nights in a row. It drove my roommates crazy as their food disappeared and I was terrified of keeping food in the house. I was disgusted with myself and felt completely out of control. My quest for control over food and my body rendered me powerless.
In the midst of an eating disorder, I didn’t care what smoke signals my body sent me. I still thought nothing truly bad would ever happen, and even if it did, once I got “thin enough” I’d be able to stop. That’s not true at all, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. And life doesn’t magically get better because you reached your goal weight. If there are underlying mental issues, no “magic number” will cure them.
Once I healed enough in my heart and mind to be able to see things rationally I learned to see my body in a whole new light. My body is a machine. It is an instrument. It is an instrument, rather than an ornament. It’s amazing and it’s a gift and I only get one. Just like a car needs fuel and an instrument needs tuning, my body will perform when I take care of it. The more fine tuned, the more beautiful the music.
My body allows me to run, jump, play with my dogs, ride my horses, hug my parents, kiss my boyfriend, sing horribly to myself in the car, taste delicious food, remember my best friend’s birthday, and laugh. I laugh a LOT now.
In 24 hours my heart beats 103,689 times, my blood travels 168,000 miles, I breathe 23,040 times, move 750 major muscles, and exercise 7,000,000 brain cells.
How amazing. How stunning. How beautiful.
As you read this, may you remember: your body is the greatest instrument you will ever own. There is only one you, in all of history. You have talents and purpose all your own. You are not just some body, you are somebody. You are not a number, and you have a heart and mind and no scale can measure their size. Take care of your instrument. Treat it kindly. Exercise. Eat well. But don’t deprive it. It’s not a slave to be chained and controlled, it is a partner and friend to be loved and listened to. You deserve to be loved and listened to.
How do you see your body? Do you think of it as an instrument to be tuned, a partner to be loved? Or do you see it as clay to be molded and conquered?
Today I have been fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia for over 4 years. I love myself and I love my life! I never thought I’d find such freedom and joy regarding my body or life in general as I experience today.