My struggle with food, mind, and body has been a life-long health journey. This is my story of how I’ve overcome some of my diet demons.
My Past with Disordered Eating
My first memory of my struggles with disordered eating was at the age of 10 years old. I was in fourth grade. I remember thinking that I was bigger than my peers, my mom had to cut the sleeves of my shirts to fit them over my arms, and I constantly thought about food.
In science class, I won a king-sized Reese’s peanut butter cup package. My mom asked me to save half the package for my brother and I agreed. It didn’t take long, however, for me to quickly inhale the entire package. I knew that I was going to get in trouble, but I did it nonetheless.
Fast forward two years and I was lying to my mom so that I could get my “sweets” fix. I told her that I needed a large package of candy for a class party. I then stashed it away in my room so that I could sneak a piece every so often to get “my fix”. Soon enough she found out and questioned me about why I lied. Quickly, I started babysitting so that I’d have my own money to go out and “get my fix.”
Now, nearly three decades later, I can see that my actions towards sweets as a child were a response to the restriction I experienced. Many well-meaning parents, including my own, perpetuate the lies of diet culture that tell us that we can’t eat certain foods and label these foods as “junk”, “bad” and “off-limits”.
What this does, however, is it increases our drive to want to eat these foods. We eat in secret, lie, and/or binge. We then may feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. It’s not until we make peace with food (principle 3 of intuitive eating), that we’ll see that food loses its power over us.
My Health Journey in My 20s
I stayed pretty busy and active throughout elementary, middle school, and high school. Once in college, however, I quickly found “the freshmen fifteen” and then some. There are two things I distinctly remember: 1) my doctor telling me at 176 lbs. and 18 years old that I needed to lose weight 2) telling myself I would never get to the 200 lbs. mark. Unfortunately, it did not take long into my adult years to find that 200-pound mark and surpass it. Before getting married at 20 years old, I tried to quickly shed some pounds, but to no avail.
Two months into my marriage, I frequently thought of how I could find a few bucks (since I wasn’t working at the time) so that I could “get my fix” of sweets. A couple of months before our one-year anniversary trip, I tried the latest fad diet so I could shed some weight. This, unsurprisingly, ended unsuccessfully.
One year later, I practically starved myself to shed a quick 26 pounds while going to university and working. It only took me four months to regain those 26 pounds and a few more. I knew something had to change in my health journey if I was ever going to overcome this battle with food, health, and weight.
Soon, I was on the computer and doing some research on Google. I came across an organization called Overeaters Anonymous (OA). I had mixed feelings about OA. Did I really need something like this? Had I found the answer I had been looking for? The only way to find out what OA was all about was to attend a meeting.
I promptly looked up my local chapter, called someone to confirm their meeting times, and attended my first meeting in spring 2007. I left the meeting on a high. For the first time in my life, I felt as though there were others who understood my constant struggle with food, mind, and body.
Soon I found myself purchasing all of the OA materials I could get my hands on, applying the principles in my life, and turning to the other OA members in the local chapter for encouragement. I was by far the youngest in the group, but I felt accepted nonetheless.
Similar to AA or NA, OA has its own 12 steps for compulsive overeaters to follow. A compulsive overeater, as defined by OA, is someone who has an unhealthy relationship with food. This compulsive overeater can starve themselves, binge, hide food, eat in secret, obsess about food, etc. Clearly, I was a compulsive overeater.
Although I am not currently a part of a local OA chapter in my health journey, I do still remember and apply some of the OA principles to my everyday life. I acknowledge that I have a disease and must ask my higher power, God, for support. If I slip up with my recovery I try to not let it get me down. Instead, I remember that it is one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time. I also recite the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
*Side note: I no longer identify as a compulsive overeater after reading and applying the principles of intuitive eating. (Here are my top recommended books for intuitive eating.)
Derailed By Divorce
After I found OA I never struggled with food, health, and weight ever again, right?
Wrong. About a year later, during my divorce, I turned to my drug; food. I ate when I was sad, when I was angry, when I was grieving, etc. Quickly, I found myself at an all-time low. I was living and teaching in China, trying to grieve, and turning to all of the wrong things in the process. I was low emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
In my darkest days, I found myself walking to Pizza Hut, trying to hide the pizza on my walk back so that no one would see me, and then locking myself in my apartment eating nearly the whole thing all by myself. I had a gym membership but rarely went. I found every excuse there was; it was too hot, I had a headache, there was no time, I had nothing to wear, etc. When I returned to the states 13 months later, my friends and family were shocked by what they saw.
The Turning Point in My Health Journey
That year for Christmas, December 2009, my family bought a Wii as our family Christmas present. When I stepped on the Wii Fit Plus on Christmas morning, I was shocked by the number that flashed up on the screen. How did I let myself get here? What was I going to do to recover from this? I wasn’t sure, but I knew it had to be something or else I was going to die at a very young age.
The very next morning I started watching what I ate (making better choices) and exercising regularly (walking, biking, strength training, etc.). Slowly, but surely the weight started coming off. By June of 2010, I was already down 25 pounds. In March 2011, I was down another 10 pounds, but now I needed something more to help keep me moving forward on my health journey.
In the winter of 2009, I had started training to complete a sprint triathlon in the spring of 2010. This plan, however, was put on hold when I moved to Honduras in February 2010.
Fortunately, while in Honduras I continued moving forward in my health journey by watching what I was eating and working out at the gym. In summer 2010, I felt really good but knew I still had more work to do.
In March 2011, after turning 27, it dawned on me what I was missing, “What about the triathlon training?” I asked myself. I quickly got on the computer and started researching triathlons. That same day I found a training plan on beginnertriathlete.com and headed out on my first training run. I made it about one block before I felt as though I was going to die! It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
The next day, I had my first swim training, and the day after that, I had my first bike training under my belt. The fire was lit and there was no stopping me!
Before I knew it, I was running 3 miles Saturday morning followed by 75 minutes on the spin bike. Soon I was down to less than 10 pounds to go before getting to my goal weight. The greatest part was that from March 27th to July 9th my goal was not weight loss. My goal was to train for the most physically grueling thing I had ever done before. In fact, I hadn’t even realized how good of shape I had gotten in until I arrived back home to California and saw everyone’s reaction to me.
Little did I know that the triathlon was going to light a fire in me; a fire to run. After completing the triathlon, I asked myself, “Now what?” I knew that I needed a goal in order to remain motivated to exercise. I’ve found that it’s more difficult for me to regularly exercise without having something that I am working towards. I therefore, set October’s Victoria 10k race in Torreon, Mexico as my new goal. Much to my surprise, however, my first of many 10ks came on August 28th.
Stephanie, The Runner, Is Born
I quickly became addicted; addicted to the high of running. I enjoyed running in the “carrerras” in Torreon because they were 1) cheap, only about $8 USD each 2) mostly came with a cool finisher medal and t-shirt 3) it was something I was able to do with my running buddies 4) made me feel accomplished and kept me moving forward in my health journey.
From July 9th through the end of 2011, I ran one sprint triathlon, six 10ks, and five 5ks. I was trying to make it to 11 races in 2011 and I made it! I was able to start 2012 a whole new me. To celebrate this whole new me I tried something new, a trail run. The 10k Resolution Run on January 1, 2012, was one of the toughest runs I had done yet, but I pushed myself and I placed first in my age group of 20 – 29-year-olds. I was on a roll and there was no stopping me!
Next, I set my sights on a much bigger race; the Lala Marathon on March 4th. I had only started toying with the idea of running the full Lala Marathon on December 7th. Earlier in the fall, I was thinking that I would just stick to a half marathon, but soon I got the crazy idea that I could do more. Could I prepare my body to run 26.2 miles in a mere 13 weeks? I thought, “If I am able to complete this marathon, then I will have gone from 0 to 26.2 in 49 weeks!”
From Zero to 26.2 Miles
At first, I started with 9 miles, then 11, then my first half marathon 13.1 (in training) on January 6, then 15, 17, and finally my longest training run, 18 miles, on February 11. With 3 weeks to go until my marathon, I trusted my training plan. Now came time to taper.
I had completed the most difficult weeks of the training plan; the long runs. Still, I questioned, “Can my body go an additional 6.2 miles past 18 miles?”
Finally the day I had been working towards for the last 13 weeks finally arrived. I went into the marathon telling everyone that my only goal was to finish, but truth be told, I had a different goal in mind. I was aiming for 4 hours and 30 minutes but knew that it might be closer to 5 hours. Halfway into the race, 13.1 miles / 21k, I was at 2 hours and 4 minutes; my fastest half marathon yet! The question was, “What was going to happen to my pace during the next 13.1 miles?”
I am so proud to report that I crossed the finish line at 4:32:45! When the finish line finally came into view I couldn’t help but throw my hands up and soak up every last stride, cheer, applause, and sensation. After I crossed the finish line, I bent over, put my head in my hands, and started to cry. I, someone who only started running 49 weeks prior, just finished a race in which few have achieved!
The Health Journey Continues
My journey from an unhealthy, unhappy woman to a triathlete & marathoner was a slow, but steady 26-month journey. How did I do it? Simple. I started moving and I never looked back.
To me, the trick was not a magic pill, nor a magic trainer. My answer was exercise. When I exercise, I feel better about myself. When I feel better about myself, I eat foods that nourish my body. Plain and simple. (Download your FREE Beginner’s Running Guide with the same six steps that I used to go from zero to 26.2 miles in less than a year!)
Am I scared that I will once again be that unhealthy, unhappy woman? No, because I know how good it feels to move my body out of respect, not punishment. I now apply the principles of intuitive eating that help me cultivate a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body. (And coach others in doing the same!)
If I could go back and tell my 18-year-old self anything, I would tell her to continue exercising no matter what. I would say, “It doesn’t matter if at first you can’t jog, just walk. It doesn’t matter if at first, you don’t know how to use the equipment at the gym, just ask. It doesn’t matter what anyone may tell you, just believe in yourself.”
In my 20s, I went through college, a failed marriage, the lowest of lows, traveling the world, living abroad, and then a complete life transformation. I am where I am today because of my family, friends, and most importantly God. I was once hopeless, but now am hopeful. What’s great is I know that this is just the beginning. Honestly, I can say that I can’t wait to see where this health journey takes me.
“I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13