Breaking the Camel’s Back

I’ve been training very hard the last week (I’m following the Muscle Sculpting Program from Nia Shanks) and I’m loving it.  I already feel stronger and I’m slowly becoming comfortable with Nia’s requirement that I not count calories while training.  

I’ve been an obsessive calorie counter for as long as I can remember and it is very difficult, triggering, anxiety-producing, etc to suddenly stop this process and follow this concept of “intuitive eating”.  The basic principles are that you eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full.  This sounds so simple.  So simple, in fact, that it is nearly impossible for something with a history of disordered eating to effortlessly pick up.  Years of destroying my hunger signals through binge-purge cycles and starving myself means that I have a hard time telling when I’m hungry, full or just bored.  Food has been my enemy for so long; it should be fuel and occasionally a thing of pleasure.

For the first few days I felt very strong, eating when I was hungry and stopping when I felt full.  Then I started to get stressed (work doesn’t cooperate for that long) and I saw myself slipping into old patterns.  I grabbed a cookie from the break room because I was stressed, ate it, felt guilty, and punished myself by skipping dinner.  Or, my lunch would be larger than I was used to (because I was hungry) and suddenly my dinner portion would shrink drastically to compensate for the extra calories.  I did two doubles at the gym (lifting in the morning, swimming in the afternoon) and soon I was burned out.  

I spent Friday afternoon and then again Sunday morning battling sudden and severe blood sugar drops and extreme dizziness and fatigue.  I should know better.  I do know better.  I have the tools to stop this type of behavior, I just haven’t mastered the skills yet.

This morning I woke up after a bad night of sleep (hello signs of overtraining, I chose to ignore you) and pushed on to the gym despite M’s protests that I should sleep.  Taking a day off when its not my designated day off makes me very antsy.  Anyway, I went to the gym and jumped on the treadmill hoping to run about 5 miles.  After 2 miles I was exhausted, feeling dizzy and light-headed and frustrated with my body’s failure to respond the way I wanted.  I gave up.  No, I made a smart decision to stop.  I got off the treadmill, stretched and showered, got a yogurt from the snack bar and waited for M to finish his workout.

Then the straw came.  As I was standing at the snack bar paying for my yogurt, an older man who works out in the morning came up to me.  He has a tendency to make “jokes” that are neither funny nor welcome, but generally not offensive.  This morning, he turned to the woman behind the counter and said to her “Did you tell this young lady about the differences between the two sizes of towels you give out?  The small ones are for tiny, petite women. The large ones are for the big girls, like her.”  

My mouth dropped, along with my heart, right into my stomach.  I couldn’t breathe.  I felt like something had punched me in the gut and then stood on my windpipe.  He smiled, laughed and walked off.  I caught my breath just in time to say “I just love being called a “big girl.  Thanks so much.”  Both my retort and its accompanying sarcasm were lost on him, as he is a bit hard of hearing.  I sat down and ate my yogurt, trying not to burst into tears in public.

M finished his workout and in the car I told him what happened and promptly broke down.  It took me back to those days in middle school and high school when I would compare myself to the little skinny girls and wish and wish that I could look like them.  These feelings were where my disordered eating came from in the first place.  I am not an overweight girl.  I am strong.  I am in shape.  I can run 7 miles, I can lift weights and bench-press and squat with the best of the them, but one stupid remark about my size and I break down.  

M reminded me that this man was most likely not even referring to weight, but height (I’m 5’11”).  He is likely correct.  It doesn’t absolve this man from the responsibility of the effect his statement had, but it did help me calm down and bit and put the statement in perspective.  After a few hugs and wiping away my tears, M headed off to work and I stayed home.  I took a personal day to recover from my physical and emotional exhaustion and try to get myself back in order before I go back to work.  

Tomorrow is a new day.  I will get up, assess my body and see how it feels.  If I’m tired, I’m taking the day off.  If I feel ok, I will go to the gym and do my best.  I will not beat myself up if I need to take a break.  My body needs rest, it needs to recover, and my mind needs this as well. This is my simple goal for tomorrow: listen to my body and to what it asks.  One step at a time.

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