As some of you might know, I recently had the honor of representing Hong Kong in the Asian Powerlifting Championships. It was an educational experience not only because I got to experience and learn from the power and grit of unbelievably strong athletes all around Asia, but also because I was able to push myself to achieve personal milestones. This moment that I will share with you now occurred before the competition and directly impacted various aspects of it, but luckily, in no way tarnished the stunning experience that I had. This is a moment that I deem significant to myself as a growing and learning individual, and that hopefully you’ll see a certain value in as well. It is also relatively recent, so I am very much walking with you through this process of self-reflection. I tell you this story not to seek pity, sympathy or even concern - I simply wish for you to walk alongside me as I continue on my journey and hopefully, learn with me. Below captures my very wordy (as usual ;D) thought process...
Several months ago, I was filling in a form to apply for my very first powerlifting competition and was asked to specify whether I wanted to belong in the <47kg weight class or the <52kg weight class. I thought nothing of it. I felt that I had established what I considered to be friendly relations with the scale, proved by the many times I had faced it, trigger and flinch free - at the doctor's for check-ups, or at the gym to see how much weight I would be carrying during a pull-up. I told myself that I had preached on this blog, to my friends, to my family about how my eating disorder was already in my past and how its effects had no power over me any more. Being able to watch my weight and restrict myself - all behaviors that I took to unhealthy extremes during my eating disorder and which I felt I had detached myself from - without relapsing was what would truly prove my words, and I felt confident that I would be able to do it.
I knew that choosing the 47kg category would put me at the top end of the weight range and put me at an increased advantage in the competition - considerations that strongly appealed to my competitive instincts. However, I also realized that these conditions meant that I had absolutely no leeway to put on any weight at all, muscle or fat, for several months, or even have to lose from a size that I was still struggling to add to. Somewhere, deep in the crevices of my heart, I knew that once I could convince myself that losing weight was a requirement for something, anything, I could potentially be dragged backwards in my recovery. So I decided to sleep on it before I ticked the boxes and submitted the form.
A FAMILIAR VOICE
It wasn't until I felt a familiar obsessive nag at the back of my brain that evening that I realised that something was wrong. "Better be safe and drop more weight," the voice told me, "if you drop JUST below 47kg, you never know whether you'll surpass it on competition day." At first, it was easy to ignore the voice - I had dealt with the voices successfully time and time again and had acquired adequate practice over the past few years.
But what I hadn't realized was that the circumstances were different this time. Maintaining a weight for several months meant constant rather than occasional checking - a behavior that served to cultivate that dangerous obsession for numerical satisfaction that once fueled my eating disorder. Additionally, my weight in the previous circumstances did not determine anything in my future - my weight in this case however, would decide whether or not I qualified for that category and therefore for the competition.
Over the past two years, I had thrived on my goal of putting on muscle - I enjoyed that I could set myself in the mindset that I NEEDED to eat in order to achieve my goal, that eating more directly contributed to making me stronger and that most importantly, food was not the enemy. This goal put me not only in the correct physical, but also mental environment. Reversing this goal and aiming for weight control spelled disaster - it would take away the reassurance and throw me back into a dieting world where food often is the enemy.
The deadline to the decision neared, the pressure was built, and slowly, I felt myself slip. I felt myself begin to believe the voice, felt myself beginning to feel that teeth-clenching conviction, felt that dangerous hunger for an unstable goal, felt the blind obsession. The familiarity was frightening, but what scared me even more was that I was excited by it - I was filled with that same adrenaline that had once urged me to reach further and further into the depths of danger.
COMPROMISES, NOT DISADVANTAGES
Fortunately, having experienced quite a lengthy recovery process means that I have acquired somewhat of a heightened self-awareness that allows me to “exit myself” and examine myself from a distance when I feel that I am at risk of falling off track. “What will this decision do for me in the long term?”, “Is it worth it?” were amongst the questions that I asked myself. It was then and there that I realized that this was a short term goal that would most likely leave me with long term consequences - consequences that were most definitely NOT worth it.
I held my breath, closed my eyes, ticked the 52kg weight class, and didn't open the sheet of paper again. And...I'm happy to report that it not only worked out, but worked out well. The release of my mental constrictions in turn, liberated the physical ones, and I was once again, free and allowed to grow. Plus the unexpected little bonus? I would actually be at an advantage if I lifted the same weight as a heavier individual in the same category as me! ;D
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO BEND TO GROW
Don't get me wrong - I am NOT against the idea of people losing weight for competition purposes. This is simply a personal reflection of a moment where I recognised and accepted the need to bend in order to protect myself. To some, having to make decisions like this seems to be a weakness, a disadvantage, an unfortunate situation - I view it as a temporary but necessary compromise.
As I have stated in a previous blog post ("The meaning of recovery"), my past is in the past, but the traits that I have developed from that period of time very much remain a part of my present. They are harmless and even beneficial for the most part, but can become triggered suddenly by unexpected circumstances. The procedures of this incident simply proved too similar to the path that had led to my past pitfall - the obsession with weight and the consequent desire for an even bigger loss would inevitably bring me straight back to the road I had once tripped and fallen on. I had initially considered the possibility that I had learned to “tone down” the extremes to which I took these obsessive characteristics, but unfortunately I have found that the momentum of the rolling stone is far greater than what I can defend myself against at the moment.
Was it pride-crushing? Did I feel betrayed and ashamed? Initially, yes. I hated the feeling that I had just let the influences of my eating disorder limit me, hated that I had told everyone that I had “conquered the scale”, but yet cowered at a time when these numbers really confronted me.
But I have since realized my error in this judgment of myself. Yes, I have learned to defend myself against most circumstances successfully at this point, but does that mean that I can dismiss the idea of still meeting one that will challenge me? Can I dispel the possibility that two years down the road from recovery that I might still encounter difficulties? I indeed had to go out of my way to remove this trigger, but that one decision potentially saved me from much larger pitfalls. Pitfalls that I believe I owe to my loved ones and to myself to shield myself from.
There is only so much one can do to avoid any situation, good or bad, so I have always believed that the solution lies in developing an immunity, rather than relying on denial. Admittedly, the problem of the accessible scale is a slightly more difficult challenge due to the fact that it is based on the circumstance rather than the object itself - that is to say it is more about whether or not I can control myself from obsessing over my weight if I have easy access to a scale, and less about facing the scale as an object. To those of you who may be worrying that I am “going backwards”, I would like to assure you that this is the exact opposite of that. It is only through experiencing the stages of initial shock, acclimatization and finally, integration that I will be able to learn and improve.
There are no dead ends. There are only walls that you must learn to climb over.
Hello world! I'm Steph, and I am an aspiring clinical psychologist, avid advocate for eating disorder awareness, and bubbly human being :)