A word of warning before you start reading: this post may drown you with clichés and cause you to experience the "chicken pox skin" sensation that usually occurs when award speeches about how people succeeded because they "believed in themselves" and "never gave up" are delivered. *Cue shudder* But I'm not here to give you an empty pep talk and I promise that the clichés I use will (hopefully) have their significance in expressing something.
My friend once said to me, “If you keep telling yourself that you suck, you will always suck.” In other words, if you keep believing that you can’t do it, you really won’t be able to.
“She just broke her promise - that’s such a meaningless cliché”, you might be thinking, “This is the ‘believe in yourself’ talk all over again.” And that’s exactly what I thought – I simply didn’t buy the concept that the mind could, at any point, take charge over the powerful and mysterious rein of the body.
But my eating disorder changed that. My mind assumed royalty as it ignored my body’s pleas to feed it, to stop hurting it, to let it rest. The dreams that had seemed so achievable and that I was so excited about moved more and more out of reach as the noise of the media and my surroundings seeped into my brain, adding on to an ever-expanding list of expectations. This was no “to-do list”, where I could easily tick off items and feel accomplished afterwards. This was a list of demands, where I had to finish a given list of items before I could feel release - a feeling that would only last until I realized that it was almost time to start worrying about what I would have to do the next day. What I once did for the sole sake of passion became a never-ending quest to please my mind, the influence of which I had so underestimated.
You might be amazed to hear that in the midst of all this mental and physical torture, I thought that I was doing something good for myself. I had always been taught to reach for the stars and to keep going until I had collected not one, but a bag full of the glittering gems that we granted our wishes upon. In restraining my whims, forcing myself to work my body to the point of exhaustion and even controlling my basic human desires such as eating felt like success to a girl who had heard from so many magazines and TV shows that in order to be "healthy and fit", she had to "stay focused", "train hard" and "count calories."
I wanted to be everything every magazine suggested would lead me to the "perfect body" and "a happy life" - but instead of following just one meal plan or one exercise routine at a time, I tried to follow every single piece of advice I read or heard about, and ignored all the parts that I didn't want to listen to. This meant that I did the HIIT workout from one magazine, as well as the swim intervals from another, plus the toning workout from the third magazine all in one day fuelled by nothing more than a protein shake because I had learned from the fourth magazine that ingesting protein (and no fat or carbohydrate) was the only way to get lean (disregarding that the magazine only said to follow the plan for 1 week, of course). In a world where extremities were the only choice, I had it ingrained in my head that the more I did, the better the results.
But the body is not a machine. The way it works cannot be calculated by simple math - eating less calories does not necessarily mean that you’ll get skinnier faster, nor does doing more exercise necessarily mean that you’ll get fitter faster. The body has a mind of its own - it needs to be pleased before it will do what you want it to do. You can follow guidelines that support the general well-being of the body, but you simply have to go by feeling to appease your own body’s unique desires.
Going by feeling is definitely easier said than done, and to this moment I still cannot claim that I can do it. I can kind of tell when my body is annoyed and what kinds of signals raise red flags, but it is often still very difficult for me to determine the solution to the problem. What I can say for sure though is that there is no universal formula to “the perfect body” let alone “the perfect life.” Just because the skinny actress of TV looks is photographed smiling like she is having the time of her life doesn’t mean that she isn’t sometimes plagued with self doubt. In all honesty, YOU, my friend, not the svelte model nor the flawless actress, are the true lucky one. While they are pressured to look good and have to hide their insecurities all whilst tabloids and the paparazzi mercilessly attempt to poke them out for public discussion, YOU have the luxury of choice, of feeling good on your journey to whatever you are aiming for.
I am in no way saying that I enjoyed having an eating disorder, but I can say with certainty that I learned invaluable lessons from it and acquired life skills that I would otherwise have missed. I think that can be said for every obstacle that we overcome in life and is embodied in the saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." The determination that once meant blindly stringent control transformed into a zest for my sports and life in general - the tight hold that I had on my goals that had once been a hazard to my life became the mental drive that powered me through the sprint finish of a race even when my legs were burning and that kept me awake during a particularly boring topic in math class.
I finally saw that I had been reaching for the sun instead of the stars all along - and like Icarus, had been put to shame by challenging an omnipotent power.
Sorry if you have been reduced to a shuddering mess due to my use of clichés, but I hope that you kind of understood what I've been getting at. And when you actually think about it, aren't clichés only cliché because they were repeated so many times? And if something was repeated so many times, it MUST mean something, at least to some of us, right? Maybe I really should be using the them more mercilessly from now on...
Hello world! I'm Steph, and I am an aspiring clinical psychologist, avid advocate for eating disorder awareness, and bubbly human being :)