If you missed Part I of My Real Food Journey, you can read it here.
Part II: The Manifestation of My Eating Disorder
I last left off at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school where I was still a vegetarian. As mentioned in pt. I, this is where the real eating problems began. I can easily say that from the moment I gained conscientiousness about my food intake, my eating habits became largely disordered. Pair my disordered eating with my poor self-body image that existed since around the 5th grade and you have a recipe for disaster.
This is somewhat tangential but I feel that it’s incredibly important to mention: I have always, since the beginning of time, been comparing myself to other individuals mostly in outer appearance but sometimes in other qualities as well. For me, this is normal. As in, I NOW know that this kind of mentality isn’t normal and I am trying to take the right steps to ameliorate my skewed perception but yet, it is still what’s “normal” to me.
That being said, the constant comparisons I would make between myself and others readily fueled my desire to be as “pretty” as the girls I was surrounded with and more often than not, pretty equated thin and thin was something I never felt and therefore, I rarely felt pretty. Sorry for that run on sentence.
Maintaining my eating habits from before with breakfast consisting of either a piece of toast or Special K cereal with low-fat milk; lunch being a piece of low-fat string cheese and a piece of fruit leather; an after school snack taking the form of a protein bar or a piece of bread; and dinner consisting of a fight with my parents and some rice and vegetables, I was not in very good shape. Up until this point, I was fairly inactive in terms of exercise seeing as I was barely eating enough to keep myself functional. I was always tired and when you’re always tired, life feels better curled up in a ball in your bed, truth.
Around halfway through my sophomore year I decided to audition for my school’s musical, A Chorus Line. For those of you who are unfamiliar with A Chorus Line, I’ll sum it up in three words: lots of dancing. I had started dancing ballet my freshman year of high school and would have classes 1-2 times a week and while I enjoyed going to class, a lot, it was always hard to muster up the energy and get going. As I mentioned, this show involved lots and lots of dancing and we would have 3 hour rehearsals 5x a week and on Saturdays we would have a 6 hour rehearsal. This went on for about 3-4 months. Not all of the rehearsals were pure dancing of course, there were musical rehearsals, blocking, lines, etc. . . Regardless, as one could imagine, my energy expenditure went way, way up with the increased demands of the musical but I was, by no means, eating enough for my expenditure. I was eating almost the same as before.
While I didn’t lose much weight during this show (I was already underweight to begin with), I was definitely losing inches off of my body. I have pictures that I look at now and automatically think “holy sh*t, I look an emaciated piece of death”. Because of the increase in exercise, I became even more conscientious about what I ate, or more accurately, how much I ate. If I ate an extra half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than what I was used to, I would look at my stomach in the mirror in the morning, notice the slight bloated-ness that would result and FREAK out about this deviation from my “normal” hip bones jutting out and rib cage practically exposed state. Because I had lost inches off of my body and was used to looking thinner than before, anything more than my new “normal” state was automatically considered as fat (by me of course). Now don’t get me wrong, that musical was probably one of the best experiences of my life; I enjoyed every last bit of it. The problem was that psychologically and physically, I was not ready for it; but in all fairness, I don’t think anyone is ever TRULY ready for what life throws at them.
I remember, after the musical had run its course, I had a friend from another school whom I hadn’t seen in a while visiting my school during lunch time. After saying hi and hugging each other, she grabbed one of my arms and said “Venus, where’d you go? There’s nothing left of you.” Later that night, I asked my best friend (whose house I was spending the night at) if she agreed with our friend who had visited us at lunchtime. Needless to say, she agreed. I’ll never forget those moments, I felt so sad because I knew my friends were right but I just felt so stuck, stuck in this little prison that I had created for myself.
Unfortunately, things only got worse from there. As I entered my junior year, my eating became even MORE restricted. Breakfast consisted of 1/4 cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt on top of a handful of berries with a huge cup of green tea. Lunch consisted of a palm-sized salad dressed with lemon juice, a piece of fruit, and a fruit leather bar. An after school snack usually took the form of a date with almond butter. And dinner would be salad with whatever non-meat foods I could pick out of the stew my parents had made. Calorically, what I was eating amounted up to virtually nothing. You can imagine how much havoc that wreaked on the entirety of my body’s physiology.
During this year, I was probably dancing about 2x a week; on top of that, I would work out on my own probably somewhere around 3-4x times a week. My workouts were insane. I could EASILY classify them as cruel and unusual punishment (I’m only half kidding). I’d spend 1.5 to 2 hours on the treadmill going at the fastest speed I could walk at (running made me feel like dying) and at the highest incline possible. Then after I finished said torture, I would do a whole bunch of leg exercises. Following legs, I would do a crazy abdominal workout that went on FOREVER; I had even nicknamed said abdominal exercise as “forever abs”. When all of my workout had come to an end, I would cool down and stretch. Stretching, which I would enjoy very much, became somewhat unenjoyable during this period because after doing such intense, repetitive movements for 2 or so hours, my muscles would tighten up and in result, stretching would feel like death. Maybe you’re an avid exerciser and this workout sounds like nothing to you, but for all of my elite-athletes out there, remember that I was consistently eating 500 to an absolute maximum of 1,000 calories per day and so anything besides sleeping felt like punishment.
With such high physical demands that I would put on myself and such little nourishment that I would provide myself, I was always sick. But these sicknesses weren’t just functional common colds, these were bed-ridden-room-spinning-my-head-will-now-explode kinds of colds. It’s a no brainer, but I obviously was a disordered eater that could easily fall under the category of having the female athlete triad and/or anorexia nervosa.
As natural for most disordered eaters, there was always a show to be put on. I kind of have a Type A personality so regardless of all of this internal turmoil, I was still able to get good grades, put on a smile, and get on with my classmates (sometimes). Another natural behavior for disordered eaters is that they tend to isolate themselves from their social groups. When my social group started noticing this new-ish behavior of mine, I started hearing comments such as “Venus just thinks she’s too good to hang out with us and she doesn’t even care about us”. I laugh now, but man oh man, if only they knew how hard everything was for me. Everyday was a struggle. I was white-knuckling every aspect of my life. It took all of my self control not to lash out at my poor fellow classmates who would ask not-so-smart questions. Or sometimes I’d be the opposite, I would be SO tired that I just didn’t give a damn about what anyone did or said, making me a prime target for manipulation (and believe me, I was manipulated). I would either be extremely apathetic or extremely irritable. What a great high school experience I was having!
Junior year of high school came to an end and I managed to keep up this vicious schedule up until summer. And as often observed in nature, situations need to undergo more distress and disorder before finally reaching a happy medium, or maybe that was just me; I don’t know. As summer approached, I would fret over how I was going to stay consistent with my workouts and not gain weight, especially when I didn’t have school to drag me out of the house and distract me from this screaming, aching hunger. My poor body, I think every last cell in my body was as malnourished as could be.
So it’s summer and to keep myself in tip-top “shape” I decided to become a vegan again. But THIS time, I decided to become a “healthy” vegan, meaning that there was no fake meats or sugary cereals to be found. Breakfast would now consist of a 1/8 cup of rolled oats cooked in water and topped with some chopped berries. Lunch would consist of lots of leafy vegetables with a half serving of tofu (probably 70 calories, at most). Dinner would often take the form of a miso soup with a bunch of extra mushrooms thrown in there. For a pre-workout snack I would have 7-10 almonds and a rice cake and as a treat, I would have a carrot a day.
My workout schedule then became even worse:
Monday: Go to a dance class in the morning (1.5 hours) and do a crazy 2+ hour workout at home
Tuesday: Do a workout video for 1 hour before breakfast and go to dance class later in the day (1.5 hours)
Wednesday: Go to dance class in the morning (1.5 hours) and dance class at night (3 hours)
Thursday: Do a workout video for 1 hour before breakfast and go on a walk whenever I could later in the day (1-2 hours)
Friday: Go on a 2-3 hour walk on my own in the morning. Workout at the gym with my mom for 1 hour or so and then swim laps in the pool for another hour in the afternoon. Then go on another 1.5 hour walk with mom if I could convince her to go.
Saturday: Workout at home for 2+ hours (this was the crazy workout from before)
Sunday: Do a workout video for 1 hour before breakfast and go on a walk whenever I could later in the day (1-2 hours).
For some, this may not seem like anything crazy, but just remember how little I was eating. And if this seems “normal” to you with the eating habits I was maintaining, I very strongly recommend that you take some steps to heal your inner and outer self, maybe in the form of therapy or counseling; that recommendation comes from the very bottom of my heart because I know how painful something like this can be.
Thanks to maintaining this workout schedule and extremely low calorie vegan regime, I lost additional weight, weight I didn’t have to lose. As earlier mentioned, I looked pretty emaciated and was underweight to begin with and so this just made matters worse. Because I didn’t want my parents to argue with me even more about how I wasn’t eating enough and that I was doing too much exercise, I would wear baggy clothing around the house so that they wouldn’t be able to tell if I had lost any additional weight (which was my ultimate goal). Often, when I would sit next to my mother on the couch, she would grab me by the shoulders and hug me and say how I’m just “skin and bone”– on many occasions.
Unfortunately, I was extremely lonely this summer– more than ever before. It was partially my fault because I didn’t want to go out with my friends out of a fear that I would then have to eat something that would ruin all of my hard work and partially because I was afraid that if I made plans to go out with my friends, it would ruin my workout schedule. Another part of it was the fact that I felt like no one liked me and because I isolated myself and didn’t make a strong effort to contact my friends, I didn’t get much contact from them and in result, that fueled the fire of my deliberate isolation. If you add those “concerns” to the fact that I felt sad, lonely, depressed, and unhappy with my outer (and inner) self; you get a recipe for seclusion. I can honestly only remember going out with my friends 4 times in that 3 month summer– very abnormal for a 17 year old girl.
My emotional health was definitely in the dumps but so was everything else. I started seeing an acupuncturist that summer for my hormone issues that had only gotten worse with my ever restrictive diet and intense exercise. My nails were brittle, I was always freezing cold, my hair was thinning, and I was downright moody, all the time. Whenever I would go to my appointments, the acupuncturist would have the hardest time finding my pulse– the universal indication of vitality. If the acupuncturist could find my pulse, it would be a very weak, barely detectable pulse. In Chinese medicine, that itself is an indicator of a million different deficiencies. Any acupuncturists in the house? Feel free to list the deficiencies. I find it somewhat funny because as I was putting myself through such a punishing workout and diet regimen, the acupuncturist said to me “your eyes are very clear, it just shows that you have a very bright and healthy spirit”. I was flattered then and thought that the clarity in my eyes had to be because of my “perfect” eating and exercising habits, but I laugh now because now that I am not in a state of self-induced brainwashing I can quite honestly say that I felt like I had no spirit.
To this day, I always wonder if anyone (besides my darling mother whose intuition is other worldly) knew what I was going through? I couldn’t even fully admit to myself how bad of a problem I was having with my internal and external self so how could I talk to someone about it? This would cross my mind often, but the fear of confessing such a heavy truth further paralyzed me into my solitude.
As you can imagine, my eating and exercise regime was completely and utterly unmaintainable and so eventually, something had to give.
Stick around for pt. III of my series, as you’ll see, there’ll be a much-needed turn of events.
I’m sure we’ve all felt unsatisfied with our external appearances at time, how did YOU manage to deal with your negativity to turn it into something positive?