I learned how to starve myself when I was nineteen.
My memories of that time in life are like etchings in concrete. I can’t forget them. A toxic mix of immaturity and discontentment, I was conforming to an ideal shaped in my own mind and encouraged by a near-perfect mother. She was beautiful every day of her life. And either by my own acknowledgement or by hers, I knew that I would never and could never be as beautiful as she was. If she was the beautiful swan, I was the ugly duckling; the only difference was that this ugly duckling and that beautiful swan swam in the same lake every day, each knowing she was never destined to be the other.
Starving was masked as calorie counting, but it was still starving. I remember daily caloric intakes. 523. 275. 476. That was the total amount of calories I would eat in an entire day. By the time you added in the intense workouts I wouldn’t allow myself to miss, there were days when my net calories were easily in the red.
My body image issues blossomed when I was nineteen, but they have continued right into mature adulthood. I’m fancier about it now than I was then — I use an app on my phone to track calories now instead of a little notepad and calorie counter book. I call it things like eating whole foods and avoiding sugar and not eating bread — but when I’m honest, it’s all the same. It’s a plan, a method, a way to reform how I look into the image I have in my mind of the beautiful swan.
Running a marathon last year was a life goal. I am thankful for the experience and for the lessons I learned during training. But for the sake of authenticity, I also have to admit that I loved the way I looked while I was training. Lean. Muscular. Fit. Trim. Strong. Skinny. I was in the best shape of my life and I loved every second of it. There was a tinge of curiosity about how long I could maintain that level of physical fitness after the race, but I shooed it away every time. “Amanda. You’re running a marathon. You’re going to feel like this forever. Besides…who says you can’t just run another one if you start to gain a little weight or lose a little muscle tone?”
Three weeks. What took nearly a year to attain started slipping through my fingers in three weeks. The race was in early November. By Thanksgiving, I had already gained back half of the weight I lost during training. Today, I weigh the same I did before I ever laced up my shoes for the first training run. One year ago, I ran 26 miles in one morning. Today, I’d be lucky to run four without stopping. And the “who says” preventing me from running another marathon is me. I’ve found little to no interest in running now that my goal has been achieved.
The fitness and diet industry lies to us. I’m to blame for my choices and I’m aware of how poorly I’ve managed the perfectionist norms of my youth. I’m also aware that young females, not so young females, and males are fed constant lies about the outcomes of a new diet or a new exercise regimen. Sure, the results will be there in the beginning. It’s what happens after the results are attained that I believe big industry fails to include in their messages of try this, do that and you will be…Happy. Lean. Muscular. Fit. Trim. Strong. Skinny.
I turned 40 a few weeks ago. One of the best things I’ve ever done. I love being 40. I love the psychological switch that flipped in my mind. Curtis asked me if I feel different. Heck yeah, I feel different. I don’t feel like I need to explain myself so much. I don’t feel as threatened by the possibility of being second guessed. I feel more confident. I feel braver. I feel quieter in my spirit about things that have caused much unrest in the past. I feel like I can be me and that there’s even the possibility others will like me just for me and not because I can be or do or say or help or solve or fix or rescue.
If I could tell younger Amanda anything about how to do things well, I would tell her this. Don’t do anything to your body today that you can’t maintain every single day for the rest of your life. If there is even the slightest chance you might tuck tail and run away from this strict diet or exercise plan you’ve mapped out, you might as well stop before this thing ever gets started. Don’t listen to the lies about results. You’ll achieve the results, but there’s really no chance of maintaining those results unless you’re willing to maintain the effort for the rest of your life.
I’ve not been kind to my body over the years. I’ve deprived it, hated it, glared at it, wished it away and treated it more like a burden than a temple. My mind plays dirty tricks and leaves me feeling downright crummy when I reflect on the Remember When Amanda. Remember when you weighed this? Remember when you could do that? Remember when you could wear those? But I’m trying to be mindful of the Right Here Amanda, the 40 year old Amanda. The wake up early, work hard all day Amanda. The taking care of business Amanda. The being here for my man and my kids Amanda. The still sexy to my husband Amanda. The plays outside and can skateboard when the need arises Amanda. She’s the only Amanda I’ve got and she deserves more than cheap lies from an industry created to make money.
Love yourself. Please. And be kind to you. And if you don’t think you’ll be able to maintain whatever it is you’re thinking of doing to “improve” the way you look for the rest of your life, maybe have some grace to say, “This is me. The Right Here Me. And that’s gonna have to be ok.”
“Your body is not your masterpiece – your life is.” – Glennon Doyle Melton