Embracing A Changing Body
It's been just over a year since I opened up publicly about my past eating disorder struggles, you can read that blog post here, and I have to say it's been one of the best years of my life since. Even though I didn't still have an "active" ED it was still having a lingering effect on me. No more though! I never thought I'd be so FREE from those inner demons and relaxed about all things food- and body-related. I'm all about intuitive eating in a way that works for me (not overthinking food choices, not getting wrapped up in diet dogma), and meanwhile embracing changes that are happening with my body, which I talked about more in this post. The short version of those changes: I no longer have a crazy skinny 12-year-old-boy-like frame (those were not child-bearing hips lol), and I finally have a butt, hips and some curves. (Hell, I even have some love handles that were never there before, more cellulite on my rear, bigger thighs -- all the things our society wants you to get rid off.) All this is not shocking considering I don't exercise like a maniac anymore and instead my goals have shifted to balancing hormones and health while maintaining a smart amount of exercise. Ladies, we need to have some body fat to function well, and they say the "threshold" is around 14% BF but I think that even 16-18% BF may not even be enough for some of us!
I'm sure most of you would not even notice much of a change in my body if you saw me up close, but I feel it, the scale confirms it (yes, I'm comfortable weighing myself), and I especially noticed it in how some clothes were getting too tight. So since that last post last, I chose to make an investment in me and buy some new clothes (bigger, that is) rather than turn this into a struggle where I risked getting down on myself trying to fit into clothes that were too small and made me look horrible. Some girls save their "skinny jeans" but I donated mine -- and some other clothing items -- gone for good. Truthfully, shopping for bigger sizes was something I resisted doing at first, for financial reasons and from a body-image perspective it was tough to get comfortable with this process. I did feel myself wanting to stress and freak out even though the logical side of me (and John) have long confirmed that this was a healthy, smart transformation and GOOD changes for me. John likes my body even more now -- and I find this to be the case with a lot of men when their women get a bit more curvy ;) At the end of the day I have embraced my changing body and have let the shopping be a fun process. No negativity allowed.
From a fertility perspective, my body has slowly become an even safer place for eventual baby-making. In fact, reading No Period Now What helped me understand that increasing my BMI was probably a good idea. The BMI I was at in recent years wasn't bad per se -- it was normal and thankfully allowed for normal menstruation and hormone functioning -- but it was still on the low end of normal. Considering my history of an ED and hypothalamic amenorrhea, plus how sensitive I still am to potential weight loss, hard exercise and/or energy deficits, the smartest thing I can do is have a little extra body fat and a super healthy high-normal BMI. It's not just about me, but also our future family.
Lastly, let me just say to all you girls out there: "Filling out" and/or gaining some weight is not automatically a bad shameful thing especially if you're doing the right things for your body. Let me tell you, it can be very empowering in fact! Fuck what society says we should be like, and just be true to you. Don't kill yourself (mentally, psychically) trying to fit in size 1, 3 or 5 if you're meant to be a size 8, 10 or 12! Meanwhile, don't buy into these women posting their near-naked selfies on social media of their overly lean and ripped bodies and how "happy" they claim to be or whatever "motivating" lines they spew out. That is not normal and does not equal health and happiness my friends! Sadly, I do understand how it goes, it's very easy for us women to get wrapped up in that world, obsess over body image, and strive for a sick level of fitness and diet that takes it too far. Trust me, run away and run away fast if you see yourself going down this path. I was there (as a model), and I got the fuck out as you'll learn below.
My Modeling Story & Why I Quit
There were many things back in the day that still caused my subtle/not-so-subtle ED behaviors and body-image issues to stick around for so long. I went to great, exhaustive extents to control my body size and shape even when I didn't consciously realize I was doing so (it had just become a reflex after so many years). A huge reason I was stuck on all this was wanting so badly to appear perfect to the rest of the world out there (of course, an underlying theme of insecurity there!). It didn't help that I became a relatively public person via sport, my work (coaching, podcast host) and FITNESS MODELING.
Modeling for me started innocently enough. It's not something I pursued; it found me. A friend recommended me to Zoot, I modeled for their Spring clothing line one year, and things just happened from there. Honestly, modeling was really fun for a while, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. I especially loved that I wasn't an authentic athlete who was fitness modeling. It was cool to be a real triathlete who had this opportunity to be in photoshoots that represented our sport, and it even boosted my business, podcast and reputation. In this sense, modeling would be alluring to nearly anyone, right? So, I have good memories, met some cool people, and so on. I also can see why I was great at it and why photographers always liked me -- I was still super skinny, authentically athletic, toned, and most of all a work-a-holic who was willing and eager do anything to get the perfect shot. Oh, and I was ok with getting paid next to nothing (or usually just getting paid in gear instead of dollars, not so great long-term).
But modeling turned out to be very very bad for someone like me at that time in my life, and not so innocent after all. I still had a lot of personal shit to work out and the timing wasn't ideal. I started obsessing over all the things that I had no business obsessing over anymore -- let's just sum it up as body image stuff -- while allowing ED behaviors to sneak in more regularly. Modeling brought back and reinforced those unhealthy patterns to maintain a certain body type -- since now people were actually looking and probably judging me and wanting me to stay a certain size! Being a model made me work even harder to hold onto a lean muscular frame (and not in a healthy way) to try and prove I was "worthy."
Sadly, all the while, I didn't feel perfect whatsoever. I was super critical, and nit-picked over how my body could be "better," leaner, more ripped, etc. I questioned if I was pretty and sexy, and if my form in sport-specific shots was good enough. I was quick to point out a million flaws, and quite frankly felt chubby and ugly in many of the pictures I saw of myself. I compared myself to the other girls and that would get me down on myself. Ironically, I actually felt fairly comfortable once I was in front of the camera, but for the remainder of the time my mind was on negative overdrive and lots of self-bashing with very little self-love.
Let me just say as an aside: The sport of triathlon itself was great for me in many ways -- I built a better relationship with food, more self-confidence, got physically stronger, and felt like I could unleash the inner tomboy that was innate in me and not have to be all girly. Triathlon helped me to not give a fuck on many levels and just be authentically me. And, yes, my relationship with triathlon wasn't perfect, there were flaws and many mistakes I made, but it certainly had more positive themes than modeling did. Modeling was causing me to regress instead of progress.
Not to mention, modeling was fatiguing work! It'd be full days -- often multiple days -- on location, on my feet, running around (or biking, or swimming, or lifting or all of the above), looking "perfect." All the while, I was under-eating on shoots because I usually wasn't cool with the food that was available to us, or just wanting to eat less for fear of getting all bloated or looking "too big."
I would come home and crash for a day or two after I did modeling gigs. Oh but wait, I was still training for triathlon, in grad school at a certain point, working my real job(s), and all that other life stuff. Gah. Plus I did not know how to say "NO" in my 20s so I just kept getting more opportunities and more work piling up.
I knew it was a lot and wearing me down quite a bit, but people were now identifying me as a fitness model, so I dare not give up on it, right? It secretly felt special to have this title of model and that I was the "perfect" package of athlete - model - coach - podcast host. I had to hold on to the lean fit body people saw and dare not let it slip away. And performance-wise, I wanted to get better and better to keep my reputation as a top-age grouper!
Some years went by, and modeling had become a regular thing in my life. I ended up signing with a sports modeling agency up in LA and almost went "big time," lol. But instead, it reached a boiling point that led to abruptly end of my modeling "career," by choice. At first, it was really exciting to feel like I was an official fitness model and that an agency in LA wanted me. But that excitement was short-lived and then I started realizing the reality of what I was doing, the nature of these people, and how this was not a good environment for me. Sitting in that LA agency off Sunset felt gross. All these girls trying SO hard to be perfect, and I was now one of them. And even though it was sports modeling, it was still all about makeup, unrealistically lean bodies, perfect skin, perfect done-up hair, perfect measurements, and just not feeling authentic. These girls, in my opinion, didn't accurately represent the amazing buff and hardcore bodies of real female athletes who come in all shapes and sizes complete with imperfections. Maybe some of these girls were athletes, I don't really know, but to me they just looked too skinny, too pretty, too cookie-cutter, and too ready for a beauty pageant. This was a wakeup call. I didn't want to be one of them, yet I was. Seeing them made me realize the bad patterns I had allowed in my own life. Most of all, seeing them made me realize it's just not realistic for all bodies to fit these standards, and I started realizing that deep down I was trying too hard to maintain a body type that wasn't realistic! But that's what it takes in this industry. And it does not help when you start having others (agents, etc.) scrutinizing your looks and body, picking out your flaws and whatnot, and/or putting you in a lineup and picking out the "best" girl(s) while discarding the rest. Ugh! It's a mindfuck and will wreck your body confidence if you can't take it (which I'll admit, I couldn't take it at the time -- I wasn't strong enough).
Plus, the agency people were about as douchey as you could imagine, and they clearly didn't really care about anyone but themselves, though they'd certainly never admit that. I never got a good read from any of them.
Despite all that, I figured I'd give it a chance (how dare I throw away this opportunity, right?) an it'd hopefully work out for the better. I went to a few casting calls, but wasn't getting gigs, and it was becoming more stressful, especially now commuting to LA regularly with no guarantee of getting the gig and essentially a lot of time and gas being wasted.
There is one story that sticks out in my head as one of those days that I'll never forget. It was a turning pint, and it highlighted that something had to change because I was becoming someone I didn't even recognize and someone I didn't want to be.
I got a last-minute entry to the San Diego Half-Marathon and since I was so into racing still, it didn't matter if it was planned out in my season or not -- the more I could race, the better (back then). And a half-marathon? To the old me, that was cake walk. I drove down and stayed with friends, planning to park in a "special spot" by the zoo in downtown SD the next morning. Randomly, I got an email Friday night saying I had a casting call up in LA tomorrow -- the same day as the HM. I was a little nervous about getting to the casting call on time but figured I could swing it. I'd just run fast, drive back to OC, then would have my parents drive me to the casting call so I could get ready during the drive up to LA. By the way, SD to LA is a bitch of a drive even on weekends.
So Saturday morning comes and I drive to the planned parking place but suddenly realize if I parked there I'd be locked in, like all day, due to the marathon route and street closures. FUCK! I started panicking. I didn't know what to do! It was too late to find parking where I could bail right after the HM. So for whatever reason, I made the call to bail on the race and get out of there asap in order to not miss the casting call, and looking back I think that was because 1) I was getting sucked into the idea that I *could* make a lot of money if I got the modeling job, and 2) I was afraid of the agency and what would happen if I was a no-show. Lame.
I was getting ready to drive away and head north, but it was getting too late and street closures were starting to happen. It looked like I was about to get trapped or maybe I was already stuck?! I was now starting to have a full-blown anxiety attack in my car while trying to "escape" downtown San Diego. I was in the worst possible state of mind you can imagine and literally could not relax whatsoever. My blood was boiling, I was crying, screaming, and driving like a maniac trying to get out. Not good, and not safe for that matter! But I just didn't know how to relax and regain control back then, and I had no idea where this level of anxiety even came from so I certainly didn't know how to stop it. Fucking mess.
While I was in my car that day, I had an out-of-body moment where I was able to step outside myself, and take a look at this girl who was freaking out in her car. I couldn't believe who was I turning into. "Is this really me?" It wasn't pretty. It was scary. And it especially wasn't fun anymore. I thought I had it together -- I had overcome an ED by this point, I was a phenomenal athlete, and I was a model, etc., etc., but was I really doing ok? Hell no. I was just pushing myself too hard. And if I lost some level of control, like I did on this day, I would too easily lose it. That's not healthy! Something had to change.
So I am sure deep down I was also crying because how pathetic this all was. I was disappointed in myself, how I was reacting to this situation, and, ironically, how I felt trapped (I'm not talking about the street closures if you know what I mean). I knew this wasn't me. I'm not the person who gets crazy uncontrollable anxiety attacks, it's just not who I am! Who was this person?! Where was this coming from??
Somehow, I got it together, got out, and made it to the casting call that day, with the help of my parents who were sooo patient and helpful in the process. Guess what: I did not get the job and I hated every moment at that casting call. In fact, I hated that day. But I needed it to happen. That was the last casting call I ever attended.
I was done with the stupid agency. And *almost* done with modeling completely -- I had one foot out the door.
That day, I hit a low point and it's not fun to share this story (it's embarrassing quite frankly!), but there was a silver lining, there always is. It led me to an epiphany: Fix my shit, quit this modeling business, and start taking care of me! I didn't do it all at once, but I got the ball rolling, and eventually I had it in me to phase out modeling for good and build more body positivity. In the process, I discovered self-love and how to relax, both of which had been non-existent. I had to start from scratch, and it is possible to do this and make changes no matter where you are in life.
These days, I never experience anxiety or panic attacks like that and am able to manage my stress much better. It made me understand that ANXIETY WILL TAKE OVER WHETHER YOU WANT IT TO OR NOT when you're too skinny, undernourished, overworked, frazzled and constantly in a fight-or-flight state, and it becomes nearly impossible to control that shit. But fix the underlying problems, and you fix your anxiety issues.
Of course, to this day, I haven't eliminated stress completely, but who has?! All I know is that I can keep my stress from spiraling out of control, I can relax and I am not so hard on myself.
People praise and reinforce these women who have unrealistically lean and muscular bodies, and I hate to say for a while that feels good to get that praise. But the sacrifices you have to make are just too extreme and not sustainable. We have to stop reinforcing the wrong message. And I even question "strong is the new skinny" because a lot of these "strong" bodies are a product of being undernourished, over-stressed, and too lean. Not to mention, being super skinny with low body fat and well-defined muscles is NOT the ticket to happiness and finding your best self. I've gone through it all, from losing a ton of weight to getting incredibly fit to now gaining a healthy amount of weight and becoming more average. I'll say first hand, the extremes and drive for perfection will take over and rule your life to a point where it's not fun and you're neither happy nor healthy, but you feel stuck because you're put yourself out there as this certain body type so you feel the need to hold onto it, and if you don't people will say you let yourself go. It's unfortunate, but find the courage to break away and do what's right for you. I never would have guessed that moderation and "average" would be the ticket to happiness and real confidence. But it is! These love handles and cellulite? They're not so bad, so I'll keep it this way, thank you.
Hey, and by the way, no matter what, NO REGRETS.