A Hunger

I have come to believe that life does not happen to you, it happens for you. With each experience and moment we are given the opportunity to act, grow, and show up. All I know is that there must be a reason for everything life gives us. Please read with an open mind and an open heart. This is my story, these are my thoughts, and this is my life. 

Hungry for Abundance

I do not remember a time when I was not obsessed with food. I would search the top of parents’ dressers and the top of the laundry machine for extra dollars to buy slurpees and candy bags from the gas station on my way home from elementary school. I knew to throw the wrappers straight into the outdoor garbage can to avoid confrontation. I would sneak cookies and granola bars into my bedroom and would flush wrappers and remains down the toilet to discard any evidence of what I was doing. I would pry the fridge open as slowly as was necessary for the seal to stay quiet and keep my eating a secret when my parents had gone to bed. When I got my car at 17 there would be times I went through two drive thrus before getting to school, work, or before meeting my friends for dinner. I would eat the third helping at dinner, dip my spoonfuls of peanut butter into chocolate chips, or consume half of a tray of brownies after a full box of Kraft Dinner as an after school snack. I was hungry for abundance and food provided this. I felt no guilt or shame.

I grew up in an active family and was the only one who was overweight. I grew up in an optimal environment with healthy options, understanding basic nutrition, and knowing what consuming too many calories can do however, what I knew best was the hurt, discomfort and disgust I would feel looking at my body in the mirror. My appearance caused me to face daily rejection and dismissal; I felt disregarded as a human being. My eating habits carried no guilt or shame, but guilt and shame came into my life in the way I felt about myself. I wanted an abundant life; an abundance of worth and respect, but I was doing feeding myself an abundance of food and discomfort. Each day I would wake up and tell myself “today is the last day”, urging myself to take a week off of food, even a month or maybe just a day or two. However, it is difficult to avoid the substance that is necessary for life, not to mention the focus it receives with holidays, celebrations, and social interactions. This abundance of food made its way in and in and in, into my life until I was 20 years old, at which point I required a seat belt extender on flights, could only shop for clothes  at Walmart, and lived in a body that weighed 370 pounds. I was 20 years old and morbidly obese. 

The cycle of eating and self loathing was exhausting. A stranger would make a comment about my body on the bus. Eat. The boy I like in Social Studies befriended me to reveal he was interested in my friend. Eat. I am hungry. Eat. I am uncomfortable. Eat. I desire acceptance. Eat. I crave love. Eat. I deserve respect. Eat. Am I  worthy? Eat. I do not want to live this way. Eat. This was not who I was meant to be. Eat. Eat. Eat. 

Hungry for Change

The week after I turned 21 I was house-sitting for family friends. I had ten days alone in this house with a cat, a scale, and an article that read “cut out added sugar and lose 5 pounds in a week.” A flame ignited and I thought: if I cut out added sugar and at the end of this week I lose nothing I will buy and eat a full chocolate fudge cake for my efforts. I lost 13 pounds in that week, nearly two pounds every day, and never looked back. This hunger for change was met with readiness and vitality. I switched to a healthier peanut butter, without chocolate chip topping, Kraft Dinner was replaced with quinoa, veggie straws became a thing, and I started eating more whole foods. Overwhelming myself with food was swapped with nutrients, positivity and love. I began going to the gym and moving more. Excuses were not condoned; if there was added sugar or no healthy option, eating could wait  and when the 5:15 am alarm rang, I would get out of bed to workout. “Too tired, too busy, too much” did not exist. 

  I was focused and organized: taking six courses in nursing school, working a part time job, preparing meals for each day, and waiting at the gym doors in the early morning for the attendant to unlock them. Every moment was dedicated to a healthier life. I was experiencing a commitment to myself and carried an abundance of determination and pride. 

Months passed and the numbers on the scale were declining as rapidly as my energy was increasing. I had no defined goal, but I knew I felt good; better with every day, with every step, with every movement and every healthy? bite. Fueled by positive changes, I kept showing up for myself.  Every action enabled me to feel more comfortable. It is in our nature to move and movement transformed my body from that of a burden to a body that thrives with potential, possibility and spirit. 

After five months passed, I was 80 pounds lighter and it was the first time anyone noticed this effort, the new person emerging. That person was my mom. Two months later and   another 30 pounds disappeared. At this point was when others started noticing. People readily praised me for my ability to push myself to near exhaustion at the gym, to endure hunger and my no-excuse attitude. Those compliments fired my newly developed restrictive eating behaviours. Embracing hunger became another obsession. If I ate  out, I would order a salad: no cheese, no dressing, no bread, with meat on the side. I did not even consider accepting a nibble of  my friends’ fries. I limited nearly all foods. I was strict and unforgiving. Through external reinforcement of my progress and actions, I learnt that this is what society expects, accepts and what is celebrated. I would boil three eggs and throw away all but one yolk; they were too fatty. “Too fatty” was a list that included avocados, butter, 2% cottage cheese, nuts, and any oil. I hand-made dressings for chicken, veggies or salad with red wine vinegar, mustard and pepper: calorie-free. Everything was in my control. No one else could prepare my food; they would butter the pan before cooking eggs, add a quarter tablespoon too much of almond milk to my coffee, or think it was okay to ‘glaze’ my chicken. It seemed they were trying to sabotage my hard work. My disgust for calories or anything misaligned with “fitness”, which was really thinness, was abundant and perhaps, explosive. 

Losing weight gave me a taste of what it was like to feel comfortable in my skin. I learnt  about the strength of my spirit, resilience and drive. I learnt to believe in myself, I learnt that my capabilities are limitless, and that hunger and ferocity is always within. However, the control over my food and surroundings was self-hatred masked as self love. I was starving. 

“You look great.” Starve. I missed a meal. Starve. “You’re so skinny now.” Starve. “You inspire me.” Starve. Do not get fat again. Starve. “When are you going to stop losing weight?” Starve. 

Hungry for Movement

I found an escape from the anxieties of food through exercise and movement. Of course I adored that calorie burn. Even more however, I loved the freedom it brought me. Freedom that I had been deprived for a hungry 20 years.

I also loved all things that challenged me. Within the following  two years I tried  snowboarding, wakeboarding, hiking, yoga, biking, and rock-climbing, I completed a  full push up, and I was able to go up the stairs without panting. I ran a marathon and raised $2,300 for a suicide awareness campaign thanks to a “before and after photo” on social media. I ran countless half marathons, placed second in a triathlon, and deadlifted 320 pounds. 

I loved running. Interacting with the elements and the world around me, and moving with my surroundings, it made me feel alive; feeling the rain on my skin, the wind whipping my hair around my face, or the sunshine on my shoulders. Running took me to the ocean, forest, and the  city streets. I loved the community, bouncing at stop lights, racing cars in traffic, petting the good dogs, and discovering  new neighbourhoods or terrains. I experienced a freedom to have thoughts without self-judgement. Running gave me the space to think, breathe and accept.

I fought for this life and was always seeking my next challenge, adventure or experience. Movement satisfied my hunger for abundance and fueled my hunger for change. This was the life I was meant to be living. My body gave me a freedom that will remain with me at all times and I will never go back.

Then there became a moment where starving became too much. It was after I ran my first half marathon. I signed up for the race with three days notice and had never ran further than 11 kilometers; this was an ultimate test of my new self and I did not know if I was more excited or nervous. I placed in the top quarter for all categories and was proud of this feat. I had completed something that I had never in my mind imagined I could do. I hardly knew anyone who had completed this race. As far as I knew I was the first in my graduating class to race this distance. The mordibly obese girl runs a half marathon, this was wild. However, after the race a hunger took over me and I stopped starving: I began to binge. My first stop was at the store where I bought a piece of fudge cake. I gained 30 pounds in a month. I did not know when I would stop or how to regain control. I was petrified.

Restricting is controllable and in a way, easy. But binging, why would I want this? Why would anyone want that? I have eaten over 3,000 calories worth of food in under an hour, gone for a long and brutal run the following day and then ate similar quantities that night, and for days in a row this pattern continued. Binging feels like an active demonstration of self-hatred and disrespect, yet the hurt you feel afterwards must mean you care and love exists. While this experience is happening you are the primary witness, unable to close your eyes; take your front row seat.

“I cannot think.” Eat. “I worked so hard.” Eat. “I am overwhelmed.” Starve. “I cut out friends to make these changes.” Eat. “I am uncomfortable.” Eat. “I had a great workout.” Starve.  “Am I worthy?” Eat. “Am I beautiful?” Starve. “Am I beautiful, yet?” Eat. “…Yet?” Starve. Starve. Eat. Eat again. Starve. Eat. Eat. Eat.

Hungry for Acceptance

The binge ended and I sought help with an eating disorder counsellor. The cognitive behaviour therapy never really fixed the obsession in my head. I could understand the lessons on forgiveness, leniency and health, but implementing them was difficult. People saw me and thought I was healthy; I was nearly half the size I used to be, fitter than the average person and excited about life. What they did not see was the restricting and binging battle I faced every day. “Intuitive eating” and “balance” were often words of encouragement and assistance when I would speak out about my confusion and struggle. Except, I grew up to be 370 pounds and lost over half of that in under a year and a half. I only knew balance as a physical skill and my ‘intuition’ was either eating three tubs of Ben and Jerry’s half baked or two-thirds of a banana and an egg, throwing away the yolk please.

Two years later the food-swings were getting less vicious and extreme. At times I was left feeling overwhelmed but I found that if I accepted my behaviours without judgement, I could learn and make  some peace with myself. I was running, weight-lifting and discovering my natural talent in the sport of rugby. During a rugby game early in the season,, my right foot grazed the ground as I got tackled and impact from the hip of the other player locked my toes on the ground. My foot took the force and folded in half. After three months of improper diagnosis, I found out that I had severely tore the ligament that holds the arch of my right foot. It was neither a complete tear nor a  break, both injuries that would have been prefered. After eight months of trying everything in my power to avoid an operation, I underwent a midfoot bone fusion surgery. The recovery involved three months of no weight-bearing, followed by over a year of rehabilitation, attempting to get back to its “90%” function. It has now been six months since the surgery and three months since my first step on the new foot.

I knew  what it was  like to live in a body that feels stuck I was facing my worst nightmare, this injury was terrifying. It has been over a year since the initial injury that left  me unable to run, hike, bike outdoors, walk, or climb. The walk to and from the bus stop sets my daily step limit. It feels as if the last few years of my life have been the context to this sick joke. I got the taste of my potential and power?, and then was left starving. Again.

I ran because it fed the hunger of abundance, change, and movement. Running could clear my head like nothing else. When I would become too exhausted to filter or judge my thoughts I would run so that thoughts could come honestly and freely. For me It was a form of meditation. With each run I was given the opportunity to gain an understanding of what I wanted, who I wanted to be, and who I was. Running taught  me I was strong. Then running was gone, as was my freedom, and it was replaced with the  claustrophobia I felt from being in my own body. I could not run away.

The brightest of light exists with the contrasting darkest of darkness. The light I have found from the past years of struggles and my injury is a  greater peace with food. I spent the past year unable to ‘run off’ tubs of Ben and Jerry’s, pizza, or whatever food I chose to binge on. I was eating for my health, foot and ligament repair, and eating to create an environment in which my body could optimize recovery and healing. 

Even without running I was able to find ways to feel abundant. Running was a goal for the future, but the daily routine was focused to eat and move, to get my  foot and body back and stronger. I was going to the gym every day on crutches, modifying exercises to meet my abilities and spent hours each day on my physio exercises. During this recovery I had a personal record of enjoying a jar of peanut butter for nearly two weeks, instead of the typical two days. The surgery and injury remains a tough pill to swallow, but the positives of mending this relationship with food made it well worth it. My injury showed me the passion and commitment I have to fitness and myself, as well as helping me prioritize a holistic health lifestyle over simply putting the hours in at the gym. 

What they do not  tell you about weight loss is that the skin that stretched so easily, as it did when I ate my way to a 34 pant size and a 4XL shirt, does not retract with the same ease. My lateral oblique and abdomen muscles are defined from my ribs down to my hips, but in the very front is a curtain of skin that hangs from my abdomen. When I pushed  myself to change, I imagined living in a body that represented my strength, fitness, and lifestyle. Instead, my body is a constant reminder of my resilience, hard work and spoon-fulls of peanut butter, visible by an additional 25 pounds of skin. This skin could teach a lesson on gravity; it hangs nearly a foot out from my stomach when I am hovering in horizontal position, it swings and bounces with me as I run, it drips from side-to-side as I roll from my left to right shoulder to sleep, and at all times it sits tightly tucked away and hidden in my pants. I used to look in the mirror and wish for change to make myself comfortable in this body. Now that I have changed, this skin is what I am left with and diet cannot change it. When I can weight-lift, run, or achieve a physical feat I am able to find comfort and pride in my strength and ability, but standing in my skin, naked and vulnerable, I am uncomfortable.

Now that the bone fusion recovery is going smoothly, I decided to go ahead with a second operation: skin removal surgery. I had fought for my ability to move and be healthy, so I deserve to be comfortable. My commitment to myself during the recovery of the bone fusion surgery has given me confidence in upholding a healthy lifestyle. So, I have booked skin removal surgery, for which I am ecstatic. However, when I had booked it and settled into the idea, I binged. Not nearly as severe as I used to, but I do not understand why. I thought booking this surgery was an act of self-love. This surgery will accompany an ease in running, movement and the commitment I make to myself for health every day. Yet, I celebrated by eating? Again? Filling myself with guilt and pain. I do not understand this dance with love and loathing. After four years, I am exhausted.

Perhaps I believe that I have gained the respect and validation of others, but have not given that to myself? I typically binge after ‘victories’, the achievements that would be deemed impossible for my post obese-body and mind. I could reach my goal weight, distance, split, personal best on a lift, or I could be faster, stronger or thinner than others if I want to compare, but triumphs or feats do not change who I am. I will always be Tiana; and I will always be hungry. 

Love thigh-self. Stay hungry. Love others. Stay hungry. Have goals and crush them. Stay hungry. Believe. Stay hungry. Just show up. And stay hungry. 

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