In January, I was lucky enough to be asked to give a TedX talk at an event with the theme “showing up” and to wrap this National Eating Disorders Awareness week I wanted to share what I wrote with you because this was written for you. And by “you” I mean all of my be.come project clients. With every paragraph I wrote, I thought, do they need to hear this? Will this resonate with them? Am I saying everything that needs to be said when given this opportunity of a long-winded platform? I think the answer is yes, but you’ll have to tell me.
I offered a trigger warning at the beginning of the talk, but I want to offer it here too. I talk about binging, purging and ED recovery and if this isn’t something you’re able to take in right now, I want you to know I understand.
I see you,
I love you,
and I respect your decision to click away and come back at a more appropriate time for you.
I want to start this by asking you, the reader, to take a moment to check in with how you feel. If you’re familiar with the app, you know you can choose from the list of words below or you can submit words of your own.
For example, because I’m in the middle of a move, I think my words right now are “stressed as hell”. So go ahead, think about your word, hold on to it for a moment, and then let it go. Checking in with how you feel is a great way to know if you are giving your body, your mind, and your spirit what it needs… I learned that the hard way.
I’ve been working in fitness for about 12 years. For 12 years I have been teaching our bodies how to move. I’ve been a lead instructor, a studio manager, a teacher trainer, I’ve taught all over the country with full waitlists and now I’ve started my own brand. But for six of those 12 years, I lived with an eating disorder. Here I was, the epitome of health and secretly I was starving myself or hanging my head over a toilet in fear of food. I’ll never forget a particularly low time in my life. I was at the height of my eating disorder and living in Los Angeles with a toxic boss at work and a toxic relationship at home. Each morning I would start with a sugary dessert and three shots of espresso and that’s all the “fuel” I would give myself for the day.
One day I came into work, taught my morning block of classes and then started on my day-to-day tasks as the studio manager. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in several days and I started to feel hungry, which was a terrifying feeling for me at the time. So I walked to the market next door and bought some grapes. Hunger and malnourishment took over and I started eating handfuls of grapes telling myself that grapes weren’t fattening and this time I would keep them down. Within 30 minutes I was violently ill. I didn’t have to make myself throw up this time, they came up on their own. I’ll never forget holding on to the toilet uncontrollably purging, and crying at the realization that my stomach could no longer handle even the simplest food.
I was hungry, starving, and I couldn’t eat. You would think at this point most people would take a sick day but my afternoon classes were starting soon and the show must go on. I peeled myself off the bathroom floor, splashed some cold water on my face and turned on a smile for my clients who were arriving. I spent the next two hours coaching people on how to flatten their stomach and engage their inner thighs and properly prep for bikini season which was right around the corner.
I would love to tell you that I felt ashamed by my deceit, being a fitness professional who couldn’t even eat grapes, but I didn’t. I thought this was normal. You don’t go to a dentist with crooked teeth and you don’t go to a fat fitness instructor…or so I thought. The theme of the TedX conference I spoke at was showing up – which I think was an interesting choice of words because we can Show Up for someone in a supportive way and we can also Show Someone Up in a divisive way. And looking back on it I realized, I was trying to show someone up by being the skinniest in the room but I wasn’t showing up for myself. Yes, I was showing up for how I looked, but no, I was not showing up for how I felt. And in turn, I was teaching the same thing to my clients.
The idea of working out is such an interesting concept to me. Clients come to me and say they want abs like Jada, a butt like JLo and arms like Jen, but they don’t get those things in one session, they don’t get those things in ten sessions, in fact, they may never get those things at all because our body and it’s shape is uniquely ours. It doesn’t belong to Jada or JLo or Jen. If you paid someone to clean your house, and when they left your house was still dirty, you wouldn’t hire them again. So why do people give their fitness instructor so many chances? The reason is because we evoke a feeling. The workout is surface, it’s what’s on the outside. But the experience is internal. The feeling of strength, accomplishment, having someone who believes in you, the endorphin release, the ability to feel powerful even if it’s only for a short amount of time — this is the true reason why we come back for more.
Why do we stop exercising? Well I believe it’s directly correlated to our motive. “I’m so fat, I have to lose weight”. The motive came from a negative place of self worth and when we start from a negative place, it creates a sense of dread. And if you dread something it won’t be long before you stop doing it.
About four years ago, my journey to a healthier self began. I started by tossing my old rule book and my bathroom scale. I gave myself permission to eat – dairy, meat, carbs, sugar — whatever. I stopped working out for any reason that involved weight loss, such as “I ate too much this weekend”. Instead I exercised to feel empowered, centered, clear headed. I released the idea that scolding myself would make me a better person and replaced it with the idea that comforting myself would make me a better person. I stopped trying to be body-positive and instead worked to become body-neutral; meaning some days we feel positive about our body and some days we feel negative about our body but all days we respect our body.
And somehow it worked. It took time and a lot of practice but slowly I saw my mindset begin to shift. The desire to starve, binge and purge began to slip away – and that’s not to say every day is easy, but at least now I’m able to cope with it. But the biggest change that happened was my ability to show up for my clients. Not for how they look, but for how they feel. And that would have never happened if I didn’t first start by showing up for myself. Let me ask you this — how often do your workouts come from a place of guilt? How often do you tell yourself you’ll be happy with your body once you “fix” something? How often do equate your self worth with how you appear on the outside instead of how you feel on the inside?
Body dysmorphia does not discriminate. It affects people of all sizes, all colors, all genders and all socioeconomic backgrounds. We have been fed an idea for generations that we need to look a certain way in order to be valued as people. And the saddest thing is that no matter how much we alter our appearance or our size, we will always find something else that needs fixing. That’s how they design it. But together, we have the power to change that. We have the power to defy beauty standards simply by celebrating who we already are.
At the end of each be.come session, we do two things. We once again check in with how we feel – maybe it’s the same, maybe it’s different, maybe it’s better and maybe it’s worse – all that matters is that it’s honest. And then as an act of self love, we give our shoulder a kiss. So right now, choose your word, hold onto for a moment and then as you kiss your shoulder – let it go.
love you long time