My niece and nephew persistently tried to convince me to ride the Behemoth roller coaster at Canada’s Wonerland. As they described the deep slopes, crazy loops and sharp turns, I became dizzy just thinking about it. It’s scary they promised, but so much fun that I would love it.
Little did they know I was once on a roller coaster. Yes, it was scary, but no fun and I hated it. It was the diet and exercise roller coaster, also known by some as the vicious cycle. This cycle of excessive exercise, crazy fad diets and binge eating is a lot more common than I ever thought. I have been reading a lot of blogs lately, where I am discovering many people, especially women, had very unhealthy attititudes about food, dieted and binged uncontrollably and are sharing their stories in hopes of helping others. I’m sure their candor and bravery is noticed, and appreciated, especially by people who can relate to their story. People like me. How and when does this cycle begin? For myself, I was about fourteen or maybe a junior in high school. Up until then, I never really thought much about body image. As I reached puberty, comments were made about my “womanly” hips and thighs. I loathed this. In grade 10, I joined the cross country track team. My team mates advised that the lighter or more stream-lined you were, the longer and faster you could run. So it began with drastically reducing my caloric intake. It went along the lines of something like this. No junk food. Nada, nil! Goodbye pizza, burgers, candy bars and fries. Also known as deprivation. Plenty of fruits, veggies and sugarless gum chewing if I was craving a cookie. Many times I would eat a pear and diet bar all day, while running like Forest Gump. Looking back, it’s a wonder I didn’t faint. Around this time, my sister just had a baby and she wanted to lose the post baby weight. I would run with the team during the day, and run with my sister during the evenings. Then came the compliments, or what I believed to be compliments in the way of, “ohhhh, you’re so skinny.” My grandma, who has long time passed, and who I loved dearly, had the notorious habit of telling everyone they looked fat, or, “you’re putting on pounds.” This lady was like the human BMI detector. One Thanksgiving when granny saw me, she actually said the opposite. She told me I was wasting away. To me, to hear this from Granny, I was looking great! When everyone thought that Whitney Houston looked like a walking skeleton during her time of drug addiction, I actually thought she looked perfect. Around 16, I remember sitting in the Dr.’s office because my periods stoppped from the weight loss. My mom didn’t know about my periods stopping, but she did not like the way I was losing weight, so she took me in for an appointment. The doctor showed me the food chart, and explained that I needed certain amounts of carbs, fat and protein to be healthy. I promised her I would increase my intake. And I did. Unfortunately, along came the binges. I had deprived myself so much of foods I enjoyed that I would gorge myself on cookies, chocolate bars and greasy fries. My mom is a wonderful cook, and I enjoyed her meals, but at times too much. Feeling guilt-ridden the day after, I excercised like it was nobody’s business. Cardio after cardio videos, as well as running. I was not exercising to be fit and healthy, I was exercising to be skinny.
It has been a long process, but I finally got off the roller coaster of yo-yo dieting. I did it more or less on my own and through the glory of great God above. I cannot write this post without giving credit to my Creator. He saw I was on a destructive path, and did not want his child to suffer in this cycle any longer. With Him, all things are possible. To make a long story short ( I don’t want this post to be too long because I could go on and on) I discovered that deprivation was not the way for me. I allowed myself to give into my cravings in a healthy balance. I would enjoy a cupcake, and not beat myself up over it. I also discovered that if I exercised regularly (not obsessively) that I could enjoy treats now and again and retain a healthy weight. Funny enough, by allowing myself to enjoy a dessert or cheese burger with all the trimmings, my cravings reduced, while my cravings for nutritious foods increased. I learned to not label foods, “good” or “bad” and to exercise for health benefits, not to be super-skinny. Exercise is to be done to be fit, not as a punishement because you ate something “bad.” These days, I have cut back on cardio and have embraced weight training. If someone calls me skinny now, I take it as an insult, not a compliment. I’m going to be completely honest here. I cannot say I love my saddlebags or extra junk in my trunk, because I don’t. The difference is I am learning to transform my body in a BENEFICIAL manner, not a desructive one. Also, I still struggle, as the old patterns of the past at times rear their ugly heads, but now I know what to do and how to cope. I still deal with guilt a lot, but I try not to let it consume me as I did in the past.
So to sum up, how does this terrible cycle begin, and how can we stop it? My sister-in-law told me that a girl at her daughter’s school is being bullied because she is over-weight. She is being called fatso, fatty and other despicable names. She was told she will die a virgin, because of her weight. These children are in grade five. These children have learned early on in the game of life to be cruel and hurtful. Is she going to be another person to step right up, buy a ticket, line up and get strapped into the diet roller coaster? God, help her if that is the case, because the thrill of this ride is soooo not worth it. This roller coaster is scarier than the Behemoth could ever be.