I don’t know when, how, or why I became obsessed with being thin. I was actually a pretty skinny kid and had a healthy relationship with food growing up. But puberty hit me like a freight train at 14 and I went from being shaped like a cereal box to Jessica Rabbit. A pudgy, confused, very un-confident Jessica Rabbit. And we all know what high school is like, and how catty people can be, and I certainly heard plenty of negative comments.
So began my first diet, which ended up lasting about 15 years.The summer after my sophomore year I went about dieting like the overachiever that I was and I showed that scale who was boss! Within 9 months I had lost over 45 lbs, with my weight dipping below 100 lbs. I thought I looked AWESOME. It was the mid 90’s – thin was in!
I was secretly thrilled to have to shop in the kids section or to have someone comment on how thin I was. But the fun did not last long. My triathlon brain would liken it to reaching the top of a very difficult climb, rejoicing, and then having both tires pop and the wheels fall off as you slowly flop down the back side. I stopped menstruating, which led to doctors’ visits which led to doctors telling me that I had to gain weight which led to me being depressed which led to lots of binging and crying and general awfulness.
I won’t even begin to try to describe the period that followed because I will not do it justice, and it is very difficult to understand unless you have been there. Even though this is my story I can barely identify with the feelings that I felt back then. How could I not see that I was a good person no matter what body I lived in? No one could have convinced me of that, and as quickly as I was able to transform my body, it would take years and years to transform my mind.
I forged through my senior year of high school and with my original 45 lbs (plus 10 more for good measure), I started Georgia Tech. I shudder to think of my next 5 years if I hadn’t made the choice to go to this wonderful school. I found the dearest friends of my life here, and I found a self-worth that I had never experienced in my teen years. I was happy, but I can’t say that I was completely comfortable in my own skin. Way to much of my time was spent thinking about diets, food, clothes that would make me look thin, how great my life would be if I just was thin, etc.
By the time that I left college I was a very healthy weight and I took to lots of running and aerobics and gym visits to make sure that it stayed that way. I still have my old day planners where I cataloged each lift, run, class and crunch. I get bored just thinking about it now.
About 9 years ago two of my girlfriends convinced me to do a triathlon. I trained for the summer to do my first sprint race and had so much fun. The next summer I did more races and continued to enjoy the challenge. The following Spring I ran into a guy in Atlanta Cycling who was starting a tri club. Sure, sounds like fun. (Thanks for being there that day Jim Boylan.)
I did not jump gung ho into the sport as some do. I held on tightly to many of my old tendencies. I rode my bike in a tube top for years, because how was I supposed to look cute in a summer dress with tan lines? And I couldn’t quite get behind proper bike nutrition, because I saw that as a wasted opportunity to go into a big calorie deficit and potentially drop weight. But in time, I slowly drank the koolaid. And I made great friends that I looked up to and learned from and wanted to be like.
Triathlon gives many gifts. It gives you discipline – you have to have a training plan and stick to it if you want to do well. It gives you patience – no one can sit on a stationary bike for 2 hours or run for 80 minutes on the Silver Comet without patience. It gives you humility – even the fastest people I know don’t always win.
But for me, triathlon has given me an appreciation for these bones, muscles, ligaments and veins that make up my body. This poor body that I starved, stared at, measured and judged for so many years has given me the greatest joys of my life in the last few years. It makes me feel strong, and young, and so grateful. It has taken everything that I have thrown at it, and surprised me so many times by meeting the challenge. It is a great body, and I am so lucky to have this exact one.
I was originally inspired by Lauren Fleshman’s blog to write this message. People probably look at me and think that I am the most body confident person in the room. I am never afraid to rock just a sports bra and bike shorts, or walk around in my tire-grease-stained pink bathing suit, or even to model clothes in front of a room of 100+ people. Is it because I think I look fabulous? Heck no.
But the thing is – I don’t let my feelings about how I look paralyze me anymore. I can’t say I never think about what I look like in tight sports clothes, but I can definitely say that I don’t hold it in very high priority compared to comfort and function. For example, I wear only a sports bra when I run in the summer because I am a human furnace and shirts are really not necessary during exercise.
Because we are not defined by our body shape; we aren’t even defined by the order that we finish the race. We are defined by the people that we love and the people that love us and how we face each day and treat the people around us. Our bodies are absolutely amazing vessels, and every breathe we take is a gift.