Disclaimer: This post discusses eating disorders and body image. Please only continue reading if you feel it is healthy for you to do so.
I have not always had a fraught relationship with my body. Throughout high school and all of college, I never really thought much about it. I was a dancer, and having a good body image in that field is sometimes unusual, but I was slim and thought my body looked great most days. And then, I experienced what happens to many women in our early twenties: I graduated from college, got a desk job, and gained some weight.
Somewhere along the line, I became obsessed with losing the weight that I had gained post-college. I didn’t feel at home in my body anymore, and I had people in my life pressuring me to lose weight. I believed that tired notion that, inside my larger body, my former, smaller body still existed. So, I did what I thought I was supposed to do and joined a gym. I never loved going to the gym — I just thought it was something that I had to do in order to be fit (AKA skinny, because let’s be honest — I did not care about being fit).
After almost a year and approximately $420 down the drain, it wasn’t working. My membership cost me $16.99 biweekly, and I was locked into the contract. I ended up staying for a year and a half, spending close to $600 on that membership. All my Elliptical-related efforts and Stairmaster torture were not giving me any results. I decided to kick things up a notch. I decided to shell out for a personal trainer. This personal trainer was $35 a week, for 6 months, totaling $840 in total for my contract. This personal trainer contract, on top of my regular membership fees, led me to spend around $1,400 in the end. Mind you, right before I signed this, I had just lost my job, was working part time at a café, and was struggling to keep it together financially.
Obviously, signing up for this was a terrible financial decision, but I can tell you that I did not care. I only cared about losing weight, and I was willing to go broke/into debt to make that happen. I saw this future version of myself fitting into size 2 clothes, and it did not matter if that future version of myself had credit card debt or not.
After signing up to spend $840 to shrink myself down, the sessions started. I was told what to eat, and how often to work out. I was eating about 1100-1200 calories a day (way too little!!) and working out three times a week. I saw no results. I grew to hate my body more and more. My distorted self-image bled over into other areas of my life as well. I had trouble going out to eat with friends because I would get obsessed with calorie counts on the menu, or the macro content of the food. I could not go clothes-shopping because the act of trying on clothes in a dressing room caused panic attacks. I had a persistent low mood and horrible self-confidence. I wanted to sleep all day because sleeping meant not eating. All these things were the opposite of what I had signed up for!
What finally pulled me out of the pocket-draining and mentally taxing gym membership was picking up a hobby I actually liked. I started participating in a community theater musical production and rediscovered my love for theater. During the run of the show, I found myself wondering why I was committing so much time and energy to gym-going, a hobby that did not bring me joy. I also discovered online communities that embraced intuitive eating, a concept that says that our bodies are smart, and they know when we are hungry — we just have to trust them.
I still struggle with thoughts of losing weight, dieting, and whether I should give weight loss “one last go.” These thoughts are incredibly common with people in recovery, and most people living in our diet-obsessed culture can relate. I know there are people who genuinely love fitness, and if that is you, good for you! My personal experience is that fitness culture/gym culture/diet culture primarily exists to feed off your insecurities and get rich in the process. What the wellness industry doesn’t tell you is that 95% of all diets fail. In The Beauty Myth, author Naomi Wolf argues that women are caught in an unwinnable fight against our bodies, causing us to be too distracted (and famished) to put our energies towards things like dismantling patriarchy and demanding equal treatment. It forces you to think about the overall purpose of the diet industry. When women are kept hungry, many clinically starving, how would they have the energy to succeed in a career?
There are many ways to live a happy, healthy life, and I don’t need to be an Instagram fitness model to be happy. I try to trust my body to tell me when it wants to eat, what it wants to eat, and how it wants to move. I believe that my body is smart, and I don’t have to outsmart it with diets or “lifestyle changes.” I was in so deep, lost in a culture of self-hatred, watching YouTube videos on different diets, trying not to eat, and calling it a “lifestyle change.”
Disordered eating is costly. It costs some people their lives. In my case, it cost me $1,400 in gym membership fees and probably more buying diet-specific foods. Community theater is free, and I occasionally go to yoga class. I have a better relationship with my body now, and I honestly cannot believe I spent the price of a used-car on trying to lose weight.
Sarah currently resides in Columbia, SC. She has a passion for reproductive rights and her cat, “Happy.” Follow her on Twitter here.
Image via Unsplash