I've never talked about the extremely unhealthy relationship I have with food and how detrimental it is to my body image. I've never even whispered a word about it, not to one single soul. Just typing this out and thinking about anyone actually reading it makes my blood run cold. My stomach is doing somersaults and my palms are getting clammy. Maybe it's because I don't even know how to put it into words, I don't even know why things are the way that they are or what caused them to be this way. Maybe I'm too embarrassed to admit that I'm a grown man with an eating disorder. Maybe I'm too stuck in my ways or too far gone for help. Or even worse, maybe deep down, I don't even want the help. I know I need a cure, but do I want it? Maybe I've just been drowning in too much denial to admit how serious this problem of mine has really become. Writing this scares me. Trying to put my thoughts into words scares me. Realizing how badly I've let myself get scares me. Thinking about having to live my life this way for the rest of my days absolutely terrifies me.
Let's go back to the beginning; it all started my senior year of high school. It was the first time I ever stepped into a gym. As much as I love the gym now, there are some days I wish I had never began going. I was never "fat," at most just average size for my age and height. However, once I started losing weight, I would look back at pictures of myself and be absolutely disgusted. What started as a harmless hobby to keep myself busy and get in shape for track took a dark turn. The more weight I lost, the more positive affirmation I got from others. The smaller I became, the more people loved me, or so I thought. "Wow, you look great!" "Keep up the good work!" I was showered with compliments all the time, the kind of compliment I had never gotten before. It felt good and I felt good about myself. I felt attractive, that was something I'd never felt before. Little did they know what was really going on; the more weight I lost, the more addicted I became. Before I knew it, I had an unhealthy obsession.
I became so consumed with numbers. How many calories I was taking in vs how many I was burning. I made sure there was an alarmingly large deficit between the two. I knew the exact amount of calories in everything I ate and had every meal carefully planned out well in advance. I could easily tell you the amount of calories a meal had with just one quick glance. I thought of it as a hidden talent, but I realize now just how twisted it actually is. I stopped lifting weights as often as I was so I could focus more time on doing cardio. There were days where, I kid you not, I would run for three consecutive hours. I was walking/running at least seven to nine miles a day. However, I was not eating like someone who could handle that much cardio exercise. I would allow myself one real, full me in a day. The rest was just minuscule snacks here and there. Going on 19 and I was eating the calories equivalent to a three year old. I was punishing my body and I didn't even know why. I spent more time on a treadmill in one gym visit than most people did in a week's time. My life was ruled by a machine.
As you could imagine, doing that much cardio every single day, I dropped weight rapidly. After only a couple of months it's like I lost half of my body weight. I thought I looked great, but really I looked terminally ill. I looked like a skeleton. My bones were literally sticking out from my skin. My face was so sunken in that I looked like I had been using hard drugs for years. It began to physically hurt me after sitting down for prolonged periods of time because I didn't have enough meat on my ass and my tailbone would begin to ache. All of my clothes no longer fit. I didn't care because at the time, I felt like this was healthy. I felt like I was in shape. I was never warm enough. The slightest breeze sent a shiver down my visible spine. I was constantly dressed in hoodies, to either shield my fragile arms from the cool air or to hide just how small my frame was becoming. I did not look like a 18 year old senior in high school. I looked like I had hit rock bottom of a drug addiction or like I was losing a battle to a terminal illness. It was gross. I was gross. I knew it, but I couldn't stop at that point. In my head, any weight I would gain in the future would just make me appear fat after becoming used to being so small.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, became concerned. It started with my mom. She would nag me about not eating enough and dropping too much weight too quickly. I know now that she was just worried and she had every right to be. However, at the time it was my biggest pet peeve. It would annoy and aggravate me to no end and it caused us to fight quite often. She was right, I just didn't want to believe her or admit it. Next came my friends, but I would always tell them to lay off and leave me alone. I just convinced myself they were jealous that I had lost weight. I thought I looked great and they didn't have the ambition to get their lazy butts to the gym. When my teachers became concerned, that's when I really got frustrated. Why couldn't they just mind their own business? Looking back at myself now, I would have been concerned too. I feel fortunate to have people care enough about me to be concerned.
I isolated myself and put the gym as my number one priority. I saw it as a chore. I had to get my cardio in before I could allow myself to do anything else with my day. The thought of not being able to get my cardio in for the day left me crippled with anxiety. On the rare occasions where I did not get to do my extreme amount of cardio, I would severely restrict my eating for the day. I did not think of food as a necessity, but as something my body had to earn. The problem with having an unhealthy relationship with food is that we need it to survive. Eating is not like a bad habit we can just give up and drop. Eating is something we're faced with every day. Its crucial to survival. I stopped seeing my friends in my free time, because I saw any free time I had as an opportunity to exercise. Someone asking me to grab dinner or go out to eat used to be something I loved, but it became one of my biggest fears. This isolation was just more self-sabotage. I spiraled deep into depression and loneliness.
I loved it at first. I loved being active, getting in shape, and transforming my body. When I started to realize that I had a problem, I was already in too deep to try and fix it. There were days I would fight back tears as I drove to the gym. I knew I was about to force myself through hours of monotonous and boring cardio, still a slave to that damn treadmill. I would get invited out to fun events and activities with friends or family. As they would ask, my head would respond with, "Thanks but no thanks, I'll be at the gym during that time." I wanted to participate so badly deep down. Why couldn't I just rearrange my gym time? I was on a tight schedule, an obsessive every day routine that took priority over everything else. I hated it and I was consumed. I didn't want to be anymore, but my demons had their claws sunk too deep. It was the same way with food. If I was out to dinner, which was rare, I saw food I'd love to eat. However, my head would chime in and say, "Don't even think about it." Whenever I was offered anything, even drinks that might hide extra calories, I would have to lie and say, "No thanks, I'm not hungry." Even if my stomach was screaming at me to fill it with the smallest sliver of food. Somehow I convinced myself that one single bite of a brownie would ruin every ounce of progress I'd ever made. One little cookie would bring back every single pound I had lost. My mind became torturous. I wanted so badly to get out, to go back to what I was like before I became so obsessive and sick.
I either slept too much or not at all. No matter how much I slept, I was permanently exhausted. There was never enough fuel in my body and I was constantly running on fumes. I would get sick way too often. It got to the point where it became normal for me. Feeling like I didn't have the flu was a foreign concept to me. I was a moody brat. My mood would drastically change at the drop of a hat. The slightest things would send me over the edge and I'd become so consumed with rage. I felt like the hulk, a tiny, minuscule hulk. I had no sex drive, no nothing. I felt emotionless, robotic and completely disassociated from everything. I remember going through huge life changes. Yet, they felt like a relative passing and I wouldn't feel a thing. I would think to myself, "Why aren't you sad? What the hell is wrong with you?" Nothing, and I mean nothing, brought me joy anymore like it used to. I had lost my ability to feel, I had become numb to the world and that was the worst part.
My mom had gotten so fed up with seeing her child literally wither away in front of her eyes that she dragged me to the doctor. I fought her every step of the way, kicking and screaming, no exaggeration. When I was weighed, the number on the scale was so low that it brought tears to my mother's eyes. It was the lowest I had been in years. Here I was, a senior in high school, being outweighed by most pre-teens. I had to get a lot of blood work done, the results must have been pretty alarming because I was referred to an endocrinologist on the spot. What I had thought was just excessive weight loss turned out to be something much worse.
The endocrinologist I saw ordered more blood and lab work to be done and I even had to have an MRI. I remember slowly being slid into the MRI machine and a cage like contraption was placed around my head. I had to lie still for at least 30 minutes, which gave me a lot of time to think. My health had taken a dive bomb in the last year alone and I did it all to myself. It was all self-inflicted. For the first time in such a long time, I felt emotion again. I was scared to death, petrified, and frozen with fear in that MRI machine. There were tears slowly crawling down my cheek. Something was very wrong. The following couple of days felt like years waiting to hear back about my results. When they finally came in, I didn't want to face the music. I didn't think I could handle learning about how serious the damage was that I had done to myself.
My endocrinologist diagnosed me with a hypothalamic disease, which explained why my emotions were non-existent. I didn't quite know what it meant, but my world felt like it was crumbling down around me, and yet I was completely fine all at once. I never meant for it to get this far and I still didn't know how to stop it. As she was telling me about how my body was literally consuming itself because there was nothing else to use for energy, all I could think about was getting back to the gym. I was so disgusted with myself and my mind for turning my body into my number one enemy. I learned that day I destroyed my body to the point where I was now infertile and my hypothalamus was absolutely shot. You would think that such devastating and life altering news would phase me or knock some sense into me but it didn't. The eating disorder still controlled my mind. I nodded and agreed to change my diet and exercise habits to shut them up and get out of that office as soon as possible. However, I didn't have any intentions of changing.
I wish I could say that I found an answer over time as to why I am the way that I am. I wish I knew the subconscious root of the problem. However, I haven't realized either of those things. I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for all those Friday nights I missed out on, all the memories I could have made, or the relationships I've lost. And for what? What did I have to show for it besides a sickly-looking appearance and a brain dysfunction? It wasn't worth it and now I've got so much lost time to make up to myself. The only thing I can do now is sit back, reflect, and learn from the damages I've done. In a scary way, it has made me stronger, so I am thankful for that. There's always a silver lining if you look for it hard enough. I still battle with this every day to an extent. It's not nearly as bad as it used to be, and my relationship with the gym is much healthier. The gym used to be a prison to me. It was a place I would go and serve my sentence every day, like a chore. Now, it is the complete opposite. It's my outlet, my therapy. I've gained a healthy amount of weight back and I'm pleased with the muscle I've added onto my once brittle frame. I no longer look sick and fragile. I look fit and in shape. Though I still battle with how I see my body, I'm working so hard day in and day out to obtain a healthy relationship with food. I don't think I'll ever fully get there, though. I hold out hope that one day, I just might get there. It's so embarrassing to admit that, at age 22, food is one of my biggest fears. I think the embarrassment is what has held me back from opening up and finding ways to overcome my endless battle.
It's taking all I have in me to even sit here and write this. Who knows if it will ever actually be published? I don't want to be seen as broken or weak. I've never felt more vulnerable or exposed and that terrifies me. I shouldn't be embarrassed. I shouldn't be afraid to talk about my problems or to seek help. It doesn't make you weak to extend a hand and ask for help. The strongest people I know are the ones that admit they need it. I have big goals; I'd love to get more involved in body building and dabble in boxing or martial arts as a healthy way to release all my bottled up aggression. I want to get better. I need to get better if I want to succeed in those things. There comes a point where you've just got to tell your own head to shut the hell up and take control of your life. We are so much stronger than any voice inside of our head. Exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. So if by chance this does get published, and you're reading this, please treat your body with the kindness it deserves. You are so much more than the image you paint of yourself in your head.