In junior high, I went through puberty before all my friends. My body changed nearly overnight and I’d hear things from family members like, “Is that really you, Katie?” as they grabbed the flesh on my upper arm or thighs.
I was always hungry. While it seemed everyone in my peer group stayed the same size and didn’t eat much, my appetite continued to beat on in my mind and my belly. But I was happy.
Sometime between sophomore and junior year, I decided I’d start exercising a bit. I became toned and stronger. But my teenage mind didn’t think it was enough.
So I started counting calories and cutting carbs. Things were fine for a while — I made healthier choices without completely eliminating food groups.
Then I started weighing myself. That’s where the trouble started. I let the number on the scale determine my self-worth. Instead of focusing on how I felt, I focused on obtaining a certain size and criticized myself for my weight. Instead of being happy about my progress and listening to my body, my new healthy lifestyle tipped into a bunch of compulsive behaviors.
I became obsessed with counting calories, and within a month, I knew the calorie content in all my usual foods.
I felt like in order to be healthy, I had to make the “right” (read: ultra-healthy) choices every second of every day, never skip a workout, never indulge, never eat until I felt full.
I considered my habits “healthy,” but being so strict with yourself, to the point of obsession, is not healthy at all. It’s not healthy for your body, and it’s not healthy for your mind.
I hated counting calories, but I couldn’t stop. I would sit in every class and add up the calories in what I’d eaten that day over and over and over.
Then came the self-loathing. I told myself I was “weak” and beat myself up whenever I ate for pleasure. I wasn’t healthy. I stopped menstruating, my hair started to fall out, and I fell asleep in at least two classes every day.
I clearly had an eating disorder. Because of my obsession with being “healthy,” I was the sickest I’d ever been. I’d put calorie counting and food elimination above my own health and I was miserable.
I became so obsessed with this diet, I lost myself. It occupied my brain 100% of the time, leaving me with social anxiety and a hamster wheel of a mind. My eating disorder ruined much of my high school experience.
I finally overcame this disordered way of eating while in college. It was a long, arduous process. I gained weight, yes. But I felt myself returning to me, feeling healthy and strong again, and I vowed I’d never go back.
And I haven’t.
Counting calories or following a restrictive diet triggers my anxiety. It isn’t healthy — at all. Fad diets, counting carbs, or eliminating certain foods because they are deemed “bad” leads me down a dark rabbit hole of obsession. I can’t let myself go there again.
These days, I exercise because of how it makes me feel, not because of how it makes me look or because of the number on the scale. I eat a balanced diet with lots of foods in moderation — including regular trips to McDonald’s.
My weight fluctuates — as it is does for many folks — but my moods are more stable. I am living my life, enjoying food and friends. I’m happy and my mind is no longer a calculator adding up the calories of my daily food intake.
I don’t dodge social situations because I’m afraid there won’t be something on a certain diet I’m following. I know I’m living a life that’s healthier because I’m not trapped in my own food prison where the rules are so strict, I feel my soul drying out.
I will never go back to the teenage girl who didn’t eat pizza or brownies for almost four years. She was restricting herself so much that she was never comfortable and always hungry.
When I let the calorie counting go, I stepped into a happier version of myself. And I’ll tell you, your happiness is a lot more important than any number on the scale.
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