**WARNING: The following content contains graphic descriptions of eating disorders. My writing is in no way intended to harm or offend any individuals. Please proceed at your own risk.
It never really goes away, you know.
It can lie dormant for years - many, many years - and gather dust in the crevices of your mind. You can shove it way back into the corner and forget about it for a while.
But it stays there, lurking in the background. Waiting for the right moment to strike, to pounce. Then you're slammed in the side at 100mph with no idea where all this chaos came from. You're caught off guard and you have the wind knocked out of you. Before you know it, you're lying face down in the mud and you realize a minute too late that you've hit rock bottom. Again.
That's why you always need to be aware, at least on some level.
Ana. Mia. Permanent lurkers, pretending to be your friends.
It's a constant conscientious effort to keep them at arm's length. You're faced daily with a thousand and one choices about what kind of food you're going to consume and how much, about whether you'll exercise just a little more or call it a wrap. If you listen carefully, you can hear the barely audible whisper in your head asking you Are you sure you want to eat that? and I don't think you've burned enough calories today. Everyday, you make the proactive decision that you're going to properly fuel your body, that you're going to workout because you enjoy feeling strong and not because you're a slave to the demons within. With every bite of food, you fire your rounds. Each time you dab the crumbs off the corners of your mouth calmly with a napkin because you're 80% full - instead of sprawled onto your bed with your heart pounding after you've stuffed yourself sick - you win a small battle. Every evening you tuck yourself under the covers without having purged that day, that's another victory for you.
It's about a series of wins strung together day after day. The more consecutive wins you have, the easier it becomes.
But when you have a loss - you stumble. It's not the end of the world, no doubt, but you lose a little bit of momentum. If you're lucky - if you've been paying attention - you'll catch yourself before you can knock your teeth on the cement. You'll look behind you and inspect the curb on the sidewalk that you missed, shake your head at yourself, and continue on your way, a little more mindful of your steps this time.
That was a close one.
I'm going to be open and frank here. When I hopped on the Bikini Body Workouts program with Jason and Jen Ferruggia, I was beyond excited because I knew what an honor it was to be chosen as one of the participants. With 600 applicants, I didn't think I had much of a chance, but I took the plunge and shot them an e-mail anyway. Within a week, we had our training and nutrition programs set up, and off we went on our journey to gettin' jacked.
But you know, I have a history - a particularly dangerous one that has severely lowered my threshold for any kind of dietary restrictions. I should have been aware of this on a conscious level. Even the smallest deviation from my personal nutrition philosophy, which I've carefully shaped and molded through my years of healing, would end in disaster.
It should have come as no surprise to me, then, when I found myself curled up in a very dark place about four weeks in. The binging had returned after years of slumber. What had changed that had triggered the monster to come back? The removal of all my dietary quirks that made me happy. Heavy cream in my coffee. The occasional scoop of ice cream. The odd slice of warm bread slathered generously with honey butter. A glass of wine on girls' night in, accompanied with a handful of gummy bears.
Namely, flexible nutrition rules.
Last Chance Syndrome was in full effect. Last chance for what? Last chance to eat anything and everything that wasn't on the food list. Quickly, before the clock struck midnight and I tried to start fresh the next day. It was a race against time.
To be honest, it could have been any diet, really. Anything that would place restrictions on the way I'd been happily fueling myself over the past 8 years - not overthinking anything, not stressing over the way my body looked. Box me into any kind of corner, and I would have fought furiously to get out.
I started to categorize food as "good" or "bad" - something I'd worked very hard to move away from for a long time. And of course, the more I withheld something from myself, the stronger the pull toward it. With each passing day, it became increasingly clear to me that the way that my mind was starting to think was the exact opposite of the nutrition attitude I preached.
It was time to call it quits. I knew my journey was done. Not for good, necessarily; just done for now.
For the record, I'm not ashamed of my past. Going through what I did taught me countless invaluable lessons that have made me the way that I am today. And you know, I like me. I think that's more than most people can say about themselves. I wish it were different - I wish more individuals could learn to appreciate themselves the way they are right now, curves and muffin tops and all - and feel at peace. Maybe that will change one day.
What does this all mean, then?
It means I'm not ready to be dieting right now.
It means I need to choose a different goal for the time being. Physical strength, maybe. Something performance-related. Or perhaps I shouldn't think about my fitness endeavors at all.
It means I'm going to be kind to my body from here on out and I'm not going to let anything jeopardize that.
It means I had the strength to recognize that my mental health was at stake. And rather than ignore the tell-tale signs and grind my way through to the finish line, I had the courage to pull back the reigns to shield myself from Ana and Mia.
I'm really sorry, Ana, Mia - but you suck.
And I am stronger than both of you.
I know some of you may be wondering if it's really the best idea for me to be carving out a career for myself in the fitness industry given all that I've been through. Let me remind you, however, of how my life was saved in the first place: strength training. I'm in love with lifting, passionate about creating and maintaining a healthy, nurturing relationship with your own body.
It's funny - as soon as I re-aligned my life with my nutrition philosophy, everything went back to normal. No more binging, no more cravings, no more black-and-white thinking.
[Tweet "I may bend, but I will not break."]
And as for you, dear reader - I invite you to reflect back on your own life over the past couple of months. Does anything that I've written about here resonate with you? Have you been through something similar? Are you turning a blind eye to the fact that perhaps prepping for that bikini show right now is not the best decision you could be making for yourself, that you're beating your body mercilessly into the ground?
Be kind to your body.
Win today, win tomorrow. Keep winning. Because as long as you keep winning more days than not, I think you'll turn out okay.