Fighting the Demons Within: I May Bend, But I Won’t Break

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Fighting the Demons Within: I May Bend, But I Won’t Break

April 11, 2013

**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.

Let me be clear: I’m an advocate of the Renegade Diet. I still am. You can see my enthusiasm here and here.

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.

 

36 Comments
  1. Claire 5 years ago

    “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.”

    The compelling question is why do you need to eat heavy cream, gummy bears, ice cream & warm bread with a heaping helping of ooey gooey honey & creamy butter to make you feel happy?

    • Sohee 5 years ago

      I’m not sure. Might have something to do with the fact that I’m human and find pleasure in the little things in life.

      • Claire 5 years ago

        Thank you for the reply Sohee. Let me ask you this, do you think if you had eaten an equal serving (same macros & kcals) of very healthy food choice like sweet potato, wild salmon, grassfed beef, or quinoa instead of the junk food it would have still made you happy?

        • Sarah 5 years ago

          You’re missing the point of the article.

        • Claire 5 years ago

          If you’re eating enough healthy food but still need junk food in order to feel happy this is a red flag that you’re unfulfilled in other areas of your life.

          • Patricia 5 years ago

            Really???

            No.

            With regards to most things in life, if they are forbidden you simply want them more.
            What if she were doing a low carb diet? She may crave sweet potato and oats and binge on those, although they are ‘healthy.’ It isn’t about ‘needing junk to feel happy’- it’s about the mindset of ‘no restriction.’

            Ugh.

          • julie 5 years ago

            No, it’s not. It’s a sign that YOU have a problem and should examine it before you find yourself in orthorexic crazy binge-land.

            Some people are all of nothing, inflexible, absolute kind of people, some of us prefer moderation and flexibility and peace.

          • Elizabeth 5 years ago

            Since when is cream and honey junk food? Sohee didn’t refer to any junk foods.

            “To feel happy” vs. “to enjoy myself” = very different things.

            My understand of food and exercise: hit your macros, lift heavy, end of story.

          • Clement 5 years ago

            To add to this: how do you define junk food? Processed food? Then what do you call protein powder? Which food nowadays isn’t processed or altered to a certain degree? Good one, Elizabeth.

        • Zvezdana 5 years ago

          Claire, what’s the difference if she ate “the equal serving” of food you deem to be healthy and inherently “good” vs. “bad”?

          I think a better question is why you need to feel superior because of your food choices and why you want to make Sohee feel BAD. Because whether you are aware of it or not, that is the purpose of your post and your line of questioning.

          There is nothing wrong with a little honeyed toast or cream in your coffee within the context of a fit and active lifestyle and otherwise rock solid nutrition.

          As Sohee said, we’re human. I don’t blame her for not engaging with you either.

      • cindy 5 years ago

        I know exactly how you feel! I’m a big foodie and I love rich foods and I enjoy them and when I try to eliminate them from my diet or tell myself they’re “bad” I end up binging horribly for a few weeks and then feeling terrible about myself….I find it works best for me if I still have them regularly but just in very small portions.

    • Betty 5 years ago

      Do you ever just enjoy getting warm laundry out of the hamper? Or opening a new book for the first time? It’s like that. She’s not eating for comfort, she’s finding pleasure in small things which are pleasurable.

      While those foods may be “unhealthy”, being terrified of them is way, way worse and can significantly decrease your quality of life.

      • BBF 5 years ago

        Well said Betty! 🙂 If a small pleasure can steer you clear of a massive self-loathing inducing behaviour, then it is a GREAT pleasure in my opinion. Why on earth would we constantly deny ourselves little pleasures? It is all about enjoying life! Or what is the point of living?

  2. sonja 5 years ago

    Wow, awesome post. Honest reflections like this are so necessary and refreshing, especially for those of us who have been super rigid in the past and have yet to return to normalcy when it comes to our relationships with food.

    Honestly, reading about other people’s “perfect” diets kind of induces feelings of guilt in me and make me feel like I just don’t have the drive to achieve my goals and that I am doomed. I understand that it works for them and they’re not the ones who become crazy when adhering to their plans but it makes me feel like I should be able to apply the same dietary restrictions if I want to look a certain way when in reality, I just have to figure out what works for me.

    Seriously, thanks so much for sharing this. You totally belong in the fitness industry especially because of your experiences.

    • Sohee 5 years ago

      Appreciate your thoughts, Sonja. I know there are many out there who are suffering in silence and feel trapped because they feel like eating a certain “perfect” way is how it *has* to be in order to be in shape.

      I think when you notice you’re becoming *that* crazy chick when you’re on your diet, it’s a bad sign 😉

  3. Tracey 5 years ago

    No offense, but sort of relived that your not perfect:) It seemed to me like you were in a really good place prior to your new diet plan, was wondering why you decided to start following someone else’s rules. I have made a vow to myself that I’ll never follow someone else’s rules on how I should eat or when. This e-book really helped me: http://www.anythinggoesdiet.com/
    You might also really like this forum: http://happyeaters.net/forums/
    I really do appreciate your honestly, so refreshing! Sending you nothing but good vibes:)

    • Sohee 5 years ago

      Thanks, Tracey! And no – I’m far, far from perfect. :o)

      • Tracey 5 years ago

        🙂

  4. Jennifer 5 years ago

    Powerful piece Sohee, and very resonate for anyone who lives with carefully caged up inner demons, be them Ani and Mia, or (in my case) anxiety and depression. I’ve been lifting heavy for the past half year, and I’m still trying to absorb as much information as possible about this wonderful world of strong-minded, strong-bodied, bad-ass women who aren’t afraid to be a little unconventional. And, you’re awesome. I also graduated in 2012 with a degree in Human Biology from a California university, and I’m also an Asian 5 foot 2 young lady. It’s so refreshing to see an example of a woman my age who has been lifting heavy for years and who isn’t looking for exclusively aesthetic gains. Finding your blog has made this journey a lot easier for me; in fact just knowing that there’s someone kind of like me out there, moving weights, eating for performance, and following their dreams makes this whole thing easier. And by “this whole thing” I don’t just mean fitness, I also mean this sometimes terrible, sometimes exhilarating, usually confused post-graduate time. I’m getting off topic. What I mean to say is that you should definitely never stop fitness writing. You have such a unique gift for incorporating life, hope, reality and inspiration into your articles. They’re so honest about struggles, but that also makes them honest about triumphs and hard-earned self-acceptance. That’s what fitness writing is missing. Perfection makes us feel inadequate and discouraged, struggles make us feel human and hopeful. And I love that you write about your life too, because fitness is a lifestyle. Keep up the great work!

    • Sohee 5 years ago

      Oh yeah, tell me about post-graduate life and how much it makes me want to go back to school because in retrospect, being in college is SO much easier than the real world. Ha! (Seriously, I miss the days of problem sets and midterms.)

      Really, really appreciate the kind words, Jennifer. We’re only human, and if I can portray that one fact through my writing – that we’re all fallible, that it’s okay to mess up, that we can forgive ourselves – then I’m doing my job right.

  5. Matthew 5 years ago

    I have suffered in similar ways with EDs and strength training is one of my saviours. You can’t gain strength if you force yourself into a massive calorie deficit.

    I’d also like to say to the commentor, Claire, that if you believe that food is only for fuel and not for happiness then you have your own food related issues and should perhaps write about them on your own website rather than here.

  6. Sam 5 years ago

    Thank you for writing this, Sohee. It takes a lot of guts to open up about an eating disorder. I recently went through the same thing – I tried to diet and instead found myself checking my food tracker 10 times a day and bursting into tears over pictures that made me look “fat.” But my theory is: if I beat it before, I can do it again. And I’m sure you can too.

  7. BBF 5 years ago

    Thank you SO VERY MUCH Sohee. I have experienced this very same thing and continue almost constantly, and to have someone be so brave about it helps me and I’m sure so very very many other people also. All best wishes and thanks to you.

    • Sohee 5 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback! You’re not in this alone 🙂

  8. Jamie 5 years ago

    Hey there! I liked this article — a lot! I had a similar experience bouncing from diet to diet over the past couple of years, and finally took the “choice” out of my hands by hiring an online coach.

    At first I liked the black and white-ness of the rules…..until I didn’t. They drove me crazy; I resented them. So thank you for putting this out there and making me feel less like a “failure” one someone elses plan.

    That being said, I’ve got a question for you. Do you feel additional pressure by being a public figure in the fitness industry? I’m a personal trainer myself, and I think my strongest assets are in coaching and supporting individuals towards their goals. And yet….I put the most pressure on myself because I KNOW what I should be doing, and I know that others are looking to me to set an example. Any chance I’m not alone here? 🙂

    Love your work, keep it up!!

    • Sohee 5 years ago

      Hi Jamie, appreciate your thoughts!

      Re: pressure in the fitness industry, that’s a very interesting question and something I’ve thought about before. I think we trainers find ourselves in a tough situation because it’s incredibly difficult to be objective when it comes to our own fitness journeys – and yet we are expected to hold the standard and be the epitome of health. But when it comes down to it, this is what I love to do and this is my #1 passion, so whether or not I had a career in the fitness industry, I’d still be eating and training the same way I am now.

      But oh yes, the pressure is there, no doubt.

  9. Michelle 5 years ago

    Oh, Sohee!! I *was* wondering what had happened with the 60 day diet. I am so glad you were able to recognize the onset of unhealthy behaviors and get yourself off of the diet. Thank you for opening up so honestly like this. And I love that you know how to indulge in the little things. Like someone else wrote above–don’t ever stop writing about fitness! You are the perfect person to be doing this job.

  10. Senia 5 years ago

    Makes perfect sense to me:)

  11. Clement 5 years ago

    Hi Sohee, I’m a guy who has successfully overcome bulimia after 2 years and I completely relate to what you’ve described. At first, I took the wrong approach to overcoming it, writing countless “perfect” diets with structure, balance and reduced calories. The latter, especially, contributed to my endless plunging down the same old path.

    However, after I relaxed, took the reins off control and allowed myself to have anything I wanted, I regained control over my eating habits. Of course, I was sitting for a major exam as well, so I took a whole 2 months off training to study, eat and sleep. Oh, and I also interacted with friends more during group study sessions. Yes, I did get pudgy, but after 2 years of training and IIFYM eating, I’ve gotten back my leanness and vitality.

    I don’t ever feel any negative relationship with food any more. I guess it’s because I went on a lean bulking cycle and strength gaining phase (starting strength and the Texas method for 4 months) before any thinking of any fat loss. In fact, I’m not thinking of it at this point, as I’ve established that at 1.7m tall and 66kg, I am skinny. Very skinny.

    I guess I’m trying to say that it is possible to completely dissociate yourself from your disorder. I feel that a strength phase is a great idea, based on my own experiences. Also, you should try meditation. A good friend of yours, JC Deen, has nothing but praise for it. I’m starting on it, myself. But keep fighting the good fight and remember: sometimes you make mistakes not because you’re doing something wrong, but because you’re doing something right.

    By the way, you are an inspiration as a personal trainer. I’ve also just started in the fitness industry and it’s been a pleasure to learn from and read the works of badasses like yourself.

  12. lorah 5 years ago

    Wow so glad someone has posted something like this.
    So honest and truthful about how it really is… (I also suffered with bulimia for around 10 years and some days are a real struggle).
    More people should be honest and out there that every meal doesn’t have to be chicken and broccoli! 😛 🙂 x

  13. Karisa 5 years ago

    I’m new to your site, but so glad I found this. The disappointment and frustration that I’ve had these last several months due to my ED relapse has mind f***ed me quite a bit. It took years to recover and finally find my happy place with food and my body, where I finally stopped fearing food. I know that I will break my viscous cycle once again, and as you said, do what is necessary to be kind to my body. Perhaps hitting the gym like old times will be a good start.

    Thank you for pouring your highs and lows out so publicly for people like me to read. You’ve given me hope.

  14. Catherine 5 years ago

    Amazing piece. I’ve struggled with binge eating for so long that it sometimes seems like there’s no other way to live, but the gym really helps. I think you’re inspirational, so I’ve shared it with my friend who is recovering from anorexia.

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