About a year ago, I agreed to share my story about my struggle with weight with the publication ‘Today’s Dietitian.’ I hesitated at first–the opportunity shared with me by a good friend and colleague who felt that my story was one worth sharing. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the whole world to know about what I went through – especially my peers and professional friends. But, I opted to do it and found the process almost therapeutic for me. By recalling a time in my life that I struggled, it helped me know that I have the ability to get through it and I am who I am today because of it. I enjoy food today and have a much better body image. I also understand and relate to the struggles that women in our society face on a daily basis.
This week marks National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week. The theme this year for NEDAwareness is “Everybody Knows Somebody.” Whether you think you have a problem or know someone who does, you aren’t alone. Check out some of the resources I’ve listed at the end of this post for more information on how you can get help for yourself or someone you love.
Here is the excerpt from the piece written in the article ‘A Blessing in Disguise‘ from the December 2010 issue of Today’s Dietitian:
Balance Is Key
Allison Parker, MS, RD, has a more multifaceted relationship with weight, and her current counseling style has been molded by both overweight and underweight experiences from her past.
“My first recollection that I was heavier than my peers was in third-grade gym class. I’m pretty sure they don’t do this anymore, but they weighed us in front of the entire class, calling out each person’s weight and writing it down. I detested gym class. When it was my turn, I found out that I was the heaviest girl in the class. To this day, I hate getting weighed in public, even though I’m now at a healthy weight for my height and quite secure with my self-image,” she explains.
Partly because of a doctor’s recommendation that exercise would help an injury heal faster, Parker decided to get involved with team sports early in high school and dropped to a healthy weight, becoming a star player on her school’s field hockey team.
Yet a healthy weight did not make for a healthy relationship with weight just yet. “Realizing that physical activity was the key ingredient to weight loss, along with a diet that was low in fat and high in fiber, and feeling the pressure of graduating [high school], getting a scholarship for field hockey, and the impending separation from everything that was familiar, I started to work out more and eat less since it was something I could control,” she says, which started an unhealthy trend toward underweight.
Parker says by the time she got to college, looking at herself in the mirror every day was a struggle. With the myriad stressors of college life piling on, she became obsessed with the one thing she could control: “what and when I ate and how much I worked out.” In addition to two daily workouts for field hockey, she would add in an extra cardio workout and found her eating occasions to be more erratic and less frequent.
“By the end of my freshman year, I was 95 lbs, appeared wasted, had heart palpitations, was constantly cold and exhausted, and dealing with lanugo. For me, the worst thing was being told I could not return to the field hockey team until I was in better shape because in my mind I didn’t have a problem,” she says.
After returning home to friends and family shocked by the sight of her skeletonlike frame, Parker somehow had the sense to snap herself back into more healthful ways of eating.
“I made a promise to myself that I would learn how to have a normal relationship with food. It took a while, but I did overcome it. With the help of a dietitian, a school counselor, and a nurse practitioner, I gained weight and by senior year of college was much happier and healthier,” she explains.
What did she learn from experiences that left her scale tilting too far in two different, but both unhealthful, directions? “I’m happy to say that today, I’m very comfortable with who I am. I love food and running and have found a healthy balance of both. … I can easily relate to both sides of the spectrum—from struggling with being overweight to struggling with being underweight. I know what it’s like to constantly be thinking about food and counting calories or wondering when you might get some free time so you can go work off that bagel you just ate,” she says. It’s all about balance, she says, a healthy balance that’s unique to each individual but that exists for everyone.