Are You Gonna Finish That?

When I was a little boy, I was skinny. Oh, were those the days. To be like every little kid out there, having absolutely no worries about my body or what I looked like. Those first 8 years I’ll treasure forever. Unfortunately, 8 year old me was NOT a planner, because right around third grade, I started to get big. And I mean BIG. I would come home every day and gorge on waffles and popsicles. I didn’t have really any friends, so all I had to look forward to was coming home, playing video games, and eating. And I loved to eat. I started to feel self conscious about more than just my personality. I started gaining weight. My parents encouraged me to get out of the house more, and signed me up for sports, but there was only so much they could do. I did not enjoy exercise, and walking was the bane of my existence. I liked what I liked, which was to sit and to eat.

I think around middle school was the first time I decided I really wanted to do something about my weight. I was going to get in shape, to be healthy. I was going to ride my bike that summer, and eat better, and not sit around all day. Summers would come and go, and every year I would tell myself that this would be the year I would change. And each year I would stay the same- except I kept getting bigger.

In high school I became more independent, and when I got my license I was able to go to the rec center on my own. I would go occasionally, telling myself that having an off- block during the school year would give me no choice but to spend it working out and getting in shape. Invariably, I would spend my off block at the nearby Panera, eating mac and cheese and shortbread cookies.

When I found alcohol, it made it that much harder to try and exercise. I instantly doubled the amount of calories I was having, and was much too hungover to seriously stick to any exercise program. When I drank, I ate. I would go to the liquor store, buy a bottle of vodka, then go to the grocery store, where I’d buy all of my favorite foods. Then I would go home, and I would binge. I would put everything I could into my body in an attempt to feel good. And every night, I would feel lower than I had the night before. I would eat, and I would drink, and I would hate my body. Rinse and repeat.

When I finally got sober, I felt ready for a change. After three months of sobriety, I decided to try diet and exercise again. I started by writing down everything I ate, and using the elliptical 30 minutes a day. I ended up losing 30 pounds in a month. My body had apparently just been waiting for me to exercise, and immediately shed 1/8th of my body weight. I looked in the mirror, and I was on track to where I wanted to be. But I wasn’t there yet. When I moved out to Los Angeles, I was 40 pounds slimmer, and so proud of myself. But I knew I wanted to look better. So I kept working out, and I kept dieting. I met a man who knew a hell of a lot more than I did about fitness and nutrition, and I followed his advice to the letter. Having a gym buddy and a friend to hold me accountable led me to lose an additional 35 pounds, and to grow a ton of muscle. I looked in the mirror, and I finally felt like I liked what I saw.

But food was still there, in the back of my mind. For all of my discipline, all of my weighing out foods and counting calories and macros, I would still go off the rails from time to time. The more fat I lost, the more self control I lost. When I was at my skinniest, I was 156.6 pounds and 10.4% body fat. And I was absolutely obsessed with food. I was constantly checking the My Fitness Pal app, trying to fit in my favorite cheat foods and still stick to my numbers. I would spend hours a day going over what I was going to eat, and when I was going to eat it, and what I’d get to eat tomorrow, and what my weight was. Food was always on my brain. At work all I thought was, “What am I going to eat on my first break, and how long before I get to eat on my second break, and am I going to be too hungry to go the rest of the shift without something to eat?”. Going out to eat I obsessed over, “What will I order, and how much bread can I have, and when can I take a second slice, and will they judge me, and can I finish their dessert without looking like a pig, and why did I eat so much, and why am I still eating now even when my stomach hurts?”

I broke down. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Quitting alcohol was easy- I just didn’t drink. But I had to eat. Eating is everywhere. It’s a part of life. It’s not something I can abstain from. And I felt so much shame. I was ashamed at my lack of control, and ashamed to tell my friends  when I fell off the wagon and how I was feeling. It was the same way I felt when I drank. It was my secret, and I had to keep it.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “I recognize this. I know this feeling exactly. What did I do about this?” I talked to someone about it. I was honest. I told the truth. I didn’t judge myself. I was accountable. So I reached out. I talked to people, and I asked for advice. My friends were more than willing to help, and to offer their support. And I began to feel better. I changed the way I dealt with food. I no longer obsessed about it, but I made a decision in the moment, and didn’t plan it days in advance. I tried to stick to my numbers, but didn’t castigate myself if I went over. I stayed away from foods and sugar that would make me feel hungrier, and I made healthy and more expensive choices. But that was okay. It’s okay to spend money on being healthy. Because what else am I saving my money for?

This week has been a good week. I’ve been eating healthy, I haven’t felt like binging, but I know what to do if I do get those feelings. And I know that, at the end of the day, as long as I don’t drink, I’m doing okay. And that’s enough for me today.

-Theodore Dandy