I suffered from eating disorders for a really long time. In high school, I was a cheerleading captain and the homecoming queen. I was the stereotype of confidence and likability. And I hated everything about myself. There were nights that I would eat half of the pantry, throw up for an hour, then cry myself to sleep and fake sick the next day so I didn’t have to go to school because I was so ashamed of myself, my body, my life.
I finally got help, went to therapy and haven't engaged in that behavior in almost ten years. But the mental damage--the deep, tender wounds that are inevitably left after that kind of self-inflicted hate and pain--are still healing. Now, I’m an amateur kickboxer; I’ve found a sport that helps me reclaim my strength, take control and challenge myself daily. And even though those years of self-hate, binging, purging and hiding seem like a different lifetime, I’m at a tremendously difficult point in my athletic career that's stirring up all those old feelings of self-doubt and shame: cutting weight.
If you’ve ever seen a boxing movie or flipped through ESPN to see an MMA fight on, you see these ridiculously cut men and women. The truth is that fighters can try and lose as much as 15lbs of weight in a week to make a weight class; and yes, it’s just as unhealthy as it sounds when done in such extremes.
My fight is 4 weeks away and I have 10lbs to lose still. That's at the top end of a healthy weight loss goal, but here’s the thing: you aren’t just trying to lose weight, you’re cutting fat and retaining as much muscle as possible while still training at a high intensity. It’s an exhausting but very real part of the sport.
So how am I, a former bulimic, supposed to handle this? To be honest, it’s terrifying. My whole world revolves around food. If I’m not eating, I’m thinking about eating, and if I’m not thinking about eating, I’m probably just asleep or training. It’s not healthy but it’s also necessary for me to reach my bigger goals as an athlete. Binging and purging never cross my mind, but the mental distress is like the monster under the bed, patiently waiting for something to snatch to pull me down with.
I don't share this to get sympathy or make anyone worry; I'm confident I'll make my weight without reverting back to old ways or having to chop off a limb. I share this because it begs the question: how will you prevent fear from ruining your goals?
We're all afraid of something. Fear is a very real part of this process for me right now; fear of looking differently than I do now, fear of not getting enough key nutrients, fear of sustaining an injury, fear of people judging me, fear of judging myself, fear of not making weight. I'm very afraid of a lot of things. Fear will utterly immobilize you if you let it. I had to ask myself, "Is this weight cut worth me being so afraid of all these things?" And by saying, "Yes", I've learned two incredibly important things:
- You're defined by your choices right now, in the present, not the past.
- Fear only has power when you hide it.
I can choose every day to make healthy choices, mentally and physically, to make my weight. As corny as it sounds, I have alarms on my phone set as reminders to encourage myself, because that's what I need to calm down and feel less afraid. And by talking about it, by writing about it, I take away fear's power. Sometimes just acknowledging that you're scared can make you feel brave. And I hope that when your fear comes to life, pushes you down, and stands in the way of your next big step, you're able to make choices that make you feel brave too.
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