We’ve all been there — looking in the mirror, at our thighs, hips, stomach, arms, and just wishing they were all just a bit thinner. Call it society, media, or whatever you want, but the pressure to look and feel skinny is real, and is felt by everyone. So much that we start to take some drastic measures.
I was in my sophomore year in high school when I started working out and eating healthy regularly. This new life change happened due to many factors, some healthy, and some not-so-healthy (i.e. looking good in my Sweet Sixteen dress). But as I discovered new workouts and nutrient-dense foods, I also discovered a new tool that could help me achieve my ideal body — MyFitnessPal, a calorie counting app.
It started out fairly harmless… I allowed myself 1400 calories a day (keep in mind, I’m 5’3″), and I usually even went over that amount because that was what my body was used to. But once I started to find new foods that were low in calorie and still made me feel full — greek yogurt, cottage cheese, water-based veggies like cucumbers — I saw that hitting that 1400-calorie-a-day mark, and even going below it, was not too hard after all.
So then it started. I lowered my calorie limit to 1200, which was way too low for my height and activity level (I was also working out much more — everyday for at least an hour). What made it worse was I rarely ate all 1200 calories. In fact, I hoped to end the day with calories left over — it made me feel good about myself, made me feel in control.
Each day, counting my calories started to become a game — how low could I go today? I found ways to eat the lowest calories possible, and with that, started to cut out foods that were essential to my overall health. No added oils, nuts, seeds, dressings – even if they were healthy, they added extra calories.
It became a huge stress — I needed to know exactly what was in my food so I could count its calories. I didn’t like to eat food out because I couldn’t count those calories — how was I supposed to know if they used oil? How much oil did they use? One tablespoon, two, three? These were the types of questions I anxiously worried over, every single day.
It came to the point where I was eating less than 1000 calories a day, which is considered starving. If I “lapsed” — say, ate 1050 calories — I felt extremely guilty and was sure to cut more calories from my diet the next day to make up for it. Counting my calories became a way for me to maintain control, and if I didn’t do it properly, I thought I was losing control.
My mind wasn’t the only thing that suffered; my body was shrinking fast. I was already pretty thin before I started to count my calories, so I only got smaller and smaller. I had lost a total of ten pounds, and my BMI was 17, 1.5 points below recommended, putting me at a high health risk.
I became too thin — at a pool party, my best friend pointed to a visible bone popping out of my chest, one that never used to be there. When she asked me about it, I didn’t know what to say. I never really noticed how unhealthy I was until that point.
Luckily I had a good support system to help me get back on track. My mom was the biggest help in this – she had sat me down and told me that she and my family were concerned by my new weight loss, and told me that it was time to become truly healthy, not just marked by the calories I ate in that day.
I decided to delete MyFitnessPal from my phone entirely, which gave me a sigh of relief. No more counting, no more stress, no more restriction. Slowly but surely, I started to learn how to eat wholesome foods, regardless of the calories. I learned that not all calories are created equal – 200 calories of almond butter is processed much differently than 200 calories of processed foods.
That is why I will never count my calories again; instead, I focus on eating healthy whenever possible, working out regularly, and allowing myself to indulge every once in a while. And I’ve never been healthier or happier.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, there are many resources available. Here are some great ones: