Note: Arielle is the social media intern for Fit Snack. Below, she shares her fitness journey and the dangers of exercising without proper nutrition.
All I wanted was to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. I yearned for the long, lean legs and abs you could shred cheese on. Like most 20 year old college girls, I had neither, so I began a diet and exercise regime that was so dangerous I’m lucky to be here today.
My first step was to cut out all unnecessary calories. I grew up eating a mostly vegetarian diet, so I was never anything near overweight and had a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t think twice about sipping the occasional Frappucino during my 9am classes. When I decided to get serious about getting fit though, I followed a rigorous self imposed meal plan. For breakfast, I’d have an exactly portioned bowl of cereal with skim milk and 6 ounces of low-calorie orange juice. Lunch and dinner were also strictly portioned out, and I made sure that everything was not only healthy but as low calorie as possible.
The models I envied were often photographed working out, so I made it a goal to do some activity daily. Because that’s perfectly healthy and normal, right? I started running every day, and after a few weeks I was able to run six miles non-stop. Since it was often too cold to run outside, I would do laps around the small indoor track. It took 48 laps to do six miles, and I did that five times a week.I would follow up my runs with 90 minutes of weight lifting and mat exercises.
Still striving for the Victoria’s Secret body, I did every inner-thigh and ab workout the internet offered. On the weekend, I would go for one long run of eight plus miles, and had one “rest” day where I walked at least four miles. I was eating “healthy” meals, and exercising for 2+ hours a day. Fat was melting away! Little ab muscles started to poke through! I was finally fit! Or so I thought.
The exhaustion is what scared me first. After three months of my new lifestyle, I could barely stay awake past 8pm. I was constantly drinking coffee, but it made no difference. The only motivation I had was to get my workouts done, then collapse. Even though I lived with three roommates, my social life took a nose dive. I was too exhausted to go out at night, and was scared of all the calories in beer and liquor. So I stayed in my room, looking up low cal recipes and workouts till I fell asleep. Sure, I liked the way my body was starting to look but this was not the fun college experience I had in mind. I knew I needed help.
My first meeting with a nutritionist was a huge wake up call. She looked through the food log I’d kept and was appalled. My “healthy diet,” she said, was something she would prescribe for an obese person, not an extremely active young woman trying to get toned. She calculated how many calories I needed for my body to sustain itself at my activity level, and my jaw dropped. I should have been eating 3,000 calories a day just to function properly, and even more if I wanted to build muscle. My body was going into starvation mode, hanging on to every calorie to prevent further weight loss. This explained the horrible stomach aches and constant bloating I had started experiencing. My body was eating itself.
She diagnosed me with orthoexia, an eating disorder characterize by an obsession with “healthy” foods and extreme limitation in food choices. I was constantly exhausted because my blood pressure was so low (I never added salt to my food because salt=bad), that the nurse was surprised that I hadn’t fainted yet. Due to my inability to miss a workout and tendency to skip social functions to go to the gym, I was diagnosed with excessive exercise disorder as well. My body had already started exhibiting some crazy scary symptoms and I finally realized there was only one way out: proper nutrition.
With my nutritionist’s help, we created a meal plan that still fit my parameters of “healthy.” Changes were small at first, since my stomach could not handle large meals without a ton of pain. I added a few spoonfuls of flax seed to my cereal for essential fatty acids, stopped measuring the peanut butter on my toast, and ordered large whole milk lattes instead of black coffee. I cut back on my weekly running mileage and started going to yoga classes instead of forcing myself to do crunches for an hour. My mind was still twisted, though, and I would often go for an extra long run to make up for a “bad” meal like a burrito. Progress was slow and I mentally relapsed many times. My lowest point was when my dad visited for my birthday and surprised me with a giant cinnamon roll. Despite it being my favorite treat, I was so angry that he ordered something so full of sugar that I couldn’t even force down a bite.
It took a full year before my appetite and energy levels were back to normal, and I gradually began re-building muscle. Surprisingly enough, my clothes still fit as I gained back the weight. I learned how to fuel my body with the calories it needs to run and hike and lift heavy weights. Now I can eat half a large pizza without feeling guilty. I know some girls are not so lucky, that they starve themselves to a point where hospitalization is required. With help from a nutritionist and the support of my family, I avoided that fate and am stronger than ever. I may not look like a Victoria’s Secret model, but I am happy, and finally, truly healthy.