By Samantha Lego
Being in great shape was one of the worst things to ever happen to me.
Hold on. Wait. Did she just say that?
How – with “strong is the new skinny” and “love your body, love your life” mantras bombarding us from all corners of the social media sphere – dare this slender white girl sit here and tell us that being in shape was so terrible for her?
The answer is complicated and obviously not going to resonate with everyone, but it’s sent me on a roller coaster of self-worth struggles and left me with the most negative relationship I’ve ever had with food. And I love food.
In the six months leading up to my departure from Vancouver to Australia, I was feeling fulfilled and enriched. I was in my final semester of university, doing fairly well with my writing, seeing a guy I was really into and had visible abs. Life was shining.
I went to the gym four days a week and did yoga almost every day. I was healthy, happy and basking in the glow of being told I had a body people would envy.
Kayla Itsines was my religion and her Instagram page – and others like it – dominated my feed.
“Look at those girls. They work so hard and are reaping their rewards.”
I was well on my way to being one.
That’s where the issues started, when my health and fitness crossed that line into the darker side of the Fitspo obsession.
Short for “fit inspiration,” Fitspo is a social media movement promoting a healthy lifestyle. For many, it provides the right amount of determination to kick-start an active routine.
It is criticized by many as the masked twin of Thinspo, or Thinspiration – dedicated to promoting thin bodies and upholding disordered eating tendencies.
I was never that girl who counted calories or really thought about portion sizes when it came to food – and I still don’t, really. But I knew I started to develop a problem when eating the foods I loved, like bagels and ice cream, would send me into fits of guilty anxiety. It only escalated from there.
The more I was seeing results at the gym, the more issues with food I developed.
In a space of six months, I used to go from eating six cookies guilt-free, to looking at cookies and feeling guilty, to eating two cookies and making myself throw them up.
But I rationalized it. It was only when I overate junk food and needed to make sure I didn’t lose what I had been working so hard towards. In my mind, I knew it wasn’t right, but it could be worse.
I was obsessed.
Then I moved to Australia and started travelling around this beautiful, vitamin-D infused country. My diet consisted of beer, white bread and drunk kebabs. And I was happy. I would gladly eat as many cookies as I could get my hands on.
But one month travelling turned into four and I noticed what once was taught and toned was now loose and jiggling.
With that decline came a crashing down of my perfectly constructed world where the more fit I was, the happier I was.
Suddenly I was obsessing, scrolling through all those “inspirational” transformations and comparing and criticizing myself. I would obsess over my own transformation pictures, poking and sucking in as I stared harshly into the mirror.
The fallout from being in such great shape to realizing I’m not, has left me with crippling confidence and self-esteem issues.
And holding myself to a certain standard because I’ve reached it before has almost made it more unattainable.
Things that never used to bother me, I’m now fixated on and ashamed of. Mostly, I feel guilty when I don’t workout.
If I’m exhausted or drained after a long day at work and don’t work out, I’ve failed. When I binge eat junk food, I’ve failed. When I throw up that junk food, I’ve failed.
All those posts on Instagram telling me not to quit, all those pictures of fruit salads and gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose free meals, make me feel like I’ve failed.
I hate failing.
What makes it worse is having my body issues trivialized as I’ve already been categorized by society.
“Shut up, you’re so thin. Stop digging for compliments.”
It forces me to second guess everything I’m dealing with when people scoff at my current body issues or tell me that if I only worked a little harder, I’d feel better.
Or that I’ll be fine if I add in a couple extra crunches during my day.
I don’t want to feel like my self-worth is measured by how sleek my inner thighs are. I know I am not fat or out of shape. I know I could get back to where I was fitness-wise in a couple months if I worked at it.
I’m just afraid if I do, this obsessive side to my personality I’ve discovered will come out and turn me into a person I’m not proud of.
Loving yourself has always been a difficult journey, but I feel like it’s been compounded by the negative sides of campaigns like Fitspo. There’s a lot of good to be had from working out and eating healthy, but how do you know when you’re pushing it too far?
Learning to accept all of me is a slow process, and one that I continue to struggle with as I try to realign my ideals and develop a healthier relationship with food and exercise.
Hopefully in the future, I’ll be comfortable enough with myself to go for run, have my cake and eat it, too.
Samantha Lego is a Canadian currently avoiding reality in Australia. Her favourite things include cold aloe (for sun burns) and Tim Tams. She has career aspirations of following the Thunder Down Under national tour and is on the lookout for a Santa Claus-themed Christmas bikini. If you need her, she’ll probably be at the beach.