Disordered Eating and Weight on the Trail
By January 2018 I was happy with my weight. The happiest I’ve yet been. Happier even than when I’d been lighter. That number on the scale is practically meaningless; the social and emotional baggage is what really weighs me down. Disordered eating is more mental health than physical health.
It took a lot of work to untie my self-worth from arbitrary numbers and morphing body image.
Then I Left for Trail
“Oh wow, you’re going to be so skinny when you finish!” said a friend. Several times. Even after I asked her to stop. Even after I explained that I’d once teetered on the edge of disordered eating disaster and that her comments threatened to push me back toward that.
Why I’m Writing
Friends and loved ones don’t even understand how they wound me, how their comments threaten to re-trigger my disordered eating. How can I expect to explain it to the internet?
Maybe I won’t.
Maybe I’ll just explain it to myself.
By the end of 2018 I was not the svelte, skinny thing my friend seemed to expect. In fact I’d gained about 50 pounds.
I gained five pounds of muscle in the first 400 miles of my hike, but then I sprained my ankle nearly 600 miles later. As an interrupted hike slowly revealed itself to be a completely ended one, my hiker hunger betrayed me.
Thinking I’d be back on trail in four days, a week, two weeks, I took advantage of the readily available food and ate to my heart’s content. I figured it couldn’t hurt since I’d be back on trail soon. In fact I figured it’d help when I got back on trail; if I pulled my body out of starvation mode I’d have more energy to burn on my hike.
But I never got back on trail. And as that became my clear trajectory I fell into a depressive slump. Eating for the hike turned into eating to self-soothe. I foolishly re-exposed myself to a family member who’d been teaching me those habits all my life.
Binge eating had always existed in my household, and I’m not proud of it, but I learned it too. I was terrified of gaining the kind of weight I saw carried around, so often when I found myself binging I followed it up with some purging.
I was ashamed of the binging and ashamed of the purging, and didn’t think any of it counted as a real eating disorder because after all, I didn’t even lose any weight. I was ashamed of my shortcomings and wished I had the willpower to just starve myself.
I’d be “good” for a week or two, sticking to my glass of milk for breakfast, glass of milk and an orange for lunch, and chicken broth for dinner. But then I got sad about something at school or stressed about something at home and shoved a bunch of chocolate in my face.
The Ongoing Dangers of Disordered Eating
Even writing about this is dangerous because I feel the same shame coming upon me, and with it the all-too-familiar nausea. I’ve long since moved past the need to stick anything down my throat to trigger a gag reflex.
The emotions and self-destructive urges are more useful than any mere physiological responses ever were. The nausea is all in my head, until everything from my stomach ends up in the toilet bowl.
It’s now January 24, 2020, and I weigh more than I ever have. The weight did balance out by the end of 2018 and has remained stable, but I haven’t gotten back to where I was pre-trail. I tried to diet, wanted to return to the weight I was last time I hit the trail, but it was too triggering. I’m healthier like this than I would be in a diet gone wrong.
Better to hit the trail with a few extra nutrients to burn than not enough.
This Isn’t Failure
I have to remind myself of that constantly. My brain knows that my weight doesn’t disqualify me for hiking, knows that I consistently outpace many of my thinner friends on day hikes.
But there’s still some voice in the back of my head telling me that I won’t be as good of a hiker this year because of the weight. And there’s a fear of what others will say either to my face or behind my back.
Because there’s a greater societal narrative that fat people can’t also be fit. Society tells me that because I’m fat I can’t do sports. Hell, I’m right on the edge right now where athletic wear is starting to become hard to find.
The whole thing about disordered eating is that I’ve internalized all these fat-phobic societal narratives. I wish I could write a piece here that was more body positive, but I’m not yet in a headspace where that’s possible. All I can do is share my own deeply personal experience with weight and disordered eating.
Will I be thinner if/when I make it to Canada?
I mean, yeah, almost certainly. But is that why I’m hiking?
Hell Fucking No.
Weight Loss Hiker
I am NOT a “weight loss hiker.” I’m just a hiker like any other. I’m just as prepared as anyone else. In fact, more prepared than I was two years ago when I looked more like an average hiker.
Why I Write
I write this to process my feelings and to reassure myself that the fat-phobic narratives I’d bought into once upon a time are wrong. I write this to remind myself that it’s OK to weigh what I weigh and to remind myself that starving myself is the opposite of helpful as I prepare to walk to Canada again.
But most importantly, I write this to entreat you to not be like that friend from 2018. Do not comment on my weight now, the weight you imagine I might lose, or the weight that I am in the end. Do not focus on my weight. Don’t give my eating disorder license to focus on my weight again.
My health is nobody’s responsibility but my own. I simply entreat you not to do something that might push me down a dark rabbit hole again.
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