Since I have once again entered the zone of the sugar-free diet, I feel it is the right time to be candid about the serious and non-serious issue of food. I’ve never been the type of person to be interested in obtaining a slick set of abs, nor was I ever really concerned about what my body looked like. I remember thinking in my young age that I would never strive to be a pro-athlete because of the crazy amounts of push-ups they would have to do. I also recall hearing one of the male gymnasts in the Beijing Olympics discuss “not touching dessert for three years” and being horrified at the notion.
Upon assimilating myself into the world of competitive jiu jitsu, I soon began to feel cheated by the rules and regulations of the sport. Persons are divided into weight categories, and somehow, even at the ripe age of twelve, I was always forced into enduring this ritual of weight loss for the sake of admittance into a tournament. I often lamented to whoever would listen that jiu jitsu people and wrestlers had it the worst; I had never seen basketball team members restrict calories and get locked in the sauna to lose that last pound of water weight.
This process escalated the buildup of resentment I had towards anything related to weight or food restriction. My teenage diets would fluctuate from salads and oatmeal as my only meals to overindulgence in chocolate, cereal, pasta, basically anything around the house I could get my hands on. The restrictions formed a fallacy of sorts in my mind: when I wasn’t forced to eat tiny portions of bland, “healthy” foods, I was going to cram my face with whatever savory, or sugary treats I could find, just in case the next dieting period was right around the corner.
I can’t even adequately express how damaging this thought process was and still is. The entire school day I would be consumed with thoughts about what my next meal was going to be, and how I could supersize it. That I would have popcorn fried chicken or pizza for lunch, and I’d better add in a giant cup of ice cream or I’d feel as though I did not utilize my non-diet days properly. My weight fluctuations would reach an extreme; by the time I got to sixteen I was up to losing thirty pounds of weight for Europeans, just to make it into the same weight class as my previous tournament.
It was incredibly disheartening and awful. I remember staring into the mirror and seeing a line down my belly I had never been before. Some people, especially family members, praised me on the weight loss and told me I was “beautifully skinny.” This was all praise for a teenager eating one meal a day that was either an omelette or a plate of vegetables and a little chicken. I almost passed out during training on four accounts. When I got to Europeans, I won my matches by the skin of my teeth. I couldn’t even pass standing up because my legs were giving out from underneath me. I couldn’t breathe, I was seeing spots, and after I won, I was criticized for having the poor performance of a lifetime.
When I got back to the gym the next week, I had already gained back most of the weight I lost. A friend of mine congratulated me on the win and told me I looked better and happier. When I pushed him to explain he said “You looked skeletal before. Like the life was drained out of you.” I looked in the mirror that day and saw no stomach line present and couldn’t help but smile. That same day I signed up for my next tournament at a higher weight class.
I had no idea how to diet in my young age, and the only positive feedback I recieved about my eating habits were the remarks of others and the number on the scale I checked religiously. When the numbers wouldn’t shift for weeks at a time, desperation would take over: I would decrease my calories and increase my training. Somedays I was ingesting as little as 700 calories and training for three hours. Instead of consulting true nutrition advice, or experienced and healthy weight-cutters, I let superficiality guide me in the wrong direction.
I wish now that I had learned to listen to my body rather than opinion. Yet without these experiences I never would have learned to be okay with moving up a weight class, and I never would have learned to confront and change unhealthy eating patterns. I still struggle with this cycle of bingeing and extreme restriction, and sometimes it feels like I may never get to an eating equilibrium but I hope by opening up about my issues with food, I can work towards positive change.