From 6-18 years old, I loved ballet. My dream was to be a professional ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet. I spent hours at the dance studio practicing and performed in many recitals. When I got to be around 14-15 years old, I started to gain weight. I was going through puberty and it was totally normal. I was still “athletic” but I was bigger than the other girls in my ballet class. I became obsessed with being thin. I had pictures on my walls of famous, skinny ballerinas as motivation. I existed on a diet of power bars, 1/2 sandwiches, cottage cheese, and popcorn. At my smallest, I shrunk down to 108 lbs. I loved when people told me I looked skinny. That year, while at my summer dance intensive, I was told by one of my teachers that I should consider a company like Boston Ballet who was known for having more athletic, curvy dancers. I was crushed. I had worked so hard and I still wasn’t small enough.
I remember the first time I binged. It was that same summer and a girl on my hall invited me and my roommate over to hang out. She had a big bowl of Skittles in her room. I ate them uncontrollably, all the while tallying up how many hours I would have to dance to burn them off. After that, bingeing became a regular, shameful occurrence. I would eat sweets with this frenzy that I felt I had no control of. I hid this from my parents and friends. In front of them I ate small meals. My body, not sure when food would be coming next, held onto weight. I gained about 25 lbs over the next few years. Some of that I should have gained. But my relationship with food and my body felt ruined. I would binge, feel guilty, starve myself and work out like crazy, and then start the process all over again.
Eventually, my parents decided that being at my dance school in North Carolina was no longer an option. They could see that I was no longer happy and didn’t enjoy ballet any more. I moved back home and started going to some local yoga classes. What I saw in the room was amazing to me. There were students of all ages and body shapes. There was no “yoga body” in my opinion. I saw that everyone was welcomed and no teacher said anything about someones weight. It was such a relief! I finally started focusing on being Healthy, rather than thin.
Flash forward to 10 years later when I got pregnant. I had spent those years learning to have a better relationship with my body and the food I eat. I had come to a comfortable, healthy weight range of 120-125lbs. I thought that I didn’t have any more body issues. And then, when I was about 5 months pregnant, someone told me I looked “Big”. I understand this was intended in a positive way. My body was growing because my baby was growing. But for me it brought up all sorts of memories of ballet teachers telling me to lose weight. That plus the pregnancy hormones made me extra sensitive. I practiced letting those comments go and focus on myself and my baby.
I spent those 9 months eating about 90% healthy foods, 10% yummy desserts. One thing that I changed was eating foods that were more calorie rich. For example, I had spent years drinking non-fat milk, eating low-fat cheese, and avoiding foods that were “fatty”. While I was pregnant, I drank 2% milk, had whole milk cheeses, and ate veggie burgers and sweet potato fries on a regular basis. I enjoyed my food in a new way. I ate snacks when I was hungry between meals instead of ignoring that urge. I really listened to my body and ate until I was satisfied. I gained 35lbs. And I felt wonderful.
After giving birth, the first 25 lbs melted off within the first month or so. I was breastfeeding and ate very similarly to how I ate while I was pregnant. I retained those last 5-10 lbs around my stomach and hips for about 9 months until I stopped breastfeeding. However, it wasn’t until my baby was about a year old that I felt my body was back to normal (or at least the new normal).
The funny thing is that I am still eating all those higher fat foods. I eat 3 solid meals a day and usually an afternoon snack. Most days I have dessert. The foods that I had avoided for so long are no longer off limits. I eat them until I feel satisfied and then I stop. The biggest change is that I stopped feeling guilty for enjoying these foods. I am hoping that my daughter never feels the way that I have about food. I know that this will come from modeling a good relationship with food and my body. Making and savoring healthy foods as well as treats. Learning about different fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market. Noticing how foods make you feel. These are the things I hope to teach her. I hope that my respect and love for my body teaches her respect and love for hers.
Photo taken a few days before giving birth.