When What’s “Healthy” Isn’t Healthy At All

L9P Community Post: Grace Jemison

I’ve always been good at being “good.”

I enjoyed talking with adults when I was a child. I wanted to read chapter books by the time I was four. I was the star of the kindergarten plays.

By the time one hits middle school, expectations are set about what it means to be a good girl, to be on your way to becoming a beautiful woman. Good is thin. Good is being a straight-A student, but not speaking up too much. Good is blonde. Good is athletic, but not too strong or masculine. Good is not eating too much sugar. Good is having other pretty, good friends.

I could do all of these things. I could be thin, blonde, studious, and surrounded by friends. I coasted for the first 14 years of my life.

When I reached high school, there was more pressure to be good, to be better. The body image rules were shouted from magazines, billboards, family members, TV advertisements, and looks from random women on the sidewalk and in the gym. Still, I knew how to fit the mold, how to be good. I did what everyone says is good for you: running, eating healthy foods, doing daily abdominal exercises, not eating desserts, having self-discipline.

The problem was, I became too good at being good. I couldn’t go a day without exercising or running. I compulsively hid in the bathroom at school to do crunches. I restricted my food intake to the point that I was counting each blueberry and almond I put into my mouth. I lost weight; my resting pulse was 36. I developed amenorrhea, and didn’t have a period for over a year (“That’s good too, though, right?,” I told myself. Nobody likes having periods.)

I became obsessed with a deadly, and unattainable, pursuit of beauty and goodness. There was never an end goal, or goal weight in mind; I just wanted to be in control. I wanted perfection.


In Recovery

Recovery has allowed me to exit this mindset, to fight through years of disordered thinking and eating to find what was truly good for me. Recovery was terrifying, long, and confusing. It involved a lot of tears, fighting, appointments, and unglamorous phases of bloating and gas. I had to regain nutrition and weight to even be healthy enough to thoughtfully consider why these compulsions occurred, and to come to terms with the idea that ice cream could be good.

Recovery for me started with a three-pronged approach of an eating disorder medical specialist, a dietician, and a therapist, all of whom I saw weekly at first. I was first impressed upon just how sick I was, that my body was taking from muscle stores once all energy and fat stores were depleted; that if I didn’t gain weight in a week, I would be admitted to inpatient care. I was forbidden from any exercise, even walking. I was given meal plans that laid out servings of all food groups at each meal and snack. The meal plans slowly incorporated more ‘fear foods,’ or foods that my ED’s rules had determined as forbidden, such as cookies, french fries, and chocolate. I spoke with the therapist to try to understand the root of the accompanying depression and anxiety.

All of these specialists saw me slowly grow back into myself over the two years I was in treatment, both literally growing as I gained weight, and re-finding who I was when I wasn’t controlled by ED voices.

Recovery is ongoing.

I am in remission; I am grateful for all that I’ve learned about nutrition, and about my own body. But I also know that I still have tendencies that may not be ‘normal,’ that certain triggers can cause me to control my eating or feel the need to compulsively exercise.

Related: Transparent Healing, by Alexis Fairbanks

The most illuminating aspect of recovery has been discovering what health truly is, what goodness is. Health is not a set of food rules, or needing to run daily. Health is joy, freedom, and strength. Health may be running 10 miles, or it may be eating French fries. It is different for everyone. But it means keying into what I actually need, sustaining my body with all different types of food and truly enjoying them. Health is moving joyfully. Health is having a regular period, as this is a sign from the body that I am sustained.

I argue that health is not even about “moderation,” a trend that I now see everywhere. Because moderation implies that a more energy-dense meal like a burger and ice cream needs to be offset later by a ‘lighter’ salad or a long run. Instead, it’s about freedom, that you are free to eat as your body instructs you, and free to move (or not move) as your body needs. Health is that you are free to truly build friendships, because you aren’t avoiding social activities due to fear of food. Health is mental health.

Health is being the best version of yourself as a family member, friend, partner, community member. You can be a much better student, girlfriend, and leader when you’re not thinking about food 99% of the time.

This is health for me, runs along Philadelphia’s Schuylkill, at any distance or pace that my body is feeling.

How did I find this health? This freedom? This joy?

I found it by:

  • Realizing that I am not what I do. I needed to stop running for a few months. To not be a runner, for a little while. This was terrifying to me, as it was wrapped up in my identity. Seriously, don’t run for a month. Yes, it sucks. See what happens, who you are when you are not a runner. You will still exist.
  • Surrounding myself with body-positive social media and friends instead of ever-present diet culture. Some of my favorite & smart people to follow are: The Real Life RDImma EAT ThatFannetastic Food , the running and woman-forward tour de force, Oiselle, and of course, Lane 9!
  • Being vulnerable. Sharing my recovery story to normalize mental health disorders and gain support.
  • Educating myself. Learning about intuitive eating and exercise. (Check out Body Kindness and Intuitive Eating as starters.)

 

  • Learning to take in and share all the emotions was something that I was able to take away from marathon training.

I run now. I am recovering from the craziest trail 25K, and am training for a half marathon. But running is only truly good for me now because it’s no longer about being good. It’s no longer a way to measure my worth. It’s not even about hitting goals. It’s about getting a breath of fresh air, about enjoying the strength of my body, and about building community.

And running for strength and joy? That shit is GOOD.


Are you an active lady or lady health activist, coach, mentor, parent, or healthcare provider? Join our community and newsletter.

If you want to share your story, get in touch with us through the form or by emailing Lane9Project@gmail.com.

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