Transformation Tuesday: Sara’s Story

Growing up I was always the “chubby” one in my group of friends. My insecurities with the way I looked held me back and prevented me from doing so many things – I’d quit every sport I started, I was too shy to speak up in class, and I never felt comfortable in my own skin. To be honest, I never really understood why I was bigger than the other kids. I knew nothing about proper nutrition, exercise or taking care of my body, and I had no one to teach me. Needless to say, my parents (love ya Mom and Dad) weren’t the greatest of role models; they were often too busy working to support our family or too tired after a long day of work to cook dinner or bring home nutritious food. Too many times our family sat down to microwave dinners or a 12 pack taco box from Taco Bell, but it was just the norm for us. I grew up on everything from Little Debbie’s to Domino’s pizza to cheeseburgers at Wendy’s.

Grew up always being the “chubby” one

All the way up to high school, nothing changed. My insecurities only grew stronger as I got older, but I still knew nothing about proper diet and exercise. I would try out for sports at my school only to quit about a week later. There was a point that I was so insecure that I would sit in the alone in the girl’s bathroom stall at school to eat my lunch. I never felt good about the way I looked, but I thought it was just the way I was genetically made up.

Fast forward to college and this is where things started to change. I saw Liz (more on her story later) go through a drastic weight-loss – she began running almost every day and limiting her food intake. It seemed like the fat had just melted off her. I thought to myself, well if she can do it, so can I! In the spring of 2009, I joined a local running club, and started training for my first half-marathon. I didn’t change anything about my diet, but I started to increase my awareness about how much I was eating. I don’t remember ever caring about my weight at this point, I just loved the feeling of accomplishment after a long run. Never in my life had I experienced what it was like to challenge my body physically or feel so proud of myself.

Running had become a passion of mine, and I couldn’t wait to run my first half-marathon. I’m not sure when it started, but I began having horrible hip pain in my left hip that would often shoot down my leg. I spoke with other runners about it, and many though it was just a tight IT band. I stretched, foam rolled, and ran through it anyway. I thought the pain would eventually go away on it’s own, and I didn’t want to sacrifice missing any of my training runs. A couple weeks before my big race, I ran my first 10 miles. I remember being in so much pain when I was done, I could barely walk. My hip was killing me! Walking up the stairs to my apartment was nearly impossible, but I kept on telling myself I’d run the race. That week, I tried to go out for a run, but I couldn’t even make it a mile; finally, I couldn’t deny the fact that something was definitely wrong. I hadn’t been listening to my body when it was trying to tell me something. I decided to forego the race, and get an MRI to figure out why I was having this terrible hip pain.

Turns out I had a bad labral tear (a tear in the cartilage) in my left hip. The only option to get rid of the pain was surgery. I was devastated and scared. Since I never did any sports growing up, I had never experience any sort of physical injury.

Surgery was successful, and for the most part really painless. I was on crutches for a couple weeks, and had to do physical therapy for a a couple months after. After surgery was when things really started to change. Since I could no longer run, I remember having this immense fear that I was going to get fat, coupled with the fact that I thought I needed to be skinnier because I was moving to L.A. that fall to attend UCLA.

After hip arthroscopic surgery

Since I was on crutches and had limited movement, I started counting calories. I didn’t know anything about it, other than the fact that Liz lost weight by eating less. My goal was to restrict my intake to less than 1,000 calories per day – as long as I was under 1,000 calories, I was felt accomplished and in control. I didn’t really care about where I was getting this calories from so my diet was full of sugar-free and fat-free foods (more about why this is extremely harmful and counterproductive in our Nutrition Guidebook). Once I was able to workout again, Liz and I started doing at-home DVD workouts.

At my lowest

I lost about 15 pounds in a 2 months of restricting food and obsessively working out 6 days per week. Needless to say, I didn’t even have 10 pounds to lose! At 5’6″ I was a scary 110 pounds, and I remember wanting to be even less!

At my lowest

After about 4-5 months of restricting, I started to have uncontrollable urges to eat sugary, fatty foods. If I ate anything I didn’t know the calorie content of (like a brownie) I’d restrict myself even more for the rest of the day, sometimes skipping multiple meals. I’m not sure when or how it happened but I eventually started having massive binges on junk food. At the time, I lived in a dorm at UCLA so I had endless amounts of food around me from all the cafeteria options from pizza to ice cream to chinese food, to vending machines full of sweets in the building I lived in. Thinking back, I can remember times where I would order a full pizza eating it all myself, where I’d sneak cookies and pastries from my roommates, and where I’d spend all my spare money on sweets from the vending machine.

It got so out of control I literally didn’t know what to do. I thought if I got out of the dorm, and didn’t have all these temptations around me I would be able to stop.

So, I sat down with the director of UCLA housing, and I confessed to him about my eating disorder. Wanting to help, he immediately moved me out of the dorm and into an apartment nearby. But, the binging didn’t stop. If anything, it was worse because I could hide my binging better since I didn’t live around so many people. The day after a binge would always lead to a day of restriction and overexercise. The time came where I decided I should get some help. I joined a disordered eating counseling group at UCLA, but I found this group only helped me justify my actions. The other girls in the group were also binging on food, and I found that hearing their stories made me feel like it was okay to binge.

This binging/restricting cycle went on for the next 2 years and I found I had gained all the weight back that I originally lost. I felt fat, out of control, and like I lost my passion for fitness, cooking, and doing the things I loved most. My disordered eating ruled my life for those years, and I felt completely helpless to it. I was always worrying about what I ate, how much I ate, and how much I was working out. The more I obsessed over it, the worse it would get. I remember instances where I would drive to the store, buy a box of cinnamon rolls or cake and end up eating the whole thing in under five minutes.

At my UCLA graduation – height of my binging

In the back of my head I always had a passion for fitness, but so often my eating disorder would get in the way and I’d be so worn out from the emotional side effects that I didn’t care about getting my workouts in. I don’t know how many days I wasted sitting inside, binging on junk food.

The day finally came where I decided I was going to stop counting calories, stop obsessing over what I was eating, and stop working out to “try to lose weight.” I was emotionally and physically exhausted and it wasn’t worth it anymore. Instead, I started fueling my body with healthy, good-for-me foods, eating when I was hungry, and working out to feel good instead of to burn calories. When I made this switch to my caring about my health, my weight came back down naturally and the binging stopped.

Healthy & Happy!

Every once in a while I’ll have a day where I struggle with wanting to eat a lot, not wanting to workout, and trying to find a balance, but I’ve learned that this is a normal part of being human. My priorities have shifted to sustaining good health, not sustaining a lower number on the scale.

My passion lies in teaching other women to do the same (why we created The Super System) by showing them novel ways to incorporate healthier versions of all kinds of foods into their diet while exercising for energy and longevity, not to look a certain way. My personal struggles, research and experiences enable me to help educate others about EDs and the “Thin Ideal,” helping to explain why such a toxic personal body image is so detrimental to long term health and happiness.

Take a lesson from my past. Stop beating yourself up over eating. Stop overthinking it. Eat when you’re hungry, just eat healthier foods. Make better choices, one day at a time. Eventually you’ll learn to love the way you feel when you do, and you’ll get addicted to that feeling and want to repeat the steps you took to get to it. Your efforts will compound and before long you’ll be worlds apart from where you once stood, hungry, sad and knocking yourself down. 

Workout to feel your best!

There will always be new ways to improve your overall lifestyle; the key is to keep moving forward, no matter how small the steps are that you’re taking.


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