I’m in my final year at university and, as graduation nears, I’m getting this uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like many of my peers, I still don’t know what I’m going to do after graduation because working somewhere full-time is a scary commitment to make. But there’s more to it than that. I want to go home.
I have spent such a long time not feeling at home in the spaces that I occupy that I don’t really know what home looks like anymore. I started thinking about who I want around me as I grow older and gain new experiences, and half of those people are 3000 miles away. The other half are here.
I want to see my friends get married. I want to be there for them in the middle of the night when they need to decompress from a tough day. I want to go to music festivals with them. I want to grow old with them. But my heart is split in two.
The plan had always been to go back. This was supposed to be temporary. I wanted it to be temporary. And now I need to make that hard choice again, only this time, it’s a lose-lose situation. I miss my friends in South Africa so much. I selfishly want them near me, all their obligations be damned! And if I go back to South Africa, I want to fold each of my friends into my luggage and take them with me.
Clearly, I have issues with commitment. Here are the 34 days of the 100-days project that I managed to complete. I think there are some gems in there but I learned that I’m going to need a little more purpose to dedicate myself to a project like this.
I’ve had a realisation. Somewhere between dieting, getting a personal trainer, starting a nutrition program, restricting, disordered eating, and just eating–my relationship with food has changed, dramatically. And I don’t know what to make of it just yet.
Listening to the podcast Don’t Salt My Game has just confirmed these suspicions. In the first episode that I listened to, Laura Thomas, PhD, talks to Kelsey Miller, author of the Anti-Diet Project on Refinery29. They describe how food just becomes–or rather reduces to exactly what it is–food. And food can be disappointing at times, even mundane. I could relate to this. The skies opened up and a chorus sang inside my head and I thought oh. So, I paused and took a moment to process, which includes writing this post.
I’ve been feeling a little lost recently because food doesn’t make me feel the way I expect it to, the way it has for the longest time. It’s not something that defines me as “good” or “bad”, it doesn’t give me that high that I’m looking for, and the guilt that comes with overeating doesn’t hold me hostage like it used to. I’ve taken it off its pedestal. Finally.
I think there are some specific things that catalysed this change. Training led me to join a nutrition program which led me to learn more about food and I think I’m coming full circle to intuitive eating. It’s not a scary concept this time around but I also don’t think I’m ready for it.
Maybe that’s one of the things holding me back. The idea that I somehow have to “get somewhere” or “reach a goal” before I give myself permission to decide, “yup, now I can stop stressing about food”. And that somewhere or goal is always someplace I haven’t reached yet.
March 28: Signed up for a gym and trainer who started me on foundations. My goal was to build strength and lose weight along the way. I learnt how to squat.
May 5: I moved to Waterloo and took strength training more seriously. I learnt how to deadlift.
September: I moved to Toronto and met my current trainer. I was counting calories for about a month. My trainer started me on Precision Nutrition and I stopped counting calories. I started noticing lower back pain, especially on deadlift day.
January: Back to Waterloo. I signed up for Muay Thai. The back pain got too intense so I stopped deadlifts.
February: Stopped training. Stopped Muay Thai. Started seeing a physiotherapist for my back but saw no improvement.
May: Moved to Toronto. I got assessed by a chiropractor, after a couple of sessions I was cleared to start training again but very slowly.
June: Started training again. I got into In Defense of Food and realised how simple it can be to eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I tried a Whole30 and got so far as Whole15.
July: Currently strength training and taking BCAAs and protein supplements for recovery. I want to set new PRs because not only am I at my lowest weight but I am also close to the body fat percentage goal that I arbitrarily set a year ago.
August: Still struggling to reconcile the idea of wanting to change my body while trying to let go of the harmful ideas of diet culture. Or is that just impossible?
There’s been a common theme in the conversations I’ve been having recently. Passing time, growing old, and what we lose along the way. That sound’s a little melodramatic. It is.
At the ripe old age of 22, I don’t feel the same as I did just a year ago. I feel like I’ve aged more in the last few months than I have in the last few years. Or maybe I’ve just started to notice. I wake up tired and perfectly capable of sleeping into the next morning. I can’t tolerate as much junk food and I need more sleep and my back aches, I’m basically an 80-year old man.
But it’s not just the physical toll, it’s the mental and emotional toll, too. Creativity is hard nowadays, and that sucks to admit. I think I’ve forgotten how to be myself and forgotten what I’m like—forgotten what I like. I feel stifled and a little lost. Maybe it’s the fact that I graduate in a year giving me anxiety. Or maybe this is just the way I am, the way I’ve become as a result of the last four years of heartbreak, heartache, and grief.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or at least that’s what they say. But it’s more like what doesn’t kill you almost kills you.
I have some time before I have to get back to the grind at school, so let’s see what these next few months bring me. Here’s to discovering, and re-discovering, some stuff about myself.
When you have a bad body image day, you move a little slower, smile a little less, and sigh as you avoid making eye contact with your reflection. But then the next morning, or a couple mornings later, you wake up full of appreciation and poke fun at yourself with a little giggle. I’m still waiting to wake up feeling like that.
I’ve been having a bad self-love month. I don’t know what it is about this time of year, when you transition from winter to spring to summer, or the change from school to not-school, but I haven’t been very kind to myself. The list of the things I wish I could change about myself has been growing longer these past few months.
The scary part is that I’ve heard this dialogue before. I know how the story goes. And it’s still so difficult to put an end to it. This feeling of being dissatisfied, resentful even, leads nowhere but heartache—but I still feel it.
I truly believe that self-love is a daily task. You have to immerse yourself in it, surround yourself with people who believe in it and practice it, and one day you’ll be surprised to find that you’ve gained a little peace. But I am still trying to figure out how to love your body and will it to transform at the same time—still.
March 28th, 2017. My one year anniversary with lifting weights is fast approaching. I was planning on celebrating by ending my current burn phase and starting a new strength phase, so ready to kick ass.
For some time now, I’ve felt a bit of a pain in my lower back. I put heavy lifts on pause while I booked a physio appointment. The reason I started training was so I could trust myself and my own body, to not hold myself back from all the things I want to do. My physiotherapy assessment was yesterday. I sat in my car for a moment before going in, so ready to have whatever it was that’s wrong fixed as soon as possible. I didn’t know what to expect but I was stupidly optimistic.
That optimism disappeared so fast I swear I have emotional whiplash. There’s something wrong with the muscles that support my spine and my hips and likely my shoulders and my feet and my knees. I don’t know exactly what’s causing it or exactly what the plan is to fix it, I was too busy trying to process the fact that my body is no longer my own.
No Muay Thai, no weights. No running, no jumping. I have to make friends with the elliptical. It feels like I’m being denied a part of who I am, who I’ve become. I feel defeated. This body that I worked so hard to love, to train, and to trust, is holding me back. It feels like the walls are crumbling down around me these days, and I don’t know how many more hits I can take.
I had a much-needed change in perspective these last few weeks. I have this warped sense of time and become so impatient with myself. Every now and then I have to find ways to ground myself, to make sure that I don’t lose sight of reality, and it’s always a relief to realise that I haven’t gone completely crazy.
I remember three distinct moments in my life when the number 77 was more than just a number.
The first time, I had found an old journal of mine from grade 7 or even earlier. I was in highschool at the time. I found one entry that burst with determination. I wrote about how I wanted to reach my “goal weight”, 77 kg, before my friend’s birthday. She was planning on throwing a pool party. 14 year old me was reminded of the ambitions of 12 year old me and it broke me. I felt shock and shame, knowing that in all the time since I first wrote that journal entry, all I had done was swell up in size and become uglier.
Fast forward to 2012 or 2013 when I was trying to exercise regularly, and dabbled in bulimia. I stepped on the scale and it read 76 kg. I was elated. I now weighed less than my 12 year old self and she could finally be proud of me, standing naked on that bathroom scale, hating myself into oblivion. Almost literally, or at least trying to.
Third. This week Monday, when I stepped on the scale at the gym. 76.7 kg. I felt hollow. As though the eight years since I wrote about wanting so badly to lose weight and be skinny had all amounted to nothing. Look at me only just now reaching my “goal weight”. What an utter shame.
Have I just been stalling all this time? Was the pain I felt cycling through phases of binge eating and dieting all for nought? I thought I was capable of more. I was supposed to be living my dream life by now. I was supposed to get skinny and fall in love and finally stop hating myself and wanting to die.
I don’t really hate myself anymore. And I want to die less literally nowadays. 12 year old me and 14 year old me would probably be disappointed in 21 year old me. But age has brought with it some wisdom, learning to love myself and my body is the progress I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am worlds apart from who I used to be. And I’m not planning to slow down. Thank goodness for that.
I find myself craving to go to the gym, to train. It comes in waves, because I know I’m taking some time to study–priorities, etc. But I feel so drained whenever I have to address the amount of study material I have to face in the next 24 hours. I’ve been diligent at procrastinating and I hate myself for it.
Then, while running through the reasons I love training, and planning how I’m going to start lifting heavier, it hit me like a freight train. Starting to lift heavy is, slowly, teaching me discipline. It’s a foreign idea to me, but I’ve started to shape my life around my training because I know that this will make me better. Training consistently, eating well, and sleeping enough helps me stack more weight onto that bar. And it’s taken time, but I’ve been surprisingly understanding, patient even.
And then I thought about applying this to other parts of my life, like schoolwork. This is me training to get better, and to perform better. Being consistent, studying regularly, eating right and sleeping well is what will help me stack more points on that GPA. I didn’t know a slight shift in mindset would revolutionize the way I feel about studying.
A while ago, I found out why I feel like I should be doing well, proving myself. And now I know how to go about that, albeit a little late.