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I started taking gymnastics when I was 5 and even then, I felt like my body was different than those around me. I felt bigger, less flexible, and therefore, insufficient.

By the time I was 12, my mom was taking me to Weight Watchers on Saturday mornings. I sat around with a group of women that I’d guess were at least three times my age, feeling defective and out of place. Years before I learned to drive a car, I learned to obsess about what I ate. 

Everywhere I looked, the message seemed to be: You need to be smaller.

So I tried to become anorexic. And failed. When I did eat and then tried to make myself throw up, I couldn’t go through with it. I was angry with myself and angry at my body for being hungry, for its will to survive. 

When I was 15, I was so miserable in my body that I tried to end my life.

When I was 23, a trainer put me on a diet of 1100 calories a day. He promised that, even if I did nothing else, I’d “see results” (meaning: get smaller).  I went to bed hungry, the hunger keeping me awake most nights. I got up before the sun to go to the gym. I ran on the treadmill. I climbed stairs to nowhere. Lunged from one end of the building to the other. Got kudos for my dedication while feeling disappointed and defective for not seeing results. The only result I did see was an increased obsession with what I was putting into my body, meticulously recording every gram and every calorie in a notebook, needing for those numbers to keep getting smaller.

I watched the Food Network for hours, salivating while I ate pretzels and mustard. I watched celebrities eat lettuce out of plastic clamshells and watched a woman cry on TV about weighing 170 pounds, which was also what I weighed at the time.

I bought ‘energy’ tea from a woman I’d meet behind the mall during her break at Bath and Body Works. I would’ve given her my last dollar for that stuff, I was so addicted to it.

While I was hungry and couldn’t sleep, I’d dial up the 800 numbers and buy all the videos that were going to solve my problem. Tae Bo. Pilates. Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss. The Beach Body DVDs that came with calendars, posters, seemingly impossible meal plans, and bonus DVDs!

I was tormented, miserable, exhausted, and hungry.

What I wish I had known 20 years ago is that I wasn’t seeing results because I wasn’t giving my body what it needed. That it wasn’t as simple as ‘calories in, calories out.’ That every decrease in calories meant a decrease in muscle as well. And a decrease in muscle meant a decrease in metabolism. So it just kept going downhill and every attempt produced less of a result. The more I tried, the weaker I got. The weaker I got, the more pain I felt. I ended up seeing a physical therapist who was in disbelief by the lack of muscle on the left side of my body.

Then came strength training. I started moving increasingly heavier weight and at first, was really tired and really hungry. I was resistant to change my diet. No, I was afraid to change my diet. What if I eat more and get bigger? Then this is all for nothing. I’m not interested in making those gains, bruh.

But then. I started making those gains, bruh. And it felt incredible. I was amazed at what my body could do. I made changes to my diet and saw muscles seemingly pop up out of nowhere. I made more changes to my diet and felt happier, less agitated, less anxious.

I’m 43 and am stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.

And the food? For the first time. Ever. In my life. I feel freedom around food. I no longer track what I’m eating in order to restrict myself; I simply eat what my body seems to need.

Building strength has given me confidence. It’s given me physical and mental freedom. Most of all, it’s given me the gift of loving my body and feeling like there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.