Megan’s Story

If you are reading this you have probably had the thought of “is this sport (body building/sculpting) something for me?” or maybe you’ve thought “I want to change my eating/exercise habits, can Body Boutique help me?”  I had the same thoughts when I first looked up the Body Boutique website; while I desperately wanted to make changes to my eating habits, I also was wondering if I could or should undertake the challenge of preparing for a body-sculpting comp.  The thought of ‘should I try this sport’ was pertinent given, at that point, I had been suffering from eating disorders for over 17 years (half of my life) and had to consider the possibility that the sport may exacerbate my disordered eating.   Before sharing my story, I want to say upfront that this sport and Marian Leonard have changed my life.  While I was apprehensive that undertaking the sport may further contribute to my eating problems, it in fact has done exactly the opposite and I now consider myself as recovered.

Of the 17 years of living with disordered eating, 12 of those were spent battling anorexia nervosa.   For me anorexia developed out of depression and was characterised by hours of engagement in exercise, extreme calorie restriction and adherence to extremely strict and often strange routines based around food, food preparation and exercise (for example, I had exercise quotas that I had to complete in order to eat certain foods – an extra 10 minutes of walking might earn me an extra stick of celery; I could only eat food I had prepared and it had to be eaten from a certain spoon I carried with me everywhere; I could only eat at set times and at set places and people were not allowed to talk to me when I did eat).  All of these things, and particularly the over-reliance on the strict routines to cope with life lead to a loss of ability to socialise or function ‘normally’ in social situations, loss of confidence and loss of friendships.

Many of those 12 years of living with ‘Ana’ are now a blur, but like many sufferers of the illness, once I began my recovery I then became trapped in a new eating disorder: bulimia; and this came with a new set of problems.  While anorexia for me could almost be described as a ‘safe’ place, bulimia was exactly the opposite.  With anorexia, once I had established a set of routines and boundaries and provided nobody challenged these, I was able to live each day in exactly the same way without experiencing too much emotion or stress.  Bulimia, on the other hand, was an emotional rollercoaster, characterised by a vicious cycle of binge eating and starving, sugar highs and starvation lows, weight gain and weight loss.  My experience of living as a bulimic/binge eater was, I would suggest, not too different to what many women experience.  It was a daily battle with destructive food choices, low self-esteem, bad body image and constantly fluctuating body weight and mood swings.

For me a binge could last anywhere between a few hours to a week. The binges that lasted multiple days consisted of multiple sessions.  Once my stomach had become too full to consume anymore food during one session, I would simply lay in bed on my side (as laying on your back with that amount of food in your belly is pretty uncomfortable) until the feeling of absolute bloated-illness passed and I was able to start eating again – to which I would again eat and eat until I got to the point I had to lie down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Once the binge session was over I would then attempt to purge myself through exercise: most days (when I wasn’t binge eating) I would do engage in 3-4 hours of cardio (cycling, running, Les Mills classes), as well as some weight training.   While I never purged through vomiting, I did resort to taking large quantities laxatives, which made me pretty sick.  Following a binge period I would then engage in a starvation period where I virtually lived on liquids only, generally consuming only two protein-shakes a day made from a scoop of protein and water.  The ‘starvation’ periods would generally last only a week before I got so hungry and depleted that I began the binge process again.  This cycle continued for five years; work suffered, my already modest social life suffered, my relationships suffered.  I tried many different strategies to find a way to escape the illness: these included various types of diets (think Atkins, paleo, shake), keeping a food diary, writing myself endless food plans (none of which I could stick to given they were often deprivation-based to try to induce rapid weight loss), hours and hours of daily exercise, and seeing a range of specialists (these included dieticians, psychologists, a naturopath, different personal trainers and even a hypnotist). Nothing worked …..

…..nothing worked, that is, until meeting Marian in May this year (2013). While I admit the initial decision to contact Marian at Body Boutique Personal Training was driven more out of a desire to see if the experience might provide me with a new strategy to try and escape from my binge-starve eating habits, the direction that my life has taken as a consequence of making that contact has been nothing but positive.  At the time of writing this reflection, I can honestly say that I have not ‘binged’ since May.  Neither have I starved myself.  Since May I have prepped and competed in two body building-figure competitions, consistently eaten 6-7 meals daily, eaten a wider variety of food than I have since developing anorexia at 18 years of age, reduced the daily quotas of exercise I felt I had to do…..and through all this I have also dropped two clothes sizes!

I know that close to comp time, when a competitor’s body fat percentage is low, many female competitors have been accused of being anorexic.  Let me tell you, as someone who recently competed with a body fat percentage of about 8%, I was a far, far cry from my days of anorexia, both physically and mentally.  Physically, during anorexia, my weight was, at certain points, so low I had to carry a pillow around to sit on because I had no flesh on my bottom.  My mother was also able to place her first finger and thumb in a ring around my upper arm.  As a body building-figure competitor I can proudly say my physique includes a well-rounded bottom and biceps that my mum can’t even put her full hand around.   During anorexia I lived on celery, special K and dried apricots.  As a body building-figure competitor I now eat on a daily basis, several meals that contain a variety of lean meats and oily fish, a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, oats, eggs, nuts, rice and a range of cheeses. What’s more when people ask my weight and I tell them I am close to 60kg they are often surprised – and again, that is a far cry from the 36kg I weighed at my lowest point during anorexia and even the 42-44kg I hovered at during most of my 12 years with Ana.

Preparing for a body-building/figure competition for me has been liberating.  While some people struggle with the food and structure associated with comp prep, I found the structure helped me break the binge-starve cycle.  Going from eating only 1-2 meals a day to 6-7 meals also was exciting and meant I stopped getting the mood and energy lows associated with starvation.  Once I started eating 6-7 meals a day I also stopped my constant obsessing over food and my cravings for sugar were largely diminished.  Getting up on stage in September was, for me, a celebration of finally beating years of disordered eating.  Given my low body image and self-esteem that had also developed from years of disordered eating, stepping foot (or heal!) on stage was also an attempt to build some confidence in myself again and I will admit the experience was exhilarating! I am well and truly ‘hooked’ and cannot wait to begin the process again next season.  Since competing I have continued to eat 6-7 clean meals a day with plenty of variety and fresh food choices.  While the decision to undertake a completion helped me begin some good eating and exercise habits and the desire to get up on stage in the best condition possible meant I stuck to those habits leading up to the competition, now post comp, those habits have become just that – good habits!