Happy weekend everyone! Below is a guest post from Ally. She has a great story to share. I hope you enjoy it!
Hello, Healthy Ashley readers! I am so honored and thrilled to be writing a guest post for Ashley’s blog.
My name is Ally, and I blog at The Culture Barista and Girl V Food. The former is a life and musings blog (mostly rants about Twilight and Jersey Shore), and the second one is, obviously, a health and food blog with pictures of random meals and recipes, and thoughts on the latest fitness and food trends. I love creating food combinations and I always love it when I can get into the kitchen. I’m mostly vegan because of lactose intolerance and IBS but due to the requests of my doctor and some dietary needs on my part, I do eat meat/eggs/yogurt from time to time. The completely vegan diet is wonderful for some people, but it’s not my path.
A lot of my story is up at my ‘About Me’ page on Girl V Food, but let me just break it down to bullet points: I was a pretty normal-sized teenager who then ballooned to an obese college student thanks to emotional eating and bored eating. Pints of Ben and Jerry’s, tons of Milano cookies, and thousands of Subway meatball sandwiches. And cake. Always cake. I still say yes to cake particularly red velvet!
Around my junior year year of college I lost about 50 pounds in the course of a year thanks to kickboxing (thanks, Billy Blanks!) and a very low-fat diet consisting mainly of Odwalla Bars, tuna sandwiches, and Baked Lays chips. But I would still binge sometimes in the afternoons because the lack of fat in my diet rendered me incapable of feeling full. I will say this until the day I die: My weight was not lost the healthy way. I just focused on eating as little fat as I could and exercising for about 2 hours a day. The weight flew off, sure, but I was constantly feeling like I was needing something. The binges continued.
About two years ago, by getting rid of my bingeing for a short time, I lost 25 pounds due to portion control. Once I got to New York to start my acting career, I started exercising more just out of curiosity as to how far I could push myself (and honestly, pure fright; let’s face it, the actresses in New York are skinny and if you want to succeed there you better be too). By the time September 2009 rolled around, I weighed 137 pounds. But that’s not where the story ends, my friends. Not by a long shot.
Yes I had learned how to portion my food. Yes, I was making healthy choices just because I wanted to and not because I felt like I HAD to. Yes, I was cardiovascularly healthy But I was still bingeing in between meals due to my lack of omega 3′s and fats.. Then, I realized I wanted to be a writer/researcher instead of an actress, and moved home to my parents’ house in October of 2009. I felt like a giant failure. The one thing I could control, the one thing that kept me sane, was the gym.
So I went to the gym more. And more. Up to two hours a day, 7 days a week. I fueled myself on Amy’s frozen dinners and apples and greek yogurt, and gum to keep the hunger pangs at bay. Some afternoons I’d binge and then go to the gym, burn 800 calories (or up to 1000 if I had REALLY binged that day), come home, eat a frozen dinner, and go to bed. And do the whole thing over again the next day. And I felt like I was doing the right thing. Sure, I was tired a lot, but I felt like I was just being healthy. Really, really healthy. Dangerously healthy.
I wasn’t at a very unhealthy weight (the lowest I got was around 130), but I was skin and bones. My hair was falling out, my skin took on a grey pallor, my nails were brittle, and my spark for life was dim. I started taking diuretics to cut weight, but I was also overhydrating and eating way too much sodium so my water/salt ratio was waaaay off. I was wandering around like a gigantic puffy balloon.
Mentally-wise, I was still inherently scared, selfish, and inward. I couldn’t get my mind off of how everything in the world would effect me. This depression did not go unnoticed by my body. Due to all of this stress and wear and tear on my body, I lost my menstrual cycle. I tried to go on birth control but it turned me into something of a monster. I knew this was my body’s way of telling me that I was not living a healthy life, but gaining weight terrified me. I cut back on the workouts but that didn’t work. I was incredibly lonely and devastatingly depressed.
There were a couple of mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed. I lay awake, terrified of what the day would hold.
I thought about death. A lot.
Then came yoga, like a savior on horseback. Or in Surya Namaskara B, whichever’s your pleasure.
My best friend emailed me and told me our local yoga studio, where she practices, was looking for people to work behind the desk a few nights a week. She told me that the pay would be free unlimited yoga, and she said it would be a good thing for me to come and try it out. I had taken yoga a few years before and really liked it but ended up stopping because A) it was so expensive and B) I was busy with work. But I ended up meeting with the yoga studio director, a wonderful woman named Dawn, and she hired me for Tuesday night desk work.
I was at my first class a few days later, an All-Levels. I have a background in dance, so the actual asanas of a yoga practice come fairly easy to me. It’s the rest of it. The mental aspect. The STILLNESS. I didn’t feel like I could sit still. I kept thinking ‘when is this going to get going? When’s the next time I can eat?’ And savasana? Oh, forget it. My mind and heart would race like Secretariat. I was a ball of stress and anxiety and didn’t even want to DEAL with sitting still for a few seconds just to ‘think’ and let the practice heal me. Sometimes I would sit there and get actual panic attacks, just from stillness.
My first power class was a few weeks later, and I honestly thought I was going to die. It was so HARD. The first few vinyasa flows were okay, but then once it got to the middle of the 75 minute practice, I felt weak and shaky from the effort my body was giving. That wasn’t the hardest part, though…the hardest part was the stillness. If I stood still, if I really absorbed everything that was going on with my body and mind…what would happen? Would something terrible occur? Would I explode or faint or die? I can’t possibly have eaten enough to sustain myself through this class, should I have binged?
No. No. No. I was safe.
I kept going back. And going back. And going back. 2x a week all-levels classes turned into 4x Power classes in 99 degree heat. As I soaked through my mat with sweat that could drown a small army of rats, I learned how to push myself to the point of no return…and how to jump off that edge and float down, soft as a cloud, to a place of safety and peace. I learned about love. About cultivating a witness consciousness, in order to better view our reactions to what stresses us out. I started learning how to deal with stressful moments by simple invocation of breath and engagement of prana. One of my first yoga classes back was taught by a man who requested we ‘feel everything’. ‘Don’t let anything slide by right now, I want you to feel everything that’s going on,’ he exhorted. And I felt it. I felt it all. And it made me weep.
Slowly, my pain began to dissipate. Slowly, my heart and soul started knitting themselves back together.
Yoga used as a workout, of course, is highly effective. My biceps are out of control and I have a booty that could rival J.LO. But that’s not why I practice yoga. People who JUST attend hot yoga classes aren’t experiencing true, philosophical, transformative yoga at every level. I go for the amazing instructors and the feeling of power and all-levels practices give me. I began to view myself as a blessing, my body as a gift, even when I cursed out a fifteenth chatarunga. My EDs made me selfish. Yoga made me selfless again. And it made me STRONG. When I first did yoga, if you had told me a year later I would come up to my room after a long day of school and throw myself into headstand against a wall and chill out there for about five minutes, I would’ve slapped you.
But what about food? Well, I don’t know if Ashley’s ever covered this in her amazing posts (the one about vagina farts is probably the best thing EVER), but eating before yoga, at least to me, is a definite no-no, at least not for two hours before class, or else you’re twisting around your digestive system. And WHAT you eat is a huge factor for how your practice goes. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon my first food blog but it led me to this blog right here that I’m writing for. Ashley’s is the first one I really got into with gusto. I looked back at all of her entries and was stunned. Here was a healthy, vibrant girl who ran tons of marathons and was in training for an Iron Man, and she ate oatmeal with peanut butter on it. Peanut butter! The aforementioned bane of my existence, the substance I would buy jars of and never eat it unless it was secretly from the jar with a giant spoon late at night. Maybe it was okay to have a bit of nut butter every day…
Then I discovered them all. KERF, Graduate Meghann (now known as Meals and Miles), Ashley at Edible Perspective, Jenna at Eat Live Run, Ashley at (never)homemaker, Emily from The Daily Garnish (previously The Front Burner), Tina at Carrots ‘N Cake, Mama Pea, Caitlin from Healthy Tipping Point and Operation Beautiful.
It was all over. I had discovered a whole new way of living. These were all healthy, vibrant, fit women, who did yoga and ran and worked out hard just like I did. But they weren’t feeling worn out and dizzy and depleted and starving all the time. They ate peanut butter. And oils. And ice cream. And bagels. And they weren’t fat. They weren’t rail-thin. They were…radiant. Maybe I could be like that. Be that radiant. And that overnight oat thing sounded REALLY good.
I started making myself eat the things I hadn’t allowed myself to consume, but in moderation and as part of a regular meal. Avocados. Peanut butter. Ice Cream! I used to stand in front of the fridge, plowing through a pint of Bonaroo Buzz, wracked with guilt and shame. No more shame. That feeling has been replaced by trust, and contentment. I began eating vegetarian a few nights a week and now I eat a mostly vegan diet with occasional omnivore side trips due to a doctor’s suggestions and a few bouts of anemia. I can’t really afford to cut anything out of my diet at the moment, but I’m lactose intolerant so I feel better when I don’t eat milk or cheese. Everything else? Fair game.
Am I completely 100 percent back to normal and everything is sunshine and I wake up in the morning pooping rainbows? Of course not. I have to navigate the fine line between overeating and undereating. It’s still a process. It’s just an easier, more fun process now. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. But I learn and I move on, and I don’t let a misstep ruin my entire week.
If you’re curious to know how much I weigh now, it’s a funny little conclusion to this long winding road I seem to have gone down. I don’t own a scale in my house so I’m judging by the last time I went to the doctor. When I was bingeing I weighed around 137. Now? I weigh close to 130.
Yep. The same weight I was at when I got down to my lowest. Now that I trust myself, I am at my happy weight. I know that when people get over eating disorders sometimes they gain weight. My original ED had to do with over-consumption, so I’m not surprised I lost a few pounds. Curious thing though, isn’t it? That my happy weight ended up being the weight I thought I could only sustain with punishing exercise. This weight stays even if I take more than 2 days off from exercising a week, or a night of Chipotle guacamole just sounds too good to pass up, or if I sleep until 9 AM on a weekday and don’t work out until 6, or if Jimmy Fallon comes out with an ice cream with chocolate covered potato chips in it (COME ON).
I don’t eat to stuff down the emotions. I trust myself. This is a happy, healthy weight.
A weight that, as of of two weeks ago, supports a menstrual cycle. That’s right. After nearly two years without a natural period, and 6 months after I stopped birth control, I suddenly began cycling and bleeding again. I wept with joy. And then said “Ow” because I had forgotten how much cramps hurt! But I was thankful for the pain.
My stomach, mind, heart, and soul are blissfully full. And yoga did that for me.
This is what I look like now, as of last weekend. The first picture is of me trying to be all artsy-fartsy. The second one? Well…this is just who I am.
Yoga reintroduced me to that loving, compassionate, and caring part of myself. A ‘myself’ that dances and writes and blogs and photographs and bounces a nephew on her knee. A ‘myself’ that said ‘screw you’ to eating disorders and fear, and ‘WASSUP’ to life, love, and freedom. Boundless, glorious freedom. I’m on a wondrous path of healing. All thanks to a little mat, a dash of chanting, and about seventy thousand gallons of salty, delicious sweat.
I would like to offer you the following prayer to Lakshmi, Hindi goddess of wealth and abundance. May you have abundance in every aspect of your life. The divine light in me recognizes the divine light that shines within you. OM SHREEM KLEEM MAHA LAKSHMIYEI SWAHA. SHANTHI SHANTHI SHANTHI. JAI BHAGWAN. NAMASTE.