Overcoming Disordered Eating: Ness’s Story
Ness is a Starting Strength Coach and Staff Coach for Starting Strength Online Coaching. She went to school to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre. She was part of a program that required her to audition at the end of the year to be invited back for the remaining three years. She was told that in the next four years, she had to strive to become the hardest worker in the room. In the real world, there would always be someone prettier, skinnier, and more talented. Someone who would study, train, dance, diet and exercise harder than her.
She qualified to stay in the program at the end of her freshman year, but felt an increasing amount of pressure from herself, her peers and her teachers. It started with the urge to over-exercise and micromanage her diet, but grew into something more as the credits piled up and expectations climbed. In one semester during junior year, she was taking three dance classes, plus helping out as TA for a fourth. In other words, she spent hours at a time inadvertently staring at herself in the mirror, picking apart her physique and comparing various body parts to those of her peers. In short, her college career was spent in a miserable cycle of restricting and then binging, and on occasion purging, over and over and over again. She came home for Thanksgiving break during junior year, saw her dad for the first time in a few months and later heard him refer to her as a “concentration camp victim.” And to her, this was a shining moment. A compliment of the highest degree.
At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the US alone. Children as young as three years old have expressed concerns about being fat or ugly. Cover spreads of stick-thin supermodels and men with washboard abs flood the checkout aisles of our grocery stores. Magazines, movies, and social media outlets are praising women who define this idealistic female body type; a thin stature, a sunken face, protruding collar bones and thigh gaps. Oh, and if you thought that men were lucky enough to be excused from these pressures, you’re sorely mistaken. The majority of men who have body image issues tend to suffer instead from what is known as muscle dysmorphia, an unhealthy obsession about being big, vascular and muscular.
Up until the very moment she stumbled upon Starting Strength, Ness struggled with her relationship to food. She was no longer starving herself to extinction but was still far from healthy. But strength training with barbells shifted her focus from a dissection of her body’s every imperfection, to an acknowledgement, a sense of pride in what her body can actually do. It empowered her, gave her confidence, and rid her of the chains that whispered enemy in her ear at the very thought of sustenance. And, coincidentally, she’s happier with her body image now than she has ever been, even being thirty pounds heavier than she was in college.
Food is fuel. It’s a necessary component of recovery to help our bodies to get strong. Food is not characterized as “good”, nor should it be labeled “bad”. It does not require punishment, but it’s also not a reward. We do not perform hours of cardio to “earn it”. We do not feel guilty consuming it. It does not determine value.
As a Starting Strength Coach, Ness wants to show her clients their true potential. What their bodies are capable of doing and achieving, through hard work and perseverance, is far more valuable than the weight on the bathroom scale, the figure in the mirror, or the visibility of a skeleton. Period. We all have insecurities, and we all have doubts. Coaches and clients alike. In appearance, confidence, job security, relationships. We all go through these things. Training for strength teaches us the confidence to face tasks that are difficult. To face insecurities that are perhaps a little painful. And ultimately, to love and value ourselves for the hard work we contribute to bettering our quality of life.