Saturday was my second Spark-versary. I technically joined the site before I was hired, but I really didn't have time or energy to spend much time on the site.
The woman I was on April 24, 2008, seems wholly unrecognizable now.
Two years ago, I was stressed and exhausted. Moments of happiness were fleeting, and the real me struggled to emerge. I knew what I wanted, but I was having trouble reaching it.
Today, I'm a yoga teacher. I'm running my first half marathon in two weeks. I am well-rested, I like getting out of bed in the morning, and I like coming to work. I have a new home, a wonderful boyfriend, and the world's best cat.
At 28, I am healthier and happier than ever. For the first time, I am content with my body. I accept my flaws, love myself and focus on the positive. Today I feel strong, strong enough to share my own story about weight loss. (It's long, so bear with me.)
After graduating college in 2003, I gained 40 pounds. In 2005, while living in South Korea, I lost it. Though I was "overweight" for less than two years, my issues with weight and food date back 16 years.
It's hard to remember exactly what triggered it, but the summer before I started junior high I fell into a decade-long struggle with eating disorders. I was 12 years old, 5' 7" and 120 pounds. I wore women's clothes while all of my friends were still in girls sizes. I was flat as a board and quite thin, but I felt gigantic and out of place. On top of that, I was transferring schools, had just moved in with my dad and stepmom and was dealing with my mom's second divorce. Life sucked--and it was spiraling out of control.
I started by skipping breakfast, then lunch. I stood up in choir class one morning and the world went black. I didn't pass out, but I got scared. I hadn't eaten in three days.
By that summer I was subsisting on saltines and jam, and fat-free yogurt. I baby-sat all day, so my parents didn't know that I counted calories religiously and never ventured above 500 before 5 o'clock. I ate dinner in my room and flushed most of it.
The week that eighth grade started, my weight was 98 pounds--and I was 5' 8" by then. I had dropped to a size 1--that was before stores carried size 0. My parents confronted me, and instead of starting school with the rest of my class, I spent a week in the hospital.
My willpower was broken, and though I never dropped that low again, I continued to hate my body. To me, thin meant pretty. I was a smart girl in a small town, and I felt like an alien. I was tall, flat-chested and pale with black hair. I couldn't be blonde or tan, but I could be skinny, which I thought would make people like me more. I was a giant ball of emotions, and the only way I knew to control them was to control my food. I judged myself constantly, comparing my weight and clothing size to every other girl I saw.
By 10th grade, I weighed 120 pounds, still underweight for my height. I starved myself all day--for four years my lunch was a handful of pretzels and a blueberry cereal bar--then binged when I came home from school. Soon, I started throwing up, and I lost 10 pounds. My parents found out and I stopped for awhile, but for another 10 years, I made myself throw up when I was stressed or felt fat.
When I graduated from high school, I weighed 125 pounds. At college, I finally felt free to be myself. Away from the small town that stifled me, I ate freely. Beer, pizza and dining hall food packed on the freshmen 15, but for about two years I didn't care about my weight. I was too busy living. For the first time in years, my thoughts weren't consumed by food and weight.
I had another battle with anorexia my senior year of college, when the stress of my future became too much to handle. I lost 15 pounds but gained it back throughout the year. My weight stayed stable until my first post-college job.
I worked nights at a large daily newspaper, and the only time I really socialized was after midnight when my co-workers went out for drinks. A cocktail (or three) and deep-fried bar food, fast food and takeout piled on the pounds. I joined a gym, but working out just made me want to eat more. I added expensive twice-monthly Pilates reformer classes, but it wasn't enough. I was eating (and socially drinking) to fill a void. At 183 pounds and 5' 10", I was unhappy.
I worked nights and weekends, I was dating a guy that no one in my life liked, and I didn't do much besides go to work and go out.
I was, in short, a hot mess. I was that girl--the girl who cried too much, dragged her emotional baggage out at inappropriate times and turned to food for comfort. I took too many risks and wasn't very responsible.
So I made the decision, at 23, to flee my life.
I gave notice, started studying Korean, dumped my boyfriend, and moved to Seoul to teach English. While I still wasn't in the best place emotionally, I did make some significant changes to improve my life.
I envisioned a new life, one that started with a major goal: to lose the 40 pounds I had gained.
With no car, I walked to the supermarket and carry my groceries home, sometimes up 15 flights of stairs (the elevator in my building was often out of order). Because my Korean wasn't very good, I couldn't read menus or labels very well at first, so I was forced to cook, something I had always loved. Eventually, as my literacy improved, I was able to branch out. By then, I had adopted a Korean style of eating: plenty of vegetables, a bit of meat and rice, and flavorful, low-fat condiments--and very few sweets.
I was on my feet all day at school (we were reprimanded if we were caught sitting), and I was constantly on the move, exploring Seoul. I only worked about 30 hours a week at most, and with few responsibilities or commitments, I had plenty of free time.
I started walking the two miles home instead of taking the bus. My friends and I spent all day Saturday wandering the city. I even climbed a small mountain. (Suraksan, which was within walking distance of my apartment.)
I joined a gym and spent two hours a night there: A half-hour of cardio, then either weights or a Pilates/stretching class (taught in Korean!) and a few minutes in the steam shower. As the only wae-guk saram (foreigner) at my gym, I drew some stares at first. I was taller and much bigger than most Korean women.
It would be a few more years before I really found peace in my life, but that year in Korea was pivotal. I learned how strong--and weak--I really was. I didn't see my family for an entire year. I made new friends from all over the world. I convinced my childhood best friend to move to Korea. I navigated a city of 10 million people, learned to read, write and speak a new language, and I fell on my face both literally and figuratively. I fell in love, had my heart broken, and mended fences with my sister, who is now one of my closest friends. I paid off debt, traveled to six countries and took the long way home with a two-month trip through Europe.
I wasn't perfect, and I probably made more mistakes in that one year than I have during the other 27 years of my life. Still, I have no regrets.
I returned home, and all my new-found confidence evaporated.
The school I had worked for had been stealing money from its employees. The month's wages of severance pay (standard in Korea) wasn't waiting on me as it was supposed to be. The money I was going to use to get me through the summer--before I headed off for another year in Korea--wasn't there. My parents were paying for my sister's wedding, so aside from a car and a place to live (very generous), they weren't able to help me. (I got the money six months later, after many emails and a few early-morning calls to the Korean department of immigration.)
After two months of living with my mom and stepdad in the small town I fled at 18, I decided to stay in the States and get a job. Eventually I landed in Cincinnati, a decision I now regard as fortuitous. I didn't want to be back in journalism, and I wanted to flee again. I was experiencing what I now know is called situational depression, or adjustment disorder. My family had no idea what to do with me. Neither did I. I was such a mess at my sister's wedding that her friends referred to me as Sister "Cray-Cray" (as in crazy) for years.
For about six months, I cried all the time, missed Korea desperately and generally had an awful time trying to adjust to my life. I felt trapped, and suddenly thought all the progress I'd made had evanesced. During that time, I clung to a healthy diet and exercise. I was eating better, working out and practicing yoga.
Eventually the black cloud lifted, I found my niche in Cincinnati, and I came to terms with my decision to stay. I learned to take responsibility, listen and think before speaking, and keep superfluous emotional outbursts to a minimum.
Today, I look back on my life, and I'm proud of who I am and who I was. I'm not proud of every decision, but they brought me here.
I am strong, inside and out. I am beautiful, inside and out. And I am happy.
I took the long road getting here, but every bump and sharp curve was worth it.
Thank you for reading.
Have you learned more from the good times in your life or the bad?
Photo: Me, in Philadelphia, practicing padmasana (lotus pose), a moment of peace on a cold winter's day.
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