This reader success story by Kasey Hardt is a part of You Can Do It Week. Kasey is currently pursuing a hospitality degree with an event concentration and minor in psychology.
Everyone talks about how losing weight is going to change their life for the better. Everyone talks about how counting calories and exercising and eating healthy will change your life for the good. But not many people think about the extremes. How sometimes, counting calories, losing 10 pounds and exercising can make you not only look, but also feel worse. But that’s what happened to me.
It started in 6th grade when I went on my first diet. As a 12-year-old, I was still in my chubby awkward stage. I heard about the South Beach Diet and decided to dive into it. After that, I continued to yo-yo diet until my sophomore year of high school. That’s when it became bad. I became so obsessed with counting calories, eating only healthy foods and working out at least once a day, that I became consumed. My life revolved around food and exercising. Yes, I did lose 10 pounds; in fact, I continued to lose past that 10-pound mark. In the process, I also lost myself. Food became my world. I would have panic attacks if I thought I ate too much or didn’t work out long enough. Yet I kept reading the magazines, online health sites and other diet books as the cycle continued. It was during my sophomore year in high school that I was diagnose as anorexic. My dieting turned into a full-blown eating disorder.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. I found myself hospitalized at 5 feet 7 inches and 93 pounds.
After I left the hospital, I felt strong, confident and happy. However, I soon began to slip. I stopped using techniques they taught me to try and steer away from calorie counting. I didn’t relapse though. I had something else happening in my life that needed my attention, my strength, my willpower. This was my father. It was my freshman year of high school that we found out that he had a brain tumor. After surgery, the doctors continued to use radiation and chemotherapy to try and prevent it from spreading; however, they failed. By my junior year of high school, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. After I left the hospital, I realized how fast he was declining. The cancer was taking him away. Seeing this, realizing I was now a parent to my father, taking him to his appointments, talking to the doctors and reassuring him he was going to be alright, I knew I had to be strong. There was no time for relapsing.
My freshman year of college was the worst year of my life. It was the year I lost my father to this horrible disease. I was still strong though — knowing my dad wouldn’t want me to fall back into my old ways, I stood strong. However, my strength started to diminish. It was his one-year anniversary that anorexia grabbed hold of my fragile, grieving state. That pain, in addition to it being my hardest semester at school, caused a relapse. By the summer of my sophomore year of college, I was once again down to 104 pounds.
Then something happened. I was seeing a boy who didn’t understand eating disorders at all, and, in fact, made me feel like a weak person because of it. He wasn’t right for me, but he made me realize something. I was weak right now. Yes, I was sick, but I never wanted to look weak, or fragile, or have people pity me — which is what they were doing. I remember the day I looked up 5K races for brain cancer. I found the JB 5K Blast Off, happening in September, only 45 minutes from my school. I decided then that I was not only going to train for it but also raise money for it. So I did.
Running is a funny thing. It’s unlike any other cardio. I usually do an hour of cardio as a warm-up, but I quickly learned running was still going to be a challenge. I needed to eat for it. I needed to be patient with it. I couldn’t count my calories as obsessively as I had. I needed to listen to my body. As I ran, I saw my mileage going up. I thought of my father and knew I was running for him. I was running for everyone battling this horrible disease. During my training, I not only began to gain weight (as your body will do when your severally underweight for your height), but I also developed IT band friction syndrome. I was devastated. It hurt so bad to even walk. I didn’t care though. I learned how to take care of it and continued to train.
Come September, I ran my first 5K. My brother was there to support me. During my training, I gained nearly 15 pounds. Not because I was eating a lot, but because my body needed to, it was trying to get to its healthy weight. In addition to running, I also lifted and gained muscle. I looked awesome; I looked healthy. Finishing that race, as well as being recognized for raising the most money (I raised $150 by selling homemade baked goods to my friends), was a turning point for me. I was no longer to be pitied, weak, fragile. I was strong.
Today, I am the happiest I have ever been. I feel strong and confident. I still have thoughts about dieting and going back to my old ways, but those thoughts are quickly diminished when I remember the sadness I felt during those times. I still look at those magazines, but in a different light. I recognize the importance of rest. And, although it may make no sense, I have used both food and exercise — the two things that consumed me — to recover from my anorexia. I am now vegan, something that helped stop the cycle of counting calories. Vegan pea protein powder has become my new best friend. When I’m training for a race, I make sure I eat and take care of myself.
Running helped save me. It’s freeing. I can’t count calories on a machine when I run outside. I focus on my time, I focus on the distance, I focus on the way my body feels, and I focus on making my dad proud. —Kasey Hardt