If you’re one of the millions of people worldwide who use MyFitnessPal, you already know it’s a great tool to help you lose weight, eat right, track your diet, exercise and, overall, lead a healthy lifestyle. It did all these things for me. But it also helped me do something far more profound: It empowered me to defeat my eating disorder.
My story isn’t rare: An estimated 30 million Americans battle or have battled some kind of eating disorder at some point in their lives. The statistics are similar in Europe, and it’s a prevalent trend in all developed nations: Studies show they’re on the rise in Asia, too. But numbers don’t tell the story on an individual level — eating disorders are an extremely personal battle. So in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I wanted to share my experience in the hopes that can I inspire anyone who might be going through a similar journey to take a step closer to a happier, more positive life.
My journey to fitness started back when I had just turned 20 and moved away from home. Growing up in the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, I was always very skinny and lean, but I never really gave it much thought. I loved dancing, moving and participating in all kinds of sports as well as fitness activities — cycling, hiking, inline skating, juggling, you name it. My diet was always very intuitive: I ate when I was hungry and, most of the time, stopped when I was full.
Moving to the United Kingdom for university was a big life change for me psychologically, socially and physically. I went from being outside every day and being physically active to being in a dorm room in a place where I was really unhappy. That’s when my eating habits started to deteriorate, and I started gaining weight. Up until then, I knew nothing about calories, healthy eating or the importance of exercising. It was just something that always came naturally.
“Seeing your daily action in data and numbers makes it easier to understand what’s happening in your body.”
Just like everyone else I know, my weight gain began to have a huge impact on my self-esteem. To assist my weight-loss efforts, I started reading and adopted an “all or nothing” approach where I never allowed myself to have anything that wasn’t healthy or processed in any way. I had very little guidance and was convinced I could do this by myself — after all, how hard could it be?
This quickly turned into an unhealthy obsession with food that I was unable to rid myself of. I became not only preoccupied with my weight loss, but I also was very judgmental of the way other people around me ate — I would give my family a hard time for eating ice cream, cookies or anything I felt was unhealthy. Needless to say, this caused friction and created seriously negative energy with other people when I ate around them. I would think of myself as better or more disciplined than they were, which wasn’t the reality.
It wasn’t long before my poor habits developed into anorexia. I ended up severely underweight, to the point where I stopped menstruating and had to drop out of school in order to recover. Whenever I was able to eat sufficiently, I found myself crossing over to the binge-eating side where I couldn’t control how much or what I ate due to the restrictions I had forced upon myself. I went into a phase where I was very depressed, refused to eat out on social occasions and was tremendously food obsessed. That also brought on an antisocial lifestyle, not to mention the obsession with not eating any unhealthy food.
Two and a half years after severe imbalances and unhappiness, after countless nights of punishing myself for eating something I had eaten that I wasn’t “supposed to eat,” I started working with a nutritionist, who recommended macro counting. I immersed myself in online research in hopes of finding out how it worked and to hear all about what other people who were using it had to say. I instantly saw the potential of macro counting as a way out of my unhealthy eating habits and into a freer way of eating that would help me reach my fitness goals.
For the next few months, I committed myself to learning how to use MyFitnessPal to see if it was something that could help me. I started exploring and learning how to read food labels at all the local supermarkets and buying things that I had never allowed myself to eat. My goal was to get to a point where I felt I could eat all foods with the sense of control and moderation that I had lost sight of completely.
I was shocked when I realized it was working. Whereas eating something as simple as a piece of chocolate previously would have sent me into all kinds of turmoil, it did the opposite: It actually started making me feel more in control and less scared of food around me. Tracking my macros transformed my life, and my relationship with food, with my body and with others around me. It has helped me find the beauty in balance and has allowed me to feel like my journey is something much more enjoyable that doesn’t just involve me restricting myself from things I love or suffering to reach my goals by going overboard.
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I’ve learned how to eat healthy and that it’s possible to incorporate things that I used to think were taboo — processed, fatty or “unhealthy” foods like ice cream, chocolate bars, even some types of cereal — once in awhile, as long as I did it responsibly. I’m now able to participate in food-centric events like Christmas and family gatherings that I used to dread. I no longer feel like an outcast because of my love and commitment to a fit and healthy body.
MyFitnessPal wasn’t the end-all, be-all cure to my problems, but it was a tremendous tool in helping me realize what kinds of changes I had to make. It worked as a guide to help me better understand that different calories have different qualities and not all calories are created equal, while still helping me focus on a healthy diet. A huge part of the transformation is within you: using critical judgment and dealing with your own feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. But complementing that with seeing your daily action in data and numbers makes it easier to understand what’s happening in your body.
For anyone who is going through a similar journey, know that you’re not alone — you’ve got millions of people who are also battling similar fights, and you’ve also got me in your corner. I send love and light to anyone out there who is going through his or her own fitness journey and is scared or worried. It isn’t about making an overnight change nor is it about going to extremes. It’s about making sustainable changes that better our quality of life every day.