Summer Equinox*

Just an FYI, this isn’t a paid review of Equinox (although if they *WANTED* to pay me–or let me work there–I’d be totally cool with it. Like, really cool with working there. Please hire me? 

From the moment I walked into (okay, ran into) the Equinox gym on 92nd Street, it was love at first sight. The gym was only one mile from my apartment (so I could add two mile runs into fitness plan for the day), and easily one of the most breathtaking gyms I’ve every had the pleasure to train in. If you’ve never seen (or heard of) Equinox, I urge you to get your butt in gear if only to go sightseeing. Luxury barely even begins to describe it. State-of-the-art equipment; rooms for physical therapy and Pilates reformer classes; group fitness classes that start national fitness trends; eucalyptus-scented towels…You name it, they had it.

Eucalyptus towels: Necessary? No. Appreciated? Yes.

They also had the kind of personal trainers that I aspired to be: fit, rippling with lean muscle, and knowledgable in everything from self-myofascial release to functional training.

This place was (and is), in my mind, the very definition of fitness.

To be fair, even my dream gym is not without controversy–Equinox featured some pretty racy/controversial ads a few years back (Click the picture to read more).

On the day I came in to apply for the free trial, I had to sit down with a membership counselor to discuss my options post-free-trial. As I had during my other free-trial sessions, I played dumb. Of course I nodded my head and tossed him a nonchalant smile while he threw ridiculously exorbitant numbers back at me (seriously, how can people afford monthly gym fees that were almost as high as my rent?). Sure, I’d be signing up for a membership. Sure, I’d be using the gym even though I had one on campus. Sure, I’d be happy to discuss my options once I’d found a job.

That week became one of the happiest in my fitness career thus far.

At the end of the week, I spoke to the counselor again. He noticed how stoked I was on becoming a member–he had run into me several times during the week while giving tours to other potential members and knew how serious I was about my fitness–and he sympathized with my poor-student’s sorrows. He offered to extend my free trial another week.

I was so happy, I baked the man cookies.

After that week, my free-trial membership card found itself on auto-renew. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but that man saved my sanity and my bank account, at least temporarily. I also started to get to know several of the trainers there, and one even said he’d recommend me once I had my Personal Trainer certification.

Equinox had become my bliss.

During this time, I also got myself a workstudy job with the Arts Initiative on campus. The pay was lousy, but then again, it was a workstudy, so I didn’t expect much. At least I had a job, and a fairly good one at that. It was only a short subway ride to 125th street from my apartment, and I was able to gain some good experience working in office administration, social media management, and arts blogging.

With a 9-to-5, however, I had to prep my meals in advance. I spent hours on Saturday and Sunday shopping for food, prepping veggies, cooking and freezing large batches of turkey and chicken breast, and packing and planning for the week. I ate my Eat-Clean-approved six meals per day every three hours on the hour, with snacks of apples and almond butter or berries and cottage cheese interspersed between the monotony of egg-whites and tuna.

Every night, after my post-work meal, I would study for my NASM certification, and dream of someday working at an amazing luxury gym as a master trainer. It was so close I could taste it. (And it certainly tasted better than boiled chicken breast.)

-K.

*Yes, I realize that the proper word I’m looking for here is “solstice.” Equinoxes are in the summer/fall; however, while factually incorrect, “Summer Equinox” suits my blog’s purposes for today.

Eat-Clean(er)

The scales tipped from “healthy obsession” to “obsessed with healthy” as soon as I got the May/June 2010 issue of Muscle and Fitness Hers. But before I go there, let me rewind:

I finished the semester (with perfect grades), but I put the Deans on notice of my potential departure from the university. I had begun seeing a psychologist at the University health center, and, let me tell you:  he was a real trooper. Because I was constantly on the verge of a complete breakdown, I went through a box of tissues (at least) every time I stepped into his office. He seemed, as the days dragged on and my mental state completely deteriorated, almost deflated. It was as if he was running out of steam trying to keep me from derailing. As summer neared, he suggested two things: a medical leave of absence and depression medication.

Unconvinced by either argument, I tried to keep chugging along with nothing but talk therapy and my morning gym sessions.

Part of my anxiety stemmed from my quickly dwindling finances. This last semester had completely depleted the last of my savings from teaching, and I was forced to take out more loans. I decided that, no matter what I did–whether I stayed and became a professional dramaturg or left and found something equally fulfilling to do with my life–I would need to find a job that would help me buffer some of the costs of living in the most expensive city in the US.

That was when I signed up for the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Personal Trainer certification.

Finally, for a few hours every day–and even outside of the gym–I felt like I had a purpose. Studying anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and program design just…made sense. There was nothing subjective about it, no artsy interpretations, just science. And the kind of science that could be used to help other people, make them better. I loved it.

This was the good that came out of my obsession.

The bad? It showed up in the mail with my latest copy of Muscle and Fitness Hers.

Muscle and Fitness Hers May/June 2010

In the May/June issue, the magazine had an eight-week transformation challenge. Designed by a renowned trainer of figure competitors, the challenge had two four-week training periods, which mixed traditional resistance machines with stability exercises in week-long body-part splits.* All well and good. At least I had a progressive, prescriptive program to follow (instead of the bits and pieces I was cobbling together pre-NASM).

The problem was that the transformation prescription included a meal plan.

And if you’ve never followed a fitness competitor’s meal plan, then consider yourself well-fed. The gist? Egg whites, protein shakes, plain chicken breasts, fish, turkey, salads, steamed vegetables, and the occasional sweet potato. Limited fruit, carbs, fats…mainly protein, protein, protein. And there were numbers attached to everything. I could eat 1400-1600 calories per day, and every morsel had to be accounted for.

I, of course, knew that I could do better than that. If fitness models could eat clean, I could eat cleaner. I would do 1200-1400 calories per day.  I would eat only extra-lean protein. I would substitute real food with a scoop of protein powder. I would add extra cardio at the end of my transformation weightlifting routine.

In eight weeks, I was going to look like a fitness model and enter the transformation challenge.

The only problem with this goal was that the University gym closed for several weeks over the summer, so I would have nowhere to work out. And I was strapped for cash, so a pricey gym membership was very much out of the question. So I came up with a plan: I would go to every gym in the area and sign up for their free trial. One gym only had a three-day period, while two others had full weeks. I figured I would just have to be creative for the remaining days until I could sign up for a summer membership on campus.

Celebrating with my sisters and cousin, and hating that I wasn’t more “fit” for the picture.

And that was how I discovered Equinox.

-K.

*For the uninitiated, a “body-part split” is a way of designing a training program to emphasize specific body parts on a certain day of the week. For example, Monday might be a chest day with push ups, presses, and flyes, while Tuesday might be for biceps and triceps, featuring lots of curls and extensions, etc. Many trainers have moved away from this model of program design in order to follow a more dynamic, functional, full-body approach (or, conversely, a random, muscle-confusing, crossfit-y mish-mash of whatever they want to do that day). However, traditional lifting-for-hypertrophy (or muscle growth) tends toward this model.

Clean Slates and Clean Eating

It’s amazing how quickly a life can capsize (and how quickly it can be somewhat righted…even without all of the leaky holes filled).*

For the first time in my life, I didn’t finish my final papers. I packed my bags for Florida without any intention of returning to New York except to collect my things and high-tail it out of there.

The Deans of Academics and Admissions, however, did their darndest to convince me to reconsider. I could take an Incomplete in three classes and simply make up the papers before the next semester. I could move into campus housing so I could be closer to the gym and the school (which would cut my commute time and maybe allay some of my anxiety about staying on campus too late). I was talented and capable, and I could more than handle the demands of the program. It would be a shame if I left.

Going to a New Year’s Eve party in my new (little!) black dress

Long story short, I decided to return to New York to give it another try. (I wrote 50 pages in 2 weeks as well as the first draft of my full-length play for my playwriting class, reversing all of my Incompletes before the semester began).

I still had time before the new year, however, and I realized that I needed to make some big changes to my diet, since my body had plateaued. Through Oxygen Magazine I was introduced to something called the “Eat Clean Diet.” The idea was to completely cut out refined foods (easy), focus on lean protein (okay), eat healthy fats (not gonna happen ‘cause don’t fats make you fat?),** and eat six small (~200 calorie) meals a day (not so easy when you have to catch a train to 49th for some student rush tickets but then have to kill two hours wandering Times Square and won’t be home until 11 pm…but I guessed that’s what Tupperware was for). Through the Eat Clean Diet and Muscle and Fitness Hers, I learned about nutrient timing, and pre- and post-workout protein, and supplementation. I even learned how to make a pancake without any flour (hint: egg whites and protein powder).

The Eat-Clean Diet by Tosca Reno

When I returned to New York, I invested in whey protein powder, branched chain amino acid supplements, and a subscription to Clean Eating Magazine. I took the train down to Whole Foods on 59th at least once a week. I started running to and from the gym, and making sure to get home for my protein powder and oatmeal with blueberries before my 15 minute post-workout window closed and I got fat from eating carbs.

I approached the spring semester with a renewed sense of vigor. I was excited about my playwriting and critical writing classes. So what if I was the only idiot who liked things like Shakespeare and the musicals of the 1920s? So what if I felt like I had to defend the fact that I nearly cried from happiness while watching such fluff as Finian’s Rainbow,*** but couldn’t even understand some of the pieces I saw downtown? I could pretend to give a damn about contemporary, avant garde theatre. I was an expert on it now, remember? And if I could write three major papers in two weeks while finishing the first draft of a play, then I could do anything my professors asked of me.

Feeling fabulously thin at a gay bar downtown

I started attending the theatre 3-4 times per week–blowing through my savings account in order to make sure that I was the most up-to-date blowhard in the room. I could opine on any topic related to the New York stage (never mind the fact that I didn’t care about said topics as much as I cared about being seen as someone who could opine on them). I was burning the candle at both ends, between my early morning gym sessions, my late night theatre exploits, and my constant meal prepping and planning.

My good spirits began declining once again as summer drew nearer. I had no job prospects lined up because, despite my credentials and my knowledge, no theatre company had hired me. I couldn’t afford to do an internship, so my staying in New York was firmly tied to my ability to get hired. I was also exhausted. Being around theatre people began to make me sick–I felt like I was constantly being judged, constantly being put-upon. I started breaking down and walking out of my classes in tears once again or making excuses to get out of rehearsals so I could sit in my room and cry.

Getting dressed up for my sister’s Bat Mitzvah

I was putting so much energy into my education without feeling like I was getting anything out–so much energy without enough calories to fuel me–that I was headed for another burn out. I began seriously discussing the prospect of making this my last semester in New York.

-K.

*Sorry for my horrible metaphor. It’s so lame, that I’m leaving it here without rewriting it because I think we need to bear witness.

**Said my disordered, uneducated brain. I now know that fats do not make you fat (unless you’re regularly digging into the jar of Crisco, in which case, god help you).

***You’d cry from happiness too, if you got to hear Cheyenne Jackson and Kate Baldwin sing in person.

Finian’s Rainbow (borrowed from the NY Times)

Learning How to Lift

With my plane ticket to NC cancelled, I looked forward to going home to my family for Thanksgiving.

Running the Tamarac Turkey Trot with Mom & Gary

However, my mental state deteriorated throughout the remainder of the winter semester. I spent longer and longer hours focused on perfecting my physique and spent the remainder of my time having outright anxiety attacks about all of the things that were keeping me from achieving that perfection: staying out too late at the theatre, waking up too early because the subway never came on time, spending too much time in class or in my room writing, not lifting enough, eating too many calories…the list went on.

During this time, however, I had two very positive influences (the first in the form of magazines; the second, a person) on my understanding of fitness, which actually helped me to become a more knowledgeable and, I hope, more efficient lifter.

Although I had originally picked up Women’s Health, Shape, and Fitness, it wasn’t until I found Oxygen Magazine and Muscle and Fitness Hers that I finally figured out what the hell I was doing in the gym. Those two magazines are written for women who are serious about muscle–they rarely feature frivolous articles on the best post-gym makeup, and they all but make fun of the women who say things like, “I want to ‘tone’ but not ‘get big.’” These magazines opened my eyes to the concept that weights are more effective than cardio at building a beautiful physique. I consider Oxygen and M&F my gateway drugs into the world of bodybuilding and fitness competition.

Armed with a slightly better arsenal of workouts (although I still continued to purloin tips from Jamie, since she’s a regular Oxygen contributor), I bundled myself up every morning, braced myself against the pre-dawn river chill as I made my way to the subway, and headed into the gym with renewed vigor.

Borrowed from Jamie Eason’s Facebook page

I no longer had to look good for Lysander, but I still had to look good. For me. For ED.

Those early mornings at the gym were not spent alone; I was accompanied by the very dedicated few who managed to drag themselves out of bed and into the gym before an early morning lecture or seminar. In particular, there was one guy who was there every morning, lifting ridiculous amounts of weight (seriously, leg pressing with 1000 lbs?) or performing exercises I would never have even thought to do (blast-strap pushups, much?). And, before each of these superhuman feats of strength or testosterone, he would set up a camera so he could film himself.

I was immediately convinced that he was a jerk.

Who else would film themselves lifting like crazy at the gym? Only jerks.

And, it turns out, amazing, non-jerks like Ben. Ben Bruno was, at the time, a student at the university–though his sights were set on becoming a strength coach for athletes.* He was filming himself to study and correct his form, as well as document exercise progressions and PRs for others’ learning. And, without realizing it, he was teaching me a hell of a lot about the true meaning of a workout: to build strength and power, and not, as I’d always assumed was important, just to “tone” my muscles (whatever that means).

After a few months of seeing each other every day and not doing much but making eye contact and awkwardly acknowledging each other with a head nod, we started talking. He would ask about my workouts, and sometimes even offer tips. He told me about his personal trainer certification, and explained the whys and hows behind some of his workouts.

I will never forget the morning when some poor, Shape-toting female accidentally made her way into the weight room, where she picked up some 5 lb dumbbells and blew through about a million bicep curls with poor form before doing something equally useless on the lateral shoulder raise machine. Ben shared a knowing look with me. With me! This woman (not me!), I thought, was why women have a bad rep in the weight room. But I wasn’t like that–I knew what I was doing! I could lift weights! And guys knew it and shared knowing looks with me! I was one of the guys now! (Sure, I hadn’t given up my hour-long cardio sessions after lifting, but that was just because I still had to lean out…)

It got to the point where I realized that the only thing I cared about was working out. My time spent in the gym was the only time during which I felt validated and safe. I convinced myself that I didn’t even like my grad program anymore. Lysander had been right: it was a waste of time. I couldn’t be friends with the amazing people in my program because they didn’t understand why I had to work out and eat well–we were from two different worlds.

A cardio addiction is still an addiction…

I was miserable everywhere but the gym. In the gym, I fit in. At the theatre and in classes, I suffered. So I decided, as the semester drew to a close, that I would drop out.

-K.

*Ben is now a strength coach at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in MA. He is also an incredible fount of knowledge when it comes to the world of strength and conditioning–and I cannot recommend his blog more highly. Not only does he put his own workouts and exercises on the web, he also aggregates the best of the best from all of the other strength coaches out there in a weekly blog post, so you can find out all of the latest goings-on in the industry in one place. (You should, at the very least, follow him on Facebook or Twitter for updates!)

The Winter of My Discontent…

I was getting A’s on all of my assignments, writing what would become a full-length play, and seeing massive amounts of theatre. I was basically living my dream.

Except for the part where the dream had become a nightmare. The fall semester dragged on, and I trudged through it, from gym to class to my increasingly prison-like apartment. Every play that I was required to see for class meant having to find a way to pack a healthy dinner for the trip to midtown, waiting for the infrequent uptown A-train past 10 pm, and a much-later-than-desired cereal binge before collapsing into bed for the few hours of restless sleep before my early morning wake-up. Every social engagement became more and more fraught–either it would lead to a late night and an overslept alarm, or it would force me to spend money on fattening, sugary, unhealthy foods. I became so good at making excuses that I actually started to believe them.

As my November deadline neared, I became more and more obsessed with my body image. I scoured health magazines and blogs, searching for the magic bullet that would tip the scales (har har) between “pretty fit” and “Jamie Eason.” Nothing took. I had plateaued at 125 lbs, and though I had some ab definition, I wasn’t presentable. In fact, I was a failure.

The depression sunk in with the winter air.

I spent every night on the phone with my Lysander, and our conversations were made increasingly more tense by my escalating depression and anxiety. His negativity about my grad program fed my negativity about my own self-worth, and now that I knew I wouldn’t even be able to impress him with my physique, I felt like I was somehow sub-human. I wasn’t fit to be this man’s wife. I was barely fit to live.

The thought that he would be seeing my body in just a few weeks made me absolutely sick to my stomach.*

Things came to a head in October. I called him after attending a talk given at the Shakespeare Society on Christopher Marlowe (my Elizabethan hero) because the professor who had been presenting agreed to consider letting me into his English-grad-student-only course on Shakespeare the following semester. It was a huge honor to even have him agree to speak with me, let alone consider letting me into his restricted class…by Lysander had nothing but disdain for this man and his credentials, as well as my desire to take the course in the first place.

I remember walking up Haven Ave. with my Blackberry plastered to my head, wind biting at my ears and hands, and saying, “I love you” before we hung up…and realizing, for the first time, that I didn’t mean it.

A few days, and an incoherent phone call (incoherent because I am too much of a codependent to have actually told him that I wanted to break up and because I was too busy crying to try to properly articulate myself) in which nothing was resolved, later, we were officially “not in a relationship” according to Facebook. I assumed that once I received that notification, I didn’t have to actually be the one to say, “Let’s end this before someone gets hurt.”

It was too late. ED was back and stronger than before.

-K.

*Please note that, at no point, did Lysander ever explicitly state that I had to look or be a certain way. At the time, I believed that it was implied and therefore a necessity. That was all constructed by my obsessive-compulsive, disordered friend ED, and probably nourished with some of Lysander’s off-hand, potentially passive-aggressive comments related to body image, measures of success, and the legitimacy of my graduate program.

Where it Counts…

The next few posts are going to be some of my most difficult to write, so I apologize if they lack eloquence or if they take me a while to compose. I am still struggling with the nuclear fallout of my most recent relapse–especially because ED disguised itself (and sometimes continues to do so) as healthy living. Please bear with me as I get these words onto the page…

I reluctantly let my plantar faciitis heal through orientation in a desperate attempt to–please pardon the pun–start my school year off on the right foot.

The body I had…

The problem with my going back to school was that I was really, really good at it. Academia has always been my comfort zone, and reading and writing about theatre is an instinct that comes as naturally to me as does breathing. However. There is one thing that I am better at than being an academic, and that is doubting myself to the point of lung-crushing anxiety. And I was scared to death of failing.

Since I had not been a part of the New York theatre scene for many years, I put my entire heart and soul into playing catch-up. There were so many plays, so many actors, so many musicals and monologues and theatre critics who I felt that I should have just known. I didn’t want to look stupid in front of my brilliant classmates or the famous directors, writers, and other such high muck-a-mucks who ran my program.

The nail in the coffin for my anxiety attacks came from Lysander, whose daily phone calls usually included some sort of disparaging remark about my pursuit of a graduate degree in theatre. I could, he assured me, be doing something more useful, like law or business (and, coincidentally, he happened to be doing both). There was always something negative about my particular program encoded into our conversations. I was stuck between agreeing with him  and trying to prove to him that I was doing something worthwhile.

To ease my anxiety about my degree, I threw myself even more wholeheartedly into my physical transformation plan. I created an account on caloriecount.about.com, and, for the first time in my life, not only logged my food, but also started counting calories. Calories were these mythical, magical little numbers that existed somewhere in food, and by controlling them, I could finally control how much I was eating–and therefore, how much weight I was gaining. I would weigh myself on my little red scale every morning and log the number on the site. I spent my days weighing and measuring my portions. I would then spend every night logging every morsel of food that I put in my mouth.

I also left J’s Big Gym and started using the university’s on-campus gym. Since I lived in Washington Heights (on 172nd St.), it was silly for me to go up to 181st and back, when I  still had to get down to school on 116th St. in time for class. I woke up every morning at 4:45, ate  1/3 cup of shredded wheat cereal (no Publix in NY!) with 1/2 cup of skim milk, took the subway to 116th, and did my Jamie Eason workout followed by an hour of cardio from 6 am until 7:45 am. Then I showered in the locker room (which involved about 30 futile minutes of trying to flat iron my curly hair in the dank, humid air), and then walked to class.

My awesome apartment on 172nd…and my awesome friend Ana (who I miss terribly!)

For lunch, I ate an apple and my usual peanut-butter-and-rice-cakes–until I saw one of my classmates eat an english muffin. Just seeing that bread-y goodness made my mouth water. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding crazy, but that day I ached for an English muffin. I started toasting Ezekiel gluten-free english muffins (120 calories per serving: 1 muffin) and slathering them with my all-natural peanut butter (also 120 calories per serving: 2 tbsp).

Although I absolutely adored my fellow classmates–absolutely adored them–I only rarely saw them outside of class. I was both scared to death that they’d see me for the inexperienced pretender I felt I was and that they’d want to go out to eat or drink. I couldn’t spare the calories if I wanted to be a fitness model by November, so I had another apple for a snack and then went home right after class most nights. I would sit in my apartment, eat a lite tofu (1/5 block, ~ 30 calories), black bean (1/2 cup, 57 calories), and Thai veggie (1 cup, 33 calories)  stir fry, and do my homework (and calorie counting) until my nightly cereal binge before bed. (And with the cereal binge, I’d fudge the numbers, because I didn’t want to admit how much I was actually eating.)

My beautiful bedroom…and self-imposed prison.

The good news was that I was finally starting to lose weight. I could see it reflected in the way my clothes hung on me, in the number on the scale, in the mirror. And my school anxiety, though still stressing me out to no end, at least motivated me to become an expert in all things theatre. I could discuss everyone from Eugene O’Neill to Nicky Silver without batting an eye. And with all of that positive feedback, I continued my destructive cycles of calorie restriction, exercise, and stress.

One of the few times I went out for a non-school event that semester–and saw FAME with some of my life-long friends.

-K.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gym…

I grew more and more depressed as the summer drew to a close for reasons not entirely tied to my dissatisfaction with my weight: in September, I would be starting a three-year grad program in New York City; Lysander would be starting a four-year program in North Carolina. I had already decided that he was the man I wanted to marry, and the thought of being separated from him for so long was agonizing.

We spent our last week together by driving up to his house in NC to get him set up for school and then flying to NYC to set up my apartment. I would be living in Washington Heights with a friend of Lysander’s from college. I was nervous but excited.

I weighed myself every day that week, gloomily noting the numbers: 129.5. We dined like kings in New York, wolfing down plates and plates of the best foods in the city. Once Lysander left, it would be back to the regularly scheduled meal plan, so I indulged as much as I could while I had the chance.

At summer’s end…

When Lysander left, I took a look at myself in the mirror. I felt like I was bursting out of my clothes. Curves, breasts, hips and thighs…I had become “ugly” once again. It would be about 3 months until I saw Lysander (since he was flying me in to NC for Thanksgiving and my birthday), and so I decided that I would give him a surprise: I would go through a transformation so profound, that he would be even more in love with me. I was going to be thin and beautiful and strong. I was going to learn how to lift weights.

I remembered a conversation that we’d had about his favorite fitness model, Jamie Eason. I didn’t really know anything about fitness modeling or why Jamie Eason was an important name in the fitness industry, so I decided to look her up.* Needless to say, she was absolutely drop dead sexy–even with muscles, Jamie was more feminine and beautiful than I had imagined. I decided at that moment that I would look like her when I visited Lysander in November. (An added bonus would be impressing my fellow classmates and my professors. I was nervous, convinced for some reason that I might be the dumbest–or least experienced–person in the room, so knowing that I could at least impress people with my physique was somehow reassuring.)

Borrowed from Jamie Eason’s Official Facebook page

The first thing I did was look up Jamie’s fitness routine. (I quickly found an interview she had given some months back that contained a workout plan, along with several websites full of gratuitously sexy photos that made me feel even worse about my own body–thank you, Google!) Instead of cardio, the plan included lots of weights–she used body part splits and machines I’d never heard of, too. No matter. That’s what YouTube was for. I still had a few weeks until school started, so I signed up for a gym on 181st street. I bought a little red scale and started weighing myself every day. I also took my first progress picture to document how my body would be changing.

Now, let me tell you about my three weeks at J’s Big Gym:

Every day, I would run a mile underneath the Washington Bridge and up 181st Street to St. Nicholas and back. The gym itself was intimidating. On the first floor, they had their membership desk, their cardio machines, and their traditional resistance machines…and a parrot. A very loud parrot. A parrot that screeched incessantly until a blanket was put over its cage. If a blanket was put over its cage. If you stayed downstairs, besides potentially losing your hearing or your mind, you’d mostly encounter older folks doing abductor exercises and ladies dressed in neon workout clothes with matching fake flowers in their hair.

J’s Big Gym

The free-weight room was an entirely different beast: Up one flight of stairs lay this den of testosterone and bro science, a dark room haunted by leering men in wife beaters and bandanas. My first trip up the stairs nearly had me turning around before I even entered the room, but I clutched my Jamie-Eason-Workout notes and soldiered on.

I had no idea what I was doing–or what I was getting myself into–but somehow I managed to figure out the Smith Machine and pull off a squat without killing myself. Looking back on my first few weeks (okay, months) in the gym, I wonder how I didn’t injure myself worse.

Oh, yes, the injury. The first one, anyway.

I felt the pain in my right foot after about a week of running to the gym. Doing lunges and strange weight circuits copied from Women’s Health Magazine only made it worse. Refusing to let a little pain stop me, I bought an ankle brace from Duane Reade and kept exercising.

And, because I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t stop until she’s literally unable to walk, I didn’t stop until I was literally unable to walk. I had developed plantar faciitis. Plantar Faciitis is an injury caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a tissue that runs from your heel and through the arch of your foot. It causes pain especially when the foot has been in plantarflexion for too long (think: toes pointed like a ballerina’s). PF is basically an overuse injury; the best medicine is rest–which is exactly what I didn’t want to hear. I had weight to lose, muscle to build, and a body to transform–I had a deadline, and rest was not an option. I tried to stick it out a few more days…

And I started my school year on crutches.

-K.

*For those of you who don’t know her, Jamie Eason is the female face of Bodybuilding.com, a contributor to Oxygen Magazine, and a hugely popular member of the health and fitness world. She is also very active on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and her sunny demeanor and tendency to respond to and encourage her fans (as well as her famously perfect glutes) have cemented her star stature among bodybuilding hoi polloi.

Because muscles are sexy. (Borrowed from Jamie Eason’s Official Facebook page

The Young and the Disorder-ly

When you think of the words “Eating Disorder,” what comes to mind? That skeletally thin  girl at your local gym who spends two hours on the elliptical every morning? The sensationalist photos of thin celebrities in bikinis under the headline “Eat a Hamburger!” in your grocery store’s tabloids? The scene in every movie about ballet ever, which takes place in the dance school’s bathroom? The generic (and overused) tracking shot of obese-people-from-behind in your local news station’s inevitable human interest story on diabesity?

I find it interesting that, in the last few days, several people from my past have reached out to me and said (or written) that they had no idea I had suffered from an eating disorder. Well, what if I told you that, according to the DSM-IV (short for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), I technically didn’t? And, in fact, if you looked at my medical records up to this point in the story, you wouldn’t see anything that might tip you off *. I was underweight, sure, but I wasn’t a skeleton. I was purging my calories, but I was doing so on the Stairmaster and not in the bathroom. I was impossibly skinny, but I still ate three meals a day.

What I haven’t told you yet is that my ED actually introduced himself to me on that fateful July 4th 11 years ago as EDNOS, short for “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.” The DSM-IV only takes the time to define two types of eating disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia. For everything else, there’s EDNOS. The problem with this is that women (and men) who might be suffering from everything from obsessive exercise to extreme (but non-fatal) calorie restriction, body dysmorphic disorder to orthorexia**, might not even realize that they need help. Or, perhaps they do, but no one will help them because they’re “not really sick.”

And when people don’t get help, these problems can wreak havoc on a person’s body–and psyche. And I didn’t get help.

So when my EDNOS met Lysander, things took a turn for the worse.

Now, I don’t know if he had an eating disorder, but his obsession with healthy eating (*cough* orthorexia *cough*) and exercise exacerbated my once-again-latent ED. I could compare our 4:45 am wake ups for oatmeal before the gym, or his insistence on eating the Men’s Health ordained “8 Foods You Should Eat Every Day” every day, to poking at a hornet’s nest with a branch.

Here’s what happened:

I moved in with him. And though I reasoned with my parents that it was really just so I could save on gas money, I moved in with him because I honestly believed that I was in love. I had never felt that way about another human being before, and I was, after only a few weeks of knowing him, honestly ready to change every plan I had made for my life in order to be with him. I think (I hope) he felt the same way about me.

He was a military veteran, recently sprung from active duty overseas, and he was very, very concerned with health and fitness. I was a veteran of a year teaching community high school, and I was very, very concerned with doing cardio and not getting fat.

He would go to the gym three days per week, alternating squat and deadlift days. In between there was a day for sprints around his neighborhood and a day for a long run. That left Sunday for rest.

I would go to the gym 7 days a week and do 50 minutes on the Stepmill. Rest days were non-existent–or, if I were convinced to stay home, I would become angry and  impossible to be around. I needed my cardio. After much cajoling from Lysander, I reluctantly started adding in leg extensions/curls and a couple of the other resistance machines at the end of each cardio session.

He ate oatmeal for two meals per day, and would finish the day with something he called “slop” (which consisted of most of the other 8-foods-you-should-eat-every-day). With the exclusion of the swap of oatmeal for my regular cereal breakfast, I ate the same regimen of meals (including cereal after rehearsals and before bed) that I had followed while teaching. (Most days, at noon, you could find me standing at the counter, lingering over the last few licks of peanut butter from my knife as I tried to eke out as much nutrition as I could before the long stretch between lunch and dinner…)

One of the pitfalls of dating, however, was the inclusion of dates into my routine. Dates often happened at places that served food. And when food was put in front of me, I ate it. All of it.

My poor metabolism had spent years convinced that I was stranded on an island without regular access to food, and so when I presented my body with big, restaurant-sized portions of pad thai and baked ziti, my body responded by blocking the hormones related to satiety and let me go to town. And then my metabolism, chugging away slowly, left the door wide open for the storage of most of that food energy as fat. Just in case I ended up starving on that island again.

The pattern of binging and restricting continued throughout the summer, and though I exercised more than my Lysander, I somehow seemed to be the only one gaining weight…

-K.

* For some of my ED, I was not technically underweight–I managed to sit right at the borderline of “healthy” for things like BMI. I also maintained a regular period (ish, though I’ll get into the medical fallout stuff later).

**Technically, orthorexia is a made-up term describing individuals who are obsessed with eating healthily. This might not seem like a serious issue, but it is. I can point you to a number of blogs written by individuals in the health and fitness world (specifically in bodybuilding/figure) who are now suffering from hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, and other major disorders caused by years of “healthy” eating. Orthorexia can also lead to self-imposed social exclusion and later on to depression. I’ve been there, and it’s a real thing.

A Non-Food Interlude

In order to go forward with my story, I’ll first have to back up a bit:

I moved back to Florida in the early summer of 2008. On the week that I arrived home, I discovered, through the Showtime section of the Sun-Sentinel, that there existed a magical entity called the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival and that it was holding auditions for Comedy of Errors.

Through some force of magic, I managed to be cast as the Abbess (a character probably about 50 years my senior–but I wasn’t complaining). I spent my summer commuting to West Palm Beach for rehearsals–and had the time of my life. As it turns out, PB Shakes is like a little community, filled with Shakespeare scholars and theatre nerds, college students and professors, professional actors and amateurs alike. The plays are performed each summer in an open air theater (almost always in Jupiter, Fl, with the exception of the outlier performance in Boca Raton in 2008), and they are always performed with utmost care for the intricate relationship between actor, text, and concept. It’s truly an incredible institution, and if you live in Florida, I encourage you to go check it out. (They’re doing their last performances of this year’s Twelfth Night this weekend!)

Comedy of Errors

The following spring, I got a phone call from the artistic director asking me if I would be interested in a small part in their spring production of Sara Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cellphone. It would begin rehearsing the moment that I finished directing my high school’s musical. Too excited to worry about exhaustion, I said, “Hell yes!”

It was hard, teaching all day and commuting to West Palm at night. I had to bring my broccoli slaw dinners in tupperware and eat it in the car  while sitting in traffic or else rely on Clif Bars to carry me through. I would come home after 10–or later–and wolf down my cereal before collapsing into bed. I made up excuses not to go out with my fellow cast mates because I was afraid that I would have to share an appetizer with them at a bar (and so use up my allotted cereal calories) or be asked if I wanted anything to drink (again, too many empty calories to be worth the social interaction). I was constantly tired and complaining, even though I actually really enjoyed being a part of the show. I don’t have any idea how they put up with me.

Playing “The Other Woman” in Dead Man’s Cellphone

I also auditioned at Florida Atlantic University at the behest of my friend Ana for their summer production of Sondheim’s Company. I hadn’t done a musical in years, so even though I’d have to pay to register for a non-matriculating class if I was cast, I tried out anyway. I got a part.

But after Cellphone, my fellow Shakespeareans were on me to audition for the summer production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was torn. A musical or Shakespeare? I couldn’t decide, so I figured I might just audition for Midsummer and see if I even got a part. I was cast as Hermia. Shakespeare it was.

On stage, I feel more alive than I do in real life.

Now, here’s the thing: I met the man who would become my boyfriend at the Shakespeare audition. (We played opposite one another during the callback…and I’m guessing, but I think we were cast because our chemistry in person carried over onto the stage.) Why is this important, and why do I bother explaining any of this on a blog about food? Because the choices that I made–not taking the FAU part, dating my Lysander, etc.–would define how the next year would go, and would prove to be disastrous when ED got involved, however perfect things seemed in the short term.

And things really did seem perfect. I loved the Shakespeare festival, I loved dating Lysander, I loved that I was just a few short months away from moving back to New York City to be a dramaturg. My only problem was that I lived an hour south of our theatre (and of my boyfriend), so I was going through massive amounts of gas in order to commute (and to go on dates). The only logical answer, it seemed, was to move in with my boyfriend.

And this, my friends, is where I made the horrible mistake of letting ED back into my life.

- K.

Even the characters I play aren’t good with men!

In preparation for tomorrow’s post…

…I submit to you a gem from the vault, a veritable blast from the past, written in my own voice, but 3 years younger.

From the now-defunct Kitchen Jouissance* blog, I bring you A Year Without a Kitchen. (This post is the set-up for tomorrow’s continuation of my story…It also contains links to my students’ performances! They really were an incredible bunch.)

-K.

*Kitchen Jouissance was the baking blog I started while a student at UF. The “Jouissance” of the title was a reference to my senior thesis, which discussed Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing from the perspective of Lacanian psychology. In other words, really useful stuff. Jouissance, incidentally, basically means “enjoyment,” but in the world of literary and psychological criticism, it has sexual connotations. In case you were curious.