My boyfriend Nick and I met in our junior year of college, so naturally many nights were spent staying up way too late, noshing on ice cream, candy and salty snacks.
Those were our tamer nights, when we weren’t out at bars guzzling drink after drink, intoxicated more from each other than anything else. We put on weight together and were blissfully happy.
When we both graduated this past May, he with a BS in Exercise Science and I with a BA in Journalism we were excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. In August, he landed a personal training job at Equinox, one of the most exclusive and expensive gyms in the country, and we couldn’t have been more excited.
His college weight had been slowly coming off throughout the summer months, and this was his time to really get back in shape. Over the next few weeks, while he melted fat and defined abs, both his own and those of the clients he was training, I was still the same girl he met in college.
At 5 foot 3 inches, I teeter somewhere around the 130 lb mark. By no means skin and bone, but certainly not fat. I am an average girl, with below-average self-esteem.
Slowly, I began to feel uncomfortable eating junk around Nick. He would be slamming down protein shakes, growing bigger and stronger, while I remained small and soft and unsure of what to do with this vast difference in body type. Going to lunch with him gives me debilitating anxiety that those next to us will judge me on my body size and what I order.
A typical lunch between us is him ordering a protein plate, which consists of egg whites, spinach and feta cheese, while I go for some form of comfort carb -- only to be left feeling anything but comfort. If he doesn’t have his plate filled with something equally if not more unhealthy than what I’m eating, I become too self-conscious to actually enjoy the meal.
In my head, it should be me eating slight meals of salad, or small portions of chicken and him with mountains of food stacked upon his plate. But his livelihood is his body, and therefore he treats it as such. It is my adjustment to make, not his.
Not once has Nick asked me to put down what I am eating, insisted on a healthier alternative, or asked, “Do you really need that?” as I reach for another anything. He does not bring his work home with him. I know loves me, and my body, with every imperfection on it.
No matter how many times he goes through each and every body part of mine, telling me why he loves it so, I cringe. I cannot accept that this perfect creature would be attracted to me, when all day he walks among the Greek gods that are his co-workers.
One night, feeling pretty unconfident in myself I asked him via text, “Do you still see just me or do you see my body and pick it apart?” The answer I wanted was not the one I got, as he responded with, “I do it to everyone, I can’t help it. It’s just a habit I’ve picked up, I don’t judge you though.”
When a few nights later we were watching SNL on my couch, him lying behind me, when I felt him pinching and pulling at the fat on my sides and stomach. This is called a skin-fold test, and I don’t know why he decided to perform one on me, but it seared my insides feeling him grab at my most self-conscience area. To me, it was an attack on my less than perfect self.
It was at that moment that I knew that he did judge my body, subconsciously or not, and no amount of love could stop him from seeing the fat that hangs on me.
I have always been pretty lax about going to the gym, but when Nick took a trip away recently, I jumped at the chance to shape up and hopefully impress him with my new physique when he would see me four weeks later.
Dinners would be salad, with some sort of deli meat sprinkled in. When I was craving substance, I would cook grilled chicken with vegetables but consume maybe half the portion. The feeling of fullness made my tear ducts well up, ready to cry from my own body's betrayal.
My nightly indulgence, a bowl of Special-K cereal with almond milk, not even real milk, now gives me pangs of guilt and a running, judgmental internal monologue. I shouldn’t have eaten it, it was too late at night for me to eat that, those calories were not needed, you just ruined all of the hard work you put in at the gym.
I want to scream at myself, “IT’S SPECIAL-K! YOU DID NOT JUST EAT A THREE-CHEESE PIZZA! WHAT ARE THESE INSANE FEELINGS?” But the bad feelings overtake me, and I am ashamed for not being able to just go to bed without my late-night snack. I am ashamed for lacking the will power I know my boyfriend has.
So I text Nick right after, begging him to tell me that it is OK to eat the bowl of cereal; cereal isn’t that bad of a snack, right? As always, he says not to beat myself up over it. But his words prove to be no comfort.
When he calls to tell me about his daily workouts, I feel distraught and anxious. But that isn’t the way it should be. We are not in a competition; one of us is not going to be a winner. Why do I feel the need to pit the body of a 6-foot-4-inch man against the body of a 5-foot-3-inch girl? The amazing thing is I am sane enough to know that how I am acting is crazy, but I still cannot stop.
I have a history of eating disorders in my immediate family, so I have seen the dangers of that world. There is nothing glamorous about that lifestyle. No one loves the girl who constantly makes trips to the bathroom after meals; there is no Prince Charming coming to rescue her from herself. An eating disorder is not cute, and that is not the road I will travel down. That road is closed, take the detour.
But why, when I know how poorly this could end, do I question every piece of food that I put into my mouth? The ongoing battle in my mind whether to eat or not to eat should be a red flag that things are not right, that things need to stop.
My boyfriend’s profession of being a personal trainer is wreaking havoc on my clearly wavering mental health. The worst part is that while I still think he is judging me, I know I am judging myself.