For many formative years of my adolescence and early adulthood, I was obsessed with my weight. Not in a fashion-conscious, aspiring to be a model way, but in a weight-controlled competitive martial art kind of way, which seemed to validate my obsession and legitimise my disordered approach to eating.
The Taekwon-Do categories were based on the metric system, and so I worshipped the metric Gods of kilos and grams. Imperial stones and pounds meant nothing to me.
I was naturally 56kg when I began to participate in international competitions, but I was scared of competing on a level playing field in the -58kg Lightweight Category. I was used to always having the upper hand, comfortable with being advanced at school and sport, and didn’t want to relinquish any potential for advantage. So I would gradually drop weight and compete at the -52kg Microweight Category.
I realise now, looking back, that my focus was entirely on making weight. I don’t know if I ever loved competing in the sparring category – I know I always enjoyed the rhythmic beauty of patterns first and foremost, but interpreted it as a sign of weakness to choose not to fight.
For years I settled into a pattern of my own – 4 weeks before a competition I would begin to restrict my food, cutting calories where I could, and increase my water intake to a minimum of 3 litres every day. Food became my sole focus, and anyone who was naturally lighter than me, or wasn’t competing, became a target for envy.
I would wake with nightmares in the weeks running up to an event, afraid I had eaten too much, afraid I didn’t feel hungry enough – with visions of the public weigh-in playing on my mind. 52kg was the only thing that mattered. Or 52.2kg, as they often allowed you 200g grace for your sports bra & underwear. The fear of public humiliation was enough to keep me in ‘The Zone’.
And then, the day of the weigh-in, having begun dehydration and starvation 24 – 36 hours before, the numbers would finally sneak down close enough to that elusive 52.2kg… Hugging my own set of scales close to my chest, feeling the cut of my hip bones, and the concave curve of my stomach, I would smile with a sense of accomplishment.
The competition that would follow afterwards was almost irrelevant to me – the ‘fat girl’ in me was now skinny, and had earned the reward of overindulging on all the decadence that had been withheld for the previous month!
This pattern continued until eventually my binge/fast cycle took its toll, and I began to gain more weight in between competitions, and was now struggling to lose it safely and healthily. A concussion suffered through fatigue after extreme dehydration should have been enough, but it took another competition, this time losing 7kg in 4 weeks to make weight before losing in the first round, to make me see how ridiculous this routine had become.
It has taken me years to restore a sense of balance to my approach to food, and to find a healthier approach to my body. I now know the scales are not my friend, and that weight is not the measure. I also know when I am overindulging to numb discomfort, and when I am simply enjoying the good things in life.
But recently I was asked by my GP to step on the scales, and flashes of old familiar fears came rushing back – particularly as I am now far heavier than I was in my old disordered eating days! Thankfully I have an excellent support system now, and was recently reminded by a good friend that familiar fears are just echoes, and are not in fact my current reality. I was able to stay calm and grounded, and remind myself of the options I have to make the right choices for me, that will leave me both happier and healthier, regardless of however much I weigh.
If any of this resonates for you, I would urge you to put aside the scales, and put down the calorie counter. Find a way to move and connect with your body and enjoy the sense of balance it brings. Don’t let weight hold you back.