Hello, hello from YMCA of the Rockies!I’m working here as a Hot Shot this summer. At least, that’s what I’m called. Go-fer might be an appropriate title for my job, though. A lot of my fellow summer staff, for instance, work at the front desk, or in the craft shop, or in the dining hall, or in housekeeping, or as hike masters, or as lifeguards. Hot Shots work in whatever department is short-staffed, plus run around on golf carts doing whatever is needed, from dropping guests and luggage off at their rooms to doing dishes to checking people in and giving them their keys to delivering linens.
I think it’s going to be a ton of fun!
This is the second time I’ve worked at a camp over the summer, however, and one of the hardest things about the previous experience, for me, was eating in a dining hall. For all of undergraduate, I was in charge of preparing my own meals. I’d never lived somewhere with a dining hall, the kind with a salad bar, several rich entrees, fruit, juice, milk, and dessert available at every single meal.
In spring 2014, my final semester as an undergraduate, I was already struggling with food-related anxiety, although I wouldn’t yet have called it an eating disorder. I was obsessed with going to the gym as much as possible. I refused to snack between meals unless absolutely necessary.
I was also, although I again didn’t recognize it at the time, starting to experience IBS symptoms more constantly than ever before. I would get intensely full and bloated after most if not every meal, and occasionally, I had intense stomach cramps.
When I went to work at an education and retreat center in northern New Mexico the summer after I graduated, I experienced a sort of “perfect storm” of circumstances to send my disordered eating into eating disorder. The abundance of food at the dining hall scared me. I feared that I wouldn’t have the “self control” to eat reasonable portions, that the food would be richer than my body was used to, and that I would therefore gain weight. I feared that I would be away from my gym and therefore lose my fitness entirely (and gain weight). I feared that I’d be forced to eat at times when I wasn’t hungry (and therefore gain weight). And when I felt stuffed and nauseous frequently after meals, I interpreted that as a sign that I was eating too much, even though I was eating less than anyone else on college staff.
My weight plummeted 20 pounds in 10 weeks.
Now that I’m eating in a dining hall with a lot of food available again, I’m starting to experience the same points of anxiety. The food is abundant, it’s not always completely healthy, and it’s a change from my usual routine. For someone with years of food- and body-related anxiety, that’s scary.
But I’m regularly trying to remind myself all the mistakes I made last time to be sure I don’t make the same mistakes again.Mistake: Not trusting my body to tell me when I was hungry and when I’d had enough. In 2014, the abundance of food was very scary, and I was convinced I wouldn’t know when to stop. I hadn’t learned how to intuitive eat, and I didn’t trust my body to let me know when I’d had enough food. For that reason, I often stopped eating long before I was comfortably full.
What I learned: I can trust my body to tell me when I’m full. If I’m nourishing my body throughout the day with regular snacks and meals, as well as paying attention to when I’m still hungry and when I’m full, I won’t come to meal times desperate and I therefore can trust myself to stop eating when I’m full.Mistake: Assuming that being intensely hungry is good for me. In 2014, I tried to let myself get as hungry as possible, believing that the hungrier I got, the “healthier” I was.
What I learned: I need to eat enough in order to get adequate nutrition, to support my hormones, to be able to do my job to my fullest capacity, and to keep me able to focus.
Mistake: Assuming that if I didn’t do regular, intense cardio and strength training, I’d gain weight. I walked everywhere I went two summers ago and spent my whole day on my feet giving tours, plus went on hikes in the evenings. Still, since that was “just walking,” I was terrified that I’d lose all fitness and put on weight.
What I learned: I use a ton of energy just doing my job. I’m quite tired after my first day of training alone. I’ve walked at least several miles around the camp, and I’m at a very high altitude, which means my metabolism is working extra hard. I think I may not bother with “official” exercise, like jogging, this summer. Instead, I’ll enjoy hiking when I have the energy and give myself rest after long days of work.Mistake: Believing that, if I feel stuffed and bloated, it’s because I’ve eaten too much. I frequently felt very uncomfortable full after meals two summers ago, which to me was “proof” that I must be overeating. I often felt that way for hours after meals and wouldn’t have an appetite for my next meal. I responded, therefore, by eating less and less at meals, to the point that I almost exclusively ate very small mini-meals and usually left the dining hall still hungry.
What I learned: Usually, when I feel stuffed and bloated, it’s because of my IBS. For this reason, I now do what I call “semi-intuitive” eating. I still often feel stuffed after meals, and that feeling lingers unusually long sometimes, but I try to remind myself that I still should be eating three meals a day. If I’ve eaten a normal-sized lunch at a normal time and I’m still feeling bloated by supper, for instance, I still eat a normal-sized supper. I know intellectually that I still need that nutrition.
Mistake: Believing that snacking between meals would result in my overeating. I refused to snack between meals because I believed these were “unnecessary” calories. I especially believed that because the meals served at the camp where I worked were so large and rich, I had to “save up” my calories for the meals. The ironic result was that I actually had less and less appetite for meals, until I hardly got hungry at all.
What I learned: Snacking between meals prevents me from overeating. I now snack between most meals, and intend to do so here at the YMCA as well. When there’s lots of food available, showing up comfortably hungry rather than over-hungry not only encourages me to put a realistic amount of food on my plate, but also to avoid the discomfort of overeating (which is especially a concern for folks with IBS), to eat more slowly, and to recognize when I’m full.
Mistake: Believing that it’s really bad to eat a large, rich meal. I spent hours that summer after I graduated contemplating what was being served at the dining hall in the upcoming week and what I would choose, reject, and “modify” to make each meal as light as possible.
What I learned: It’s okay to eat large meals sometimes. I now try to remind myself that sometimes I may eat a bigger meal, more than I’d ordinarily eat at home, cooking for myself. That prospect still freaks me out, but I try to remind myself that it’s totally okay to eat more than I do at home sometimes. I may not be as hungry for an snack later. Or I may still be hungry for that snack. I may eat less the next day, or I might not. I don’t have to work it off, I don’t have to diet it off. I can enjoy it.Mistake: Believing that losing weight would make me happier.
What I learned: Losing weight made me miserable. On the one hand, the summer of 2014 was a very unique and memorable experience. I learned so much, saw so much, and made wonderful friends.
On the other hand, all I could think about was food. I seldom read, and stopped writing altogether. I had come to have this amazing experience in a natural space, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, but I hardly noticed the stars, wasn’t excited to participate in activities like talent shows or hikes or going to the pool or playing Cards Against Humanity with friends late at night.
Now that I’m here at the YMCA, I’m determined to enjoy it–the activities, the people, the beauty, the peace and quiet, the time away from my stressful graduate school life. And that means I need to eat. Often and enough.
Thanks to Amanda for letting me share my thoughts aloud with y’all.
Are there any kinds of situations that cause you food- and/or body-related anxiety?
Tell me about something you had to learn the hard way.