Believe it or not

Chanel boston marathon

Chanel Paré-Bingley
University of Ottawa
Class of 2015

I used to be that kid who couldn’t fit through the crack in the fence, then the teen known as “bubble butt” who couldn’t borrow those skinny jeans from her friends. Regardless,  I was proud of my butt and I never worried about my weight.

Before I went off to university, I decided I wanted to slim down. I started eating healthier and lost about five pounds. Towards the end of university, I discovered I was gluten intolerant and adopted a gluten-free diet. As a result of this new regimen and the half Ironman training I was undergoing during the same time, I lost quite a bit of weight.

I went  from 135 to 115 pounds in just a couple of months. One of my friends in nursing and on the Varsity Triathlon team approached me out of concern that I was battling an eating disorder. I was shocked. The weight loss wasn’t intentional, and I felt good.

I proceeded to complete my half Ironman, and then was off to the next chapter of my life: medical school. Everyone I met knew me as the Iron Woman, and was so impressed with my level of fitness. I was proud, and I wanted to keep my status. I studied hard, made new friends, and had a long distance boyfriend with whom I spent my weekends. Life was good. Then, one summer, I decided to go on a trip to South America with three of my classmates.

I remember being excited about the trip, but I had one fear: that I would gain weight.

In retrospect, the trip was amazing, but I wasn’t able to fully enjoy it because of this lingering fear. When I came back, my boyfriend picked me up at the airport, looked at me and asked, “Where did you go? You’re so tiny!”

I didn’t realize it, but he was right. I weighed myself when I got home and I weighed 105 pounds . I’d lost another 10 pounds on the trip ―not only from the traveller’s diarrhea I had experienced, but also from restricting and skipping meals that only offered chicken and fries ― “forbidden foods” in my mind. I kept receiving similar comments from family and friends who hadn’t seen me in a while, and  started feeling self-conscious.  I even began to wear  long sleeves in the middle of the summer.

Then, it became a game. I thought, “Wow, I lost weight, and people have noticed.” Even though people  told me that I was too skinny, I  took it as a compliment and viewed it as an accomplishment.  The game became more intense.

"Hmm I weigh 105… I wonder if I can get to 100.”

I kept going. I spent the next year of medical school restricting food and over exercising. When I was in those moments, I didn’t recognize that it was a problem. I eventually joined a new gym and had a free assessment: I weighed 98 lbs and the machine read <5% body fat. The trainer made me step off and back on, thinking that the scale was dysfunctional. But it wasn’t. Being a long distance athlete herself, she sat down with me and genuinely told me that my readings were dangerous. But I felt good. I performed well in my sport, and I was “happy.” She promised me I could feel and perform even better with a little more reserve. I wanted to believe her, but I kept getting comments about my physique and I felt like I had to keep meeting these standards.

Things with my boyfriend had been rocky since my return from South America, and we broke up half way through medical school. I stayed under 100 pounds  for a while, and during the summer of 2013 I went off on a bike trip to do the Cabot trail with a friend. I became obsessed with eating small amounts of low calorie food at specific times.

Upon my return home in the fall, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. My boyfriend was no longer around, and I was alone in my apartment. I ate an excessive amount of sweet and fatty foods the first night back. For the next two days, I ate whatever was available and appealing in a ridiculously short amount of time.

What was going on? I felt like I was out of control.  Had I deprived myself of food and essential nutrients to the point that my body and mind were trying to compensate? I had also noticed that my mind was constantly thinking about food: what was I going to eat, when I was  going to eat it, and when could I next treat myself to something sweet.

That’s when I decided I needed help. Maybe I was too skinny. Maybe I had an eating disorder.

I found a psychologist and I went for psychotherapy for the last two years of medical school. I had some successes, but kept falling back down. Finally, I hit my lowest point last fall. When I stepped on the scale and saw 110, it felt like  the end of the world.  I was still bingeing weekly and skipping meals. I couldn’t focus at work, and I had lost my passion for medicine and Triathlon.

Worst of all, I had gained five  pounds  and I wanted to end my life.

I never had a plan, but I remember going for a run, stopping, and sobbing like a small child on an overpass, and thinking to myself: “if only this bridge were higher.” I immediately made an appointment with my psychologist and she suggested starting an antidepressant. I was opposed to this. I wanted to be strong enough to battle my  eating disorder and depression on my own. One day, however, I decided  that it was time to start medication. I went home for the Christmas break and started to enjoy things like cooking with my step mom and making Christmas desserts. I was about 115 pounds, but I wore very conservative clothing and still felt uncomfortable in my new body. I continued to put on weight, but stopped weighing myself. Part of me still believed that if I was back at 105 pounds  I would be happier.

The stupid number game. My weight was like a yoyo and it wasn’t fun anymore.

The weeks went by and I continued on, touring the country for medical electives. I was slowly putting on more weight, and this was causing me a lot of anxiety. Although I felt  better mentally, I was still afraid to see my classmates upon my return, in fear of what they would think of me.

My last placement was on Manitoulin Island. I stayed with a wonderful couple who displayed  much love and affection, and I realized that I was a lot more relaxed. My mind wasn’t preoccupied with thoughts about what I was going to eat next and how much I would have to run to burn it off. I simply enjoyed peaceful runs by the lake, focused on my placement, and allowed myself to be spoiled with delicious home cooked meals ― which had originally caused me a lot of anxiety.

When I got back from the island, I felt good. I unpacked my suitcase, and at the bottom I found an envelope with my name on it. I gasped out loud, smiled to myself, and felt tears build up in my eyes. It was a card and scarf from the couple I stayed with, thanking me for bringing happiness into their lives.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt such strong emotion. It felt good.  I realized that my mind was always so preoccupied with my weight and food thoughts that I had forgotten how to feel emotion. It had all started with wanting to lose a few pounds, the gluten intolerance, the endurance sport training ―and then it got seriously out of hand. I had to keep living up to other peoples’ expectations. I had looked so happy on the outside ―but deep down I was miserable.

Today, at roughly 120 pounds, my favourite jeans don’t fit, but I can sincerely say that I am happy and enjoying life.  I am focused on my career, excited to run the Boston Marathon, strengthening old friendships, and back on the dating scene. I’m not sure if it is the help of my psychologist, my supportive friends and family, my  medication or my trip to Manitoulin  island, but whatever it is, it feels good to be able to live, love, laugh and be.

Chanel then

Then......

Chanel now

...Now

 

 

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