My Story: Overcoming An Eating Disorder As A Young Man
2000… No, this is not the year that I was born, or the amount of followers that I have on social media. This the amount of calories that I would allow myself on a daily basis for roughly three years. No cheat days (unless it was a binge day), no making memories with friends, and no freedom. It is never easy to be dealing with an eating disorder. But overcoming an eating disorder as a young man felt nearly impossible. My name is Michael Bonnell, and this is my story.
I like to think of myself as a positive and independent person. While this is how I see myself today, I wasn’t always like this. Up until the age of 20, I was always a little on the hefty side. I wouldn’t say that I was quote on quote fat, but I was a pudgy. Growing up and in high school, I played three sports. I played hockey, golf, and switched between football and lacrosse, but I never really excelled at any of these sports. We have all been through high school and know what it’s like. When you are an average at best athlete, you tend to get teased. I was no exception, especially because of my weight.
When I went to college, I went with a new mindset. I was going to workout, exercise, and basically redefine myself. Unlike high school, I was going to be popular and healthy. This didn’t happen. My freshman year of college and the first half of my sophomore year were no different than high school. We all know how there is the freshman 15. Well, I doubled that. I ended up gaining 30 pounds over the course of a year and a half. My already low self-confidence was now even lower and I was later diagnosed with depression.
After the first semester of my sophomore year, I ended up transferring schools to be closer to home. My depression had become really bad, and I just wanted to be closer to my family. One night in the late part of winter, I stepped on the scale. Standing at 5 foot 9 inches, the scale read 199.8. This was the moment when health and fitness took control of my every thought.
I was not going to let myself see 200 pounds on the scale. The next day, I started doing Insanity and P90X workout videos in my dorm room. After doing these five times a week for a month, I had lost 15 pounds. I was feeling good, and people were telling me that I was looking better. Just like anything in life, I wanted more. I wanted to lose more weight, I wanted to have more attention, and I wanted more self-confidence. So the summer after my sophomore year of college, I began dieting. This became the start of another new obsession.
With dieting and exercising combined, the weight was melting off. I was running, still doing workout videos, and I was unfortunately starving myself. I was eating only 2,000 calories a day while exercising for two hours per day. For those who don’t know, an active 20 year old male should be eating anywhere from 3,000 to 3,500 calories a day. So I was basically in a 1,000 to 1,500 calorie deficit every day.
No matter how hungry I was, or how much weight I was losing, I didn’t stop. I was able to see my abs, I felt good about myself, and the people that would tease me in high school were finally giving me the attention that I wanted. The attention is what I was really losing the weight for. It felt like a drug to me. No matter how much of it I was finally receiving, I wanted more. So, the dieting and exercising continued and even intensified.
The summer went by and in a matter of six months, I ended up losing 50 pounds. I went from weighing 199.8 to weighing 149.0. My junior year of college started and I was weighing the same amount as I did in middle school. The difference being that I was only focused on exercising and didn’t have a cheat day since I started dieting. My meals were planned out, my calories were set, and I would never exceed them. If I did, that meant that I had to run extra miles, or I would go on an all out binge because I had forgotten how to control my eating.
So how bad did it really get? The start of my junior year of college I was grabbing a sandwich in my schools cafeteria. I started feeling dizzy, so I immediately ran to the table and sat down. I put my head in my hands and the next thing I remember, I was on the ground. Students were standing over me and telling me not to move. Truth is, I couldn’t move. I had passed out, fallen off of my chair, hit my head on the ground, and injured my neck. The ambulance was called and I was taken to the hospital.
The police ended up calling my parents because they did not know the severity of my injuries. I was rushed to the hospital and was placed on IV’s to get fluids back into my body. My parents arrived shortly after I got to the hospital, and I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when she walked in. The amount of sadness that filled her face is something that pains me to even think about. Her baby boy was in the hospital because he refused to eat.
After this incident, I ended up moving home because I didn’t feel comfortable living on my own anymore. I transferred schools to be even closer to home, and managed to gain 10 pounds by the start of the new year. Things were getting better and I felt healthy again. Too bad this only temporary and lasted for about two months. After the two months, the dieting and exercising began to take over again. I decided to run a half marathon and the 10 pounds that I gained came right back off. While I was happy at my new school and made amazing friends, I was still never comfortable in my own skin.
The first year and a half of dealing with depression is where my eating disorder stemmed from. I always had this fear in my head that if I gained weight, then I would become fat again. I didn’t want this to happen, so for the course of the next four years I did everything that I could to maintain my weight. On my 22nd birthday, I even skipped eating a piece of cake because it would make me feel fat. It was that extreme, but it is how I felt.
The amount of memories that I missed out on over the course of these five years are memories that I will never have the opportunity to experience again. I wouldn’t go to parties, out to eat with friends, or eat at a restaurant if there was not a nutrition log. All of my meals had to be planned in advance or I wouldn’t go.
Honestly, it was not until this spring that I started to get ahold of my life again. Of course I had made efforts in the past to try and get better, but the stress of putting on weight was something that I couldn’t deal with. Finally, one day this spring I was standing in the kitchen with my mom and I broke down. I was tired of focusing my life around food and I was tired of missing the opportunity to make memories with my friends. I asked her what it is that I had to do in order to get my life back. She had gone through similar struggles, and she responded by telling me that we just reach that breaking point and realize that there is more to life than food.
When she said that, I thought that was such a cliche answer, mainly because it was an answer that I didn’t want to hear. I wanted help and I wanted to get better immediately. But she was right. Shortly after I broke down in the kitchen, I just simply gave up. I had realized that there was more to life than counting my calories on a daily basis or working out everyday. It wasn’t until I started to focus my life around positivity and motivation that I realized a number on the scale does not justify who I am as a person.
Everyday is a new beginning. Today, I still exercise and eat healthy, but I don’t count calories anymore. As for the scale, well it has been nearly four months since I have stepped on it, and I have no desire to do so anytime soon. For the first time in years, I am happy. For the first time in years, I am creating lifelong memories. More importantly, for the first time in years, I have self-confidence. I am proud of the person that I am becoming, and I am excited for the life ahead.
There is no magic formula for overcoming an eating disorder, it just takes time. I think what helped me the most in my journey is by surrounding myself with as much positivity and motivation as I can consume. The number of calories and the number on the scale are not going to define who I am. What will define me is the legacy that I create for myself and the work I do for God. I believe that God has a plan for me and I believe that I am strong enough to achieve anything. I am me, and I am proud of who I am. That is something much more valuable that any number in life.
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