I’ll let you in on a little secret. In middle school, I wanted to be a cheerleader.
Well, it was not exactly a secret, and “wanted” was something of an understatement. In fact, everyone who knew me (friends, family) was quite familiar with my goal… I craved it, I needed it; I just had to be a cheerleader! And everyone who knew me (the aforementioned friends, family) was convinced I was a shoo-in. After all, I had the requisite upbeat and optimistic personality. I maintained a positive, never-say-die outlook. I was cute and pretended to like football. Alas, there was only one small problem: I was not as graceful as some of the other girls. At try-outs I got as far as a runner-up; by the time I fluttered through the routines at final call-backs, it was pretty clear those red-and-white pom-poms would never be mine.
I was devastated. It was nothing short of tragic; the sort of tragedy you can only have when you are young and naïve and have not yet experienced the kinds of real challenges grown-up life can dish out. So I did what a lot of girls and young women—and not-so-young women—might do: I found solace in food. A little too much food.
Eating to cram down my emotions gave me something to do while I was feeling sorry for myself. I was the type of person that people often came to for emotional support (and still am,) yet I felt unable to reach out for help. I felt isolated by disappointment and embarrassed by my secret power-snacking, which made me feel even more isolated and then even more embarrassed, and round and round it went. By then my family had developed pretty healthy eating habits, so there was not a lot of junk food at home to binge on. But binging on healthy food is still binging, and I knew while I was doing it that I was making poor choices.
Fortunately, before things could get too far out of hand my mother intervened. She gently but firmly confronted me about my weight gain, and at that point I was actually ready to make positive changes in my life by assuming control of my eating. Looking back, it was also my first glimmer of understanding how complex eating disorders can be. And because it had affected me so personally I gradually became aware of how so many other people suffer from their own individual food struggles.
Fast-forward to today. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I am so very grateful that things worked out as they have. I’ve found a way to put my natural optimism to work. My own experience has led me to support others with food and nutrition issues. Finally, I am a cheerleader where it really counts, actively improving the lives of my clients.
Only downside: I still don’t get to use pom-poms. Well, you can’t have everything.