Happy Friday, my loves! Time for another super inspiring Recovery Series post today. This week’s interview was a bit spontaneous — the lovely Miss Madelyn Moon was interviewing me for her Mind Body Musings podcast and we got to talking about her own recovery journey. While we were chatting not only did I learn that Madelyn is another 23-year-old blonde recovering chica (there are so many of us), but I was blown away by her insight, knowledge, and articulate way of expressing herself.
Right then & there I knew she had to be our fifth Recovery Series participant. Madelyn’s story is fascinating to me because her eating spiraled downward while she was a fitness competitor. When you think of the body building industry and women, what do you think of?
I think of super toned, 0% body fat and very clean eating — something that once would have whisked me away at the very thought. Now I think twice. I’m not saying that this lifestyle isn’t maintainable for anyone, but for those of us with extra extreme personalities (like Madelyn and myself!), spending so much time focusing on a body-image related goal and a very rigid meal plan is a recipe for disaster.
Time to let Madelyn take the stage. I am so thrilled she could share her story with us today.
Recovery Series #5 // ▶ ▷ ▸ ▹ ►
Q: Name, age, current location.
A: Madelyn Moon, 23, Boulder, Colorado
Q: Madelyn! Your story is similar to mine in the sense that we both got very attached to dietary labels that eventually let to our disordered eating “downfall.” Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with vegetarianism and paleo?
A: Yes, of course! When I was in high school, my closest friend was a vegan and she introduced me to a few documentaries that really opened up my eyes to the cruelty of the slaughterhouse industry. I immediately dedicated myself to vegetarianism for these ethical reasons, but soon, after a year or so, avoiding meat became a weight control mechanism. Not being able to eat meat gave me these boundaries to live safely inside of. When my life became stressful, I clung to my dietary beliefs because I knew at least those would never change. Those rules would always be there, and therefore my weight and size would always be manageable.
Along with this diet came really obsessive “fitness” behaviors. I ran around 7 miles per day on a treadmill so that I could see how many calories I burned and then I would proceed with my day making sure that I consumed less calories than I burned during that run. It was nuts.
After a few years of doing this, I found myself a “little” consumed with the bodybuilding industry. Those bodies were so beautiful and I just HAD to find out how they did it! Well, according to all the blogs and magazines, I needed a lot more protein that I was currently consuming. I also needed more structure (6 meals a day, every 3 hours, protein at every meal, etc).
I quickly became obsessed with these bodies and decided to give this new diet a go. I’d just call it a bodybuilding diet. Fast-forward a year or two after stuffing my face day after day with the same foods, and I found that my body became very sensitive to eating so much of the same bland stuff (think oatmeal and chicken) that I had a hard time digesting them. Literally, I was always gassy. Sexy, right?
Basically, I was eating “so clean” that I couldn’t digest anything else that wasn’t on my daily meal plan. After a year or so of dealing with this, I discovered paleo. Honestly, this was more than just a diet, it was a community. Finding paleo was amazing, and I really love the idea of just eating a whole foods-based diet without worrying about the details such as macros, lea timing and calories…but yet, with my perverse nature, I used it against myself. Instead of using paleo as a template to make me feel better, I used it as a control mechanism. I could no longer eat most of my favourite foods even though I could digest them perfectly fine but the truth is, I wanted so badly to “be a part” of this group, that I decided to go strict paleo and ignore all of my body’s desires and cues for it’s favourite foods, like my beloved peanut butter.
I quickly became obsessed, just like I was with being a vegetarian and with being a fitness competitor. I was trying to stuff sweet potatoes down my throat so that I could still make gains in the gym, and for some reason I thought that was OK, just as long as it wasn’t a grain or a molecule of gluten. Heaven forbid.
So at the root of it, these diets were definitely coping mechanisms for me. Instead of facing the stressful things going on in my life, I focused my attention on food and creating the “perfect” body. I wanted so badly to find which diet would give me lean abs, a tight butt and rounded shoulders. It’s funny because even though I did find myself with that body at one point, I had absolutely no one to share it with because I was so negative, obsessed and over-consumed.
Q: You also have a unique viewpoint because you were a fitness physique competitor– where what your body LOOKS like is the main goal that is worked toward. How did that affect your relationship with food, mind and body?
Oh man, it affected me negatively in so many ways. I no longer saw a meal. Instead I saw 433 calories. I no longer saw a tasty sandwich. Instead I saw 43 grams of carbohydrates and 25 grams of protein. Food was no longer food; it was just fuel. It was science. I was so accustomed to eating protein at every meal that I almost couldn’t eat something unless there was protein alongside it. I was so used to counting calories that I could basically count up everything in my head on the spot. I couldn’t go longer than 3 hours without eating because if I did, I thought my body would probably stop metabolizing the food and then I’d automatically gain weight.
That’s all of the mental side towards food. My thoughts towards my body were a completely different monster. To be completely honest, I couldn’t stand my body. Even when I was 7% body fat, I spend so much time worried about gaining the weight back, I couldn’t enjoy the physique I had worked so hard for. I was so consumed with my stomach and abs that the stress often made me bloat. I was bloated all the freaking time from my massive protein consumption on top of stress I was experiencing, so naturally I was always uncomfortable. I was so self-conscious and self-consumed that I pretty much blocked everyone out of my life. It was terrible, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
The hardest part was probably coming off of competition prep, and watching my body put back on a little bit of weight. I was still underweight, but in my head I was fat. Truly, truly fat. I could no longer see my body as human flesh. Once I had been as lean as I was, I had a new standard for my figure (regardless of how unhealthy it was) and once the weight started to creep back on, I felt like a failure.
It’s taken a long time to start seeing my body in a different light, but I really do now and I love myself so much more than I did when I was a fitness model. Plus, I feel a ton sexier.
Q: What did it take to realize that your restriction was headed down a bad path? Did you have a tipping point or a moment where you felt like, “this is it, I need to change something”?
A: Goodness, yes, I had many moments. I have specific memories of crying on the floor wishing my fat would go away. I have moments bawling in the car. I remember crying on the phone with my mom at Whole Foods because I felt like I “ate too much” and everybody else was eating less than me. Though, I think the biggest moment was the night of my second fitness competition. I was lying in my hotel bed reflecting on the day and how I had given up the previous 4 months for that competition and it wasn’t worth it whatsoever. That was really eye-opening. For 4 months I followed a strict diet, worried endlessly about my body, missed out on all my friend’s social events, and found myself literally starving on several occasions. Instead of lying there upset and sad, I should have been happy! I should have been so proud of my accomplishment, but yet I was disappointed with my ranking and frustrated about how I was feeling. I knew something wasn’t right.
At one point in my life, I wanted to be fit for the sake of health, but somewhere along the way, that passion became intensely contorted and lost. I told myself that night that I needed to remember this feeling. I felt so awful about the competition and so angry about feeling awful that I knew something wasn’t right in my mind. I knew I didn’t deserve to disrespect myself like that. I was seeking a subjective desire that would never be found, and because of this, I was loathing the only body I have to live in.
Something needed to change, and I needed to find the courage to see it through.
Q: Do you think there are any personality traits that you be tied to restrictive eating and exercise? For example, I am very extreme and have an all or nothing type of personality, and I think that definitely contributed to my disordered eating habits. Do you struggle with extremes?
A: Absolutely! I had some obsessive tendencies as a child, and I think that transferred over as a young adult. That stuff doesn’t just go away unless you are really proactive about it. I am also pretty competitive and self-disciplined. Being able to discipline myself has always been a big strength of mine, but unsurprisingly, it’s also a weakness. I tend to think in black and white, and I often have the desire to be “different” or stand out because of my Leo nature. All of these qualities combined lead to a very stubborn obsessed extremist!
6. You mention on your blog that you were on the EXACT same meal plan for 4 months, to a tee (I totally get that…), what did that meal plan look like? Did you have cravings?! Did it lead to any post-diet binging?
It makes me cringe to think about it. My meals where as followed (and PLEASE nobody get any ideas!):
Meal 1- 4 egg whites, oats, 1 T peanut butter
Meal 2- Chicken and brown rice
Meal 3- Chicken and brown rice
Meal 4- Oatmeal and protein powder
Meal 5- Chicken and green beans
Meal 6- Casein powder (basically protein powder)
Okay so when I say that I followed the exact same meal plan for four months, I mean that literally. Not a blueberry more. Not a bell pepper less. No oil on my chicken, No salt. No sugar. I think I had a banana on a couple “high carb” days, but that’s the only time I had something different. And I ate every 3 hours, NO exceptions. Cause ya know…I’d probably lose all my muscle if I were a minute late. Keep in mind that I was in college at the time too, so I was taking my chicken and rice to class with me often and eating it cold. I can’t tell you how many times I ate in the car. Oh and I ate in a bathroom on a date too.
Q: You started your blog with the intention of speaking about body confidence and the correlation between mind and body. Do you think that being so open on the blog has helped your recovery process, and if so, how?
A: Oh most definitely! I actually started my website in 2012 before I had even done a fitness competition. So my website has been with me through the entire process, including my two fitness competitions. It’s helped me get through so much. My podcast Mind Body Musings has helped me the most because of two reasons. First, I can talk to inspiring people that have similar experiences and can share how they found body peace. Secondly, I confess to what I’m struggling with and I receive emails from people going through the same. It’s so beautiful to be able to share experiences with thousands of people I don’t know, knowing that it’s actually helping them in some way. I firmly believe that if we just talk about this more, so many more people would feel less alone.
Q: What is your take on restrictive diets like veganism, paleo, raw vegan, gluten-free, etc. and the growing correlation between those and disordered eating habits?
A: You know, these days I really have a firm grasp on the fact that everything works for at least one person. I am no longer trying to find a perfect diet for myself, so it’s easy for me to sit back and listen to people talk about their favourite diet.
With that said, I do believe that there is a growing correlation between the two. I consider myself fortunate to no longer have that mentality considering our culture is trying to create food-fearing individuals. We are taught to label foods as “good” or “bad” and we have created these “off-limit” foods for ourselves. We use words like “indulge” and phrases like “cheat meals.” There’s something really twisted about these phrases alone. On top of that, all of these diets with conflicting information almost force us to pick a side. And if we don’t pick a side, we’re bombarded with people trying to sell us on what works for them.
I think it really depends on the individual. If you have an allergy to dairy, gluten and legumes, paleo might be perfect for you. If you have no allergies but you just want to feel optimal, then by all means, experiment and find out what makes you feel best. I think the problem is when we cling to food when something happens in our lives we are uncomfortable with. There’s a problem when we see a smidge of cellulite and cut out all carbs. It’s an issue when we’re in a fight with our boyfriend and we binge. There’s something wrong when you are trying a new diet every single day and hating the whole process.
Simply put, it’s best to just eat what aligns with what both your mind and body want. That’s real satiation.
Q: Favorite quote:
A: Peace within makes beauty without.
Q: Give us a glimpse into a day in the life of Madelyn’s workouts and recovery foods. Because food is fuel, right?!
A: Heck yeah! I go through phases where I want to eat a lot of the same stuff over and over again. This could be a part of my obsessive nature, but honestly I think it’s because everything I’m eating is making me feel so dang good! I usually start my day with a Greek yogurt bowl with berries, sunflower seed butter and something crunchy like granola or organic cereal. Lunch is usually white or brown rice with beef or ground turkey and something green, like Brussels! Dinner is always different. I love making spaghetti squash, sweet potato fries, and healthy meatloaf. I’ve always been pretty obsessed with meatloaf. No joke.
In regards to workouts, I try to have a very sane approach to it. I realize if I get rigid with scheduling workouts, my mindset gets rigid too, and I become too critical. I try to mix it up now by combining rock climbing with hiking, biking, occasional sprints, gymnastics and strength training sessions! Oh and I’ve recently joined CrossFit, which is definitely humbling to me. I’m not very good at it and I love having a new challenge.
Q: How do you maintain your passion for exercise without letting it go overboard and affect your life the way it once did?
A: This is a tricky one to answer. I’ve noticed it’s extremely easy for me to fall back into old habits. About 3 months ago, I took a full month off from going to the gym and that helped tremendously. After I started going again, I experienced negative body image talk in my head. It happened so quickly, as if I never even took that break. I very quickly decided I needed something new to do. I needed a challenge that was focused on performance, not aesthetics. That’s why I’m really focusing on things like rock climbing, gymnastics and CrossFit because none of those things require mirrors and isolation movements. Instead, they focus on strength. Real strength. And after every class, I feel proud of my accomplishments and myself. It had been so long since I left a workout feeling accomplished that now, I only want to engage in activities I know will leave me feeling happier afterwards.
Physical activity is supposed to be fun. Period.
Q: Tell us about the “reverse diet” you put yourself on to gain weight after you realize you needed help.
A: Well the reverse diet was really supposed to be a sane way to come out of a competition diet safely, without ruining your “hard earned work” and putting on an uncomfortable amount of weight too fast. I did this after my two competitions, and they definitely helped me to increase my calorie “tolerance” but what I did after I realized I needed help was pretty different. I actually stopped following all diets altogether. I mean, subconsciously, I was still counting calories in my head and following certain macro “rules” but after awhile, I waned off and tried intuitive eating. I ate foods I hadn’t eaten in forever and thoroughly enjoyed them. I ate meals without protein. I ate at a restaurant more than once a week. I forced myself to delete my calorie counting app and eat meals that I didn’t know the macro breakdown for.
It was so challenging, but once I learned how to let go, so much changed. I was so used to being in control of every morsel that went into my body, I had to quite literally force myself to stop. It also forced me to keep myself preoccupied with other things so that I didn’t have time to focus on food. Instead, I went out with friends and went on more dates! Once I learned to let go over my desire to control, I gained so much in return.
Q: What advice would you give to girls suffering with body image issues? We all want to fall in love with ourselves, and I think you are a fabulous example of someone who was suffering from control issues and you were able to let go and find your way to health.
A: First of all, thank you for saying that. It means a lot. Second of all, I think I have to give a couple pieces of advice here.
1. Get off of social media. Or at least unfollow accounts that make you wish you were any different than you currently are.
2. Stop your food rules if they are no longer serving the same purpose they did when you started them. If you’re allergic, that’s one thing. If you’re scared, that’s another.
3. Pick up a new non-food and non-fitness related hobby. Learn an instrument, a language, pick up a fiction book, volunteer, or do what I did and get a dog.
4. Listen to more podcasts. There are so many podcasts out there that can help you along with your body acceptance journey. Don’t fill your queue with diet theory podcasts, as tempting as that may be. Try to stick with shows that promote mind and body satiation, as well as bio-individuality.
Q: Three things you’re most passionate about… go!
A: 1. My dog, Ninabelle. She’s most literally the most amazing thing in my life and I owe so much to her. She’s helped me through a lot and there’s really nothing that can compare to the feeling of her snuggling up to me every night.
2. My faith. Knowing something bigger than me is out there watching over me has helped me tremendously. It’s made my worries and struggles seem so small and petty compared to my life’s purpose. I know I was created for a reason and it wasn’t to have an eating disorder. My experiences might have launched me into my purpose though, so for that, I wouldn’t change anything.
3. My podcast. Though it may seem small in the grand scheme of things, my show has helped me and helped others, but even more than that, it’s a blast. I know one day it might not be as purposeful as it is now, and I’m okay with that. But until the day comes (if ever), I’m going to continue to treat my show like my baby. It’s introduced me to so many inspirational people, like yourself, and for that I consider myself very fortunate.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: There was something I once heard that’s stuck with me for months now and I doubt I’ll ever forget it. It goes like this. There will ALWAYS be somebody that is better than you at something. There will always be somebody that’s deemed prettier than you by society’s standards. There will always be someone more athletic. There will always be somebody better at science. There will always be somebody funnier than you. These are just facts. But there will never, ever, EVER be somebody better at being…you. With all of that said, why in the world would you ever want to pretend to be somebody else, when you’re already one of a kind?
Thanks so much for having me, Jordan!