Willpower is bullshit.
I had just finished up graduate school with a Masters in Fine Art, I was totally sick to death of the art industry, I had no inspiration, I didn’t know where I wanted to be geographically. I was throwing up because I was fucking terrified and because when it seemed that there was nothing left to do, my eating disorder (in all the shifty ways that it appeared) was extremely appealing. It was a focus, a drive. It was what I was sure of when I was unsure.
I started lifting weights, which rules, and I stopped puking in order to keep doing it, which also rules. I am not saying that the day a barbell entered my hands I got right with myself mentally, but I am saying that when I started strength training I completely ceased to purposefully spend time with my face in the toilet. That is a miracle for which I will forever be grateful.
So I lifted, and I was hungry. Like, really hungry. The kind of hungry a person is when they have been starving and binging and purging for years. I ate, kind of unabashedly, for the first time in as long as I could remember. It stressed me out, it disgusted me, it annoyed me, but I did it. I ate food, I lifted heavy, and I gained weight. A lot of weight.
I look at pictures of me from my first year in crossfit, and it’s a little surprising. Lifting and eating changed my body really slowly and non-linearly, and even now, I see myself in that first year and I notice that I had significantly more weight on my frame than is really natural for my body type. I have compassion for myself then, that person really eating for the first time in forever, but I also understand why I felt deeply uncomfortable.
When I started lifting, I could no longer scrimp on even one bite, because although my will to be whisper thin had sustained me for years, once the dam broke I was flooded with desire. Desire to taste, desire to participate in social events, desire to take my fill for all the days that I had not.
It is with great care that I say that that year was one of the most pivotal, important, terribly difficult years of my life in terms of my self-esteem. It was the year I noticed that my will to be smaller was not in line with my desire to be powerful. It was the year I didn’t trust the process but I went through it anyway. It was the year I sadly watched my body change and showed up again and again to help that change happen despite my uncertainty.
Willpower is finite. It was what I ran on for years while I struggled on the elliptical, while I avoided various food groups, while I lost weight without care or regard for my health. Innate desire is something different. It’s passion, and for me it was also honesty about what is good for both myself and other people in the world. Innate desire is survival and instinct.
I considered quitting the heavy lifts multiple times, but the idea of letting go of something I loved so that I may control my body once again sickened me. I showed up to my workouts reticent, but I showed up. This was the first time I chose what felt right over what I had decided would look right.
It was a big step.
The post script of this story is that eventually, my body evened out. I had stopped weighing myself a year before I started lifting, but I am willing to wager that I gained 30 pounds in that first year. With minor tweaks (more rest days, most notably) and a big dash of patience, my metabolism noticed that I was no longer starving and kicked in. I am still much bigger than when I started Crossfit, but its not in a way that feels uncomfortable. I lift heavy three times a week instead of six, which feels natural, and my body is great. Like, sometimes I look in the mirror with surprise, because I look strong, confident, buff, and yes- pretty lean. I’m a work in progress, in both body and mind, but showing up to the barbell taught me that if nothing else, willpower is bullshit.
My will may have been to be tiny, but my desire is to be well.
Some people are able to do both. I am not one of those people.
And that’s okay with me.