by Ally Jagodzinski
I’ve had an eating disorder for the past 13 years. Well, maybe only 4 of those years would qualify as an “eating disorder” as defined by the DSM-5, but I cannot pretend that the other years were not filled with disordered eating.
Food intake and body image became sources of stress when I was just a kid and would escalate over years to prolonged starvation, vomiting as needed, and binge eating (sometimes with or without a purge). Food was constantly on my mind and impacted every aspect of my life. As a high schooler, I avoided all social events because they would involve food, hid in the library during lunch, and closed myself off from my peers and family.
At age 18, I had a few wake-up calls that convinced me I should put on weight. I was losing my hair, passed out on several occasions from feeling light headed, and started to wet the bed (an ED symptom rarely discussed – I was so weak that my bladder muscles were giving out). So, in the control-freak way that I am, I began to add a calculated amount of calories to my diet each day, that would slowly bring me up to what I viewed as a “healthy” weight.
I moved to Madison for college and continued to count every calorie that went into my body. I started running like a maniac and frequented the campus gym to mindlessly hop on the elliptical or bike. Although I did reach an acceptable weight: I was still very thin, but at least people weren’t looking at my like I have an ED. Over the next few years, I developed this routine to a science, creating tactics to help me be more social (i.e. working out like crazy and eating nothing in order to go out to dinner that night). I ran a marathon in under four hours, but overtrained like an idiot and destroyed my knees in the process. I felt barely stable. Happy on the surface, but always teetering on the border of breakdown – sometimes teetering too far into panic attacks, binge eating episodes, and other forms of self-harm.
Post-college, I was living in Montreal, homesick as hell, and feeling trapped in a relationship I didn’t want to be in – I started to unravel and channeled this stress into my eating and exercise habits. Meanwhile, the frequency of my “breakdowns” started to pick up. Then, on a long weekend in August, I flew home to Minneapolis and ended up at Alchemy for the first time. Naturally, one of the first things on my family’s agenda was to go to an A20. The class destroyed me – I could hardly move the entire week that followed – but something about it made me feel completely different than any other workout I had done. Humbled, certainly, but more importantly, I felt invigorated, alive, and motivated to do better.
It would be another 6 months before I moved back to Minneapolis for good and began attending Alchemy regularly. At this point, there was zero muscle on my body (we’re talking 3 bands to do a push-up). I started going with my family, and I steadily saw drastic improvements in my fitness levels. However, the whole food thing wasn’t quite resolved yet. I distinctly remember talking with my dad one day early on when he asked me what I ate post-workout. I don’t remember my exact answer, but it was probably along the lines of, “umm, an apple?” He promptly told me he wouldn’t allow me to go to Alchemy if I wasn’t eating properly. Frustrated and annoyed that he would tell his adult daughter to do this, I slowly started to understand what he is saying. My body began to demand food in a way I had never felt before – it is like my body was screaming, nourish me. I began to talk with coaches and fellow athletes about post-workout fuel, do my own research, and – get this – actually, LISTEN to my body. As I was physically working harder than ever before, I started to understand food as fuel: something absolutely necessary to power me through my workouts, as well as the rest of my day.
The leaps and bounds I have made in the past 16 months have been tremendous. My relationship to food and my body – although not perfect – have never been healthier. I know I still have a ways to go, but the support and community I experience at Alchemy continues to push me to be a better version of myself. I’ve put on a good amount of weight since starting Alchemy: mostly muscle, but definitely not just muscle…and that’s okay. I now can back squat my bodyweight and then some, knock out push-ups from my toes, kip my pull-ups, and, most importantly, look in the mirror to see a strong, secure woman looking back. I don’t fixate on being “skinny” anymore; rather, I just want a healthy body that is able to tackle the daily challenges life throws at me.
Alchemy has strengthened my body and mind, giving me gratitude for all of which it is capable. Alchemy has given me confidence, helping me to hold my head a little higher in every aspect of my life. Alchemy makes me feel freakin’ ALIVE, dammit. Even so, I know I am far from healed even if I like to pretend otherwise. But this is my PYL, and nothing is going to stop me now.
Ally Jagodzinski is a coach at Alchemy Highland Park. In her spare time you can find her riding her bike, roasting brussels sprouts, and reading the never-ending pile of books on her nightstand.
[The PYL Series highlights individuals that don’t just tolerate discomfort to purse their legend, they anticipate and embrace it. Knowing what you want, and knowing that you’ll do anything and overcome all obstacles to achieve it is not easy, but it is the only way to reach your own legend. Pursue it vigorously, and the universe will conspire to help you achieve yours too.]