This blog comes to you from a Chalene “Lifer.” Her words left the entire Team Johnson staff in tears when she called in one day and left a Speak Pipe. Listen as Camille Boufford talks through her disorders brought on by the very industry that set out to “make her healthy.”
“You can’t get the body of your dreams without sacrifice.”
“Watch those extra 100 calories, 200 calories. They really add up.”
“You gotta push harder if you want to burn calories and torch fat.”
How do those phrases make you feel? Motivated? Inspired? Guilty? Attacked? Are they healthy, or disordered?
As an adult, you’re smart enough to skim through health and fitness one-liners and role your eyes, if needed. But think about how a child hears those same phrases. What if you grew up listening to adults preach that ideology like dogma? Can a child identify the difference between healthy and disordered terms for “ideal health?”
Between my mother, my coaches, and the commercial fitness industry, I heard at least one of those phrases every day. I proceeded to fight an eight-year battle against disordered eating and exercise. When it comes to caring for your body, the line between healthy and disordered is a slippery slope—especially for children.
That is why I am about to share with you the step by step process that transformed me, a bread and cheese fanatic, into an eating disorder survivor. While reading, look for red flags and warning signs in your own life. And cross check to ensure they don’t affect the ones you love.
How Normal and Healthy Become Disordered
I entered this world blessed with two parents that loved my older sister and me with all their hearts. I was your average “good kid.” I made great grades at school, played the violin, competed as a figure skater…and I was skinny. No one saw a problem with my size (it was all genetics!), but by my early teenage years I felt myself becoming more self-aware of the physical differences between my peers and myself. I was much thinner than many of my friends. While everyone else was developing breasts and curves, I remained flat as a bean pole. Thankfully, at that point my insecurities had no impact on how I ate and exercised. My love for Pizza Hut, Italian bread, and cheese outweighed all else.
But then the moment we’d ALL been waiting for finally arrived: puberty. At fifteen, I started picking up on talk about body shape, body size, and women’s’ perpetual dissatisfaction with their own. Most of this talk came from the adults in my life. I’ll never forget the first time one of my figure skating coaches commented “Camille, you have THE perfect body. Never change!” She continued to make similar comments until I left for college.
I also started noticing how my mother viewed her own body. Where I saw beauty, strength, and quads to DIE FOR, she saw fat, fat, and more fat. Her dissatisfaction and internal criticism permeated into all areas of her life…and I noticed. In 2010, my mother decided to make a change and embark on a new fitness program: Turbo Jam by Chalene Johnson. While I didn’t know it at the time, that video would change the course of my life. Together, we unpacked the box, moved the furniture out to the corner of the family room, and pressed play for the first time.
At-Home Fitness…What Could go Wrong?
It took us less than five minutes to fall in love with Chalene! The athlete in me saw the mesh of cardio kickboxing and dance as the perfect way to cross-train, and just like that, Turbo Jam became our “thing.” We pushed play and moved our hips to Chalene’s energetic playlist almost every day! With my figure skating improving and relationship with my mom growing, it seemed like all was perfect in my fifteen-year-old life.
But of course, perfection is fleeting. I reached that point in a teenage girl’s life where thoughts of body image and acceptance consumed all areas of the brain. I was a shy, insecure kid with only a handful of friends, and the thought of actually talking to my peers TERRIFIED me. So instead, I devised the perfect antisocial plan to make friends: improve my physical appearance. Because naturally, if I looked amazing, people would line up to talk to me, right?? Deep down, I knew that was bull sh*t, but it seemed like an option based on my observations of my mom, coaches, and exercise videos.
I then activated my mission: “tone up, get popular,” by shifting my Turbo Jam mentality from “healthy fun” to “mandatory fun.” I’d ask my mom to join me for Turbo every night before bed, even if we already worked out that day. If we as a family split dessert at a restaurant, I made my mom promise to join me for 45 minutes of Turbo the second we arrived home. If she said no, that was fine! I would just work out by myself.
These were the warning signs of an addiction, but neither my friends nor family thought anything of it. My weight never budged. I continued to eat excessive amounts of bread and cheese, and my body was putting on lean muscle… so what was the problem?
The problem was that my brain now relied on the post-workout high to feel normal. I couldn’t go a day without my Turbo Jam sweat sesh, even if I skated. And even worse, the workouts became too easy. I could get through the hour-long Cardio Party without breaking a sweat…which is why I begged my mom for Chalene’s new program, Turbo Fire, the exact minute I discovered its existence.
Fall 2011, at the beginning of my junior year, I hit play on Turbo Fire seven days a week, pushing through overuse injuries and ignoring all signals that I needed to STOP. My reason for exercising shifted from “making myself as attractive as possible” to a fear of gaining weight and losing muscle. The video’s language led me to believe that exercise was only about burning calories and melting the fat away–and that fueled my addiction like gasoline on a flame. I started losing weight rapidly. As more people noticed, my urge to continue grew stronger. I implemented a series of dietary restrictions, eliminating everything except vegetables, chicken, egg whites, grape nuts cereal, and skim milk.
This restriction blew up into anorexia nervosa.
I learned to “pretend” to eat around others, chewing my food and spitting it out into a napkin. I used the kitchen scale religiously, measuring serving sizes to exactly 100 calories. Every time I used the bathroom at school I’d do 30 push-ups and 30 squats. The notion of eating carbs made me cry. I lost 15 pounds, reaching 90 lbs at 5’4”, leaving my parents horrified and helpless.
My life was no longer improving through fitness.
I lived for fitness.
I was broken, a prisoner in locked in a cage created by rigid rules and addictive behaviors. At this point, external influences (i.e. fitness videos and adult role models) damaged me all they could, leaving my brain to take over as the new bully.
Getting Help (Which Didn’t Help)
I sought professional help, and my treatment team forced me to quit exercising. Spoiler alert: I didn’t stop. While my care team healed my weight, my mindset remained broken as ever. I starved myself all day and binged at night. When I they cleared me to exercise, I utilized Turbofire cardio to “erase” the binge either after my parents went to bed or before they woke up. This lifestyle led me down the road of depression and anxiety. My doctor started me on SSRI antidepressants, and while they helped numb the symptoms, I only felt true peace after my daily 120-minute Turbofire workout.
My disorder was rough on me, a responsibility I was willing to accept. But it broke my heart to see how my behavior was tearing my family apart. Because I needed to work out first thing in the morning, I forbade them from making early morning family plans. I wouldn’t let anyone order appetizers at a restaurant because sharing food gave me anxiety attacks. If I missed my morning workout, I’d scream at anyone who inconvenienced me. While I recognized the harm of these actions, my brain wouldn’t let me stop.
A New Obsession
Fast forward to 2013. Now studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major in college, I kept the Turbo mentality with me and spent all my free time exercising. Between 6:00 a.m. workouts, ultimate frisbee practices, time spent reading stationary bike studying for class, the gym became my second home. But as coursework increased in difficulty, I discovered that I didn’t have time to out-exercise my calorie intake…which led me to a new coping mechanism: bulimia nervosa.
What seemed like a miraculous discovery at first, quickly transformed into a horror story. From 2015-2018, I’d binge and purge until my gag reflex stopped working. I saw blood drip from my nose into the toilet. Sometimes my knuckles were too raw to continue. I’d cancel plans with friends so I could work out instead. I stopped attempting to eat meals with others because I felt safer eating alone.
This mindset held me captive from 2010 to 2018. Not a single day passed without wishing to eat like a normal person–BE a normal person. But the sad truth existed: the root of my problems had nothing to do with weight or body shape…only a desire for love and acceptance.
Why do we Believe Skinny Means Happy?
It’s ironic, because deep down, we all know that changing your body’s physical properties won’t create love and acceptance. That comes from within. So where, then, do we learn that the solution lies in cloaking our internal insecurities with an aesthetically pleasing physical appearance?? We cannot blame the mothers, skating coaches, or “Chalenes” of the world, because they are victims just like me. We are ALL victims to the same cultural ideology that equates body fat with flaw.
The toxic prevalence of this culture manifests itself differently across generations. Perhaps this explains why eating disorders are most prevalent among people exposed to these health crazes in their formative years. And it’s getting worse! The introduction of social media, the internet, influencers and other technologies makes the toxic body propaganda even more available to adolescents. Their young brains act like sponges and quickly pick up on the behaviors modeled on social media. While adults can use logic and reason to decipher between truth and nonsense, healthy and disordered, our children are still developing that sense. This is why a positive influence and strong role models are more important than ever. The only way to stop this epidemic is to ensure that the next generation learns to love food, and their bodies, in a healthy way.
So what exactly can we do?
- Watch how you treat your body and talk to yourself around your children. Even though my mom never uttered a negative word about my body, I picked up on the way she talked to herself and modeled my behavior after that.
- Educate yourself on the health benefits of proper nutrition and exercise. Only after an education can you share the wonders that exercise does for your brain and how well-rounded nutrition makes you feel on top of the world! Providing them with a solid background of education equips them with the knowledge to differentiate between healthy and disordered choices.
- Call it out when you see it. Whether it’s something you hear on TV, read in the store, or overhear your friend Karen saying at the dinner table—CALL IT OUT! Pointing out these negative behaviors is critical to increasing awareness.
Hope Going Forward
My eating disorder resulted from no individual person or action, but rather an ideology our culture has accepted, propagated, and spread like wildfire. I was fortunate enough to recover. Even though I graduated college with a 3.9 GPA, my proudest accomplishment is my recovery with the knowledge of how nourish, not punish, my body.
But NO ONE should have to go through that hell to reach that state of mind. With a movement towards self-love and body acceptance, we can save the mental health of the next generation. Before you begin, ask yourself, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution to our diet culture?” If you’re ready to become the solution, then it’s time to adjust your approach to your own body image, health, and nutrition. After all, spreading love to the next generation only occurs when you have enough for yourself.
Your kids are worth it. The next generation is worth it. YOU are worth it. So buckle up, eat those 100, 200 extra calories, and let’s change the world.
Please show Camille Boufford some love in the comment section below. Her willingness to share and become vulnerable is going to help a lot of people. Have you overcome your own healthy or disordered thinking?