8 Wheels, 5 Pounds, and 180° of Mental Health


I’ve struggled with body image, disordered eating, and an unhealthy fixation with my weight for almost a decade. College was my hardest struggle. I counted calories obsessively, I ran on the treadmill in the middle of the night, I cried over two-tenths of a pound increase on my scale. In short, I was a mess.

Things have improved since graduating, since getting married, since having my son, but I still hear that little voice, intruding on my quiet moments: You could be thinner if you skipped lunch. If you only eat half of that, you’ll save some calories. Skip the latte, plain coffee is fine. I tamp down the thoughts and eat cookies, reminding myself that I am not defined by my weight, that I want my son to have a healthy body image, and that wasting away to nothing does not help me be a better human.

It’s a process. Some days are better than others, some days are worse.

Anyway, when I joined roller derby, I weighed 93 pounds, had zero muscle definition, and generally performed little-to-no exercise with the exception of lugging my toddler around. But then, over the coming months, my non-muscles began to transform into something resembling actual physical strength.

I could skate faster, I could jump higher, I could even balance better. I started to feel aches after practices in places I previously felt nothing. I had more energy. I felt happier.

Last year, I acquired a pair of hand-me-down leggings that were a bit baggy, but were too cute not to keep. I brought the leggings on a trip as sleepwear a few weeks ago. At the end of a long day, I put them on (expecting a certain flowiness one doesn’t often want in leggings) and was blown away when they fit the way leggings should.

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I stood in front of the mirror, staring at myself, wearing my beautiful leggings. My legs, though still quite toothpicky, had the slightest hint of curves. There were muscles there, under the surface, trying to break free. I looked at my biceps and they, too, were a little rounder, a little firmer. Incredulously, I got on the scale. I had gained five pounds.

I won’t lie: my first feeling was despair, because it’s hard to shake ten years of disordered eating, but it was fleeting. Before that critical voice could tell me I was a disappointment, a louder voice said “Oh, hell yeah! Look at you! You are a powerful machine! You are Herculean! You are a powerhouse!”

So maybe the voice was a little over-the-top, but I don’t care. Whatever it takes, right? I can’t say that that moment has “cured” me or that I’ll never struggle again, but I can say that I look in the mirror and I feel good. I put the scale away; I went back to putting whole milk in my coffee. I go to derby practice, and I give it my all, and then I come home and I eat something because I want to stay strong; I want to get stronger.

So what’s the point of all this? It’s that sometimes there are benefits to roller derby you might never have expected. Like perspective.

Get out there and slay, derby girls. <3

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