[Healthy Habiteer]: Becky Hilton Wilkinson
When people see the fitness videos I post or attend a class I teach, they often assume that I’m fit, strong, healthy and that I’ve ALWAYS been that way. I want to tell you that my fitness and wellness journey couldn’t be more different.
I grew up the daughter of an obese father and a mother who was ALWAYS on a diet. From a young age I decided I wanted to be healthy; I just didn’t know how to be. I was always a “big kid”, or for lack of a better word, chubby. Looking back, I didnt think I was until a teacher who saw me double dutch jump rope commented, “Not bad for a fat kid”. I was in third grade. From that moment on, the way I viewed myself, food (and my relationship to it) shifted.
I was an active child. I loved to ride bikes, roller skate, swim, do gymnastics, and ride horses. When I was in middle school, my dad started running and lifting weights. He became aware of how much he was eating and lost over 150 lbs. He was a new person. He had energy and was physically more active than ever. He was an inspiration to me.
He encouraged me to go with him to the gym since my “legs were too fat”. I don’t share this to point a finger at my father or blame him for shaming me for being an overweight child. It is simply part of my journey. His words, though not necessarily helpful, impacted who I am today.
I did go with him to the gym, and I got up early Saturday mornings to run with him and his friends. My intention was not only to lose weight, but to become an athlete. I loved competitive swimming and wanted to be great at it. I wanted to be healthy, fit, and strong. From then, I worked really, REALLY hard. I was the first to arrive at swim practice and stayed for a second practice many days because I wanted to improve and reach the time goals I had set for myself. A shoulder injury and 3 surgeries shifted my focus to other athletic endeavors.
I started lifting weights, riding bikes, and running. I began teaching fitness classes when I was 17 years old and was lucky enough to meet people who wanted to help me. They took the time to mentor me and give me advice. I loved teaching because I had seen results with my own health and wanted to share that with others. When I went away to college in Hawaii, I continued teaching group exercise classes and often worked with collegiate athletes on their conditioning. I was working out A LOT.
One day my running/workout partner commented that she didn’t understand how I could work out so much and still have such big legs.
That did something to me mentally and working out began to take over my life. I became obsessed.”
Not just with working out, but with food. I would workout anywhere between 2-4 hours a day, yet didn’t know how to eat properly; I didn’t know how to fuel my body and though I did lose some weight, I couldn’t maintain that kind of self control for long and then I’d binge. Then I’d exercise even more the next day. Once I allowed myself to indulge in something “not on the plan”, I figured I’d finish it off and start the plan again the next day. Sound familiar?
The cycle would repeat. For years.
After I got married I began competing in triathlons and cycling. I was a personal trainer and fitness instructor. I became frustrated with working out so much and not seeing the results I wanted. I wanted to get lean and see definition. I hired a trainer/nutritionist and he put me on an eating plan that changed the way I viewed food. He taught me to “eat to live” and not “live to eat” (or not eat). I had leaned out, gained muscle definition and 4 months later I competed in my first figure show. Little did I know that after the show I would struggle with eating disorders and negative body image unlike I’d EVER experienced before.
By then, I was a mother of 3 kids, yet I felt like I was a prisoner in my own head. It is so difficult to explain, but I felt trapped and didn’t see a way out.
I was a slave to the gym and felt myself obsessing over food and exercise.”
After one particularly large binge and 3 hours on the step mill, I decided enough was enough. I talked to a friend who referred me to a psychiatrist/therapist who really helped me and continues to help me overcome the feelings of inadequacy. Over the past 6 years, I’ve had some ups and downs. Not just with weight, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve had to figure out who I am, what is important, and what’s not important. I value health and wellness and I always will. However, I’m not obsessed anymore.
My therapist asked me what I would tell my daughters if they were self-destructive and punished themselves the way I did. It took me by surprise. I would NEVER want them to beat themselves up the way I did. I would not want to hear them say they were fat or ugly or stupid. I realized that it was exactly what I was doing to myself and I knew I needed to make a change.
It doesn’t happen over night. It’s taken years and years of self evolution to get to where I am. It’s taken therapists, friends, family, and an incredibly supportive husband who loves me whether I’m defined or a little bit squishy around the middle. I know I still have a long way to go, but I take it one day at a time.
I focus on health, not weight.
I focus on feeling good in the long term and not just in the moment.
I focus on my girls and how I want them to grow up loving and accepting themselves and feeling confident.
It’s funny; I never thought I’d overcome those obsessive feelings. Sometimes I can’t even believe that I skip a day working out and I’m OKAY with it. I know I’m not perfect and I have not arrived at the end of my journey, but it is one step at a time, one day at a time. Being mindful and kind to ourselves is a gift we all deserve.
Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.”—Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance