Ask Teresina: Ride for your life!

February 24, 2006

Teresina Sullo is my friend and fitness coach. She has kept me in shape in spite of myself and inspired many of all ages to stay in shape. One of her fitness passions is the stationary bicycle. From that, she invented a workout regime that is based around the bike. I plan to print here from time to time some of her writings so that I can share some of her physical wisdom with you. Here is the first part of the background of her story. If you have any questions, post them here or write her directly as teresina at mac dot com.

Teresina Sullo

“Teresina Sullo” (photo by Roger Bourland)

As a child my family always had a garden. Even if we had to drive to it, we had an organic vegetable patch. As a child, pulling radishes out of the ground amazed me. It still does. There was great respect for the earth and the fruit it bore. Later when we lived on a farm, mom made almost everything from scratch. She even made her own pasta! Everything was fresh, home grown and pesticide free. I was very privileged.

Despite this idyllic backdrop, I was an overachieving girl from a loving, overweight, sedentary family that loved to eat. Even on a budget, life revolved around food. Fat and obesity was common to both sides of the family. I watched as my parents and relatives battled the bulge, fought obesity, and wrestled with exercise. I felt their unhappiness, struggle and self-loathing. I lived through their operations, shakes, pills, and watched the failure of one failed weight-loss plan after another. I lived in terror that one day I would be a large as the rest of my family, and from a very early age, I was determined to defy my genetics.

I have been obsessed with food and weight issues for as long as I can remember. I was on self-imposed diets by the second grade and everything had to do with my body image. How big was my belly today? By the time I was 16, I had been on, or read about, every diet known to man: the grapefruit diet, the Scarsdale diet, the banana and egg diet, the protein diet, the diet soda diet, every magazine diet, and all the fad diets that continue to recycle and resurface to haunt the next eager victims. I examined and critiqued my body every waking moment.

College changed all of that. In one fell swoop, I was thrust into a world of food I had not had regular access to up until then. Sugar-coated-breakfasts, desserts galore and ice cream sundae bars! It was torture. My dorm buddies and floor mates downed midnight pizza, buffalo wings, beer, punch, and drinks I had never heard of before or since.

I was terrified of gaining weight. I had chosen a profession that encouraged a very thin body–anorexia among dancers is rampant. I was now determined to be skinny, no matter what it took. I used Ex-lax and diet pills. I watched friends weep in desperation over their mounting self-hatred. I resolved to do the only thing I thought would work: not eat. That way there was no discussion in my head. I didn’t have to make choices. I’d go for days on a bran muffin and white mushrooms.

Unfortunately the abuse my body suffered left me weak and weary. My metabolism was completely shot. I suffered from fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and the loss of my period. Some of my classmates withdrew from school because they were so underweight. And suddenly, I could no longer hold my arms up to blow-dry my hair. I couldn’t get up in the morning. I barely had the strength to dance, to do what I love. My psyche ached, my body strained, yet somehow my spirit led me on. I had so many things I wanted to do with my life.

I had no choice but to find a way to get better. I started to search for answers that could begin my healing. I got no help from traditional doctors, so I decided to look elsewhere. This was the beginning of accepting the responsibility for my health.

I put my first effort into my diet. I started eating again long before I finally crashed, and I maintained a good body weight. But my relationship with food and my body was still warped, and I felt so tired. I would go all day without eating, and then eat a large meal, but then I found myself overeating, stressing, and counting calories. Food was still the enemy. It affected my mood, my relationships, everything.

I was desperate. I looked to alternative medicine. I found my way to a Naturopath who forced me to acknowledge the damage I had done to myself. It all made sense to me: I had abused my body so much that I needed to repair my immune system, rehabilitate my digestion and rebuild my metabolism. I had severely altered the workings of my body.

You see, although I was eating again, it was not the right stuff, so in a sense I was still starving myself. It was as if I were saying to myself, “OK, damn you, if I’m going to have to eat, I’ll eat…a chocolate bar!” Once again, I perpetuated the cycle of abuse and recovery.

So I turned to awful tasting herbs, enzymes and experimented with different foods. I also found myself reading health magazines and preparing healthier foods, just generally making changes for a healthier way of life. I started reading labels and caring what went inside of me. I gave up caffeine since I was a heavy coffee drinker (that was a week I’ll never forget). Slowly I abolished sugar and all other over-processed, empty fake foods. I started to get back to the basics! Damn. Why is my mother always right?
And so redefining my relationship with food was helping me to heal my body, but there was still something not right.

(to be continued next Friday)

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