Mission Statment

I was cleaning out my room last week and came across a folder that I used in my 10th grade health class.

As I opened the folder, two packets and a mission statement fell out in front me. The first packet was blue and on the front it said, "Unit 1". Curious, I turned its pages to see what I had written inside. Topics ranged from self-esteem to goal-setting and to the avoidance of abusive relationships. In the assignment sections, my teacher asked us to take the time to fill out personal reflections for each category we covered in class. Overall, my answers were positive and hopeful. I mentioned how I wanted to see the world and how grateful I was for my friends and family. On a personal health assessment page, I listed the worst thing about my physical health being that I probably went to bed later than I should have. I also wrote that I was lucky to not have a mental illness (although later in high school I experienced depression and anxiety).

The second packet was yellow and on its cover were the words, "Unit 2: Personal Fitness". On the first page in the packet were the measurements I needed for my target heart rate and below that, were my BMI measurements which were followed by a "handy" calculation for a calorie deficit that we could use if we wanted to try to lose one pound a week (which my teacher encouraged all of us to do on a regular basis, since he believed most people could: "stand to lose some weight").

You're probably wondering why I'm rambling off about two packets that I filled out in high school.

Well, it was during this 10th grade health class that anorexia first manifested itself in my life. It was where I first found the resources that I had been looking for to help me lose weight. It was where I first found the tools I needed to count calories and to measure food. It was where I first found the motivation to act on the thoughts that had been festering inside of me for years.

 It was the perfect storm.

From the first page of that packet on, the margins of each page were filled with notes on how I could most effectively lose weight by dieting and exercise. There were even instances where I wrote how much I didn't like my body or myself in the margins too. Except for a few examples, they weren't blatant comments of self-deprecation. Instead, they were sly insults hidden under false overtones of positivity concerning the "better" version of myself that I was in the process of making. One of the worst pages that featured this, was titled, "Managing Your Weight'. Again, my teacher chose to go in-depth about how to lose weight through calorie deficits while also addressing how many calories were in a pound of fat, how many calories were in a hamburger, how to calculate how many calories you could burn depending on your weight, and (ironically) what eating disorders were.

Comparing this second packet to the first one broke my heart. I could see the girl from the first packet disappearing as I turned the pages of the second. My goals and my priorities switched from focusing on going to bed earlier or being kinder to my friends, to losing weight and counting calories. I saw the progression of a relatively carefree girl becoming an obsessive, depressed mess in a few short months. I was able to relive the hateful thoughts and lies that I once fed myself all for the sake of becoming "healthier".

I saw the loss of my soul.

I want to point out that I don't necessarily think it was my teacher's fault for me becoming anorexic--because it wasn't. I was the one who chose to follow what he advised us to do. However, his attitudes and the way that he planned his curriculum were an eating-disorder and self-hate breeding ground. And this isn't just limited to him or to his class. There was a teacher at my high school who was known for using calipers to pull at and measure the fat percentage on her students bodies. Students would weight themselves in gym class too. Why? All for the sake of fitness and health of course.

Instead of achieving that though, what they did instead was unintentionally shame student's bodies who didn't meet designated fitness standards. Although it's never shameful to have fat on your body, eat a hamburger, not exercise five days a week, or not have your BMI within a certain range, students were taught the opposite in my high school's health and fitness classes.  By cultivating these thought processes, the emotional and mental health of students were sacrificed for the sake ridiculous measurements that aren't even accurate indicators of health for most body types.

I understand that maybe what happened to me in my health class was an isolated experience--I mean, it's not like everyone in that class developed an eating disorder or eating disorder habits from what was taught. My concern though, is that the way health is taught fuels eating disorder mentalities, thin-culture, and false perceptions of health. Even if I hadn't developed a disorder, I can guarantee that I would have taken what I learned in this class and stored it in my mind as truth. I probably would have referred back to it at times and even worse, I would have taught these unhealthy concepts through my actions or words to others.

In the personal mission statement that I mentioned earlier, I wrote that I wanted to "always be in control of my body". Although that was just one line in a one page paper, it says more about who I was at that time in my life than anything else I had written for that assignment. When I said that I wanted control, I meant that I wanted to have absolute control over my weight, appearance, and everything that entered or left my body.

Looking back on that goal now, I think I still want to achieve it. I still want to always be in control of my body, but not in the same way that I used to.

I want to always be in control of how I feel about my body and not let any measurement or opinion from someone else change how I see myself. I want to always be in control of what I feed my body and not let calories dictate my diet. I want to always be in control of appreciating how strong and resilient my body is regardless of how many pounds I can lift or miles I can run.

As soon as I finish this post, I think I'm going to go throw these packets away because it doesn't really do anyone any good to dwell in the past. I'm glad that I found them though. Reading through their pages has helped me remember where I've come from, along with helping me realize the progress that I've made to become who I am now.

I'm much healthier now at my current weight and not counting calories than I ever was back then when I was trying to diet because health goes beyond things that can be seen and measured physically.

And maybe it's time that we start teaching health classes about that instead.