Other than a short-lived semester of soccer in high school, I'd never set foot in a gym before. It took me a few months to get over the anxiety of being there. But as soon as I got comfortable, I became obsessed.
I started doing cardio, namely the Stairmaster, for 30 minutes at first. Then an hour. The weight started falling off fast, and I loved it, so I started increasing my time.
Soon, my entire life revolved around my workouts and deciding what food to eat. I put all my value on the scale and the mirror. I worried about every calorie that went in my mouth. I was either not eating at all or eating maybe 600 calories a day. If I didn’t have my three to four hours of cardio every day, I felt like I'd failed.
My body was literally wasting away, but the obsession had taken over. I would wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, so upset with myself for not doing enough, and punish myself by doing 100 squats.
After about a year of living in this constant obsession, I was 38kg and still considered myself fat. I went to my doctor for something unrelated, and after she saw me, she insisted I start gaining weight. She recommended I start drinking Ensure nutrition shakes several times a day and cut out the cardio.
I thought she was crazy. I still thought I needed to lose more weight.
I never knew you could overdo it on cardio. But the truth was, I was burning close to 4,000 calories a day and only eating 600.
A few days later after this appointment, I remember stepping on the scale—as I did several times a day—and something just went off. I said out loud, “Lenci, you weigh 38kg. 38kg.” I kept repeating that.
I looked in the mirror and I finally saw what everyone else had been seeing: a very unhealthy body.
I set a new goal: to be actually healthy—mentally, emotionally, physically.
I wanted to see the scale go up, which meant lifting weights. I started off on machines and cables, mostly because they had pictures that explained what to do and it took all of the guesswork out of it. I cut out the obsessive cardio, though I still wasn't eating enough. I sat at 41kg for another year.
One day, a trainer at the gym approached me and offered to show me how to do a deadlift. We did a 30-minute session together, and it was hard. We were lifting real weight, and I had never really used dumbbells before. But I did it. And it felt good. The next day I was sore like I had never been before, and I was hooked.
I got off the machines and started lifting free weights. I spent hours watching YouTube and Instagram videos. I would study the form and listen to everything they had to say.
I noticed my body getting stronger within a few months of lifting heavier and eating enough food to fuel my body. But it wasn’t until three months ago—about seven months after first meeting that trainer—that I realized how far I had really come: I hit a personal record and deadlifted 80kg.
It was the first time I really felt that my weight training had paid off, and the first time I realized I was only focused on myself. I wasn’t comparing myself to what other women my size were lifting. I wasn’t dwelling on only doing a couple of reps at this weight. That moment was validation—I had come from this frail, thirty-something kg girl to a 15kg-stronger woman on a mission, lifting 31kg more than I weighed. And it felt amazing!
Now, I work out five to six days a week. My current split is:
Monday: Lower Body
Tuesday: Back and Biceps
Wednesday: Chest and Lower Body (no weights, just resistance bands and body weight)
Thursday: Shoulders and Triceps
Fridays: Lower Body
My workouts last about two hours and my focus with every workout is to lift a little heavier than I did the workout before. I like to start with no weight to warm up and add weight with each set. It’s a challenge and I always like to see how much my body can handle.
Coming from an unhealthy place, my eating today isn't nearly as strict. I eat when I am hungry. I don’t restrict what I eat, I just try to eat a healthy amount. I buy organic when I can, and the two main things I check on a food label are the amount of sodium and sugar. My main focus is to make sure my body is getting what it needs to thrive—protein, healthy fats, enough water, etc. My biggest indulgence is French fries—something I refuse to give up! Anything else can go, but not those.
My original goal seemed simple enough—do some cardio, lose the baby weight, and once that happened, cancel my gym membership. I never expected to fall into the category of someone with an eating disorder, and then have to crawl myself back up from the bottom.
But through that journey, I found myself again. I lift heavier weights than I ever thought I could. I have conquered the debilitating anxiety that had once taken over my life. I have muscle where bones used to stick out. I can confidently work out in a room full of strong people and not feel intimidated. I know without an ounce of doubt that if I can make it through the hell of an eating disorder, I can tackle ANYTHING.
The power I felt when I PR’d that 77kg deadlift three months ago is what motivates me to keep on pushing now. It’s been two years since I started weight training, one year of really dedicating myself to lifting, and now I weigh a strong 51kg, with a goal to continue gaining healthy weight. I never thought I would be in this mindset, but I am so glad I am.
Lenci's number one tip
We all have setbacks and disappointments, but it’s about how you handle it and move forward that will set you aside from others. I always say, “Getting discouraged is okay. Giving up is not.” I truly believe it is our trials that make our stories worth telling. It shows courage, and most importantly, it shows hope.
Follow Lenci’s fitness journey @lencirodriguezfitness.
If you are worried about yourself or someone in your care, the best thing you can do is talk to someone. Please contact the Butterfly Foundation 1800 33 4673 or chat online.
As Told To Rachael Schultz. This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.