Three years ago, Madelyn Moon thought she had it all. The 25-year-old fitness model was was in the best shape of her life, with a highly-followed Instagram account that showed off her incredible figure and perfectly proportioned meals.
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But the person she portrayed on social media hid the real, ugly truth. Moon was using her fit image to disguise an eating disorder.
“When I was younger, I started to create very disordered eating habits with food and I developed body dysmorphia,” Moon tells People Magazine. “When I found fitness competitions, I realized it was this nice, clean, hidden way to have an eating disorder dressed up with the word ‘fitness.’ ”
Can we talk about the irony of having a "perfect" body but haven't nothing to do with it? I took this photo the day after my fitness competition, thinking it would be a sexy shot. Looking back, I can see so clearly that I was drawn to this shot because it demonstrated exactly how I felt at the time. I was a prisoner. I was chained and weighed down by my dieting and fitness routine. I hated my body and my life but I couldn't stop pushing myself more and more towards "perfection." In truth, I was tired and upset when I took this photo. I didn't place where I wanted to place during the competition the day before. I ate a pop tart after the show to celebrate, but felt like a failure for eating such a "bad" food. I created an anxiety-ridden stomachache. I was retaining water (naturally) but I felt guilty for it…as if I could have controlled that. I let my family go back home, three hours away, without saying goodbye because I didn't want their breakfast plans to get in the way of my strict morning workout and diet routine before this photo shoot. My heart hurts for that girl, but I am overjoyed at where I am today. I weigh at least 15 lbs more than I did here but that's not all I gained. I gained my family. I gained friends. I gained food freedom. I gained intuitive moment. I let go of perfection, expectations, and my constant need to control. I am free and you can be too. Put down the weights and the chains and break through the walls you have put up around yourself. You CAN be free. It all starts with making the choice.
Because she looked fit and muscular, nobody realized that she had a problem. In fact, she was lavished with compliments.
“If you have a six-pack or a toned butt, people are like, ‘Wow you’re so fit!’ You get admiration and no one even questions it,” she says. “When I realized I could diet all my body fat away and have a reason to do it and get admired, to me it was a win-win. I could feel like I was in control of my life, I could perfect myself, and no one would know that it was unhealthy.”
At age 20, the Colorado-based motivational trained for her first competition. Training meant eating a very strict diet, filled with protein-heavy meals and very few carbs. She also worked out twice a day, six to seven days a week.
“I was given a meal plan by my coach that he told me to stick to to a T,” she says. “It was the same food at the same exact time, and I would make sure it was on the dot. I would pack a disgusting mixture … and bring it to class and let it sit in my warm backpack all morning, and then whenever the time came to have it I would drink it. That’s how rigid I would be. I would never go anywhere without my meals.”
There was happiness in feeling like I was getting a thin body, but it was never enough. I was never satisfied.”
While she looked great on the outside, on the inside was a different story.
“I felt terrible,” she SAID. “I was eating almost no dietary fat or carbohydrates so I felt very sluggish, my digestion was awful and my brain was very cloudy. During one of my preps, my coach told me to have 240 grams of protein per day [far above the recommendations of 50 to 60 grams a day for adult women], so I was eating more protein than my body could even process. I was really serious and focused – there was no laughter or joy.”
Even when she stopped getting her period, Moon still wanted to get leaner.
“It was concerning, but in this disordered place in my mind it was a recognition that I was getting smaller and thinner,” she says. “I knew it was unhealthy, but I pushed that aside because the leanness became more important.”
She added: “On one side I was like, I’m finally getting there, I’m getting leaner and smaller and smaller, but then the other side was like, it’s not small enough,” she says. “There was happiness in feeling like I was getting a thin body, but it was never enough. I was never satisfied.”
Eventually, the gruelling lifestyle took its toll. After her second fitness competition, Moon realized she needed a change.
“Everything seemed to go wrong,” she says. “They put me in a different height class so I ended up being the shortest girl in my height group. I remember everyone went out to celebrate after the show and ate pizza and nachos, but I was so into the mindset of fitness that I just stayed in and ate an apple as a cheat meal — and I felt guilty for eating the apple.”
“I just realized that this was not the way I wanted to live,” she continues. “I had shed a lot of tears, I had said no to a lot of opportunities, I was isolated and alone, I didn’t have my period. I didn’t think it was worth it. After the second show, I was tired of hating myself.”
Moon decided to give up her fitness competitions, and let go of her rigorous diet. Though she’s still active and eats healthy, she lets herself enjoy carbs and treats — and she’s happier than ever.
“I’m able to actually care about myself and have self-love,” she says. “I can look back at old photos and not be triggered, because I don’t want that body because I don’t want that life. I’m still fit — I go to the gym, I do yoga, I eat healthy foods. I still do a lot of healthy actions, but my mind is happy now.”