When it comes to my eating disorder recovery, it was a long journey full of ups and downs. While I would never want to wish an eating disorder on anyone with me just wanting to disappear in the times that I was really struggling, I have learned so much about myself by going through and recovering from an eating disorder.
If you or a loved one is struggling with your eating habits and the way you feel in and about your body, please know that you’re not alone and there is help available to you.
**As a disclaimer, if you’re someone who is triggered by others’ eating disorder stories, I would advise you to skip the reading of this post.
THE CHILDHOOD YEARS
My eating disorder started when I was 8 years old.
I vividly remember coming home from school and shoving as much bread dipped into pasta sauce in my mouth as I could. I would stir sugar into my orange juice to make it sweeter, and ingest Lucky Charms marshmallows like I would never see something sweet in my life again.
Why did I do this? While I wasn’t necessarily following any sort of diet at this time, I was surrounded by family members who would comment on how many “points” they were allowed to ingest being on a WeightWatchers program, who would look at pictures of themselves that I thought were beautiful stating “I look like a whale in that picture”, and who told me that if I keep snacking the way I was, then I’d be 500 pounds.
I started to view gaining weight as an indicator of not having any self control. I started realizing that food wasn’t meant to be enjoyed, but something to be wary about. I viewed food
and my desire to eat as bad, even if I did need to eat in order to live.
Because of this, I engaged in the eating practices I mentioned earlier, but in secrecy. And in large amounts, since I could only eat those things when the adults in my life were not around.
At the age of 10, I was at a friend’s house and had a panic attack after eating what I labeled in my mind as eating “too many” cookies. I feared the weight I would gain. I feared that I had no self-control, that I was a bad person. My heart started to race, my palms became super clammy, I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to pass out.
My friend’s parents ended up calling an ambulance and my dad showed up with my inhaler because I had previously been diagnosed with asthma, which later revealed itself to actually be generalized anxiety disorder, something I’ve consistently struggled with since I was very little.
As a side note, I don’t blame my family for my eating disorders. We’ve ALL grown up to think that having a thinner body means you’re healthier, means you’re better. We’ve all seen the mess
ages that, in order to be healthy as a human, we need to have all of these preset rules around what and how we’re supposed to eat, what we’re supposed to look like, and how we’re supposed to exercise. Although now I know that this way of thinking and acting is not necessarily accurate, these ideas are something I have learned over the years to have a sense of understanding and compassion for when I see them in others.
Self-reflection: How has your mindset around food shifted since your own childhood? What stories around food and your body have you held on to and what have you been able to let go?
THE MIDDLE SCHOOL YEARS
Now, let’s look at the tumultuousness of my teenage years, shall we?
In all seriousness, though, this is where things got really rough for me.
At the age of 14, I confided in my parents that I was really struggling. I truly felt like there was something wrong with me. Food felt like a drug. I couldn’t get enough of it.
And when I shoved so much into my body that I felt like I would pop, I tried (and failed, thankfully) to make myself throw up to eliminate the possibility of me gaining any more weight. I won’t even get into the practices I put myself through in order to increase the chances of me being successful with my purges.
After those dreadful moments of binging and trying to purge through vomiting, I turned to laxative use. I was so afraid of how food affected me. I was so afraid of what people would think if they knew what I was doing.
This is when I started to see my first therapist and nutritionist. I don’t remember much about my first therapist - other than she was young, extremely kind, and blonde - but my experience with my first nutritionist really burned some negative memories into my brain.
One such memory is when she stepped on scale to reveal a weight that I considered to be low - and therefore, “good” - and then asked me to also step on the scale, whereupon she said something about there still being hope of me losing weight. Keep in mind, at this time, I was not only gaining weight through binging, but also was naturally gaining weight because of just having gone through puberty.
I felt so depressed after seeing how much I weighed in comparison to this person I was looking up to to help me find peace with food and body. Instead of feeling inspired and motivated, I felt beaten down. And indulged in my sorrows by going home and using food as the coping mechanism I’d come to know it as.
The above picture is of 14-year-old me standing next to my 11-year-old sister. I thought I looked absolutely massive in this photo, especially when standing next to my younger sibling, someone who I would compare my appearance to throughout my adolescent and young adult life. It took me a long time to realize that not only is everyone’s body very unique to them, but one can choose to exude beauty and grace, no matter what their size.
Whether you’re still in your teenage years or you’re an adult, comparison is truly the thief of joy. As humans, we each have our own individual make-up via our DNA that dictates how tall we’re going to be, what bone structure we’re going to have, and what our predisposed healthy weight is going to be. On top of that, other determinants like where we live, how much stress we’re experiencing at a specific time period in our lives, our socioeconomic status and underlying health conditions can affect our weight as well.
Because of this, it is not fair or accurate for us to compare our weights, especially if we’re at significantly different heights and ages (ie me comparing myself to my sister, or to my nutritionist). While this is more difficult of a concept for teenagers to grasp, as adults, I invite you to look at and take in this message and get curious about when trying to apply it to ourselves.
THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
At the age of 16, I was hospitalized for anorexia.
I was a three-season athlete, someone who ran cross country in the fall, as well as winter and spring track. During the fall season of my sophomore year, my binge eating, attempts to purge, and laxative abuse was at an extreme.
I started to self-harm and have suicidal thoughts. My anxiety, my depression and my constant fear of food and gaining weight were at an all-time high. I needed to have some semblance of control. I wanted to feel healthy and happy. All of my peers were out getting good grades (or not and being totally fine with it), having fun, seemingly killing it at their sport of choice, yet I couldn’t get out of my own pit of despair.
Something had to give.
So what did I do? I read my first diet book. But it wasn’t labeled as such; it advertised itself on how to stay skinny while also being able to eat whatever the heck you wante
d (“your diet is a bank account” and “you can have everything, just not all at once” sort of stuff).
But what I took from that book and the woman on the cover is that being skinny is what is considered “healthy” and I must decrease as many carbs as I possibly can because carbs were “bad”, and if I indulged in such foods, I would have to “make up for it” by eating something “good” later on.
I specifically remember
avoiding all of the noodles in my minestrone soup, and throwing away my last couple of bites of my 6-inch Subway sandwich because I had this rule in my brain “to always leave 2 bites behind” after reading this book. (Please don’t do this. Having any food rules because that’s what some random person or book told you is super unhealthy and absolute BS.)
So what happened? I went from around 135 pounds to 108 pounds in about three months, a dangerously low number for my 5 foot 6 inch frame and unique body type. (Just as a side note, I do not know how much I weigh now; I don’t weigh myself because weight and BMI are not accurate indicators of health.)
At a doctor’s appointment that was supposed to be for my shin splints I was getting from all of the running I was doing on top of my track practices in order to “work off” any extra calories I was eating, I was told by my doctor that my organs were starting to shut down, leaving me with 2 options: voluntarily be hospitalized for anorexia or be transported by my classmates in a wheelchair around school.
What I heard when my doctor told me that my life was on the line at the age of 16, I didn’t hear “you’re dying”; what I heard was “you can’t exercise anymore”.
I was devastated that my purging mechanism of choice - overexercising - was being taken away from me.
I ended up spending the next 9 days of my life on bedrest. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom, I couldn’t have anyone but family visit me - who were not allowed to eat around me when they visited - and was required to eat every last morsel on my plate that was put in front of me at the hospital. And if I didn’t, I had to drink a supplementary Ensure. There was only one problem: my inpatient treatment completely disregarded the fact that I had a history of binge eating disorder and bulimia.
So when I went home, I immediately turned back to binge eating. And during my regular weight checks, that’s all the doctors cared about… My weight. Not how I was doing emotionally. Not how my relationship with food was going.
Up until the age of 18, I saw a therapist to help with my ever-constant struggle with depression and anxiety, to guide me into a recovered state where I could say I was eating disorder free. Or so I thought.
During this time, I was binging 3-4 times per week. I would wait until my parents were asleep, sneak into the kitchen, and gorge on all the foods that were available to me. I would drive home after spending time with my boyfriend at the time with my heart racing and my hands clammy, anticipating the binge I was going to have, even though I knew the aftermath was never worth it. I was running and doing workout videos in my room to try to work off all those calories everyday. I was - in essence - a mess.
Because of this, I just needed someone who could help me stop binge eating everyday. But what did I actually get out of therapy? My eating disorder becoming worse, me blaming my parents for all of the problems I was having in life, and experiencing more self-hate and anxiety than when I started.
In summary, therapy didn’t work for me for my eating disorder recovery. But I’m not saying therapy is bad. There are definitely good therapists out there for everyone. I actually have a therapist now who is great! I am simply recounting my own eating disorder story.
Remember: As you are reading this story, if you are finding that you need some support or that this is really hitting home for you, I’m asking you to please reach out to me. You’re not alone in your struggle and you’re meant to live a happy and healthy life, free from negative eating habits and body image thoughts 💜
THE COLLEGE YEARS
For starters, I actually only made it 3 weeks at my first college.
I dreaded walking into the dining hall, seeing all of the tasty food that I never allowed myself to have right in front of my face, knowing that I was going to binge eat. I remember leaving each meal feeling stuffed and ashamed, thinking to myself, “How can everyone else be so NORMAL around food? How is it that everyone has this incredible willpower and I just don’t?”
After putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect as a new college student, binge eating everyday, exercising still to outdo the damage I’d done, and not sleeping for two weeks straight, I left that first school.
Ashamed, embarrassed and incredibly confused, I lived at home my first semester of freshman year until transferring to a school in Boston, still self-sabotaging through binge eating, trying to purge in whatever way I could, continuously being afraid of the dining hall.
At the age of 21, I had an emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer (AKA “hole in my stomach”) with no known cause, other than my theory of the years of stress my digestive organs underwent due to binge eating and laxative abuse.
I used drugs, alcohol, food, and sex to numb the pain I was feeling about myself, to rid myself of the shame I felt on a daily basis surrounding food and my body.
My weight was constantly fluctuating throughout my college and grad school years due to the amount of physical and mental stress I was putting myself under, on top of having an extremely negative relationship with food and myself in general.
Because on top of me hating myself, I am a Type A person who was constantly people-pleasing and didn’t think of a B as an acceptable grade.
When I was 22, I “finally” learned how to make myself throw up, and would do so even if I felt like I overate in the slightest or ate something “bad”.
Somewhere between the age of 23 and 24, I reached a breaking point. I was DONE.
I had read so many self help books, over a decade of seeing multiple therapists under my belt, years of having extremely unhealthy and dependent relationships with significant others, numerous moments not being able to be present with family and friends at social gatherings because all I could think about was the food that was there.
I was done shedding tears over an activity that was necessary for survival (eating), spending all of my free time exercising to stay “toned” and “thin”, and cringing at the sight I saw in the mirror everyday.
THE GRAD SCHOOL YEARS: From “In Recovery” to “Recovered”
I just need to start off with saying that now I have an incredible relationship with food and my body. I’m in a relationship that I love, I finally live in the place I’ve been dreaming about living for years, and I have a job that resonates with who I really am.
I’m not saying my life is suddenly perfect now that I’m eating disorder free - I still am anxiety prone and a recovering people pleaser - but recovering from my eating disorder made EVERY. SINGLE. PART. of my life easier.
And if things go awry? I can handle those things with more confidence and grace than I ever did when I was suffering from debilitating disordered eating and body hate.
To finish off with my story, in the latter part of me being 23, things finally started looking up. That is when I finally found a coach who truly helped me navigate all of the negative feelings I had around food, exercise and my body. With her one on one support and finally finding the right resources that supported finding freedom from the hold that food had on me, it took me only 6 months to be able to call myself recovered from my eating disorder, when I had been struggling to recover previously for 16+ years.
While therapy pulled me back - constantly trying to find the root cause of my eating disorder - coaching actually allowed me to move forward.
By having someone available to hold my hand through my daily life and struggles and keep me accountable during recovery, I am finally living a life I love and can be proud of, free of binge eating, free of restriction, and free of self-hate.
If you have read through my whole eating disorder story, I hope that if you or someone you know has experienced struggles around food, body and exercise, now you realize that 1) you are not alone and 2) there is absolutely a light at the end of the tunnel. Even in the darkest moments.
Also, whether you’ve been struggling for 20 years or a few months, identify with having an eating disorder, or more so believe that you feel out of control around food, your experience is valid. This shit is so hard to navigate in the world we currently live in.
And if you are someone who is looking for this type of one-on-one support and accountability to become confident about your food choices and feel good in and about your body, I invite you to reach out to me to see if you’d be a fit for my Food Freedom and Body Confidence 1:1 Coaching Program, or if you just want to chat 💜
As a reminder, a lot of the disordered thoughts and behaviors voiced in this story were taken specifically from those time periods. And they’re exactly as I just described them: disordered.
I encourage you to recognize that these are not healthy beliefs or behaviors, nor do I participate in any of the aforementioned thoughts or actions today.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. Again, if you are finding you need some extra support at this time, please feel free to reach out to me.
Remember: You are loved. You are worthy. You are so incredibly loved.
And there is hope 💜