My love for both health and fitness was one that sprouted from a bad seed, but has flourished into something beautiful. I suffered from an eating disorder for a bit of my life, and I would like to share with you all my story. Before you read this, you have to know that once you suffer from an eating disorder, some of those symptoms and thoughts never go away. It becomes a part of you in a way, but I have learned to drown out those voices in my head in favor of more loving voices. This is something I have felt really compelled to share. For so long I was ashamed, but it is apart of who I am. I also believe that all the family and friends who have been affected because of this deserve to know what has really happened with me within the last year. This is the first time I have ever told (wrote) and allowed anyone to hear my whole, entire story (aside from my therapist who I am currently seeing). This is the most vulnerable thing I have ever shared, but I am not afraid. I hope to inspire and maybe even give hope to anyone out there who might be on the same path, or perhaps maybe just make you aware of the evil that is an eating disorder.
It all started last year in my sophomore year of high school. I do not have a date, however I could never forget that day. The day I cried myself to a migraine at the bottom of my closet. After reading this, I hope you will be enlightened as to why balance is such a huge concept for me. For so long I lived extreme. I lived in an all or nothing mindset, there was no balance. And that almost destroyed me.
It was the middle of my basketball season on a Saturday. I had always been taller and more muscular than most girls my age. Although because of the fact that I was taller, and extremely athletic, I had a large appetite. In NO WAY was I overweight, however I did have a little extra bit of body fat on my body. I was always insecure about my body, even at a very young age. I think it had quite a bit to do with never having any very secure friendships in grade school and the fact that I was teased. This caused me to be always second guessing my personality and my looks. That is the only conclusion that I have ever been able to draw as to why I might have been so insecure with myself for most of my life: I did not have a strong, solid support system that most people get from their best friends.
One Saturday, in the middle of basketball season, during my sophomore year I remember looking in the mirror and hating what I saw. I thought I was fat and I started to cry. I remember thinking my thighs were huge, my stomach flabby, my skin full of stretch marks and acne, my hair was just a mess, I didn’t like anything about my body. So that day I made a promise to myself: I WOULD lose weight. I WOULD be as skinny as the other girls my age. I WOULD show everyone that I could be as beautiful as them. I would finally fit in for once in my life. If I could just be skinny, then maybe I would finally stop feeling like the weird girl out. Looking back, I wish I could be there to give my younger self a huge hug, break that mirror, and let myself know how absolutely amazing my body was at that moment.
So as I mentioned before it was basketball season. That meant that everyday I had about a 2-3 hour practice after school. After that day in my closet, however, I no longer only had a three hour practice. That was only part one of my exercise for the day. After practice I would come home and have dinner and do my homework as normal. I would go about my nights just about the same as before except for one thing: I would end my normal activities a half hour early so I could run on the treadmill we kept in our basement.
It began as a thirty minute run any day that there was not a game. But as I became more into running, it started becoming an everyday thing, it became an obsession. Gameday, weekday, or weekend, I would run. I remember getting home from a game one night, it had to be about 12:30 in the morning. I remember thinking I was so tired, but it didn’t matter, I had to run. So I forced myself onto that treadmill and did my thirty minutes.
As the season progressed, so was my desire to lose weight. I remember playing with my treadmill one time and discovering the option to view the amount of calories burned during my run. It was a whole new world to me, so I started to do some research. According to just about every website ever, as long as my calories I was consuming wass under maintenance, I would start to lose weight. So that is when I downloaded MyFitnessPal. I set my calorie goal to 1500. And from then on, numbers became my worth. I was constantly restricting my eating. I was eating as little as possible. And I began to opt for low calorie, low fat, low carb, low sugar, and all that crap.
Every morning I would weigh myself, and my weight determined my mood for the day. I started to track everything I ate. I would never eat over my goal of 1500, not even when I would run. I would normally burn around 300 calories on my runs, according to the treadmill, but I never took that into account when it came to the amount that I ate. At first, it was hard, and that was because I had a very terrible diet and everything I ate was so high in calories. But somewhere in the mix I developed orthorexia as well. It started with just ‘healthy eating’, but then I began to cut out foods group, such as meat. I began a vegetarian lifestyle because I believed all meat was bad, and it would be easier to not eat much food when I could refuse the largest food group when it came to meals. I also stayed away from any carbs and sugar. I was constantly restricting. Sometimes this even lead me to binge on things like bread, or brownies. I would crave one and then not eat it. I would eat all the fruit and veggies in the world trying to resist it and then I would end up eating the whole pan of brownies plus all the fruits and veggies instead of maybe just the one brownie I might have had if I would have just honored my cravings. Binges did not happen to often for me, I have always been pretty disciplined. But when you are restricting your diet 24/7, binges are almost inevitable.
The whole summer I was miserable. I never once went swimming, an activity that I absolutely ADORED before this all started. I couldn’t anymore because I had no body-fat to keep me warm. In fact I almost never wore anything like shorts or a short sleeved shirt. When it came to clothes, mine were not fitting, so I never had much to wear. I was always so cold and miserable. The idea of an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day was foreign to me.
I can honestly tell you that that summer (last summer), was a blur. To this day, I cannot quite recall everything that happened. Why is that? It is because although I was present in a physical sense for most of what was happening, I was not there mentally. I can tell you what did happen though:
- I lost almost all of my friends. I began to isolate myself because all I could ever think about was food and how hungry I was and how long I could get by without eating.
- I began to fight with my mom, dad, and sister all the time. This was because I was in a constant state of ‘hangry’. When some people get hungry, they get cranky. Well, I was always hungry, therefore, I was almost always mean. I ruined these relationships. I no longer told them much of anything personal. Little did they know it, but they were strangers to me.
- I was constantly restricting my appetite and foods. This also caused me to constantly crave certain things that I would not allow myself to have. I started to deem foods good or bad. If it was bad, I could not eat it. This usually caused to crave my bad foods all the time, which made me even more miserable when I could not have them. I was starving.
- I lost myself. I no longer found joy in any of the activities I used to love. I quite all the sports I was in, stopping going out with people, no longer wanted to read or write or do anything like I used to. I literally could not name one activity to you that I found joy in, because there was no joy for me to find. I was living in a deep state of depression. I hated myself, my body, and my personality.
- Honestly, I spent my days and my headspace just thinking about food. I was always constantly starving, which is why I became obsessed with food. I could tell you the calorie count and every single macro for any food I ate. If I couldn’t, then I wouldn’t eat it. I was always using my extra time to calculate the calories for potential meals and snacks.
- I started to refuse to eat any food that others prepared at their homes or in restaurants because I didn’t know how it was made or how many calories it was. This caused me to become even less social. I was refusing offers to do anything because I was too scared about my food situation and also lost the joy of being with others, even the people I used to call my best-friends.
- I no longer really knew my anyone for their true selves, just their names, because anytime I was with them, I was only worried about resisting the food that usually came along with our get-togethers.
- I lost contact with my hunger-cues. I no longer became hungry or full, but ate by numbers. I had no clue what it felt like to know when I was hungry or how to stop when I was full.
- I pushed away any and everyone I was close with because I was afraid of them finding out of my disorder. All I thought of was myself and no one else.
- I missed out on about a year of my life. That is a whole 365 days worth of living that I can never get back. I missed out on so many memories, so many opportunities, ended so many good friendships.
- I became obsessed with cardio I was pushing myself to run at LEAST 7 miles a day, even if I was sick or sleep deprived. If I was hurting, or had a busy schedule, it did not matter. I had to run.
- I never had energy. I never wanted to get up to do anything.
- Honestly: just living in general became no fun. There were days when I did not want to wake up because I did not want to put up with having to live with my thoughts, having to starve and worry about food, all the math that came along with counting calories, all the hoping that I wouldn’t want to eat much that day…It was exhausting.
There are so many times that I missed out on life because of this. I spent three-weeks counseling kids at a summer camp that summer. I honestly can say that I was worrying so much about what I was eating and the fact that I couldn’t run that although I was always with my campers, I mentally barely was there with those girls.
There was one specific time in general with my mother and my sister that I remember so vividly. We had gone camping for the first time in years. They left to go check out a bear sanctuary (I stayed back because it seemed too exhausting to walk around that much because I never had much energy anymore). They came back with food from a local cafe. I cried and screamed and told them I hated them for it. Why? 1) They brought me food that I did not know the calories of. 2)It was really good looking food that I wanted to eat so bad. 3)They were considered to be “bad foods”. (A salad full of dressing and a small piece of cake). 4) I was starving. 5)I was energy deprived and just needed to be sleeping. 6)I was not able to exercise that day. 7)They were so happy and I felt miserable, and it made me upset… The list could go on and on….but that is what it is like to live in the mind of someone with an eating disorder. I was actually mad at them. The rest of the trip was spent fighting or in silence. It was awful. And I am so sad that I missed out on such a fun opportunity.
My family has always been big on food. So as you can imagine, holidays were awful for me. There was food everywhere and all I wanted to do was drown myself in it. Instead I would try to eat as little as possible. This last Thanksgiving was a nightmare. I tried to do that, only to eat a whole pie at midnight. Then the next day, when my sisters, mother, and I were all supposed to be bonding and having family time shopping together on Black Friday, I hated myself. I was so mad that I did not eat until dinner that day. I was hungry the whole day, did not get to bond with my sisters, and then when they all wanted to go to Applebee’s, I left to get a salad at Chipotle because I knew that there were less calories and it was something I could track in my calorie counting app.
Eventually at some point I found the online world of Instagram and the community of food and fitness lovers that I am apart of now. Although when I first discovered it, it wasn’t all good. At some point I had read all about weightlifting and bodybuilding. So I started following all kind of body-builders and bikini competitors. I started reading all about IIFYM. If you aren’t familiar, competitors workout for insane amount of time and are always going hard because it is their job. When they are on prep for a show, they are working to temporarily achieve a physique that would not be healthy to maintain constantly. However, I was working around the clock to maintain that physique day and night. If you took a look at my picture roll all you would see were screenshots of protein bars I wanted to buy, a new protein powder I had to order, macro friendly recipes, workouts that would take two hours to complete. I became a gym rat. I was going to the gym for at least two hours a day, and I was obsessed. My life began to revolve around lifting weights. The first thing I would do in the morning was plan out a really tough workout and the time that I would do it. If I couldn’t find time during the day, I had to cut something else out. There was not a week that I went less than 6 days a week. If for some awful reason I was out-of-town, the whole weekend was spent worrying about how my muscles were going to disappear and my goals were going to get so off track. I praised gym junkies. I wouldn’t eat anything if it didn’t fit my macros. All I had left for the days macros was some protein and it had to be fit into few calories? Egg whites for dinner it is. I began to weigh everything to the gram, even things such as lettuce. This went on for quite a long time, much longer than I would like to admit. I even started to get body-scans. I would get one almost every week. Now my happiness was dependant upon if my muscles and fat levels were up or down. It also depended on how much I could lift and for how many reps. One of the biggest factors was my time and intensity in the gym. If my workout wasn’t long and sweaty, it did not count. I was always working towards a hug butt, flat abs, small thighs, and defined arms, shoulders, and back.
Do you want to know what the worst part about all of this was? I was constantly being praised. Everyone thought I was so strong for eating so healthy and spending so much time at the gym. What they didn’t realize were my motives. I was doing all of this because I hated myself. I hated my body and the way I looked. I was always trying to look like someone else or be something that I was not. Every single day, my mornings started with a weigh-in and a body check. I was always looking at myself in the mirror finding something to hate. I would always compare myself to ANY picture I saw or any person I saw. No matter how unrealistic the goal for me to achieve their physique may have been, I hated myself for not looking like basically anyone else I thought looked better. I do not really ever remember once looking at my body throughout that whole year and appreciating it, I was in a constant state of self-hatred.
I honestly cannot pinpoint any dates, but let me tell you: It was by the grace of God that at some point I found two different recovery accounts: @healthyfullysam and @heathful_radiance. After that, my world turned upside down. I read their stories and learned all about their experiences with eating disorders and overexercising and began to start following their recovery journeys. I soon began to fill my feed with less and less competitors and more and more recovery accounts. I was then exposed to yet another whole new world. I started to read about body-positivity, self-love, intuitive eating, eating food for nutrition and not macros or calories, and so many more beautiful tools.
At some point I decided to make a recovery account myself. Once again, I do not remember the exact order that everything happened in but to the best of my knowledge, it went a little something like this:
When I first started the account I was still tracking my macros, but there was something different. I no longer wanted to, and I no longer wanted to be a slave to the gym, I wanted to be free. I wanted to live the life that my new role models (like Angie) were living (she was my biggest influence and I often messaged her with questions): a life where how you ate and exercised were all dependant upon your body and how you felt. For so-so long I wrestled with it in my mind. But one day something clicked. I was watching a video on Intuitive Eating by Kelly U. I started to watch all her videos and then proceeded to watch many by Jen Brett as well. And then one night, I deleted MyFitnessPal. I also started seeing a counselor for depression. Although, I still have some problems and my depression is still on-going in some different forms, much of my constant depression has already been rapidly disappearing as a result of the deleting of this one app.. I had been using that app religiously for the past year and a half or so. It became apart of me, I tracked even the smallest sip of a glass of milk or the tiniest bite of a carrot. From that day on out, my life has changed.
I was using calorie counting as a way to find some control in my life. Now that I no longer can do that, it has allowed me to start feeling my feelings again: something I have not done for quite a long time. As with last summer, the past few months of my life have been a bit blurry. So many amazing and beautiful things have happened so fast that I have been losing track:
- I have finally begun to give myself grace when it comes to exercise. I no longer follow a strict schedule, but I do what I want, when I want. I do what makes me feel good. There are days when I just want to rest, and I allow myself to do that. I truly love the exercise now and not hate it. It makes me feel good to move my body, I feel energized, not energy-deprived.
- I have begun to find myself again. The other day my sister and I went clothes shopping, something I do often. I used to love shopping. However, during my disorder I hated it. Not only did I have to focus on my body and look at it, but I hated anything that took me away from my normal food and exercise schedule. For the first time in a year that I can remember, I loved it. I used to have a very distinct style and loved to dress up. This past year though I stopped caring about my appearance. I no longer enjoyed shopping because I did not have a style, I would pick up a shirt and not know if it was cute or not. The other day, I went crazy. I found all kind of things that spoke to me and I felt cute and confident.
I also used to love reading. I have started doing that every single day now. I stopped reading because the thought of sitting for long periods of time made me nervous and feel as though I was going to gain weight. I haven’t enjoyed reading for so long. Now, my nose is either used to breathe, or it is in a book.
- I have began to build relationships again. I have started spending a lot more time with my family. I am not starting to get close with them again because I am present. I am no longer worrying about the gym or my body or my weight, but instead my conversation and time with them. I can not tell you how amazing it feels to find that you have parents and siblings that are actually the best and most loving in the world.
- I have found peace with food. I no longer look at foods for their amount of calories. I also do not look at foods as good or as bad, but rather I look at how they make me feel. I have started intuitive eating. This means I am working to honor my hunger. I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. I also give myself permission to eat whatever I crave. For the first time the other day at our Easter celebration, I ate a piece of key lime pie without guilt. Normally I would have restricted it, only to become cranky and mad because I wanted it. Then I would only think about it all night, only to binge right before bed. Instead I ate a piece because it looked good, and then I was satisfied. I no longer wanted more, or thought of it, and I enjoyed the rest of the celebration. It was the most freeing feeling in the world. I felt so amazing and happy and proud.
I have also learned that all the foods I considered bad and was restricting, that I no longer crave them. I have learned that I love to eat to fuel myself. I do not feel the best when I eat sweets and foods full of chemicals. I feel great when I eat for my health and nutrition. My body and mind feels so fueled and energized when I am eating whole foods and eating foods with only ingredients that I can pronounce! It is so freeing to know, though, that if I did want to eat something, that it is not off limits.
- I have started to love my body again. I no longer look at it and criticize it and get mad. I no longer look at others and compare myself. I have started to really love my shape. I mean my body is AMAZING!!! It allows me to breathe, run, read, and live! My shape is mine, if it was not mine, I would not be me. It is my imperfections that make me beautiful. I now look at others and see how gorgeous they are too. All shapes are beautiful. I now truly believe that health can be found at every size. And I honestly believe that I am beautiful.
- I have stopped criticizing others. I look at all women and truly believe that they are beautiful, just as I am. All our bodies are unique, and it is such an amazing thing.
- I love waking up. I love life. I love spending time with my family… It is like re-visiting old friends that you haven’t seen in years because it retrospect, I haven’t. I am just constantly being thankful everyday and finding new, amazing things about life that I was missing this past year and a half or so.
Now this is not to say that all my depression, my restricting and binging, my body-hatred, my exercise and healthy eating obsessions, my addition to tracking and such all were cured by just the deletion of that one app. There was quite a lot more that went into it than that. There was a long period of time where I was in both a mental and emotional battle. However that was the final string that needed to be pulled. It was the last straw that gave me the ability to control that part of my life. When that was gone, I now had so much time and energy to actually live again. I know that it was by the grace of God that I was able to finally able to do it. I believe that sometimes the Lord does everything for a reason. I believe that He will use this one day. I have already seen ways in which it is benefitting me. I have found a new love for myself, my family, food, health, fitness, running, reading, basically everything. I have also met so many new friends because of all of this. Due to the recovery account that I started I have met so many people with the same journeys: Angie, Allie, Kara, Claire, Rachel, Colleen, Sam, Leanne, and soooo many others. I am so thankful for life. I have such a new outlook on life. I am not saying that things are perfect, however. Life is a never ending journey. Somedays I fall back into old habits like feeling guilty for eating too much, or for eating past a certain time, or for eating a piece of cake with a lot of sugar. When this happens, I remind myself all that I have been through and that in the end I am human. Who I am is not dependent upon my looks, my weight, how much time I put in at the gym. In the end, who I am in dependant upon my personality. If I gained or lost five pounds, my family would still love me. And so what if you gain some weight or don’t always work out? At the end of the day do you want to remember all the macros you hit, or the memories that you made? I wasted way too much of my life, and now I am ready to live. I am ready to embrace all the happiness that comes from truly living the healthiest life of all. In my opinion, that is a balanced life. A life where things are no longer black and white, but instead things are grey. That is why balance is so important to me. For so long I was living so extreme, so extreme it almost ended me. Now I live a life full of balance, or a ‘grey’ life as I like to say. Grey is now my new favorite color… maybe that is why I decided to dye my hair this color? I am not totally sure..but I love it(: