How I overcame my eating disorder.
As many of you know, I don’t typically blog about personal things, but sometimes I feel it is really important to share because you never know who you could be helping in that given moment by telling your story. After I gained weight in college, I tried to lose it the wrong way and ended up with an eating disorder. I understand what it’s like to hate what you see in the mirror. And this is exactly why I created IgniteGirls. What I found out is that happiness can exist at any size, wherever you are in your journey.
Growing up I was always small. As an active gymnast and ballerina my petite, strong frame, was never over 100 pounds even through high school. I never worried about what I ate. I was lucky that my mom cooked healthy dinners for our family, and also kept the house stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables. Sure, we also had soda, cookies, popsicles, and even a “candy cabinet” in the house, but I had a healthy relationship with food. I never snuck food, I never felt bad for eating something and, most of the time, I preferred to snack on carrots or an apple over cookies anyway.
With my new found freedom in college, late nights, beer and 4-cheese calzones started to add up and slowly my pants started to get tighter and tighter. At first I thought it was kind of funny, but as my size 0’s became 2’s, 4’s and then 8’s I wasn’t laughing. I put on over 20 pounds my first year of college. I was devastated when I saw pictures of myself because that is when I came to the realization that I didn’t recognize my once-athletic body.
While I was home during the Summer of my freshman year, my dad found out that he needed to have an Angioplasty because of an 80% blockage in his left descending artery. In an Angioplasty procedure, a long, thin plastic tube is inflated to open the artery, deflated and removed. Dad also had a small wire mesh tube (called a stent) permanently placed in the opened artery to help it remain open. After I left the hospital, I vowed to lose the weight I gained in fear that later in life if I didn’t learn how to take care of myself, that I would be faced with the same surgery. I stocked up on every fitness magazine. I threw out the “bad” foods in our kitchen. I even bought diet pills.
As a self-proclaimed Type A perfectionist, I don’t half ass anything. Unfortunately this is also a double-edged sword, and I kept removing calories until I was eating virtually nothing. I began obsessing about numbers: calories per serving, calories daily, grams of sugar, grams of fat, calories I had burned on the elliptical and on and on. I had no energy, so I relied on the diet pills to help me with that, except they made me feel like I was about to pass out while my heart was beating out of my chest. I was light-headed, exhausted and stuck in a prison I had created for myself with rigid rules, “bad” foods and exercise as punishment for “weakness.”
As I lost weight, I gained an eating disorder.
This cycle continued even as I went back to college for Sophomore year, where I was asked if I wanted to train and try out with the University of Delaware cheerleading team. It was during these early morning practices that I found my love of lifting, but I was still obsessively counting calories and feeling completely out of control by binging on things like candy trail mix, dried fruit, oreos and candy. I felt an insane amount of pressure to keep my weight as low as possible (you can’t fluctuate with weight too much or it throws off stunt work). Add to that, the required workouts outside of team practice that we were expected to complete. I felt numb, empty and hollow going through the motions like a shell of a person. I wish I could have been in a healthy state of mind during my time with the cheer team. It was an amazing opportunity, but knowing I just couldn’t keep up with the demands of the cheer schedule, school and the insane pressure I was putting on myself, I decided to leave the team.
As college went on, my weight fluctuated and I finally went to talk with a therapist because I knew I needed to make peace with myself and food before I could move forward with my life. After college, my grandma had given me a subscription to a Oxygen magazine for Christmas. I was instantly drawn to the athletic physique of the women on the cover because I could relate to their body shape having been a gymnast for half my life. There in the pages of Oxygen, I saw myself. It was as if suddenly I had permission to be me and embrace my thick legs, curves and short stature.
I felt re-invigorated with life. Although it has been a bumpy road, I found a way to love myself enough to want to nourish my body with healthy, fresh foods loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and vibrant colors. And to exercise again because it feels damn good. I tried new classes. I tried new recipes. I started loving the satisfaction of sweat. I found it motivating to challenge myself. And I began to feel my own strength again. I felt empowered. Let me tell you.. feeling strong definitely triumphs feeling weak, and I never want to go back to that dark place.
The book Intuitive Eating was the final game-changer for me though. It helped me to change my inner monologue and to truly heal my relationship with food (even if it meant eating a bagel AND a donut for breakfast for a little while). Over the past 10+ years, I’ve learned how to break the negative self-talk cycle. One trick I like to use is the “Best Friend Check.” This is where I ask myself if I was giving my BFF some advice, would I talk to her the way I talk to me? This has been really helpful in filtering some of the not so nice things. But this I know for sure: no one deserves to look in the mirror and hate what they see. I don’t care what your starting point. You are amazing simply by being YOU. And it’s possible to want to better yourself without hating where you are right now. So to anyone that needs it, I’m sending you a big hug and letting you know that you are worthy, you are beautiful and you are not alone.
Disclaimer: This is just a story about my personal journey and is not intended to provide information to treat, diagnose, cure or prescribe. If you are suffering from an eating disorder and need help or support, please contact a local or national professional immediately.
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