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I had had eating issues in one form or another from age 10-ish to 23, so about 13 years in all. I pretty much fit every stereotype of the 'typical' anorectic: high achiever in school, dad that barely spoke, mom that was the personification of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, I was always a people-pleaser, etc. I started ballet when I was 4, did that until 12 when I started figure skating, then cheerleading in high school and college, so I covered a few of the stereotypical 'thin' sports. I never really purged. I tried, but I just could never really make it work. I used to get so frustrated, but in hindsight, I'm so grateful I never learned to do that. I always kind of felt like if I crossed that line, I'd never find my way back.
Fast forward to the year I ended up recovering.
Why did I recover when I did, and why was I successful?
Because I literally had no choice.
I just couldn't survive and still be eating-disordered anymore.
I had finished my last semester at college (fall semester), but was still on the cheer team (spring semester), and I was being forced to meet with the team docs every week in order to be cleared for practice. I was finally benched after a few very not-so-good EKGs, blood pressure, that kind of thing. I had been living with two friends of mine, who were also my teammates. Prior to moving in with them, I had considered them two of my best friends. Well, they didn't really understand the eating disorder. At first, they tried to be 'helpful', saying they'd support me no matter what. But when their 'help' ended up being yelling at me for not eating enough every day, and telling me I was lazy and selfish and all that, we didn't get along so well anymore.
I was referred to an eating disorder treatment program at a local hospital, and I went in for my intake assessment. I met with a medical doctor, a psychologist, and a dietician. I had blood drawn, a bunch of tests taken, peed in a cup, and was weighed (backwards, of course). After the staff members met to discuss what was best for me, their official recommedation was that I either inpatient or partial program ASAP. Evidently, my heart rate was in the 30s/40s, my blood pressure was orthostatic, and my body temp was 95 degrees. There wasn't an opening in inpatient though, so they set me up with daily outpatient appointments until I could get in. I did that for something like 2 weeks or so. After those few weeks, they called and left a message on my answering machine saying that my insurance company was refusing to pay, and they could not see me at ALL. After making a huge deal over how much I needed to be there, and how I wouldn't survive if I didn't get medical monitoring right away, they left me a message with referrals to some free walk-in counseling place in the ghetto. Nice. Evidently, I was not good for my insurance company's or the hospital's profit margin. So they told me to go home and try not to die.s
I honestly thought that that was it. I guess I didn't think that it was possible to recover without intensive treatment. I thought I didn't have any hope left. I had tried everything- the social workers at the place where the team doc's worked had been trying to find some treatment for me for months, with no luck. So I literally went home and was like 'This is it. I'm gonna die, and no one cares. No one will save me. No one will help me. I am truly on my own.' I thought that was the lowest I could get.
Well, shortly therafter, my roommates kicked me out. They gave me a week to move. However, I was pretty darn sick. I hadn't been working all that much, so I really couldn't afford rent plus a security deposit, plus where I was living was cheap as hell, and Mpls was in a major housing shortage. Not only that, but I didn't have a car at school, and no one would help me move, so I needed to find somewhere close by. Out of desperation, I found a place a few blocks away. I knew it wasn't a good place before I moved in, but I didn't feel like I had a choice. And I thought 'Well, nobody really wants me around anyway, so I might as well just go there and rot and wither away and disappear'. And trust me, lugging your mattress down the street in the middle of January in Minnesota when you're sick as hell and living off 100-400 cal/day just is not very fun at all.
Anyway, I stopped working, and I no longer went to class. I literally had nowhere to be and no one to be with. I got into a pattern of sleeping all day and drinking all night. Sometimes I'd run--usually at 2am after drinking, when I started to worry about the calories in all that alcohol.
So, I lived in the crack house for a while, freezing my ass off because the house was old and drafty and I was cold anyway, attempting to do my Buns of Steel videos at 2am in my bedroom in a creaky old house without waking anyone up........
I guess you could say that something in me just snapped.
I mean, my life was very literally going nowhere.
I had nothing to do, no plans, no anything. A whole lot of nothing.
And I remembered back to the days when I was systematically getting rid of any responsibilities, ties to anything, any stress that would interefere with my weight loss efforts and then I remember thinking: Is this really what I was aiming for? What the hell? This sucks!!!!
I guess for a long time, a lot of my eating disorder was motivated by not feeling like I had 'permission to exist'. Like it was a kind of test: I'd slowly kill myself while everyone watched. If they let me go, then I had my answer, and I'd know I wasn't wanted here. I figured if they wanted me around, they'd 'save' me......although ironically enough, when people tried to 'save' me if pissed me off like nothing else. And I guess I felt like at that point in my life everyone HAD abandoned me. I WAS alone. ALL alone. Nobody even knew where I was. And then, the 'me' in me got good and pissed. I mean really, really, really pissed. I thought of all the other people in the world who just went about their daily lives without a care in the world, doing whatever the hell they wanted like it was no big deal. And I thought 'Well, nobody ever bothered to ask ME if they were 'allowed' to exist. Nobody ever asked ME if they were allowed to make mistakes, to take up space, to step on my toes, or to just BE.
And then I figured, well, if they don't need permission, then neither do I.
I guess you could actually say that my recovery, for me, was a big 'FUCK YOU!' back at the world around me. It was like.....revenge almost. Like, I felt so unwanted, so unloved. And for so long, I had lived my life trying to be everything that everyone ever wanted me to be, doing all the 'right' things in the 'right' way, trying to make everyone like me. And then I felt like I had given myself away- I had stopped living my life, just so I could meet some abitrary definition of 'good enough'. And I finally just said 'fuck it. I'm done'. And I figured I might as well try recovery because well, honestly, I didn't have anything better to do.
So, I decided to move out of the crack house.
I started looking for a full-time job.
I started to (gasp!) EAT again.
I spent the next month living with 3 different people in two different states- on my brother's living room floor in Mpls, my ex-fiancee's house (used to be my house, too!) in Wisconsin, my parents' house.....that lasted like a day. Every week I packed up all of my possessions and moved to a new place where I slept on the floor. I don't even remember if I ever bothered to explain why I had moved out of my place. I don't think anyone really asked.
During this time, I surfed the web for my OWN apartment- I figured no one would kick me out if I lived alone, and I was done with trying to be close to people. I interviewed for a position as a preschool teacher and got the job. I was supposed to start on February 2nd, 2002. So, February 1st, 2002, I moved into my own downtown Minneapolis apartment, maxing out a small credit card in order to pay for the first month's rent and security deposit.
So, on February 2nd, 2002, I started my first day of work at an upper-class preschool/day care located in a high-rise in the business district of downtown Minneapolis (translation: trust fund babies sent to the place to have their IQ raised 50 points in the hopes that they would read by age of 2 and complete med school by age 10 so their parents would have something to brag about at business meetings)
Let me say this: 2-yr olds NEVER sit still. And you can NEVER relax around them. They need constant supervision. Especially when there are 12 of them roaming around in one room. I learned very quickly that if I hoped to survive at my job, I would need to learn to actually give my body fuel.
On my first day, I hadn't brought a lunch, but I had had some yogurt for breakfast (breaking my rule of not eating before XXo'clock, so I was proud). By lunchtime, I was exhausted, starving, and getting cranky. I remember being 'brave' and eating one chicken nugget and some peas. During naptime, I got myself an extra-large coffee from the coffee shop next door.
I didn't even make it through the first day. After the coffee, I had horrible stomach cramps, got dizzy as hell......I was so frustrated that I couldn't just wave a magic wand and suddenly be healthy and have energy and all that. It pissed me off that my body wouldn't just work when I needed it to.
I learned very quickly that eating 'normally' again would not be an easy task. Once I increased my intake, it was like something in me just snapped, and I was hungry like *every*single*second*.
I had somehow convinced myself that increasing my intake by a few hundred calories while getting myself back in the gym so I could burn off a thousand or so calories every night was a *wonderful* strategy.
Let me tell you: IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!!!!!!!!!!!
I started packing a lunch of 'safe' foods, and making an effort to eat something every day before I left for work.
My biggest problem became the night time. After a day of constantly moving around, constantly chasing kids, (and by the way, I worked 11-hr shifts!!!!), then stopping at the gym for some cardio before heading home.......I was HUNGRY!!!! Looking back, I can't even imagine how much of an energy deficit my body must have been in by the time I got home. I would go home and have dinner, which I had carefully planned. I figured I would start with 'safe' foods that fit into all the different food groups that should be included in a 'normal' dinner. And then......I'd still be hungry. And I'd suddenly get all excited and tell myself 'It's OK!!! I'm in recovery!!! I can eat food now!!!!' And I'd eat. I remember those times so clearly. One night, an apple sliced up and then dipped in peanut butter ended up with me eating half the jar of peanut butter. Another night, a graham cracker turned into an entire box of graham crackers and a full jar of jelly. Needless to say, I was completely in a state of......frenzy, fear, upheaval, you name it. Either way, it wasn't good. I'd start out every meal saying 'I'm recovering. This is a GOOD thing I'm doing. I can eat and enjoy food again now!!!!'. Ten minutes later, I'd find myself in a state of extreme anxiety, pissed at what I'd just done, berating myself for being so stupid to think that it was *ok* to eat, wishing I hadn't done that, and wishing I had actually developed the ability to purge before.
I did try to purge. I even got *better* at it- better meaning I actually got a couple small chunks up- but I just couldn't get it to work for me. So, I'd tell myself I couldn't go to bed until I burned it all off through exercise.
But something had already changed for me a bit. What, I don't know. But I'd exercise for ten minutes and then suddenly my mood would change and I'd stop. I'd go to bed. I'd feel ok.
I never really realized how sick I had gotten until I started getting better. I couldn't remember when I started to feel cold and dizzy all the time, but I definitely noticed when it stopped. I didn't notice when my energy-starved brain started tuning out background noise, but I noticed when I finally heard it again. It wasn't until I actually felt closer to 'fine' that I realized just how painful starvation is. The constant muscle aches, the headaches, feeling my heart pounding from dehydration, nearly passing out every time I stood up too fast, my hands so dry they would crack and bleed no matter how much lotion I used, the agonizing over whether or not I had the energy to walk across the room, the feeling that everything was too bright, too loud, too stressful, too confusing-- just altogether TOO MUCH.......
It was around that time that I'd wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, craving food like mad. I'd wake up in the morning in a panic, berating myself for being so stupid to think I was allowed to eat again, wishing I had never decided to recover. I'd vow to eat NOTHING until the end of my work day. I'd make little signs to put all over in my cabinets, in my fridge, etc, telling myself that it was NOT ok to binge, that I had to stick to 'the plan'. The plan was my 'meal plan' that I drew up for myself every night, telling myself what I was 'allowed' to eat the next day. And on this plan, I told myself it was ok to eat up to (warning..... numbers)
1000 calories. Oh, and did I mention I often decided it was smart to burn 1000 calories at the gym on the days after a binge? It took me a good long while before I realized that that strategy just was not helping the situation.
By the time I got home from work each day, I was all happy and excited about recovery again, 100% gung-ho on 'eating to live' and 'healing'.........well, until I had eaten everything on my 'plan' and found myself still hungry.........then, I'd find myself bingeing. The bingeing was new to me. I'd never really done it before.
I started to dread going home. My little place of my own- a symbol of me branching out, a girl on her own in the city, my start of a new life, the place where I would reclaim who I was--- my apartment started to feel differently for me. I didn't want to be there. That was the place where I ate. I started applying for a second job. I just wanted to be away all the time, so I'd never have to go back to that kitchen where I wasn't in control anymore.
So I spent the next few months swinging violently back and forth between recovery and wanting to quit recovery. One minute, I'd be 100% into recovery. 5 minutes later, I'd be beating myself up for ever trying recovery, and trying to burn off any 'recovery' food I'd eaten. Words can't even describe just how extreme the change would be from minute to minute.
The night bingeing was happening a bit too often, and I had been trying to cope by starving all day long. I somehow convinced myself that it if I was going to take in enough calories for 'recovery' anyway.......I might as well do that during my binge time. OK, NOT A GOOD IDEA.
My moods were insane. The mood swings made me feel like I was losing my mind. Sometimes when I started eating, I'd get......high. Like literally, ecstatically HIGH. But after eating, I'd flip to the other end of the spectrum. One particular night, I remember feeling such tremendous anxiety that I found myself turning all my lights off, huddling in a corner with my arms around my knees, rocking myself in an attempt to comfort myself.
I felt lost, and I didn't know how to go about learning to eat normally again. I spent some time on the internet, and I found an advertisement for a research study that was taking place at my University. I had called before, when my primary diagnosis was anorexia, but it was specifically a study for binge eating. So I called back. They did a quick interview over the phone to see if I qualified, and they said to come in for an assessment in a few months.
During this time, I was still in cheerleading. Hockey runs through March and even into May if you make it to the finals (we did- the National Championships, even!), so I was still being forced to visit the team medical doc (who really didn't understand eating disorders at all). I happened to mention that I had signed up for this research study. Well, I don't know if he actually pulled any strings or not, but he said that he actually knew the guy in charge of it. All I know is that I got a call a week later, and they said they 'suddenly' had an opening before the end of the month.
Ok, fast forward to the research study. It was a study where people were divided into groups. Some got meds, some got guided self-help, and some just got a self-help book. I got the self-help book and was supposed to go back and meet with one of the research people for 15 min every few weeks at first, then every 6 months or so, and then finish up with a final assessment.
The self-help program was EXACTLY what I needed. It outlined specific steps I could take in order to re-establish normal eating habits. The first step was to start eating at scheduled times, every 3-4 hours, all day long, regardless of whether I binged in between or not. Trust me, it was not easy to convince myself that I really needed to eat that often. And at first, it seemed ridiculous to be continuing to eat at those times when I'd just binged. And on days when I wasn't so sure about recovery, and I started out the day by skipping meals, it was hard to figure out how to stay on track.
We were also supposed to keep track of what we ate and when, and whether or not we compensated with eating-disordered behaviors. I was able to spot a major pattern within a few weeks: I would tell myself I didn't need a whole meal, so I'd try to have just a 'bite' or a 'snack' of something. Then, I'd have another, and maybe another couple bites of something else. Then, I'd feel like crap, because I'd think 'Well, I'm supposed to eat again soon, but I've probably eaten plenty of random bites, it could have been a meal'. Finally, I realized that I was doing the random-bites-of-everything thing at almost the EXACT times I was actually scheduled to eat a meal!
So my next goal was to start eating actual meals. (the first step focused more on timing, not actual composition of meals). I started trying to eat a balance of carbs, protein, and fat at every meal, with snacks in between.
During this time, I found myself dealing with incredible amounts of hunger. It was like once my body tasted real food again, it wouldn't stop asking for more. I literally remember so many times where I had just eaten a full meal, and I was still hungry. I'd tell myself just to go hungry, but then I'd feel like crap. So I'd eat. And I'd hate that I had to eat more, but I'd feel better for a moment. Then, sometimes as little as a half hour later, I'd be soooooo hungry again. I'd literally cry and scream and get so upset and say 'Why am I hungry? I don't WANT to be hungry!!!!'.
During this time, I gained a LOT of weight. Too fast for my taste. I felt awful. I looked awful. I couldn't move the same. My skin itched from stretching so fast. I was constipated like mad. I'd get dizzy often. I'd get horrible headaches, major blood sugar crashes, mood swings, night sweats, etc. I'd get horribly dehydrated. None of my clothes fit anymore. And since I lived in a downtown apartment by myself, I had literally no money to spend on clothes.
I felt like I wanted to wear a sign that said something like 'I'm a recovering anorectic. Please don't think I got fat because I'm just greedy and lazy.' Like, my anorexic mind was still very eating disordered, but my body no longer looked like it. THAT was hard.
My saving grace though? A bunch of slobbery little two-year olds. Yup, I credit the initial stages of my recovery to a group of two-year olds. There were so many days where I woke up and just wanted to be invisible. I felt like everyone would stare at me and point and laugh and make fun of me. I felt like my friends would be disgusted. I felt like people would stop being nice to me on the street. I was terrified at how people would react to my ever-expanding backside.
But every day, when I walked into that classroom, there wasn't a single little person who gave a rat's ass what I looked like. All they cared about is that I was there to play with them, read them stories, and give them hugs. And they gave me lots of hugs, too. It was really a powerful thing to realize that through the unbiased eye of a toddler, my body was irrelevant. My soul was what mattered. Not only that, but working at a daycare also meant that the kids were fed a balanced breakfast, lunch, and snack every day. I started to take advantage of the pre-planned, balanced meals at 'normal' times.
OK, so there's one thing I forgot to mention.
A small thought, yet a huge change in my thought process. Back when I was living in the crack house, jobless, moneyless, hopeless, sick, tired, cranky, friendless, alone, scared, etc........I remember thinking that I had finally lost everything- that I no longer had anything to live for. Then I was hit with this sudden realization: I HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE. Literally. No matter what I did, no matter which direction I chose, anything, anywhere, anyhow was better than where I was. So I felt oddly free-- liberated, almost. There was nowhere to go but up. Not only that, but I had systematically removed myself from the larger world of society. I had successfully absolved myself of all responsibilities, ended all friendships, ceased anything that required me to interact with anyone or anything. I had basically cleaned house on my life. I had lost a lot of good stuff, but I had also managed to cut out some really bad things, too.
And so I chose to begin rebuilding my life, brick by brick, step by step, until I was living a life that I CHOSE. No more living by other people's rules, living to impress people, to live up to some sort of arbitrary standard.....life from then on would be different. It would be on MY terms.
And THAT was the real turning point for me.
I CHOSE to live MY life MY way. And no one was going to stop me.
So the more I ate at meals, the less I binged. However, for a very long time, I was still incredibly hungry. I never felt satisfied. Sometimes I'd swear I wasn't hungry at all, but when I finally ate something, I'd realize that I was actually starving.
I wasn't really sure how much I should be eating. It was a scary feeling to know that if someone told me that I needed to eat 5,000 calories RIGHT NOW, because my body was sick and needed to repair itself, I probably would have believed them....but at the same time, if someone told me that I should skip my next four meals because I'd already eaten too much today, I would have believed that just as easily. I literally had no clue what I needed. I wanted to see a nutritionist so bad. I hadn't yet found any message boards online. I spent hours and hours looking for research studies, reading nutrition textbooks, studying physiology, etc. But still, I felt like I wasn't sure what to do. And my eating habits reflected that. Some days, I'd have from 3,000 to 4,000 calories and feel like it was just right. Some days, I'd have 1200 and think it was too much. Overall though, I was eating more and feeling better- less cold, less tired, a bit more awake, a bit more......alive- like I wasn't watching TV anymore. I was actually engaged in conversations and stuff.
The first weekend of April, the UofM hockey team competed in the National Championship tournament that just happened to be held right here in St Paul. As I rode the bus with the other cheerleaders and the band to the XCel Energy Center, I turned around in my seat and saw a cute boy behind me. We bonded over our similar experience teaching, just getting out of a serious relationship (me calling off my wedding, him going through with a marriage then divorcing very shortly after). A friend of mine was dating his friend, so I asked if she could figure out if he had a girlfriend. He did. So I decided to give up on the boy. That was on Thursday (the semi-final game). Then, when we rode the same bus on Saturday, his friend informed me that he had just broken up with his girlfriend the night he met me. I was a bit freaked out at how quickly he broke it off with her, and then he told me 'when you meet the right girl and you know it, why stay with one that's already not going well?'. That night, we won the National Championship game. The entire city went crazy. There was rioting everywhere. Justin and I stayed up the whole night talking. We've been dating ever since.
Ok, so where was I going with this? Oh yeah. When Justin met me, I had gained a few, but not much compared to what I would still gain. I was a cute little 110 pound cheerleader when we met. One month later, I was close to 145. I made the mistake of trying to dye my hair blonde (I'm definitely a brunette for life now!), and cutting it short. None of my clothes fit, and I had no real money to spend on clothes. I ended up wearing some really old 'fat pants', some super-cheap things I got on clearance at GAP, some awful, awful jeans that I swear were from the 70's. I felt so ugly. My new short hair-cut only accentuated my now-chubby cheeks. But Justin didn't care. He absolutely refused to make any comments about my weight, and he wiped my tears when I had a meltdown about gaining weight. He didn't understand, but he just told me that he wasn't going anywhere just because of my weight. Of course, I was terrified. I figured it was only a matter of time before he finally got sick of me and left. I told myself that I needed to lose weight ASAP, or he would never want to stay with me.
Around this time, I settled into a regular pattern of eating at regular meal times, but eating just a little bit less than I really should have, so I'd be very hungry before the next meal....and then I'd eat, but still try to be hungry when I stopped.......I figured this would help me lose weight. I was completely wrong. I kept gaining. I'd cry, day after day, I'd cry about how I was restricting and I felt like shit but I kept right on gaining. This went on for a month, maybe two....maybe three. I don't know. Somewhere around a couple months or so. Until finally, one day, I gave in. I couldn't fight the weight gain anymore. The restriction wasn't working anymore. I decided to just go ahead and eat whenever I wanted to. The week I finally did this, I lost 7 pounds. I was completely, totally shocked. A few weeks after that-- this is maybe at the end of July, beginning of August of that year, or about 6 months after I started recovery-- I was eating a meal and suddenly I realized: I'm satisfied. I can stop now.
It was almost too wonderful to be real. I finally felt satisfied, and I knew that I had just eaten a normal meal. Words cannot describe the level of elation I felt at that moment. It was the first time I'd felt 'satisfied' after a meal for.....oh god, I don't even know how long. Years. I literally cried tears of joy.
So, 4-5 months into my recovery, I felt physically better- as in more energetic, more alert, less cold, less anxious and irritable. I still found myself talking incessantly about how I was going to 'fix' my body through exercise this and eating so and so and such things like that. My poor Justin- I didn't even realize until now just how incredibly patient he was back then.
I had this issue of never wanting to eat a full-size meal. By now I could eat, no problem. But I didn't want to finish an adult-size portion in one sitting. I could even eat most of the meal, then return for the rest like an hour later. Weird, I know. But that was a rule that I was still in the process of breaking. So I'd often find myself eating tons and tons of very-low-cal foods, like lettuce, pickles, etc towards the end of a meal, in an attempt to feel 'satisfied' without eating 'too much'. One day, my boy said 'You know, if you just ate your normal meal like everyone else, you wouldn't have to eat three servings of vegetables'. Of course, me being the one with fucked up ideas on eating, I interpreted that as: 'You are eating three times as many vegetables as any other normal human would eat, and you should just stop and quit bingeing uncontrollably on vegetables'. I totally went off. I freaked out. I thought he had just called me a greedy pig. I got so upset that my boy ended up walking out of the apartment and sitting on the rooftop courtyard just staring into space, because he didn't know what to do. Looking back, I see that he was right. If I had just eaten the last few bites of REAL food, I wouldn't need to keep stuffing in tons of veggies. I just had to EAT if I was HUNGRY. He didn't call me fat. He didn't call me greedy. He didn't say any of those things. Those things came from MY OWN HEAD. I told them to myself, then turned my anger on him.
So anyway, six months into recovery, I was WAY larger than I would have been comfortable with. And I learned that when you put on weight fairly quickly, it doesn't just automatically look like a 'normal' body shape. I have always (just like everyone in my family) gained all my weight in my butt & thighs. But during recovery, for the first time ever, I gained a bunch around my stomach. I had NEVER worried about my stomach before!!! In time, the weight redistributed itself, and I look just fine now. But at the time, I was extremely uncomfortable. I had also gained quite a bit on my inner thighs, and I found it difficult to cross my legs. When I went running, my upper thighs would get red and raw and bleed just from my legs rubbing together. I hated it.
The thing about eating disorders is that your main goal is to get through today by holding on to whatever small comfort you can find. And hiding behind a bony body brought some strange kind of security and sense of satisfaction. Feeling numbed-out and distanced from everything brings a weird sort of comfort. Feeling dizzy and fuzzy-headed all the time provides a sort of defense from really experiencing anything at all.
The problem was, even though my mind was very much eating disordered still, my body no longer represented that. And I felt like a freak. But eventually, I got to a point where I was like 'Ok, nothing I do today is going to make me a skinny anorexic by the end of the day. It's my choice whether or not I will sit at home and cry about that, or whether I will do my best to go out and try to enjoy myself.' So I started searching for joy in things OTHER than my physical self. I reached out to old friends whom I had alienated myself from. I tried new hobbies. I spent a lot of time really focusing on LIVING.
The interesting part?
My friends welcomed me back with open arms. My illness had put distance between us. My illness had made me incredibly selfish-- I was so constantly thinking about my weight, my body, calories, food, etc, that I couldn't even take five minutes to really focus on any REAL conversation with anyone. I was so stressed by my own issues that I couldn't be supportive of my friends. I was too tired to go out. That all changed when I was in recovery.
Suddenly, it was extremely important to me to really get to know who my friends were. I actually found myself in a vulnerable position-- something I have always done my best to avoid at all costs!- and I was pleasantly surprised to experience just how concerned my friends were about my mental well-being. And how little they cared about my body. As one friend of mine put it: "When you were sick, it was like you weren't there. You weren't the friend I knew. You were just a lump of negativity. Now, you're vibrant. You're energetic, engaging, caring, fun, friendly, open, and interested in what's going on around you."
Justin and I spent the summer taking little mini-'adventures' every chance we got. We'd spend the day bike riding in a state park, or we'd go to some very weird restaurant where we couldn't pronounce anything on the menu. We watched parades and visited friends and met family and went places and traveled and just, in general, LIVED.
By the end of summer, I had shed a handful of pounds-- not by trying! I had continued to eat just as I had done before. In fact, I think I ate MORE than I had before. The fun part? I barely noticed the weight loss. I didn't care. My life, for the first time in a very, very long time, was full. I didn't have a need that wasn't met on some level-- I had friends, hobbies, a great place to live, a boyfriend who loved me, my health, happiness, and a future to look forward to. I was back in school and I could finally concentrate again. I was taking classes in neurochemistry and anatomy and sports psychology and loving every bit of it. No more staring blankly at the page, waiting for the fuzziness to clear for a second so I could try to make sense of the words, only to forget them seconds later.
I finally, finally, finally felt ALIVE.
And 'alive' is a very GOOD way to feel.
I remember thinking people with eating disorders must be weak to do that to themselves. I was too intelligent to starve myself or lose control over what I ate. Four years and countless binges and therapy sessions later I have a slightly different perspective. I definitely fall under the category of perfectionist, to the extreme. I've been in the top ten percent of my class since I can remember, been involved in almost everything, yet I've never considered myself good enough at any of the things I did. I've always had the feeling that I'm compensating for something. As if somehow having perfect grades will make up for what I perceive as unattractiveness, lack of intelligence, and the list goes on.
That being said, I can explain my journey from one end of the eating disorder spectrum to the other, making all sorts of stops in between. My disordered behavior started sometime after junior year of high school. A friend (N) and I started taking laxatives and diet pills. Although neither of these seemed to affect my weight, it still seemed like I was doing something about it. I wasn't overweight by any definition. But I just wanted to lose a little weight. My friend and I supported each other in our strange eating behavior during the school year, such as offering support in resisting the Krispy Kreme doughnuts brought into class since they would add at least an hour to our workout to undo the damage. My mom and I attended Weight Watchers meetings in an attempt to teach me healthy eating habits before heading off to college. After gaining weight the first few weeks I all but gave up on the points system.
At the beginning of senior year, there was a distinct moment I remember thinking I was finally going to do something about my weight. I didn't begin with the thought that starving myself would be the best strategy. It just sort of happened that way. I still calculated Weight Watchers points almost fanatically, but I had cut back to more than half of what was recommended for my weight. I basically only ate one tiny meal a day for almost two months and I finally saw the results for which I had been looking. Regardless of the fact that I was constantly cold and didn't have enough energy to get through the day, let alone workout, I was actually happy with my weight. In a strange way I was happy when teachers started noticing my rapid weight loss. At least then I knew it was significant enough to garner attention. One particularly concerned teacher took me aside and suggested that I be screened for Anorexia Nervosa. Outwardly, I scoffed at the accusation, but I was secretly thrilled to be doing so well on my "diet" that someone thought I was anorexic. Eventually I was diagnosed with mono and all my hard work disappeared within a few weeks. All the hunger pains and amazing self-control were wasted since all I had energy to do was eat. Aside from eating issues, my senior year of high school was by far the loneliest and most depressing year of my life. I sought therapy for depression and started taking antidepressants and things just continued like normal for a while. Summer after my senior year I went to the Eating Disorders Institute in Farge for treatment which later turned out to be fairly useless. Sessions went something like this: "How are you feeling?" "Awful". End of discussion. Granted, I hadn't even begun to experience the bad part of my disorder so I can't blame anyone for not being able to help. I didn't know what I was dealing with yet.
I still consider my first year of college to be the best and worst year of my life. I chose to attend the University of Minnesota, was accepted into the Honors Program, and met six of my best friends my first day on campus. I finally felt comfortable being myself which was something I had never experienced in junior high or high school. In addition to some amazing experiences, my binge eating spiraled out of control. I had had a few binges in high school, but nothing like this. This was in a world of its own. I binged several times a day for nearly five weeks and cried myself to sleep almost every night. I was gaining weight so rapidly and felt so out of control but I had no idea how to stop it. The self-control that I was so proud of in high school was nowhere to be found. I just couldn't stop eating and it's not like I was hungry. I tried everything I could think of to counteract the weight gain. I tried slim fast, liquid diets that tasted alot like what I imagined hamster food to taste like, starvation, purging, you name it. Nothing worked. The higher my weight got, the more depressed and hopeless I became. I was to the point where I didn't want to be alive. I never wanted to kill myself, but I just didn't want to exist.
I finally went to the mental health clinic at the university to get whatever form of help I could. I cried through the entire appointment and screening. I'm still not sure if it was from being unhappy or so grateful that I was finally getting help for something I had no idea how to deal with and felt weak for not being able to control. I only had two sessions there before being referred to a more intensive treatment center on campus. I also started group therapy which turned out to be an amazing experience. We were a group of about seven girls covering anything from anorexia, binge eating, to bulimia. The information we received was helpful but it made a world of difference to know that I wasn't the only person dealing with an eating disorder. I didn't have to explain my entire thought process in order for them to understand what I was dealing with. They were living the same hell I was and already understood my fears. It was amazing to hear them talk about many of the same insecurities and thoughts that I had considered "abnormal" for years but assumed were personal failures.
When I finally heard back from the other treatment center I went for a screening that took nearly three hours. I was tested for an eating disorder, anxiety and depression. It was pretty obvious that I had an eating disorder and my depression scored almost off the charts. I had known for a while that my eating wasnít normal but now I had the diagnosis to make it a legitimate problem instead of a person failure. My therapist was one of the most amazing people during this point in my life and probably the most important figure in my recovery. She didnít simply ask how I felt. She would keep asking questions aimed at showing how unreasonable my thought pattern was and how unrealistic my expectations were. She questioned the picture I held in my head of my future as a lawyer. In my mind the future self was far thinner than I was at this point. It helped me realize that to assume thinness and success go hand in hand is ridiculous and damaging to my self worth. I also met with a nutritionist to learn how to be healthy and to maybe incorporate some of the ìdangerousî foods back into my life. Every Thursday Iíd head to the opposite side of campus for a couple hours of therapy, the only thing that kept me sane that year.
My weight was at an all-time high and I was terrified to gain anymore. How could I face my friends from home when I weighed so much? I all but gave up on personal appearance and wore sweatpants virtually all the time. I became even more antisocial than I am normally. Why would I put myself through the hell of pretending to be happy and social when all I wanted to do was disappear? I mastered the art of hiding when I was upset. As important as support was at this point, I didnít want to be the girl who cried and threw all her burdens on her friends. I did my best to hide when I needed to cry or binge or both. Crying alone may be depressing, but thereís no one there after to apologize to for falling apart. Freshman year I started doing something I had often thought about in high school but had never acted on. If I was really upset I could calm myself or take out my anger by cutting my stomach with a scissors. Self-destructive as it may have been, it focused my attention on the physical rather than emotional pain.
The one thing that took precedence during all of this was my academic record. I was taking between 18 and 20 credits every semester and was involved with several organizations on campus. My academic priorities stayed the same, no matter how much I binged or cut. Often it was difficult to focus on homework or studying when all I could think about was how fat I was getting. Iíd have to find the perfect spot while sitting at my desk so I wouldnít notice the newly formed bulge in my midsection.
The summer after freshman year was relatively uneventful. I stopped taking my medications because Iíd forget and I also didnít like how I felt on them. I was still determined to lose the binge weight but I knew if I did it in unhealthy ways Iíd be right back where I started.
Sophomore year I was far more focused on my academics and my problems shifted from weight to anxiety and excessive worrying. I managed to over schedule myself to the point where I didnít feel healthy due to anxiety.
The past summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain. Iíd always wanted to travel outside the U.S. and live in a different culture. I was nervous about living with a host family and the language barrier, but I never even stopped to think how the change would affect my eating habits. After the initial culture shock began to wear off, I realized how little I controlled my food situation there. I also realized how quickly I could relapse when I felt this lack of control combined with another round of depression. I couldnít believe how much my family could eat without being overweight. Spaniards tend to dish the food onto plates for you instead of letting you choose your portions. Iíd sit down and look at some sort of salad, a heaping pile of pasta, bread, fruit and dessert. Iíve never been very successful stopping when Iím full so it was the worst possible scenario for me. I felt so unbelievably full after every meal that I just felt awful about myself and the whole experience. The second weekend of the program my friends and I traveled to Malaga, on the southern coast of Spain, for a weekend of sitting on the beach and relaxing. I was excited to see the Mediterranean Sea but not as enthusiastic about wearing a swimsuit, especially since I had already had two binges that week. The first full day we were at the beach all hell broke loose. Maybe it was the boredom or homesickness or even depression, but I made far more trips to the supermarket across the road than I should have. I was scared at how fast I had fallen back into my binges and obsessive thoughts. I'm fairly certain that was the turning point of the trip. If I hadnít needed one of the classes as a prerequisite I wouldíve seriously considered going home. Unfortunately I was stuck there for another four weeks, literally counting the days before I could go home and start undoing the damage I had already done. The loneliness and depression I experienced were freakishly similar to the way I felt freshman year. I lost count of the times I sat in my room and sobbed because I was so depressed and frustrated that I had ruined all the progress I had made before I left. I felt hopeless because I couldnít remove myself from the situation. Iím still angry that my eating disorder ruined what shouldíve been a wonderful experience. Instead of enjoying my time in Spain, I was slipping back into the same insecurities I thought I had conquered.
Since getting back to the states, Iíve realized how depressed I was in Spain. Starting school again this fall was difficult and it was a little hard to function since I broke down into tears so easily. I decided to go back on medication in order to make things easier on myself. I donít want to use them as a crutch but at the moment theyíre something I need even though itís much harder to concentrate when Iím on medication. Through everything that happened this summer and in the past, I can safely say I have a wonderful support system. My parents, my friends and my boyfriend have been amazing in helping me deal with this. Theyíve hugged me, comforted me, made me laugh through my tears and reminded me that I was worth something, regardless of my weight. I canít imagine how I wouldíve made it through the past couple of years without these people in my life. I have no idea if Iíll ever be completely ìcured.î My bingeing has decreased but I still have some of the obsessive thoughts that once controlled my life. All I know is that Iím fairly recovered and I have to be hopeful about the future. Regardless of what happens, I have some amazing people in my life that will help me through and Iím thankful everyday for that.
I have been struggling with my eating disorder for over 8 years now. I grew up a happy and healthy child. From the time that I started school, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I loved life, loved school, and loved my friends. No one could have seen what was coming...
It started innocently as a way to fit in, but little did I know that it would soon be my worst enemy. I went to an all-girls Catholic school. As you can probably imagine, there was a lot of focus on how people looked. We wore uniforms, but that did not stop us from becoming very critical of our own bodies and others. I started by skipping lunch, then breakfast. For several years this is what I did. At this point I did not think I had much of a problem, and neither did many people around me.
In the fall of 2001, I went away for my first semester of college. Soon I realized that I didn't need to eat anything as long as I took diet pills. They could keep me energized when I needed to be and I was never hungry. Slowly all of the horrible side effects of having anorexia started invading my life. I was too tired to stay awake most of the day so I slept. I lived on the second floor of my dorm building and I would have to take a break half way up the stairs. I was could all the time, even when it was hot outside. I couldn't focus on anything. I forgot meetings I had with friends and professors. I was wasting away.
Finally the week before finals, I couldn't take it any more and decided that I would rather be dead that continue on the way I was. My therapist hospitalized me and two days later I left for Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. I was not ready to commit to recovery and fought the program the whole way. I learned from the other patients how to become sicker, and I did. I ended up getting essentially kicked out being way more sick than I came in. I think Remuda is a great program, don't get me wrong. I just wasn't ready.
I came out and immediately started compulsively over exercising. My life was miserable. I had no friends, no hobbies, nothing besides my eating disorder. It was too painful for anyone to watch me go downhill, including my family. I spent two years in misery. I was, and am, a big self-harmer. I lived by myself and spent my days doing anything to maintain my eating disorder. I was isolated. I was constantly sick with the flu, a cold, or anything else that my weak immune system came in contact with. I didn't care, as long as I was getting thin.
I didn't think I needed anyone if I had my eating disorder, my diet pills, and my self-harm. I was severely depressed, and again, didn't want to live. I overdosed on the same pills that were my constant companion. Once again I was hospitalized. Everyone was extremely concerned and in December of 2003 I entered treatment for the second time at The Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas. I was on the eating disorder unit, where I stayed for 9 weeks. Recovering from an eating disorder is such a challenge, and treatment is not a miracle cure. Every bite of food that I had to eat, made me feel miserable. I hated it. It was so scary to have your best friend and only coping mechanism, the eating disorder, taken away.
Despite the challenges, I did so well. It was amazing how much just eating in itself helps. For the first time in 4 years, I was hopeful. I felt healthy and strong. I still hated my body, but I was working on it. I knew that I could succeed in life. I had the tools and skills to make it in every day life. Everyone around me was so happy and proud of me, and for once, I was proud of myself. I thought that nothing could stop me. I think that another big misconception about treatment is that going back to "real" life will be easy.
I got out on Valentine's Day and was doing very well for about a month. I didn't have a good support system set up with friends, family, and professionals. This was my biggest mistake. Soon I started to slowly restrict my food. Then, because of circumstances out of my control, I went off all of my medications I was on in one day. I was very sick for a month. When I came out of the sickness, I was fullblown back into my eating disorder.
The next 3 years were a blur. I was hospitalized more than 10 times for being suicidal. I dropped out of most of my classes. I again had no friends. I was so highly addicted to diet pills that they were starting to have major negative effects on my heart, liver, and kidneys. I was completely relapsed back into my eating disorder. I didn't care. I became so depressed that I didn't care about anything or anyone. I attempted suicide twice. My self-injury became deadly. Today I look at people trying to glorify eating disorders and want them to see how horrible and life-threatening the effects are.
I had given up. It was August of this year, 2006, and I just told myself that I was never meant to be alive anyway. I sat at home and withered away. There was nothing left in me. I had again dropped out of school. I was asked to leave my job because I was not doing my duties, or even showing up. I was in the hospital about once every other week. I was done.
I couldn't think because of my malnutrition. All I thought about was food, and not matter how thin I was, I wanted to be thinner. I could feel my heart failing. I prayed for a miracle as did everyone around me.
That miracle came at the end of August. I found out that I was going to be on a charity bed at The Menninger Clinic. This meant that I would be receiving free treatment at the place that helped me so much. I was there for three months. Again, I became stronger and healthier, although this time was harder because of my lack of hope and faith in myself, and the world around me. I got out of my third time in treatment about a month ago. I feel so much hope for my future. I finally have goals again. I know that I do not have an easy road ahead, but I am started down the right path.
So what is the recovery process like? It is the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. It is not hard just for a couple of days, it has been hard for many months, and even years. Each day that I make healthy choices it gets easier, but the challenge is still there.
Life today is filled with very very focused on recovery. Staying healthy is a job that is 24/7. I see a wonderful therapist twice a week. She helps me to stay honest and open about my recovery. I think that this is one of my greatest avenues to gain back my power over my life. If I am constantly focused on the eating part of recovery, I get obsessed. I need my therapist to help me to work on the issues underneath, because once I start to get more control over those, my eating disorder will lessen. I do see an amazing dietitian once a week too. She helps me make wise choices with food. Although, I try to focus on other things in life, the food is still there. It is hard to face it three times a day or more. She helps me to make better choice with what I eat, so that I can stay healthy physically and emotionally. She also helps me to identify what goals and other things I look forward to in life, that don't involve food. This way I can look at the reasons why eating in a healthy way will help me to achieve a life I desire. I have learned many skills and techniques in the past several years of my recovery. Some work well for me, some don't. I think that you learn so much from therapists, doctors, friends, family, and other people in the same situation. You also read a ton of books. I have all this knowledge, but it is up to me how I apply it to my life. I can have all the support in the world, but it really comes down to me making the choice to live a healthy life. One of the most helpful things for me in my recovery is to talk with others in the same situation. In my opinion, this is done best in group therapy. I know I have had a wonderful group leader that helps us to maintain the goal of getting healthy, rather than just giving each other negative tips. Even free groups like Overeater's Anonymous and Eating Disorders Anonymous have been a great way for me to strive for a life without an eating disorder. Another thing that has been helpful for me is to get into hobbies that have nothing to do with food. Even in treatment, you don't focus on eating the whole time. I think that incorporating fun into your life is very important. What isn't helpful? Anything, that claims to be a quick fix, is not helpful. It is a long process. I have had people come into my life to "save me" and then leave because they get frustrated. The media is also not helpful. You could avoid it, but it is really hard. I think that you have to just keep things in perspective and not get caught up in what people on TV look like. There are also many unhealthy websites that help women and girls to continue making very unhealthy choices. In general, there is no pill, idea, theory, or even person that will take all of your problems away quickly.
Do I consider myself fully recovered? No way! I struggle to eat every bite that I put in my mouth. I am very unhappy with the way I look, now that I have gained a healthy amount of weight back. I am starting to accept it though. I have not self-harmed in over 60 days which is a miracle in itself. I am getting faith back. I finally know what it is like to function like a normal person. Most people take that for granted, but when you have an eating disorder, you lose that.
I don't know what my future holds, but I am on my way, thanks to God and the people that support me...
My Healthy Tipping Point Story - Beating an Eating Disorder
I was always an active and athletic child - heavily involved in sports at school, dancing on the weekends and competing at a national level in rhythmic gymnastics. Food and weight had never been an issue. My weight always stayed within a healthy range, mainly due to all the exercise and at home the meals were always home cooked and un processed.
During college, many of the physical activities stopped and I started to face new emotional problems of shyness, isolation and excessive drinking. I turned to drinking and controlling my weight to keep my focus off the things that were really bothering me. I started my first diet in 2000, a strict Atkins diet that at first was miraculous. I lost a lot of weight but I grew disturbingly obsessed with food and dropping even more weight.
The extreme dieting created a boundary between me and the world. I stopped going out, I lost friends, I refused to eat out at restaurants and my weight plummeted to a new low, where I lost my period and had to be hospitalized.
The years that followed saw my diet and weight loss obsession increase even further, but I started to lose the control that I once had. Binge eating started - first it was a one-off, and then increased to a weekly "treat". Eventually it was a daily happening that I had no control over. I gained a massive amount of weight and was unable to stay on any diet that I tried. And boy did I try! I went on every possible diet that I could find - from the Cabbage Soup, Master Cleanse, Fit for Life, Zone, South Beach, Raw Food, Macrobiotic and Juice Fast. I started each one with enthusiasm and vigor, believing each morning that this would be "the one". Only to find myself hitting every bakery on my way home, and crying in the grocery store, furiously adding binge food into my cart, unable to comprehend why I just couldn't stick to it.
I started to see that perhaps the only problem wasn't my frustrated weight loss attempts. Perhaps it had something to do with the disconnect that was going on between my body, soul and mind. It was starting to affect every area of my life. I lost a great job, my fiancÚ and had very few friends left. The binge and purge episodes were getting longer - sometimes I didn't leave the house for days.
So with the same enthusiasm that I went into each diet with, I now transferred into trying to get help. But what was this problem that I had? Binge eating? Bulimia? Overeating? I researched it all, tracked down every therapist and support group that dealt with these issues and was more determined than ever to get better.
My personal rock bottom was knowing that I would die if I continued to live this way. I knew that there would be no way that I could have a child, a relationship, a job or care about anything other than food and my weight. It was a selfish existence in hell!
The process of getting better was not quite what I expected. I wanted someone to come into my life, hand me a magic pill which would remove this obsession from my warped mind. I wanted to live - to be able to enjoy my life, to go out, to travel, to have a relationship without constant thoughts of what I was and wasn't going to eat, how much weight I was planning to lose and calculating how many hours I would need to spend at the gym to burn off the excess calories. My life had come down to food and numbers, and I hated it!
However, there was no magic pill. What there was, however, was a journey into myself, into understanding that I had the power to change and that anything is possible if you have enough commitment and dedication to your health.
I saw therapists, I talked about my circumstances in support groups, I wrote in a journal, learned to meditate and ask for help when needed - instead of turning to obsession with food and weight.
I also had to move away from the dieting mentality and towards health. I knew that every time I tried to heavily restrict my eating, the result was more binge eating and self hatred. I had to change my relationship with food, to view it as non-threatening and to trust my internal hunger signals.
I now consider myself recovered from eating disorders and a healthy, intuitive eater. I eat food that I actually like; I have a healthy body, exercise because it makes me feel amazing. I love trying new types of exercise - anything from running to kick boxing, yoga and dance.
Most of all, I hope I can help others who are struggling with an eating disorder by passing on the message that complete recovery is possible. I was always trying to find someone who had been through the same hell as me and had recovered to a point where they had a healthy relationship with food and was no longer obsessed and controlled by it. I do live this way and I hope to reach others who are struggling and let them know that they can too - there is a way out.
Nina has been recovered from all eating disorders for several years and aims to help people through sharing her story, experience and recovery on helpforeatingdisorder.com