First I want to start by saying this post has taken a lot of courage to write and it is very personal to me. I wanted to share my story in the hopes of encouraging someone who may have been in a similar situation to take the first step on their journey to recovery. If you are struggling with an eating disorder please be aware that some things in this post may be triggering.
I have always struggled with my body image. I would say ever since I was about 12 years old I started noticing how my body was different from the other girls in school. When I went through puberty and I started developing as any pre-teen does, my body began to change and I hated it. I did everything I could to get smaller. I would go to the gym in layers upon layers to run in hopes that the more I would sweat the faster I would lose weight (I’m sure I heard this somewhere in the media or from my peers). I tried to go on new diets that I would see in magazines or books my mom had around the house but those would only last a few days and I would give up, and all the while I would think I wasn’t disciplined enough and I would have a body I hated forever.
Through the years and as I started dance, my body got smaller. However, no matter how small I got, in my eyes I wasn’t small enough. I constantly compared myself to other girls, whether it was at school, in magazines, or competing in pageants. I always wanted my body to be something it wasn’t. I will say, though I never really focused on eating healthier, my relationship with food got better. Although when I say that it doesn’t mean it was healthy choices I was making. My love for fast food was something that continued well into college.
Through college I went through phases, I would get heavier, I would get smaller. I’m pretty sure I packed on the freshman 15 more than once throughout college. I would attempt to go to the gym and hated it, since I never really knew what to do. Fast food was always the easy option so rarely did I make home cooked meals, I literally knew nothing about nutrition. And the drinking, oh dear, that could not have helped. Throughout college I would compete in the occasional pageant or have something I needed to get my body in better shape for so I would diet and exercise like crazy to lose weight and then after the event the pounds would slowly creep back on. It was towards the end of college that I discovered Crossfit and it changed my views on fitness and my body – I loved it! I loved being strong, I slowly started to focus on how much weight I could lift versus how much I weighed. It was amazing and I started to go more and really enjoy it.
Then around 2013 I decided I wanted to kick things up a notch. I decided to do something I had never done before – a fitness competition. I thought – I’ve always struggled with getting my body to where I want it to be and this will be different than a pageant because I will solely be focused on my body. Sounds logical, right? So I dove into prep. I had a coach, I had a plan, and damn I was determined. I lost about 40lbs in the span of about 3 months (looking back this is in no way healthy) – my training consisted of crossfit, weight training, and cardio – daily. I restricted my foods to what was on the plan and actually learned a lot about nutrition in the process. I can honestly say throughout my prep I loved the process. I loved cooking creatively, working out, and seeing all the hard work I was doing to change my body happen before my very eyes. The day of show-day I felt AMAZING. My body had never looked like that before, I had surpassed my *goal* weight that I had put on my vision board years before, and I felt unstoppable. But, looking back, I kind of feel sad for who I became during those months. I no longer had time to go out with friends, I spent every waking hour that I wasn’t at work going to the gym and obsessing over food and my body. As great as I looked, I don’t think I was the greatest person to be around.
It was during this time I had started my blog Fitness Princess. I felt compelled to tell everyone what I had learned about nutrition and working out and share my experiences! I fell in love with writing and blogging but after my show I couldn’t write anymore because I felt like a fraud. Why? Because immediately after my show was done I began bingeing, heavily. It was something I had heard about when I had immersed myself in the fitness community so when it happened, I thought, “okay this is normal, no problem, it’ll go away once I get used to eating “normally” again.” But it didn’t.
It was something that affected my life for years after. I would try to prep and go on strict diets, only to fail miserably because I couldn’t stop the bingeing. My obsession with food grew, my eating habits got worse as I cut out entire food groups in hopes that it would offset my bingeing. I became miserable – I would train, meal prep, and then if I ate ONE thing that wasn’t part of the plan – like let’s say cereal, I would eat the whole box and then continue into a binge. I was out of control.
After a couple years of this I didn’t know what to do. My working out could no longer keep my weight down and I became the heaviest I have ever been. I stopped seeing my friends, I would miss important events because I was terrified of how people would judge me, I became extremely depressed and suicidal. Because of this I moved home, hoping being closer to my family would help me. I tried to start over- I got a job, I was trying to fight the depression and bingeing on my own, but it all became too much. I finally had to admit I needed help and it was far beyond what blogs, Instagram, friends, or family could say to help me at this point. I called a local eating disorder treatment facility and within a couple months I quit my job and went to treatment full time. I went to treatment seven days a week, 7 hours a day, for six months. Getting better was my full time job and it was absolutely draining and the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life.
At treatment I was surrounded by a huge support team I had a Registered Dietician, a therapist, a psychiatrist, a physician, and a treatment team. Without these people I would not be where I am today. Everyday I practiced normalized eating- meaning we ate meals that were overseen by a dietician and made sure we got enough enough of our food groups. We practiced eating dessert because that’s something most people with eating disorders fear the most, we had therapy sessions where we talked about nutrition, body image, processed our feelings for the day, had therapeutic yoga, and more. But I think one of the hardest parts was I was not allowed to workout – it was too tied into my disorder. So it was a daily struggle looking in the mirror seeing I gained all of this weight, I couldn’t work out, I had to eat dessert daily, and I was absolutely terrified that I was going to get even bigger.
There were days I cried, there were days I was angry, there was days I was depressed, and it was very hard for me to accept where I was in life. For the first few months of treatment I felt like a shell of my former self, my personality was not the same, I was probably not the nicest person to be around as I struggled with coming to terms with just how bad my eating disorder had gotten. Despite all this, I made some incredible connections with the other young women there and really learned how to open up, share my thoughts and feelings, and connect with individuals who were struggling with the same thing I was. The support we gave each other was some of the most profound interactions I’ve ever had in my life.
As I got better and my brain essentially rewired itself, the binging slowly stopped and I began to not feel as depressed. My body started slowly getting used to eating normally again and without even trying it started to go back to where it was pre-eating disorder. I was making progress. After about 6 months, I along with my team decided I no longer needed intensive treatment. I continued to see my therapist for over a year after, and I still did not feel that I could healthfully work out. With consistent eating and following my therapeutic meal plan my body reached a normal, healthy weight and I began to learn to embrace my body.
After a year and a half I have finally began working out again but in a very healthy and monitored way. I don’t push myself to go to the gym when I’m too tired. I take rest days when I feel like my body and mind need them. I focus on working out because of how I feel, and the enjoyment I get from it instead of doing it simply to make myself look a certain way. But even more important than working out I focus a lot on eating healthy and BALANCED. I don’t cut carbs like I used to, I indulge in a treat when I want, and I never feel out of control with my food choices. I eat because I need it to fuel my body but also because I enjoy it. I make choices based on what is good for my body and also what I am craving. I no longer focus on having to eat the perfect meal but rather what is convenient, works with my schedule and what’s in my fridge, along with what tastes good. There are still days I don’t feel great about my body, but more often than not I look in the mirror and I’m not just proud of how I look but proud of how far I’ve become and how this journey has shaped me into a better person.
The reason I wanted to write this post was because I feel that there is someone out there who may be struggling with what I went through and may not know what to do or where to turn. If you feel that you have an eating disorder, maybe you obsess over good vs. bad foods, maybe you restrict and/or binge and/or purge, or maybe you can’t stop eating, there is help. I think many people who struggle with this, struggle in silence, and I want you to know that sometimes no matter what you do on your own, you may not be able to overcome it and that is why there is professional help. Sometimes reading about others experiences may trigger you to use more symptoms, or make you think that it’s normal and there’s nothing you can do to fix it besides just to “stop” doing it, but that’s not true. There are treatment centers where you can begin to work on your relationship with food, and your body, and start to retrain your brain so you don’t use symptoms any longer. Recovery is possible but you may need to take the first step and reach out to somewhere that can help you begin your recovery process.
Thank you for allowing me to open up and share my journey.