NEDA Awareness Week: My Story
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Hi loves! It's so hard to believe that it has been yet another year since I last shared my story here. Well, since it is once again, National Eating Disorders Awareness week (NEDA) and I feel this truly is such an important subject for all, I decided to share this again. This post was originally written on 2.25.18 and I have not changed anything except added this paragraph and an update section at the end.
Hi guys! Happy Monday! I debated on posting this, but then I thought about how important this topic truly is and how alone and abnormal I felt for so many years when I was really going through it. Plus it is also National Eating Disorders Awareness week (NEDA) so I figure this is appropriate timing.
For those who know me only as the adult, specifically from my mid-twenties to who I am today, you will likely be surprised when reading this. However, for those who have known me most of my life or during my early 20's, you will likely not be surprised when reading this; you will likely say to yourself, “I had a feeling something was going on, but wasn’t 100% sure.” Or hey maybe I am wrong and you will not be surprised, ha ha; who knows. :) I have always been very open and honest about my struggle with people I know well as well as those I meet in passing; however, I do not think I have ever written it down. So here it goes.
My Issue/Eating Disorder
As I look back now, I am pretty positive my issues were/are a mix of what experts call Exercise Bulimia and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) with some Anorexia mixed in. Meaning what I would do is I would limit my food intake at times (Anorexia), but would also over compensate eating certain foods like pizza and sweets (my favorites btw), by exercising for long, extreme periods of time (Exercise Bulimia). So compulsive exercising. I never would make myself throw up though; I thought about it. I just never could actually bring myself to do it; so I exercised all the time instead. I would exercise when injured and sometimes even twice a day. Also, if I couldn't exercise I would obsess over not being able to exercise and feel so guilty. As for the BDD, I thought my legs/thighs were not tone enough and fat as well as my love handles so I would see these as my real or perceived flaws and would obsess over them for for hours each day.
Where it All Began
Sadly, I remember the exact moment or when my trigger occurred. I was 20 years old and had just returned for my senior year of college. I was at a fraternity party with some friends and I remember it was super humid and hot and I had on my favorite pair of Seven for All Mankind jeans. These jeans had always fit me a little loosely, but that night I remember I just felt like they were really tight and I felt bloated; looking back now it was likely just one of those days and the weather etc. Also, I have never been physically big or overweight in my life as far as I consider myself and my weight has always fluctuated between 3-5 pounds even now. But for whatever reason, that did it for me. I remember I was in the worst mood over it and that night I told myself: “I feel so gross. I am going to start exercising and eating healthy from now on.” So that’s what I started doing. At first, it was more dieting and regular exercising; then it became an unhealthy obsession. (Image on the right is a picture of a picture of me my freshman year in college before it all began, I think 2001 likely; sorry for the poor quality and those eyebrows!)
I remember about a month after I began exercising regularly (3 to 4 times per week) and eating healthier (just cut out fast food really), the more people would come up to me and say things like "wow you look great; what are you doing?" Etc. Now, I am not blaming others, this is all on me, but as an insecure 20 year old girl still trying to figure out who I was and just life itself with perfectionist tendencies, lol, I remember thinking, “damn, did I look that bad before?” And just like that my mind set changed forever. I know that sounds pretty dramatic, but honestly, it continues to be a “forever” or an almost daily battle for me at least. I will discuss this more a little later on. Oh and just an fyi: I was and am a health educator, so I was & am completely aware of the signs, etc. Point is, can happen to anyone.
Anyways, fast forward from August to May 2004, the day of my graduation. I remember that day so vividly still. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful day! I had a great time with family and friends. The sad reality though, is I was so consumed with trying to make sure I got my daily workout in that day because I was so worried about what I might eat at the restaurant with my family. Seriously!?! That’s what I was worried about; so dumb looking back now. I got up at the crack of dawn for me (5 am), even though I was so exhausted from finals and packing to move, etc., and ran on the treadmill for 3 miles and then 2 miles on the elliptical. I always had to get a least 5 miles; that’s what I told myself because 5 miles is equivalent of 10,000 steps give or take some. I honestly look back now and don’t know how I physically had the energy to do this.
This type of behavior continued for a long time, years. After I graduated, I moved to Charleston, SC and began my first “real” job out of college. Even working though, I always would get up before work and exercise daily, work all day, then do it all over again the next day. The only times I would not exercise, was when I was physically sick. That’s pretty much it. Even when I was out of town with friends or family’s, I would still add the time to exercise, no matter what. I would seriously stress out about traveling because I “had” to get my workouts in. To appear normal and like I didn’t have an issue, I would skip some workouts when out of town and act like it was okay in front of people, but inside, I was calorie counting and feeling so guilty about it; mad at myself and just in a bad mood. I remember there were a few months where I was in a new relationship and was so busy that I couldn’t make time to get my workouts in like I wanted. I was so worried about putting on weight that I pretty much starved myself since I couldn’t work out. Seriously, I would eat a measured serving of cereal with skim milk, some grapes, and a turkey sandwich on light wheat bread with fat free cheese and a diet soda. Then water all day with crystal light and fruit for a snack or a granola bar. Then for dinner, a Luna bar or lean cuisine meal. That’s it. I ate like this almost every day! My splurge was that I drank alcohol. I would have sweet drinks like Smirnoff Ice and cocktails. When I would eat out, I would always get a cocktail and order whatever, but would never eat my entire meal. I would eat a few bites and say I was full. Had to appear like I didn’t have an issue, you know? Honestly, I think my poor stomach was so small and used to being starved, it likely was full. (Image above on the right is from 2005 I think and is a picture of a picture because I don't have digital copies from then. Sorry for the poor image quality.)
Hitting My Rock Bottom
At my worst, I remember looking in the mirror at my lowest weight, which I believe was 110-112 pounds (I am between 5’8-5’9 in height), and thinking how fat I was. I was so disgusted with myself. I honestly hated myself. See image on the right for reference; sorry it's a picture of an old picture because I don't have any digital copies. This was one of the times at my lowest weight I think.
Seriously, I focused solely on the scale and number size of my clothes. Never mind that I am above average in height and naturally pear shaped and should NEVER ever fit into a size 0 or 2. I felt if I could pinch my skin, like my love handles, then I wasn’t tone enough. I would work out and workout and workout. I could go on and on, but I think you likely get the idea.
Fast forward to 1 or 1.5 years later, I think it was winter of 2006 (January). I remember I was still living in Charleston and had met my parents for lunch where my brother was working. It was that afternoon, after we ate lunch that I broke down in tears to my parents told them that I needed help. Of course, my parents, friends and family etc. already new I had a problem, but I had never been accepting of their help prior to this point because I need to accept and admit I had this problem.
I remember how I felt for so long so well even today. I just felt completely alone, unhappy, lost and stressed because I hated my job, myself, my relationship, and didn’t know what to do. I was also so obsessed with my weight because I felt it was the one thing I had complete control over, I guess. That day to my parents was really the first time I had ever said out loud and to anyone that I had a problem and needed help. One thing to know about me, I don’t like to be weak or appear weak. I like to be in control of things and am extremely stubborn and act like I don’t need anyone really; at least when I was younger. So this was a huge moment for me and very hard. However, after, it felt like the largest weight had been lifted off of me and I knew at that moment I could overcome this. That’s the only way I know to describe it. My long road to recovery and self-acceptance began that day.
Acceptance & Seeking Help
Now just because I finally admitted I had an issue and that I needed and wanted help doesn’t mean I got it and all was well asap and poof I was cured or fixed. Not how it works; at least for me. Admitting is was one thing. Actually following through and seeking and accepting help and putting in the work to overcome this is another. It didn’t just happen overnight.
Once I finally told my parents, my mom made sure I actually got professional help through my doctor. When I say made sure, I mean she kept asking and annoying me to make my doctor appointment until I did. Thanks mom. :) I was an adult; she couldn’t do it for me or make me do it. I will say, best decision of my life.
I went to my doctor and explained my situation, which she had already suspected by looking at me and my weight; wasn’t fooling her. Anyways, she recommended I meet with the counselor onsite and go from there. So that’s what I did. Once I met with the counselor, my doctor and I also decided to try medicine for anxiety and depression to see if it would help not only with my eating disorder, but also my insomnia, stress over work, life, etc. I had tried some other medications prior for anxiety such as Zoloft, Wellbutrin, etc., but they all gave me immediate headaches. So I had stopped them and kinda given up. Well, this time, since I was finally honest about the eating disorder, my doctor suggested Prozac because it was supposed to work well for all of my issues even my eating disorder. So I said sure, I’ll try it. So I did. And to this day I am still taking it today.
Now I am not saying taking this medication solved all of my issues and problems woohoo go get medicated. That’s not what I am saying at all. What I am saying it don’t be afraid to accept help, whether is it in the form of medication or seeing a therapist or whatever. I feel like there are so many stigmas around mental health and seeking help which is not right. Nothing is wrong with getting the help you need. Life is hard. We all handle things differently and are different. It’s totally okay. For me, this medication didn't change who I was or am; it simply helped my handle things (stress, etc) better. Still does I think.
Still Working On ME
Anyways, fast forward to more ups and down in the summer of 2006 when I was going through this battle, however, the main difference at this time is that I wasn’t alone. I can’t tell you how wonderful my parents were for me. I wasn’t seeing a counselor or therapist anymore, but I could actually discuss things with my family, like my sister and mom even my dad. For example, I can still remember one day I had just FINALLY got out of a relationship that had been extremely hard on me (see other variables are always in the mix) and due to a time difference, it was super early like 7:00 am, and I had just hung up the phone for what I knew would be the last time I ever spoke with this guy and I although knew it was a good and right thing, I was still sad. You know?
Anyways, I sat there in my bed and thought to myself "what now and who can I call to talk to for support at this hour?" I just needed someone to listen. That’s all. So I knew my dad was always up early and always there for me, so I called him. I told him what happened and he just listened and I remember I made the statement in my self sorrows that none of my old clothes fit either, which isn’t a bad thing because I know I need to gain weight and not fit in them, but it just sucks. I think those were likely my exact words. LOL. And his reply, “well then go get some new clothes.” To which I said, “I can’t I don’t have the money and don’t need to shop.” Then he said, “I will give you money to go shop. Now don’t go crazy, but just get a few things.” This was one of the best things for me at this moment in time. The stress of trying to tell myself, yes you are underweight and you need to and should be gaining weight to be healthy, but if you do, you need to get all new clothes that you don’t have money for. So freaking stressful; it’s never easy I promise. Thank you dad! :)
I know not everyone has this type of support and I am truly blessed to have my parents, trust me I know. However, there are other resources available out there to assist and provide support; which I did learn more about through my doctor. I would totally encourage anyone to reach out if they need it. (The image above on the right is from me in March 2006; I had gained a little weight back, but not much. Again, it's a picture of a picture so poor quality; sorry.)
My point in mentioning this story, is to show that it is easier to handle things when you have the support. Whether it’s just listening and someone saying, “hey I totally understand” or whether it’s medication whatever. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask or get help. There are some many individuals going through maybe the same thing or something you don't even know about. I could seriously give you so many examples from over the years, but I think I have made my point.
All Mental & An Ongoing Battle
The thing I don’t think most people realize or maybe they do I don’t know, is that there is no quick or easy fix or cure for eating disorders. At least I haven’t found one. I feel like some days I have this conquered and then other days I find my mind slipping back into the guilt or wanting to binge on something. For me it really is a conscious decision on most days to not let myself go there again. I remember a day just last summer, 2017; I hadn’t exercised in a month or two really and was tired, stressed and just worn out from work. So I decided that I wanted some of the Oreo birthday cake cookies. Now, sounds harmless right? Want a cookie have a cookie? Not for me at times. I have ALWAYS as long as I remember binged on sweets; even before my eating disorder. I just have that all or nothing mind set which is not good for me. For example, if I had 1 cookie, there goes the entire day! I might as well eat 10 or 20 cookies and start fresh tomorrow. Insane way of thinking I know, but its how my mind used to work then. Anyways, I remember I ate like 12 cookies and then got so mad at myself I cried and thought about working out. But, then instead of jumping on the treadmill for 5 miles, I stopped and looked at myself in the mirror and took a few long breathes. Then told myself, "It's okay. Not the end of the world and you will be okay. So what if you had some cookies? You aren't going back there." So instead I laid on the couch and watched a movie and rested; which I think is what I needed most. (Image above on the right is a much healthier and happier looking me in winter 2009)
So when I say recovery or overcoming this is a conscious effort, for me it is. I think it is totally mental. Most things tend to be for me anyways. I think the difference now for me is when I have these almost relapses, is that now I consciously know that what it is and what is happening. I recognize the triggers and honestly now accept myself for who I am, flaws/issues and all. Plus, I can actually just have 1 cookie now and not have to eat all 20 or have to run exercise; I think anyways, ha ha. It is just so strange, honestly. I look back at old photos of myself during what I call my dark times, and just think: how and in what world could I have ever looked at my 112 pound self and thought I was overweight or big?!? It is amazing what your mind can do. Body dismorphia is so scary real; why I say everything is mental. Looking back at these old pictures I also think to myself how much better I look and I think everyone looks with weight on them.
What's the Point?
So that's a pretty good summary of my story. Sorry if it was a little long, but I tried to hit the main parts; believe me I could go on and provide tons of examples. Anyways, the purpose of me sharing my story and what I went through for so long is to hopefully raise awareness for others who may be going through similar or even different issues/battles of their own. I will never ever forget how alone I felt during these years and like something was wrong with me for being the way I was;I felt so abnormal. I remember just thinking most days, I just want to be normal and not feel mad or bad at myself for eating things or not exercising. Oh and just for the record, I don't feel this way anymore! I now listen to my body and rest and get sleep rather than kill my self in the gym and I also don't beat myself up over food as much. :) I take it one day at a time now and honestly just focus on being physically and mentally healthy and happy.
I would never wish these or those negative feelings and thoughts on anyone. Life is way too short to be anything but happy and I know it sounds cheesy but it is so true. If you are going through whatever please seek help; it was the best thing I ever did. Don't ever be embarrassed or ashamed for it; it is normal to need and get help. Don't make my mistakes and suffer alone. You aren't alone. Honestly, the more I speak about my experience with others, the more I find there are so many people out there like me; who also have dealt with similar issues. I am also available anytime as well if you would like to chat or whatever.
Cheers to self acceptance and loving yourself as well as taking care of you!
Lastly, a huge thank you to my hubby, family and friends who stuck with me and have supported me. I am truly blessed and appreciate as well as love you all.
From 2.24.18: Update
I also wanted to share an update with you too, because as I wrote, this is an everyday battle. It doesn't just go away. Therefore, I wanted to share that over the last year, I have actually felt more accepting of myself than ever before. I am not sure why or what really changed, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that I finally have accepted that I am not perfect, don't need to be perfect, no one is perfect and I am totally 100% happy with me and all my flaws. Additionally, I think this may also have come from blogging and connecting with so many amazing people. Not sure, but something just clicked in my head and I will take it. :) My point is, I still have my ups and downs, but honestly it has gotten easier and does get easier. Thank you for taking the time to read my story and as I mentioned above, please feel free to reach out to me at anytime if you would like or need someone to listen. :)
Update from 2.24.20
So TBH I don't have much to add other than I can honestly say I feel better than I ever have about where I am mentally and physically. Of course as I mentioned previously, I still have my moments, but overall I am so content with my progress. With this said, please feel free to reach out to me anytime if you have questions, want to just say hi or whatever because you are not alone and I am happy to help anyone, anytime, and in any way that I can.
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