(Blog written in May 2016)
I couldn’t tell you why NOW is the right time, but it is. After over a decade of hiding my eating disorders, lying, and feeling ashamed I recently starting telling my story. You see, I had always been open with my brother, a few select friends, and even boyfriends along the way. Although telling my parents was NEVER an option. I never wanted to upset them, worry them, or make them feel responsible. After all, I had it under control….right? I was able to stop throwing up when I wanted to, I didn’t always have to purge after eating, I was only binging when I felt like it, I followed instructions on the diet pills/laxative packs, and I checked myself into an outpatient program while it was all going on….so yeah, I was totally in control….. NOT!
Right around when I turned 30 I made a vow to myself that before I got married I would tell my parents about my dark past. Well, nearly two years flew by and I was getting ready for my wedding when I realized I still hadn’t mustered up the courage to tell them. Mike was supportive, loving, and understanding. He offered to be there when I told them, but there was no plan, there was no perfect day. This past January on one random night after work I went to their house and just flat out told them. I sat them down and told them everything. It wasn’t easy, it still isn’t, but man was it a HUGE weight off my shoulders. After hiding this from them for over 15 years, I felt like I could breathe. So, now that they know, I feel I can share my story with the world and hope that it can help just even ONE person who is suffering or scared.
When did it start? Well, it’s honestly hard to remember or pinpoint exactly when. I grew up a high level competitive gymnast who trained 35 hours a week. I lived in a leotard, was surrounded by girls in leotards, went through puberty in a leotard, and was judged on my performance and body subjectively in a leotard. I guess it’s common knowledge that sports like gymnastics tend to have a high risk of forming eating disorders. My teammates and I would compare bodies, talk about what we hated, what we wished was smaller, and how unhappy we were. If only my thighs didn’t touch, if my arms didn’t jiggle, if my butt was bigger….then my leotard would fit better, I would have scored higher, I would beat that girl. So, somewhere around 12 or 13 I started really becoming interested in my food choices, calories, and working out. However, for me it was too hard to restrict my food! I loved to eat, I couldn’t stand “watching what I ate” , I felt sick/low energy if I skipped a meal, and as a teenager who wasn’t shopping/cooking it was really difficult to avoid food(s). Eating my food and then purging it seemed to make much more sense…..(idiot!) I clearly remember starting this roller coaster in my childhood bathroom while my mom was in the basement working.
What exactly was MY disorder? The biggest monster for me was bulimia. I would binge on foods like chex mix, pretzels, cereal, and ice cream until I felt sick. Then I would lock myself in the bathroom, turn the sink or shower on, fall to my knees, cry over the toilet, and purge. I would purge over and over and over again, until I was completely empty and my knuckles were bleeding. Don’t forget, I was able to “control” my bulimia, meaning I could stop myself for weeks at a time; so, that left room for me to develop other bad habits to help balance the copious amounts of food I would eat in a sitting. By 15 or 16 I became obsessed with diet pills and fat burners. I tried them all….Stacker2, Hydroxycut Hardcore, Xendarine, Lipo6, and the list goes on. I would buy a second bottle of a different brand to try before even finishing the first bottle. As if that wasn’t enough, I felt I still needed to “remove” the food from my body, so I decided when I wasn’t purging I would just take laxatives. Dulcolax and Smooth Move Teas became habitual. While I never actually restricted calories or had any form of anorexia, clearly I was sick.
What about exercise? Oh well of course! So besides training 35 hours a week at gymnastics, I started working at the front desk/daycare of a local gym when I was 16. I became a “cardio bunny” for sure. Anytime I wasn’t working or at gymnastics, I was “working out”…..using the cardio machines like a crazy lady or taking old school aerobics classes (not really lifting weights). As soon as I turned 18 I got my Group Fitness Instructor Certification as well as my Personal Training Certification. I wasn’t even at college for a month before walking into the school gym and getting myself a day. It was PERFECT…..I was teaching 13-15 group fitness classes a week and no one even thought twice about the fact that I was still doing my own workouts daily. I was literally spending 2-4 hours a day working out. But the more I worked out, the more I binged/purged, and the more partying I did….well, the bigger I got; so the cycle continued.
How is a bulimic girl who is addicted to diet pills/laxatives, and working out obsessively not skinny? It’s true, I was not super skinny, I wasn’t my thinnest, and my face was HUGE. The heaviest I ever was, was actually when I was most sick. The more I purged and abused my body, the bigger I looked. My “fat days” were my most unhealthy, darkest days when I hated my body. I was super bloated and puffy all of the time. What’s the deal with that? What’s interesting about bulimia is that often times people who struggle with binging/purging are not “skinny” or don’t look the way you would assume they “should.” When you binge and eat high caloric foods you are still absorbing calories. When you purge, you’re actually purging up the fiber which is what you need for digestion. You lose massive amounts of water when you purge, dehydrating your body, so in turn your body actually stores and retains water constantly….hence the bloated puffy look. A person with bulimia often has a swollen face (mine was soooooo swollen for years) and this is due to damage of the gland tissues from the constant stomach acid coming back up during purges. As for the obsessive working out, well it’s TERRIBLE for you! Your body needs rest and without proper rest you hold onto water, your muscle bellies swell, you tend to crave things like sugar/carbs, and your body just stores them away so it isn’t depleted during the endless strain you put on it. Not to mention, steady state cardio does NOT burn fat….lifting weights, gaining lean muscle, and triggering high intensity bursts will burn fat. So I was doing it all wrong.
The cycle: Well, this viscous cycle went on for 10 years or so. I would get myself “in control” and then have some moments of weakness where I would fall back into bad habits for a few weeks/months at a time. The more I binged the more I purged the more pills I took the more sick I got the more I worked out and the more bloated I got.
I was obsessed with the scale. I was miserable. I was in a dark place. I was so lonely. I hated myself and my body more than you can image. My relationships (friends and boyfriends) were falling apart left and right. I had a fake life on the outside, with a fake smile, and a fake confidence, but behind closed doors I can assure you THAT was not me. I guess you can say I was living life as my ALTER EGO!!!!
What did I do to change? By my sophomore year of college I knew I needed help so I checked myself into an outpatient eating disorder clinic. I went 2 times a week at the beginning and by senior year I was popping in more sporadically. I hid this from everyone because I was ashamed, embarrassed, and I felt like a fraud because to everyone else I was “Ms. Fitness”, the healthy friend, the workout obsessed gym junky of the crew. HA! What a joke. I would lie to my roommates about where I was going just to sneak off to therapy sessions. I was so alone and living a double life. I was scared to tell people because I wasn’t shipped away to an inpatient clinic, so I didn’t feel like my disease had enough strength, I didn’t qualify, it didn’t matter. I actually had a childhood friend who lived in a very well known eating disorder clinic throughout college….and I used to envy her…can you believe that?!?! She lived in a hospital, her life controlled by others, watched over every minute of the day, barely had freedom, and I envied that……
Ironically, I got caught purging in college (twice actually). My roommate called me out the first time and sort of asked me what was going on. I lied and brushed her off, but the second time she caught me she decided to put together an intervention with the other 3 girls in our house. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well. I went into defense mode, I didn’t tell them I was seeking help, and they weren’t supportive (at least it didn’t feel that way at the time.)
How did it end? Well, an eating disorder unfortunately isn’t something that ever truly goes away. It is always there, it’s pushed far back deep in my brain way below the surface. I have spent the last 7-10 years working on myself, learning to love myself, teaching myself how to love my body. It wasn’t through just therapy or one small breakthrough. It has taken years of practice, years of dedication. I listen to podcasts daily, am constantly reading personal development books, going to inspiring events, and surrounding myself with positive like-minded people. Years ago I joined an incredible fitness team (Cathy Savage Fitness) where sisterhood is the most important thing. I have been living a HEALTHY vegan lifestyle for 13 years, fueling my body with the best nutrients and whole foods on the planet. I lift weights, take yoga, try new fun classes, challenge myself daily, but also thrive on my rest days. I have learned to ask for help and learned that saying “no” is okay. I know that I am important and loved. I realize I have so much to give and so much to teach. I have been putting my health and myself first and THAT has made all the difference in the world.
Do I still struggle? I can honestly say that I don’t struggle with the battle of binging/purging or abusing pills anymore. I truly am loving my body and all the incredible things it can do. I am grateful for my health everyday. I rewarded myself after years of “being clean” with stepping on stage and rocking a sparkly teeny weeny bikini for a fitness competition to prove to myself that I could. To crush the fear of being judged, to put my body image issues aside, and to be proud of my hard work. I stayed on track throughout my prep, I never felt the urge to binge/purge, I had an absolute blast on stage, and placed 2nd in my first show. The trophy was nice, but the defeat on my bulima monster was beyond!!!!
The part I struggle with now is hearing my students at school say they think they’re fat. Seeing girls at school comparing themselves to each other, to famous people, to things they see in magazines or on social media. It breaks my heart to see former students struggling with eating disorders by the time they reach middle school. Now I struggle with knowing how it feels…..thinking that someone else out there is going through the dark caves where I once lived.
This is just me opening up and being real. There is so much I have to share, there is so much I want to learn. This is just a mere peak into who I am, who I was, and where I’ve been.
So, what’s the point of sharing? Well, once I let the cat out of the bag on social media last month the messages started coming in. People opening up to me and sharing their own stories, people finding their voice, finding the courage to be honest with themselves, people reaching out for help. I’m not a doctor or a therapist, I’m not trying to fix people or claiming I can, I’m just me….. Just a girl who has overcome a decade of eating disorders, a girl who wants to share her story in the hopes it will shine a little light for someone else. Trust me, knowing you are not alone is one of the biggest gifts! I wish someone had shared with me what they had gone through. I wish someone had paved to road and showed me it was okay. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but the exact opposite, a true sign of strength.
Please help pass things along and share if you know someone may benefit. Feel free to comment below :0)