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WARNING: I do go into a few specifics about food and methods, which may be triggering to some recovering individuals.
In honor of NEDA Awareness week, I thought I would share more of my eating disorder recovery story and the ugliness of this disease, how it took over my life and how I eventually learned to embrace recovery. I have shared my past on here a little bit, but not really how it began, and how I personally struggled.
“You’re Ugly.” I remember the first time I felt ugly. I was in second grade, and a girl in my class randomly came up to me out of nowhere and said “Jordan, you’re ugly.”
I pushed it away because the girl was a known bully and was mean to quite a few others, but it happened a second time. Out of the blue, while we were walking back to class from recess, she said “Hey Jordan, you’re ugly.”
I had never done anything to this girl to make her dislike me. So the fact that she had said it a second time made me think there might be some truth to her words. I hadn’t ever given my looks a second thought, I was only 6 years old, but she had me thinking about it. Was I ugly? What made a person ugly? Was it my hair that she didn’t like? My nose?
Being the goofy, awkward, introverted kid that I was, I had a harder time making friends than some of the other kids, so I was already a bit self-conscious. Having a girl in my class dislike me because she thought I was ugly didn’t help that fact. I started to think that maybe the other kids didn’t like me as much because I was ugly.
Pimples and Puberty. Then at 7 years old, I started to develop acne. I was the only third grader with pimples, which made the school year difficult. I felt like an outsider. I was told it was a part of puberty, but no one else in my class was lucky enough to develop acne as early as I did. No one else knew what I was going through. I felt ugly and alone in my struggles. I would wish that the rest of the class had pimples too so they knew how I felt.
I had a difficult time making friends. I had a best friend in second grade, but she ended up moving to a different school. I made a new best friend in third grade, but she tragically passed away when we were nine. After that, I spent most recesses with imaginary friends or with the younger kids. I didn’t feel completely accepted by the other kids.
Middle School Awkwardness. To add to the awkwardness, when I got to middle school, my hair started to get very curly. Not having a clue how to take care of curly hair, I brushed it out like I had normally done up until then. The result was a huge, frizzy mess. I didn’t have any knowledge about hair products, so I would end up going to the bathroom in between classes and using water to tame it. That made it worse. My hair was a huge source of bullying in middle school. I had a group of girls tell me repeatedly that I should shave my head. Every once in a while, someone would throw a wad of gum in my hair, or I would go home and find staples in my hair. Once, in art class, it was a baseball-sized wad of clay.
To top it all off, my acne never got better. Instead, it got worse. I heard the term “pizza-face” a few times. I started seeing a dermatologist. We tried cutting caffeine and a few topical ointments at first. They didn’t help. So I was put on Tetracycline, which made me sick to my stomach. After that, I was put on minocycline, which gave me drug-induced-lupus, and I was out of school for a month. Then I was put on ortho-tricycline, which may have helped slightly, but I still had a full face of acne.
High School Blues and Overeating. I thought high school would be better, but it wasn’t. In my freshman year I went to an arts school for theatre, and a friend of mine was bullied pretty badly and decided to move to a different school. My other best friend ended up moving away. Although I enjoyed theatre, it was harder at this school than it had been before. I made B’s and C’s in Acting class, which to me meant that I sucked at acting. I didn’t think the teachers liked me. I made the decision to move to my zoned high school since my two best friends were leaving, and I didn’t feel I belonged at the arts school. I felt I wasn’t good enough to stay. I was a crappy actress and a bad student.
The first day of sophomore year was terrible. I didn’t know a single person in my new school. I spent lunch time just wandering around trying to figure out where I should sit, if I should sit, and ended up sitting in the bathroom stall trying not to cry. I had learned to distance myself then. I felt awkward and ugly, and kept to myself. I had finally discovered hair gel, but it didn’t help much since I didn’t know how to style it. My acne still dominated my face. I was completely insecure and thought little of myself, and started to turn to food more for comfort, and the weight started piling on.
I would get home from school before anyone else got home, and make myself tons of food. I sneaked my dad’s Swiss cake rolls. I would pop 2 full bags of popcorn with a cup of melted butter and eat it on my own. I would cook up a pan of Bisquick and sausage and eat a few sausage biscuits. Whatever there was in my house that I could get my hands on, I would eat in secret. We had fundraisers in drama club where we would take a bag full of chips and candy around school to sell, and I would end up eating the whole bag and owing myself $20. Most of the time I ate in secret, because I was ashamed of all the junk I was eating.
I wasn’t a little kid anymore, and I avoided all physical activity like the plague, so I couldn’t just eat anything without having consequences. I started gaining weight. I didn’t think I was overweight most of the time. I saw pictures but was convinced the “the camera adds ten pounds.” I was aching and tired all the time. I couldn’t sleep at night or concentrate in classes. My grades starting slipping, and I had a really hard time staying awake in classes. I had to see a dietitian because my blood-work showed that my cholesterol was extremely high, way too high for a girl my age. I had terrible aches and pains and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at 14, which I was told was the source of my pain and depression. I withdrew even more.
It was then that I first started seeing a psychologist, and then, a psychiatrist. I was put on an anti-depressant and a sleeping pill. My eating stayed the same. Although I was sleeping at night, I was still falling asleep in classes. My grades kept on a downward slope. I had parent-teacher conferences and had to get weekly progress reports signed. I had no energy and no motivation.
A few times I tried to become active, but nothing stuck. I went to one practice with the swim team and quit right afterwards because I was so out of breath through laps that I wanted to throw up. I tried flag football, but made an excuse about having a bad back after I was put through the fitness drills they did in practice, and became the videographer instead. Exercise was just too hard to do, and I had no faith in myself that I could do anything physical.
I would see the other girls around school and get jealous. They were skinny, pretty, happy, had boyfriends, and everyone liked them. They got asked to all the dances, invited to all the parties, and people paid attention to them. I was the girl in the back of the classroom that no one noticed falling asleep, that never spoke unless spoken to. The girl in the corner always wearing an over-sized jacket wishing she was pretty and little. I ate lunch with the drama club at times, but my insecurities always made me feel like they probably didn’t really want me there, so I started spending lunchtime in the library when it was open.
I graduated high school feeling very insecure and low about myself. When I finally got my graduation photos and realized how much weight I had gained, I was repulsed. My acne had never improved. I was nowhere near making the honor-roll. I felt fat, ugly, dumb and insignificant.
First attempt at Dieting. A couple of years later in college, when I was 19, I decided I needed to take control of my weight and my eating habits, so I started a food diary and attempted to start running. It was hard, and I could barely jog a tenth of a mile without having to slow down to a walk. But I kept with it, and kept logging my food intake, making sure it was getting lower. It felt good when my food diary started getting smaller and smaller.
First time Purging. I didn’t realize then I was barely eating 500 calories a day, I thought I was eating healthy. Eating less is what you need to do to lose weight, right? But I was starving. After a few days of eating so little, I ended up bingeing on everything in sight.
It made me feel horrible. I felt like a failure. I had just gone through all that hard work, and then I screwed it up.
At this point, I remembered that a friend in middle school had told me about a method that models used to stay skinny…they would make themselves throw up. I had done this a couple of times in the past, mostly to play hooky at school. So I tried it again.
I made a promise to stick to my strict eating and not have to throw up again. But I would always end up feeling hungry from the lack of food, and would end up bingeing, and then purging.
The Bulimia Cycle begins. I kept cutting calories down more and stuck with running for exercise and started to see weight changes. I developed a pattern where I would purge if I ate over a certain amount of food every day, just to discipline myself. But soon the binges came more frequently and violently, and before I knew it I was bingeing and purging every day.
I was drawn into the vicious cycle of bingeing and purging, always thinking that the next day I would start anew and eat strict…only to fail and end up bingeing and purging again. My binges were terrible. I would go through two drive-thru’s then go to the grocery store and grab all of the packaged Little Debbie’s and chocolate bars, and eat it all before purging. My bank account started to go into the red from all the money I was wasting on food.
Along with this I started compulsively exercising, staying up until the middle of the night doing thousands of crunches and attempting to run on the treadmill. When people noticed and commended me for dropping weight, I was elated. But to me the mirror showed me no difference, so the cycle continued.
My life revolved around obsessing over my weight and food. I felt I had control over my eating and my weight at first, but I was losing control. The disease was controlling me. I wanted to stop, and do it the healthy way, but I was so obsessed and caught up in the cycle. Nothing was ever good enough. No weight I reached was ever low enough. I felt like I had to keep going. I was afraid to stop, because I would gain all that weight back. It became my identity.
I looked in the mirror and saw the same person I was in high school. I couldn’t see the weight loss. I had always hated the skinny girls in high school that would complain “Oh I’m so fat!” But then I was that skinny girl. My perception was distorted and all I saw in the mirror was a fat girl.
Getting Attention. With the weight loss, I was starting to get attention that I had never received before. It was nice to have people notice me and compliment me. I fed off of this, and it encouraged me to keep going the way that I was. In high school, I was the goody-goody, quiet, reserved girl that didn’t talk to people, didn’t have friends, never went out and was never given second glances. Now that I was getting that attention, I used it. I soaked it in. I measured my self worth by the people that liked me, the guys that I attracted. I started a downward spiral of drinking, partying, and basically experiencing all the things that I “missed out on” in high school. None of it made me feel any better about myself. I became the drunk girl at the parties that people took advantage of. I felt horrible about myself. I was destructive, manipulative and histrionic. I was still empty and depressed. I was still never good enough. I couldn’t stop.
First Stay in Treatment. My parents noticed my eating behaviors and confronted me, and after a few doctor’s appointments and trips to my counselor, the decision was made that I would fly out to California to spend 30 days in a treatment facility for eating disorders.
I was scared when I arrived, but quickly fell into the pattern, and started to love my time there. I never had to decide what to eat, or plan my food, it was all placed in front of me to eat. I was surrounded by 30 other individuals who knew exactly how I felt and what I was going through. But even in treatment, I didn’t feel good enough. I felt like everyone there was thinner than me and deserved to be there, and I that I didn’t. Some of these people had horrible things happen to them. I didn’t. I was spoiled and had a great home-life and a wonderful family, so what right did I have to be there? What right did I have to feel the way that I did?
I went through the program and did well, but was discharged for drinking when I was in partial. My normal therapist was on vacation, so the acting therapist made the decision to let me go.
Relapsing. When I returned home I started out doing well and applying the tools that I learned in treatment to my everyday life. But it was hard. I slipped a few times. I was still insecure. And after two failed relationships (that only lasted a month each), I felt horrible about myself and resorted back to old habits.
This time, it was worse. I barely ate anything during the week, then would binge on the weekends. I stayed up until 3am doing crunches and woke up early to do more. I lived off of a diet that consisted mostly of caffeine pills, coffee, sugar-free Red-Bulls, cigarettes, water pills, and alcohol. I lost more weight, but was still never thin enough.
My hair started falling out. My heart was always racing. I was constantly dehydrated. I couldn’t sleep at night, and was tired all the time, even with all of the caffeine. I bruised easily and had excruciating leg cramps at night. I had to take the elevator a few times at school because I felt winded and faint walking up the stairs, and fainted once on the landing. I was malnourished. I was always lightheaded. My throat was always sore. I got sick frequently. My brain was constantly foggy and I had a difficult time concentrating. My nails were brittle and broken. My teeth had cavities. My digestive system was always in turmoil. My mood was terrible. I had awful headaches. I was constantly depressed, and felt so low about myself.
Yet I was still obsessed. I began to love the feeling of my stomach rumbling, and saw that as an accomplishment. I got good at hiding things, and lying to others. Who said I was a bad actor? I didn’t need to use my fingers to purge, and I could do it quietly. It became an automatic reaction in my body to reject food. I hid food containers and wrappers under my bed. I kept extra trash bags in my room for purging, and a bottle of wine for sleeping. I had gotten below what was originally my goal weight, but it still wasn’t good enough.
Second stay in Treatment. I was walking to class one day and felt faint and lightheaded, and realized just how unhealthy I was. I knew that if I kept on this path, I would feel even worse, and my body and heart would eventually start to fail. I didn’t want to die of this. This disorder has taken lives from many people, and I knew some of them. I didn’t want that to be me. So I approached my parents, and we made the decision that I would go back to treatment. A year after I was initially discharged, I was readmitted.
This time around it was harder and I had to deal with all of the negative thoughts about myself. I was inpatient for two months, then put into partial treatment. Then, after a phone conversation I had with my then boyfriend (whom I had met in treatment), I was put back inpatient after stealing a few of my roommates prescription pills and taking them, along with a few of mine, which made me sick and bedridden for 3 days. It was the worst I have ever felt. My head hurt terribly, I couldn’t keep anything down, and I didn’t even have enough strength to get up to use the restroom. But while I was in that hospital bed, I realized how much I didn’t want to be there, and that instead of thinking that I wasn’t good enough and didn’t deserve all of the people that loved and supported me, I should be thinking the opposite. These people loved me and supported me no matter what, and I should think of it as a blessing. God loved me so much that he put those people in my life to show me, and they were there even when I was destructive and manipulative. They loved me despite my failures. I started counting my blessings instead of counting my failures.
It was difficult, and I was inpatient another month until I was finally discharged, but I was ready to begin a new life.
Using my Relationship to mask my Problems. For 5 years, I stayed in that relationship with the patient I met in treatment. We both thought that since we had met each other in treatment and saw each other at our lowest that we had already accepted each other, and the relationship was meant to be. He was a good guy and the relationship did bring out a lot of good things, but there’s more to a relationship that just seeing each other at their worst. Our personalities clashed, and we weren’t right for each other. We were mostly long-distance for a couple of years and everything was fine, but once we started living together we somehow brought out the worst in each other. I was still insecure and disordered, and didn’t realize that I had swapped addictions. While I was co-dependent before on my eating disorder behaviors, I was now co-dependent upon my relationship. I had myself convinced that I was content with my life and happy with where I was. But I was still restricting, and bingeing and purging occasionally. Home became an uneasy environment towards the end of the relationship, and it wasn’t until we separated and eventually split that I realized that I hadn’t dealt with the issues I had, or allowed myself to feel. For a month after the relationship ended, I was alone. I cut off my social media accounts and just kept to myself to deal with all the emotions that I had bottled up over the years. The volcano erupted. I allowed myself to cry about everything and to recognize my feelings.
I allowed myself to feel. And in a way, I think I just really needed that release. Denying myself those feelings and keeping them swept under the rug just made everything worse. I started journaling to help myself recognize my feelings so I could effectively deal with them. I realized that feeling certain things wasn’t bad, it was what I decided to do with those feelings. I needed to feel them and to deal with them. Then, I could move on.
Enter Running. I decided I wanted to put my health first, before anything else. Before my weight, before my relationships. I started out by wanting to increase my physical activity. I always hated exercise, but knew it would make me feel better. So I set a goal for myself that I thought impossible, just to prove to myself that I could do whatever I stuck to and set my mind to…to start running, and run a 5K without stopping. To me this was almost impossible because I hated running more than anything, with a passion. I had a hard time running without stopping, and only ran a mile without stopping twice before.
So I started the Couch-to-5K program. It was very difficult at first, but I kept with it, and felt accomplished after every run. I started my first blog to document my progress and keep me accountable. I realized that if I wanted to run for longer distances that I needed to fuel my body correctly. So I began to research nutrition for runner’s and athletes, and enjoyed it. I loved learning about nutrition and how to properly fuel my body with the right things. I started to become passionate about health and nutrition, and in taking back my health.
I started to gain weight at first, since my body was not used to eating for fuel. When your body does not get the fuel it needs from food sources, it is a natural response for it to store fat for energy, since it doesn’t know when you are going to eat again. One of the best places for it to store that fat is in the abdomen. This was why even when I was anorexic and at my lowest weight I still always had a belly. It was rough at first, but in those tough times I would remember how horrible I felt before and how I never wanted to go back to feeling that way. I knew that if I stuck with the healthy path that my metabolism would level out eventually. And once I started eating the amount that my body needed and my body realized that I was feeding it on a normal schedule, my metabolism normalized and my weight stabilized.
I finished the c25K program and ran a few 5K’s and felt awesome.
I started to actually care about my health and well-being. I wanted to be the healthiest version of me. Becoming healthier changed me both inside and out. My body improved not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I didn’t really care about my health in the past. I ate food for comfort, and I didn’t realize that all of the junk I was eating was contributing to my insomnia, depression, anxiety, energy levels, aches and pains. I was told my cholesterol was too high at 13 years old and could lead to me having a stroke in my twenties, but that didn’t really sink in, and I continued eating the way I had. Then in college I cared more about the number on the scale than what I was doing to my body. I just didn’t care enough about my health. I looked to medicine and pills to solve all of my problems, and never once thought that improving my diet and exercise would make any difference. But I found that eating healthy foods gave me better sleep, more energy, and less pain. Becoming more active improved my mood. Exercise is a natural stress-reliever! Being healthy made me happy. I had more energy and was more alert. I started sleeping better. I started to look forward to exercising and choosing healthy foods. I started to feel better about myself, and learned to enjoy life. And I met my husband during this phase of my life. 🙂
Enter Paleo. In researching nutrition, I found out about paleo, and decided to start a 30-day paleo challenge. At the end of those 30 days, I felt amazing! A lot of my digestive issues decreased and my gut felt better. My face cleared up. I had even more energy and better sleep. I went from a 30 day challenge to making it the basis of my lifestyle. It made me excited to be eating healthy. I began cooking more and found that I really enjoyed it, and started experimenting more and coming up with my own recipes. I started this blog to share them. It made me feel great to be eating whole foods.
Enter Crossfit. Crossfit further improved my relationship with food. When I started crossfit, I mainly wanted to improve myself aesthetically. I mean, have you seen some crossfitters? But once I started, my goals shifted. I did a few workouts, and they were hard! I was using just the bar, and I would see others in class adding more weight, and it inspired me to get stronger. I wanted to finish a workout, and to add more weight to the bar. But you need fuel in order to do that. I knew that if I wanted to get stronger and put “RX” next to my score on a workout, that I needed to increase my intake.
And when I did, the opposite of what I thought would happen happened. I gained strength and lost body fat. Crossfit helped me to really see food as fuel and not the enemy. I started to care more about the weight on the bar than the weight on the scale. I stopped fearing carbs. I might not be the best crossfitter, but I really love doing it, and it helps me feel so much better about myself. I may not finish first, but I feel accomplished just for finishing in general most days! And it’s kind of a therapy for me. Whenever I feel angry, frustrated or down about something, I channel it into my workout and push through it. “Sweat it out” in a way. In the end, I always feel better.
I learned to accept my imperfections. I am not perfect, but I have learned to embrace that fact. If I were perfect, then I would not have any goals, any drive, or any reason to work hard. I love that I am not perfect. I love the fact that I worked hard to get to where I am. How boring would my life be if it was perfect and I never had to work towards anything? I know that not every day will be a good day, but bad days are okay. They help me to appreciate the good more. My recovery hasn’t always been roses and butterflies, but I have learned and grown through it all, and learned to love myself despite my weaknesses.
When I look back, a lot of my problems I brought upon myself. I had a great home life. I had a hard time in school growing up, but I was the one who chose to feel sad. I could have just blown it off. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I really believe that, and once I realized that it was up to me to choose happiness, my life changed. I stopped making those negative/positive lists and just started listing the positives. Counting my blessings instead of what I thought were my failures. I am more than those failures. There is a song by Tenth Avenue North, “You Are More” that I love. The chorus always speaks to me:
You’ve been remade.
In a nutshell, the things that really helped me embrace recovery were setting goals, becoming active, Caring about my health, eating whole foods, putting my health first, learning to see food as fuel, counting my blessings, accepting my imperfections, and choosing happiness. Recovery won’t always be easy, but it is beautiful and worth it.