I am really excited to post this, because it means a lot to me. This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and I want to do something in honour of it. So I’m going to be posting a few posts this week on how I dealt with my eating issues and hopefully sharing some resources for people who are struggling, know someone who might be, or who just want to learn more. I blogged a lot about this stuff at my old blog, where I had a page dedicated to Finding Healthy (posts that had to do with my recovery). This blog is more about my Recovered. life but I still know that eating, something we have to do every day, can be an issue for so many of us. I also know that talking, writing, reading, and working through these things is the only way that I was able to get better.
To start, I’m going to just give a brief rundown of my story…
For the longest time, I was a “fat kid”. I can remember being nine years old and wanting to lose weight. Ever spring saw me looking forward to a summer where I would finally lose the weight. It seems ridiculous–fourth graders wanting to lose weight and understanding dieting and thinking that being skinny will bring them happiness exist and I’m proof of that–because it is. What society is okay that sets kids up to feel this way? I had a good childhood–my parents gave me all the opportunities in the world and never discussed my weight. That being said, kids are cruel (“I think you need some Slim Fast.” stands out as a cruel insult that I’ll never forget from a boy I had a crush on).
I am fairly certain what I thought of as a big issue only became an issue because I made it that way. Sure, when I was a chubby kid and I was eating plain butter (“Cheryl, put down the butter!”) and drinking “shots” of cream (the creamers my mom didn’t use for her coffee), I might have been taking in a bit extra, but I really think I’d have lost the “baby fat” naturally if I’d just let it happen, but with the idea that I needed to be thin and to lose the weight came restriction and with that restriction came bingeing. As early as elementary school, I can remember coming home and eating bags of chips while I waited for my mom to get home from work. High school saw my issues getting worse–I remember my first binge and attempt at purging. I started wrestling and learned how to restrict and basically starve myself to make weight, and then it was normal to overindulge after, which only made my bingeing tendencies more of an issue. When I lost weight in high school, it was thanks to a whole lot of restriction and emotional issues. Hearing how great I looked was fuel for the fire and I kept losing and losing and working out more and more.
When I realized I had an issue–largely because I stopped getting my periods, started getting serious migraines, was depressed, and had a bone density scan come back showing osteopenia–I sought recovery. I came a long way then, with the help of a dietitian, counsellors, doctors, antidepressants, and my family, but when I went away to Hawaii the summer after high school, I slipped. I gained about 40 pounds that summer/fall (when I went away to university) and I also became bulimic. I was at one of my heaviest weights at this point, but no one thought I was unhealthy and I really thought I was “too fat” to have an eating disorder. I was exercising for hours (often twice a day, with teaching fitness classes as kind of an excuse for such extremes), bingeing and purging, and I was miserable. I stopped taking the antidepressants without any doctor’s guidance–a silly mistake a lot of people make–and the depression came right back.
This is the part of the story that a lot of people don’t know about/that is kind of unexpected. I had good grades that year, despite all my issues, but I dropped out of Western in the middle of my second semester of first year and enrolled in college at home. I lasted about two days at the college before I realized I’d made a mistake. I went through a heck of a process to get back to Western, spent a few months commuting the hour drive, and then found myself an apartment here and moved back. I was grateful to be back, but I still wasn’t happy and I was still depressed and struggling with my eating issues. I finally, with the hopes of losing weight, made an appointment to go to the dietician (it’s free for students). I didn’t tell her about my binges or my habits, but just went in under the premise of wanting to lose weight. She was obviously on to me, but didn’t press me too hard. Having a set meal plan made me realize I was under eating and then bingeing as a natural result of being stressed and underfed. I opened up to her after a few appointments and I started the work of dealing with my bingeing and purging. There was a lot of hard nights, where I’d sit with the binges. There were hard days, where I’d try to take a day off but almost always give in. I consider this point the time where I “managed” my issues but didn’t deal with where they were coming from. For the next year or so, I got by. I wasn’t thriving, but I wasn’t in the depths of the eating disorder.
Skip ahead to JAnuary of my third year. I decided once and for all, after some pictures where I thought I looked “puffy” to lose weight. I joined Jillian Michaels’ online training program, started working out twice a day again, and started to limit my carb intake at night. I thought I was eating healthier, and for a while I was. It was motivating to see the weight I’d been carrying around for so long falling off at a steady pace. I rewarded myself in 10 pound increments with things like pedicures, new shoes, jewelry, etc. I decided to come back to Western the next year as a nutrition student because I really got excited about eating healthier foods in moderation. But then I got to a point where my weight loss stalled. I was really lonely (my family lives far away and I used it as an excuse to isolate myself) and I started to restrict more and more. I don’t want to go into details, but I was scared of carbs and fat and I lied to the dietitian about my portion sizes. During all this time, I still didn’t get my period and I was still exercising quite a bit. The summer after my third year saw so many compliments about my weight loss/transformation and I had fun teaching bootcamp, doing yoga, and biking my butt off (literally). I came back in the fall 10 pounds below my original “goal weight” at the “ideal weight” for my height (BMI), but “ideal weight” is a crock of shit (pardon my french).
After a few months in the food and nutrition program, I realized I was sick. I realized that the tallies of calories on the side of my notes and the planning of my meals days in advance (tuna or chicken? oatmeal or cereal?) was unhealthy, so I went back to the dietitian. I opened up about what was going on. I dropped out of the nutrition courses I could and finished organic chemistry and the two half credits I had left in the semester. I switched back into kinesiology, terrified of food. I started to volunteer at The Gazette to fill my spare time and realized there was a world outside of weight loss. I still struggled with some habits, had ED thoughts, and used exercise compulsively, but I was en route to recovered. I saw a counsellor on a weekly basis, started going to support groups, and read as many books about Eating Disorders as I possibly could (I can’t wait to share a list of these with you guys–books made a huge difference for me). A year after setting a ton of weight loss resolutions, I set a ton of recovery resolutions instead. And the year was not an easy one, but it was an amazing one. I learned a lot about myself, I started to see working out as training (my first season of triathlon was changing for me), and I started to gain weight in a healthy, slow manner. I had struggles along the way, but who doesn’t?
That brought me to this year and where I consider myself recovered. There was a lot of learning along the way–lots by mistakes, and lots by realizing what felt right and what felt wrong. I erred on the side of overindulging, on the side of overexercising, etc. BUT it was only by doing that I could learn! I stay accountable to my dietitian and I sometimes go to support group if I’m feeling like I could use some love. I can take rest days, rest weeks, and I can eat junk food or leave it. I’m learning that it’s okay to want to eat healthy, we need to focus on eating real food in healthy ways, we need to exercise because it feels good, and I get it now that if you want to be happy, you will be.
I could never have gotten better if it wasn’t for the support of the people in my life. Friends, family, professionals, strangers… I couldn’t have gotten better if it wasn’t for me, wanting to. That’s what is key. You can have all the support in the world and not get better. You can have little support and get better. It’s up to you. Not to be dramatic, but an eating disorder will kill you. If it doesn’t kill you, it’s going to make your life miserable. Being semi-recovered is part of the process, but it’s not okay to half ass it for the long term. You deserve to be better, all the way better.
I realize this just turned into a novel/diary entry that I really didn’t think it would, but this is important. If it helps anyone realize that recovery takes a long time but is worth it, and you have to really commit–then I did something amazing and it was worth not doing my readings at the library for. 😉
So, what’s next for me? I want to help people who struggle–be it through writing, volunteering, talking to people, teaching fitness classes with health as the priority, or just by living as an example. As much as I was convinced nutrition wasn’t the right place for me in school, I’m coming to realize that the only way out is through and it was only by actually paying attention to food and letting myself focus on it in a healthy way that I could get better. You’re going to eat every day for the rest of your life — being scared of food is never going to make for a happy existence.
This is where I make a sort of announcement that I’ve been hesitant to make (for fear of someone<–who, I don’t know–saying I don’t deserve to be a dietitian or I am not healthy enough to take foods and nutrition): I am coming back to Western this fall to take Foods and Nutrition at Brescia…I am an RD to be! I stole that uber cute phrase from Meg!
Do I regret taking a year to “find myself” and ending up back where I was last fall, in that same program? HELL NO. Not only am I going to come out with a kin degree and a foods and nutrition degree (sports dietician, anyone?), but I appreciate that life is about the process and we learn from our experiences. I just had a bit more time to become, well, awesome. I was in the program for the wrong reasons then — obsession — and I left for legitimate reasons at the time, but I’m ready to get back into it to learn about food with a new appreciation for it, new goals (changing the world to eat in a more conscious way, perhaps?), and new insight (recovery teaches you more than you could possibly know). I am beyond excited for summer school (never thought I’d say that) and for the next year and a half of courses, and I cannot wait to blog about the experience the whole way through (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kath)!
Do you have a recovery story to share (link up!)?
Do you like to look back on how far you’ve come?
What do you think about a second degree?