Since I was small, I can remember many of the women in my life being cruel to the reflection they found in the mirror. I remember comments such as,
“My thighs are so big. They jiggle when I walk.”
“I need to cut out sugar. My stomach isn’t flat.”
“I need to lose weight.”
“I feel huge.”
“This food is so unhealthy. I am being so bad right now.”
I can remember them talking about diet after diet, fasting, and excessive exercising.
So when I was growing up I often looked at these women and began to ask questions about my appearance when I looked in the mirror. I thought, “My thighs are bigger than theirs. My thighs jiggle when I walk. My stomach isn’t flat. I’m bigger. I must really be huge. I need to be smaller. I need to lose weight. I eat so much unhealthy food. Bad food. I’m bad.”
I can remember vividly the first time I thought, “I’m bigger than all of my friends. I need to be smaller.” I was sitting outside at recess in the 5th grade, underneath a blue awning over a line of bus stops. As one of the tallest in my grade, the first to hit a growth spurt, most of my friends were much smaller than me. We were all sitting around talking and I can remember the thought popping into my head. A little shame and embarrassment accompanied it. I wanted to be small like they were. I should be girly and petite and well- put together like them. I was very active with soccer, tumbling, bike riding, and playing outdoors. I was a tomboy who would wear my soccer jerseys to school. I was not by any means unhealthy. However, boys told me they didn’t like me because I was too big. I was taller than most of them. I felt awkward and different and uncomfortable in my skin as most adolescent girls do.
Only 11 years old, at a friend’s sleepover, I ate more pizza and junk food than the other tiny girls around me. I was so ashamed that I went to the bathroom to force it back up. It was awful and I told myself I wouldn’t ever try it again. I cried to Nicole that night as I told her about it and how I hated the way I looked.
I felt like there was something wrong with me since I was so much bigger. My friends could eat whatever they wanted and stay small, but I couldn’t. I didn’t even see my actions or thoughts as unhealthy.
This is how my brain made sense of the world around me. I don’t look like my tiny friends. I hear the comments made by media and other women in my life. I needed to work to look the right way and be accepted and that’s just how it is for me. I have to earn it. I’m not skinny enough. I don’t eat healthy enough. I always eat too much. Boys like the girls who are small and pretty and cute. I’m not good enough. I’m not enough.
These thoughts about myself and my body have preoccupied my mind since middle school, honestly even earlier. And unfortunately, I continued to view all experiences through this lens of shame as I grew up, as most women do. With everything that I experienced, my lens of shame and “not enough” made my experiences reinforce these beliefs. They continued to get stronger, become louder.
Throughout junior high and high school, I leaned more and more into controlling food and my body as a coping mechanism. At the beginning of freshman year, I quit soccer, cross country, and art class to solely focus on band. I wasn’t moving much at all and I was eating my feelings and my stress. I wasn’t compensating for any of the extra food in any way. And I was practicing non-stop so I could place well in All-State auditions.
Food was comfort and safety. It was my dad bringing me a Dairy Queen starkiss every Wednesday to school lunch for years. It was baking with my grandma, eating her gumbo for every meal. Food was my stepmom and I trying new recipes to make cake pops, ice cream, and cookies. My dad making me pancakes in different shapes in the morning, my mom and I eating an entire large bucket of popcorn at the movies for dinner and having dates at our favorite Thai restaurant. All my memories of cooking and baking and food were happy, safe and peaceful. They brought connection and family. When I think of baking and sweets I think of my sweet Maw Maw who made every single dish with love for her family. So with anything that I was struggling with, i turned to safety and comfort and love – in food.
I started trying to lose all the weight I had gained by going to the gym in town where my mom and I had memberships. I started skipping breakfasts and lunches my junior year during an unhealthy relationship with my first boyfriend. He was a teenage boy who is naturally obsessed with the physical parts of a relationship. Even though I told him I wanted to wait until marriage to have sex, he still pushed and pushed. He didn’t treat me very kindly and it often lead to seeking my worth in external things like in my body and my weight. He obsessed over my body, so I started to too.
I would go over to his house for dinner and tell him that I was on an “ice only diet” so he wouldn’t bring me food. I was also beginning to feel a lot of stress at home since my oldest brother moved back in with my mom. He was going through a lot and unfortunately coped with anger, aggression, drugs, and alcohol. This, along with the usual stresses of divorced parents who don’t get along, could feel very out of control sometimes. So I often subconsciously looked for other mechanisms of control and comfort.
I began obsessively working out every morning at 5am before school and counting calories throughout senior year. I remember watching entire movies on Netflix while on the treadmill. I can remember coming home one day and telling my mom I watched the entire Tarzan movie that morning while running. I got a personal trainer and he helped me learn more about weight lifting. But sometimes I’d have to sit down and breathe because I was so dizzy, a result of skipping breakfast before our sessions. He always told me it was best if I ate a little breakfast before training, but I didn’t listen.
I lost weight, while the behaviors and diets stayed pretty manageable. They are unfortunately normalized in today’s society. I just saw my actions as being really “healthy.” My parents saw my actions as healthy and getting into shape, nothing to be worried about. Everyone complimented my weight loss and “healthier” lifestyle. I would obsessively check my stomach in the mirror over and over to make sure it was flat. I would constantly show my friend’s my stomach when I was with them to show them it was flat and I was “getting abs.” I took tons of photos of myself in the mirror to compare my weight loss and make sure I didn’t look as fat as I felt. Even on vacations, my mom and I found a YMCA that we could work out at before going to the beach every day. I was so obsessed with my body and being healthy, good, and taking up as little space as possible.
After I graduated high school, I was in the best shape I’d ever been in, but the stress began to pile up, as it does for new freshman in college. I found out quickly that my original major wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I quickly changed. It was more difficult to balance school, concert band, private lessons, marching band, a boyfriend, and friends. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Society’s timeline deadlines for my life felt heavy.
I continued to work out on campus and applied for a job at the recreation center so it would motivate me to work out more. I decided to get braces after Christmas because one of my front teeth slightly overlapped the other. This action was to make myself look better, but it was an enormous blow to my already low self-esteem.
My grandpa passed away and it was the first time I had lost anyone in my life. All of my life I have had all four grandparents, all my best friends went with me to college, my parents were only a two hour drive away. I didn’t know how to deal with losing someone.
My boyfriend of two years and I broke up the week after finals in the spring. I stayed in Fayetteville over the summer to work. I wanted to avoid moving back and forth from mom’s to dad’s all summer. I decided to take a full semester of summer classes to try and get ahead in school and stay busy.
I was on my own a lot because none of my high school friends stayed over the summer. I got a personal trainer again and started training for my first half marathon to keep me healthy. I worked like crazy. Around this time is when binge eating started to spiral again, worse than it was before.
I had to ask my parents to stop putting Oreos in my care packages because I’d sit down and eat the entire package in 10 minutes. Dunkin Donuts was directly behind my apartment so I’d get donuts and sugary coffee every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I became a regular at chick-fil-a because I had no idea how to cook. I would feel myself gaining weight so I’d run and workout to try and compensate for the junk. I remember sitting in my apartment that summer and googling “Why can’t I stop eating?” This is when I first learned that binge eating exists and it is considered an eating disorder. This kind of blew my mind. Do I have an eating disorder..? No, I couldn’t. I am an average size, if not over weight. I don’t look or act like I have an eating disorder.
However, it was manageable. I still passed my classes, made friends, and moved up at work. I had fun with friends and I worked as hard as I could. I never really thought I had a problem.
The fall of sophomore year I ran my first half marathon in October. I crossed the finish line with intense pain, later finding out I fractured one of my metatarsals and had to wear a walking boot for six weeks. I had overtrained, running two double digit long runs the two Saturdays before the race. The lack of sleep and proper nutrition most likely contributed to this as well.
Sophomore year continued and I had to sit out during band rehearsals because of my foot. I couldn’t work out and I was embarrassed to go anywhere in my boot.
I was limping to class in a huge boot. I was trying not to smile too much so people wouldn’t see my braces. I had bags under my eyes from the many all nighters of studying. I was still failing exams. Like I said, my self esteem was nonexistent. And the bingeing went on and it increased. But now with a lack of compensation for the extra calories.
Spring semester began and I got my braces off. I felt prettier with straighter teeth. I signed up for another half marathon. I decided I was going to lose all of this weight. I thought I may be pretty enough for boys to maybe be interested in me. I tracked my calories again, trained with a friend who is much faster than me, and lost a little of the weight.
This is where my story begins to intertwine with my first three posts, part I, II, and III.
I wasn’t sleeping, ate very little, started taking diet pills, and my friends Adderall to study all night. I trained for my half marathon, using the leftover high from the adderall to fuel my runs. I ran the half marathon, cutting almost 30 minutes off of my previous time.
I was raped by one of my friends. I got a rejection letter to nursing school, having no idea what I was doing with my life. Someone ran into the side of my car and was refusing to pay for the huge damages, while also verbally harassing me. It wasn’t long before it all caught up to me.
I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt exhausted every second of the day. I felt nauseous and went a couple weeks where I ate practically nothing at all. My roommate told me she was worried about me because every time she would come into our room, I was sleeping, through the day and through my classes. I went to the health clinic and they diagnosed me with mono because my labs looked off, even though the mono test was negative. Looking back now, I would have diagnosed myself with depression and an eating disorder much, much earlier.
I signed up for my first full marathon to force myself to get out of bed and run and lose all the weight I had gained once again. This helped a lot up until my birthday when I was sexually assaulted by one of my best friends when I turned 21.
The bingeing picked back up and I ran my first full marathon almost up to my heaviest weight, not taking care of myself, and it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done.
I was taking Sports Nutrition because I was obsessed with food and how I could figure out how to “control” myself. I remember when we were studying a chapter about eating disorders. I was reading my chapter, sitting at the desk of the Service Center at the recreation center I worked at. I was on shift and it was in the later afternoon. Kristin walked out of the office door and was about to go home. She came over and asked me how I was. She’s always had this ability to look at me and know I wasn’t okay. I started crying and didn’t say much. I don’t remember what reasoning I told her. I remember my Sports Nutrition text book sitting open on the desk, visible to her. I was secretly begging that she would see it. That anyone would see it. And that someone would personally tell me I have an eating disorder. Because I just couldn’t make myself believe it. She didn’t see it. No one noticed. I read the paragraphs over and over, learning that those who suffer with bulimia can be average weight to normal size. I learned that excessive exercise can be a form of purging calories and compensating for binges. but again, No. This isn’t that bad.
The following spring of my junior year, I signed up for three more half marathons. I was determined to lose weight, run faster, and eat healthier again. I started counting all my calories and I posted old pictures of me when I was smaller all over my room to keep me motivated. I would wake up at 4:30 to get to the gym early, I would eat only healthy foods, and I would make sure I’d go to bed at 8pm so I wouldn’t eat anything late at night. I was certified to be a cycle instructor and started to teach multiple classes a day plus running and working out and training.
Both my grandma’s passed away within two months. The last memories I have of visiting my Maw Maw, she was just put into hospice on New Year’s Eve. She was so sick and didn’t have much longer left, yet I was spending the entire few days calculating calories so that I could eat the pizelles my aunt made. I found a gym in Baton Rouge to go work out at for multiple hours a day. I remember kissing her on the head as I was walking out the door to go to the gym. I wish that I could go back and just sit with her and hold her hand and listen to her giggling at me for asking her to move in with me in Fayetteville.
Around this time I brought Beau home and he came into my life at the perfect time. I loved him so much more and more each day and poured all my energy into playing with him and taking him everywhere I could. I got very obsessed with him and less obsessed with my weight for a few months.
I didn’t know how to deal with my grandmas passing away, with the stress, with the sexual assaults. I avoided and I numbed out and I stuffed everything down with food. I focused on working and having Beau.
I trained hard for my second full marathon. I did the Whole30 and got so obsessed with eating clean and healthy and not eating sugar. The 30 days ended and I was so scared to end the Whole30 and go back to binge eating that I stayed on it for an extra week. Then it ended on my birthday weekend and bingeing got out of control again. I’d purge all the extra calories with huge long runs and teaching cycle classes and counting my calories.
I can remember walking around the indoor track during one of my manager shifts at the Rec. I had googled and found the name of a dietician that helps with eating disorders and with runners. I planned how I would ask my dad if he could help me with paying for a couple appointments so I could improve my diet for running purposes. But I really just saw the words about specializing in eating disorders. This is what I truly wanted help with.
I took an 8 week public health elective called Complementary Wellness Strategies. During one of these classes, the campus nutritionist came to speak to our class about nutrition and eating disorders. I loitered around after class until I was the last one left in the room. She smiled at me and I started crying. We sat down and talked for about 20 minutes, me explaining how I do so many of the things that she described in class.
She agreed and asked me to make an appointment with her. I felt so completely out of control of my food and exercise. I canceled the appointment right before my full marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma in November. I kept rescheduling and it kept getting worse. I was scared to get help but also to stay in this pattern.
I was sexually assaulted again and I stopped eating all together. I sat in my boss’s office at the end of December for a practice interview before Clemson would call me in a few days for their Facility Operations Graduate Assistant position. Kristin asked me one single, easy question and I lost it. I was sobbing and she came over, sat next to me, and put her arm around me and I was physically shaking. I couldn’t say anything to her. But somehow she was able to look at me and just know. She said the words eating disorder and I kept crying and shaking.
I was always in panic mode with no appetite. Then the second I let myself eat I’d just get rid of it. I lost over 30 pounds between my half marathon at the end of November and the beginning of February. I got home from my two weeks in Spain with my mom and people kept asking me how I lost so much weight while in a foreign country. I still ate all of the gelato and tapas and wine but I’d force them back up as soon as I could.
I read and researched different sites online that are dedicated to feeding your eating disorder. I learned the best ways to distract myself when hungry, skinny motivation photos and meals, the best ways to purge my food. I started taking laxative tea. I forced back up almost everything I ate.
I was obsessive. I started an excel sheet where I’d plan out every second of every day, how many calories I was allowed to eat, and make notes to myself that I was not hungry even though I was often eating less than 500 calories a day.
One afternoon, Lauren asked me to come visit her at work because she was bored. I told her I couldn’t. I didn’t plan for it. It wasn’t on my excel sheet. What if I lost control on the way home and bought food? Or the change in plan would completely throw me off. I shoved and stuffed my way into this tiny box, afraid of everything.
I decided to report my coworker to Title IX in April and the cycle continued. I went from the worst restrictive episode I’ve ever had to the worst bingeing and purging episode I’d ever had. I finally went to an appointment with the campus dietician. She gave me contact information for a few treatment facilities. She told me that she recommended full time treatment over the summer.
I made a phone call to Eating Disorder Recovery Center in Texas. I had them run my insurance and my insurance did not cover a penny and it was thousands of dollars. I didn’t call them back. I decided to just do therapy over the summer and do it all on my own.
But I didn’t really improve. I started taking laxatives and diet pills again over the summer. I would take them out of my mom’s cabinets at her house and even out of my grandpa’s bathroom when I was visiting in Louisiana. There were days I would take up to 40 maximum strength laxatives at one time, which is an entire bottle that I’d buy at Walmart near my mom’s house. I’d go get gas at gas stations and I’d find myself walking in and buying bags of Reese’s and whatever laxatives they sold. This caused so much pain and discomfort that sometimes I couldn’t even get out of bed. I vowed to quit them in August after one of my best friends got married and I haven’t touched them since. They are evil.
When I moved to Oxford, the cycle continued. Except instead of months of restriction followed by months of bingeing and purging, it was a new extreme every week, every day. Some days I’d eat nothing and burn 1,000 calories at the gym. Some days I’d eat every single thing in sight and spend an hour forcing all of it back up. It was terrible. I would skip class, I would lock myself in my room, shut myself off from everything.
It got so bad that I called another treatment facility, The Meadows Ranch. They accepted my insurance. But I was still hesitant. No one knew. I couldn’t leave work and school. I don’t have time. It isn’t that bad. I started ignoring their calls and they left me voicemail after voicemail telling me that I was going to die if I didn’t get the treatment I needed.
I struggled on and off with self harm, never deep enough to do anything but enough to numb the pain and distract me. It helped me cope with the distress and the guilt as if I deserved it. On one of the darkest nights I’ve ever had, I took half a bottle of benadryl because I read online that it could slow down your heart and kill you. I didn’t want to wake up.
But I did wake up. I went to work that morning feeling like I was completely drugged out. I decided to take this as a sign to get better. A friend introduced me to Renfrew. I made the call. I did the two and a half hour assessment over the phone. She recommended residential level treatment.
Two months of breaking this cycle at Renfrew. Challenging thoughts and behaviors. Moderation and balance and nutrition.
This cycle. I have been gaining and losing the same 40 pounds over and over and over again. It never ends. And it has never once made me happy. It has never once made any of my problems go away.
I want this cycle to end. I want to be done with this. I want more to my life than shrinking myself and trying to take up less space. More than counting calories and hurting myself. I’m sitting here imagining the time I’ve wasted counting calories and running on a treadmill. The amount of brain power and energy that I’ve devoted to completely hating how I look and planning how I’d change my body. I am still feeling the stupidity and guilt for how much money I have spent on gym memberships, personal trainers, diet pills, laxatives, deluxe calorie counting apps, and binge foods that I’d just get rid of immediately after eating. It’s all insane.
Yes, I’ve been through a lot, I can see that now. I never thought up until the past year or two that I’ve been through a lot or that I had any problems. I have empathy with this girl who didn’t know how to take care of herself and was just trying to control what she could. But I have been working so hard to destroy myself and make things worse. And it is so hard to shake. It is so hard to just turn it off. Why can’t I shake this deeply ingrained need to lose weight? I’ve been out of treatment for a month and I’m still weighing myself multiple times a day, cutting corners, and skipping meals. I still want to lose weight so badly. But I also want more. I want connection, traveling, love, beauty, and peace. I just have to keep reminding myself I’m not going to find any of those things in the mirror, on the scale, or constantly trying to please other people. Every second of every day. I don’t want to waste any more time, energy, or opportunities to this. I want to change.