I am a very open and honest person. I tend to share too much on occasion, say things I maybe shouldn’t say, and I am blunt. I am a talker, always have been and always will be. So, for some reason it surprises me that I have never actually shared “My Story” on the blog like most other bloggers do. I’m not sure if it is embarrassment, the fact that I hate facing old demons, or that I don’t like to think about previous bad points in my life because I have moved on so much further than I could have ever felt possible.
However, the other day I was at the gym finishing up my workout when I noticed a girl wearing a gymnastics t-shirt. The gymnastics community is pretty tight knit. Whether we know each other or not, we all feel some kind of connection. It may have been that we all realize the long hours slaved at the gym with no social life during high school, the kind of determination we all had to have to stick with it, or just that it is fun to talk gymnastics with someone 10 years after you retired (i.e. graduated and really had no chance of going on in college because it is just that hard)! Anyway, I said hi to the girl and we ended up chatting for 15 or so minutes about life. We had so many things in common – mainly our struggles with body image, weight, eating, exercise. I shared with her my story – good parts and bad. I didn’t really think much about it until toward the end of the conversation she said to me something along the lines of – You just made my day. You gave me hope that there is another side of this and I can get better. With that said, I took a step back, felt shocked, and realized that I should really share my story. If I can help one girl to feel that she can get through her struggles, I consider my struggles worth the year of horror that I endured.
So, I have set up the background and if you have continued to read this, you are probably like WTF is she talking about!?!? Yes this is going to be a long, heart felt post, but it needs to be shared. This is the story of my struggle with an eating disorder – I know there are a LOT of people that can relate. I just hope that you continue to read, and if you are struggling with some of the same problems – THERE CAN BE A HAPPY ENDING!
As I said, I was a gymnast growing up. I was decent, didn’t work to my potential, and scared of a lot of tricks. But, floor was my outlet. I was an awesome tumbler, and it gave me such a rush! I broke my wrist junior year of HS and thought I was done. But, I decided to heal, and get back on the train for senior year. I competed for my high school, and it had been my goal each year to make states. Sophomore and Junior year I was injured, so that couldn’t happen. Senior year was my year. I pushed myself hard, qualified on floor exercise, and had FUN while I competed. Surprisingly, this led me to a 7th place finish – just 0.025 away from earning a medal. Hey, I was just happy to qualify so that was awesome :) I never really worried about weight, or my body. I practiced 16 – 20 hours a week, I was a bundle of muscle, and that was that.
I went to Miami University in Ohio – if you know of Miami, you probably think that this is where the ED started. Not the case. College for me was filled with classes (I rarely missed), time with friends, late night eating, and drinking my face off. Oh yeah, and gaining a ton of weight. The weight mainly came my junior year when my best friend and I had both broken up with boyfriends and felt that partying was the outlet that we hadn’t had yet! I graduated in 4 years with a degree in Math Education. The summer after college I lost about 10 lbs (just guessing) just in alcohol detox. I obviously wasn’t going out as often, so it naturally just came off.
I was lucky enough to get my first teaching job right out of college. It just so happened that one of the schools I applied at needed a math teacher and a gymnastics coach, and I was the perfect fit. I hated teaching my first year, but stuck it out for a second. During the summer between these two years, one of my colleagues asked me to join the gym with her. She taught me how to use the elliptical, and a minimal amount of weights. It was fun and I got hooked. I lost some more weight that summer, but I got to a healthy weight and that was great. I was working out 3-4 times a week, eating what I wanted, and drinking only on occasion. During my second year of teaching I realized that I wanted to go back for my masters. Since exercise had become so important to me, I decided to continue my passion by studying Exercise Science. That summer (before school started), I wasn’t exercising nearly as much because I was taking anatomy and physiology, and working full time. Bad excuse, but the truth. Oh, and it was also the summer that I met my husband, Joe :) So, naturally spending time with him took a little bit of a precedence to exercise – oops!
Here are some pics from when I first met my husband. This one is at a wedding. (I used to straighten my hair!)
Here we are visiting in Pittsburgh.
I got a graduate assistantship, which meant helping with research, teaching some classes, and really getting to know the professors. It also meant my tuition was covered :) My first two semesters (out of three) were great. I got back into my fitness regimen, and I learned SO much about exercise physiology that still continues to fascinate me today! I also gained some amazing friendships. My final semester – summer 2007, I had to do an internship and take a few classes. My internship was where all of my problems began. I decided to work with the fitness director of a local, private club. She also happened to be a figure competitor. She preached to me a lot of her body building diet and how I wasn’t getting in enough exercise. She was doing 2 a days of cardio with lifting in the afternoon. I got myself up to 5-7 days a week of cardio with lifting most of these days. When it came to food, I will never forget the phrase that she said that turned my life around. Cookies, brownies, anything with fat was “just not worth it”. She showed me her before and after pictures…. and I became obsessed – with working out, eating “healthy”, and restricting my diet because everything enjoyable was “just not worth it” if I wanted results. Joe moved to Chicago in April, shortly before I started my internship. So, spending time with him now went to exercise. I was planning on moving to Chicago in August when I graduated. At that point in time I was looking healthy – thin and strong. But mentally I was starting to get very unhealthy. I remember getting my body fat measured with that BodPod and I was at 14% and I weighed in the 120’s. That is on the very thin side for a woman, but I was so proud of my accomplishment.good – thin, healthy, strong….
Here are two pics from graduate school. This is when I was doing a project for my internship, starting to thin out.
This was my final grad school project. I was probably around 120-125 pounds in both of these pics.
My time in Chicago was probably the worst time of my life. It should have been the best – great city, I got engaged, I was on my own… but I was so obsessed with myself, eating, working out, etc that I couldn’t even enjoy my time. I often look back and wonder how Joe ever stayed with me. But I thank God that he did because I could honestly be dead without him. We were working opposite schedules, so I had nobody to monitor my unhealthy behavior. When I wasn’t at work I sat at home counting my calories, measuring and counting everything I ate, obsessing about healthy recipes, planning meals down to the calorie, and challenging myself to say “no” to bad foods – i.e. sweets, alcohol, fat, etc. I would go to grocery stores and walk past samples just to prove to myself how easy it was to say no. If I did slip up and eat something bad, I would go on a 5 mile walk to get rid of it. I figured that walk wasn’t a workout because I wasn’t pushing myself to the extreme – severely distorted behavior. I once tried to vomit, but it didn’t work. I just restricted instead. I cut my food up into tiny bites and would eat so slow that I would never feel “full” because if I did feel full then I overate (in my ridiculous mind). I was the meanest person ever. I was horrible to Joe. I lashed out on him, showed him little affection, and I still wonder today why he ever stuck with me. I think it was because he knew what I was like before the ED took over me, and he was confident that I could get there again. I was in a spiral of depression and anxiety. I was constantly on edge. I had an amazing job that I took for granted because my head just wasn’t there.
Here is the fall of 2007. I am wearing an Under Armour shirt that I had to cover up to hide how thin I was. I was probably around 100-105 lbs here.
For Christmas of 2007 I came home to Cleveland. I remember my dad sitting and crying with me as he watched me waste away. He and my brother sat down with me and convinced me to see a psychiatrist to get some anti-anxiety medicine. We have a lot of mental illness in my family and several of my family members have been off and on anti-depressants, so it didn’t surprise me that I needed something. I was well aware that I had a problem, but I was so engrossed in myself that I didn’t know how to let my guard down and fix the problem. In January 2008 I bottomed out at 93 lbs. It doesn’t sound so bad, but I was lifting weights, so I had some muscle. I’ll put it this way – size 00 was sagging on me. I went on Lexapro in January. It really helped me to get my chemical balance back. In January I was at least able to maintain my weight around 100 lbs. Joe became convinced that the only way I was going to get better was to move back to Ohio and clear my mind. So we did….
Here was when I bottomed out… trying on my wedding dress over Christmas 2007. I was probably around 95 lbs. My hair, cheekbones, collar bone, and arms completely disgust me now! My hair was obviously thinning and falling out :(
Back to Cleveland
That summer I got “better”. Joe is the main reason, along with my parents. We moved into my parents’ house for a few months while we planned our wedding and looked for a house. What really helped was the combination of my anti-anxiety meds and Joe eating with me. He put on a lot of weight that summer to help me get healthy. He would eat with me when I was hungry and keep eating with me until I was full. He wasn’t hungry, but he knew that I wouldn’t feel so bad about eating if he did it too. I went back to teaching that fall. I still hated it, but it helped me get through my problems. The consistent schedule was a big part of it, along with a great team of colleagues. I went off of Lexapro shortly after my wedding in October. I coached gymnastics that winter as well, and I truly got better. I put on 40-50 lbs of much needed weight. Joe has since told me that back in Chicago he wasn’t even attracted to me anymore. I just thank my lucky stars that he stood by me and helped me anyway.
Here is me in fall of 2008 when I got married!
Dancing with my man :)
Do I still have lapses? YES! Do I still stress sometimes about what I eat? YES! But do I have the strength and support to get through it? YES! I have nights where I binge and get upset with myself. I had a little lapse this past spring when I was contemplating quitting teaching. It was incredibly stressful, and I found myself back in a size 2. I am a 4-6 when healthy. Once I quit, I let down my guard and gained some weight back. I am a little bigger right now than I’d like to be, I have horrible self control around sweets, but I wake up each morning knowing that I am happier and healthier a little bigger than I’d like to be, than as small as I was. I try to make healthy meal choices, and indulge in sweets when I want. The holidays have gotten me off track – too much sweets and alcohol. I’m still trying to get more consistent. But, the solution now is not to restrict and starve myself. It is to take the harder, longer road of re-incorporating healthy food, reasonable amounts of sweets, and a lot less drinking. Also, consistent exercise. Exercise is a HUGE part of my life! I just don’t let it become an obsession like it used to be. Rather it is a stress outlet, a way to feel good about myself, and a way that Joe and I have bonded more. I got him on a workout plan a little over a year ago and now it is another hobby and interest that we share :) There are things that I did to my body that I can only hope can be remedied later, but I’m not sure. My body doesn’t ovulate anymore. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that some the amazing doctors in this world can help with that when I’m ready for children. But only time will tell…
A pic from this summer – I don’t take pictures often, so this is the best I’ve got! My hair is a hot mess since this was taken after work where I wear a hat. My weight has probably fluxed a little since then (hello holidays!?!?), but I’m back on track!
Eating disorders are so hard to understand if you have never experienced one. I can’t explain what it feels like to be so obsessed, I just know how it feels. I can only hope that my success story can inspire someone else to know that there is a rich and plentiful life on the other side of it. It isn’t a perfect life, but it is so much happier and more enjoyable than a life devoted to obsession and selfishness. Having my dogs has also helped me a ton. They love me no matter what and have taught me to be a lot less selfish. When I have someone else to care for and take care of, I care less about obsessing about myself.
You don’t need to tell me if you have had similar struggles, because it is hard to share. Share if you want. If you know anyone that is struggling, or you yourself are, read this and realize how much better your life can be. Share this post with someone who is struggling. I never realized how inspirational it could be until yesterday when I simply shared what I had been through with someone who is recovering. Do one thing for yourself today…
Look in the mirror and find something beautiful about yourself. Don’t find a fault! I have great eyes – thanks Dad!