NEDA Week Stories – Thursday
During National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2011, Operation Beautiful is sharing survivor stories to inspire, motivate, and help others realize they are not alone. If you’d like to share your short story, please e-mail it to Caitlin at[email protected].
I was always an active and athletic child – heavily involved in sports at school, dancing on the weekends and competing at a national level in rhythmic gymnastics. Food and weight had never been an issue. My weight always stayed within a healthy range, mainly due to all the exercise and at home the meals were always home cooked and un processed. During college, many of the physical activities stopped and I started to face new emotional problems of shyness, isolation and excessive drinking. I turned to drinking and controlling my weight to keep my focus off the things that were really bothering me.
I started my first diet in 2000, a strict Atkins diet that at first was miraculous. I lost a lot of weight but I grew disturbingly obsessed with food and dropping even more weight. The extreme dieting created a boundary between me and the world. I stopped going out, I lost friends, I refused to eat out at restaurants and my weight plummeted to a new low, where I lost my period and had to be hospitalized.
The years that followed saw my diet and weight loss obsession increase even further, but I started to lose the control that I once had. Binge eating started – first it was a one-off, and then increased to a weekly “treat”. Eventually it was a daily happening that I had no control over. I gained a massive amount of weight and was unable to stay on any diet that I tried. And boy did I try! I went on every possible diet that I could find – from the Cabbage Soup, Master Cleanse, Fit for Life, Zone, South Beach, Raw Food, Macrobiotic and Juice Fast. I started each one with enthusiasm and vigor, believing each morning that this would be “the one”. Only to find myself hitting every bakery on my way home, and crying in the grocery store, furiously adding binge food into my cart, unable to comprehend why I just couldn’t stick to it.
I started to see that perhaps the only problem wasn’t my frustrated weight loss attempts. Perhaps it had something to do with the disconnect that was going on between my body, soul and mind. It was starting to affect every area of my life. I lost a great job, my fiancé and had very few friends left. The binge and purge episodes were getting longer – sometimes I didn’t leave the house for days. So with the same enthusiasm that I went into each diet with, I now transferred into trying to get help. But what was this problem that I had? Binge eating? Bulimia? Overeating? I researched it all, tracked down every therapist and support group that dealt with these issues and was more determined than ever to get better.
My personal rock bottom was knowing that I would die if I continued to live this way. I knew that there would be no way that I could have a child, a relationship, a job or care about anything other than food and my weight. It was a selfish existence in hell! The process of getting better was not quite what I expected. I wanted someone to come into my life, hand me a magic pill which would remove this obsession from my warped mind. I wanted to live – to be able to enjoy my life, to go out, to travel, to have a relationship without constant thoughts of what I was and wasn’t going to eat, how much weight I was planning to lose and calculating how many hours I wold need to spend at the gym to burn off the excess calories. My life had come down to food and numbers, and I hated it!
However, there was no magic pill. What there was, however, was a journey into myself, into understanding that I had the power to change and that anything is possible if you have enough commitment and dedication to your health. I saw therapists, I talked about my circumstances in support groups, I wrote in a journal, learned to meditate and ask for help when needed – instead of turning to obsession with food and weight.
I also had to move away from the dieting mentality and towards health. I knew that every time I tried to heavily restrict my eating, the result was more binge eating and self hatred. I had to change my relationship with food, to view it as non-threatening and to trust my internal hunger signals. I now consider myself recovered from eating disorders and a healthy, intuitive eater. I eat food that I actually like; I have a healthy body, exercise because it makes me feel amazing. I love trying new types of exercise – anything from running to kick boxing, yoga and dance.
Most of all, I hope I can help others who are struggling with an eating disorder by passing on the message that complete recovery is possible. I was always trying to find someone who had been through the same hell as me and had recovered to a point where they had a healthy relationship with food and was no longer obsessed and controlled by it. I do live this way and I hope to reach others who are struggling and let them know that they can too – there is a way out.
As a kid in school I was bullied and picked on all the way through high school by the same group of vicious girls. I never seemed to fit in, was quiet and had few friends. Besides the bullies on the outside, there was also what I call the "inner bully" inside my head that continually whispered (often times shouted) that I’m not good enough the way I am. It berated me and made me feel vulnerable to the belief that I must change who I am.
I remember back in the day, standing in front of a mirror use to be fun. I recall my best friend and I playing dress-up, pretending to be rock stars and using a hairbrush as a microphone while we sang into the mirror. It was great! The mirror was just a piece of glass. But as I grew more and more discontent with who I was there was a shift in my thinking. I only started seeing flaws. I began expecting more from the mirror like the definition of insanity – expecting a different result every time I looked into it. From then on, I gave it power to determine who I am. The critic was not really the mirror, but in my own head. I began the journey of hopelessly limiting myself by setting my goal in life to fit into that mold the world says I must conform to in order to be happy and beautiful and if I don’t, I won’t measure up or fit in. For 16 years the battle with the mirror and mind took over and I struggled with compulsive overeating, Anorexia and Bulimia. I felt very insecure in every area of my life and being thin became my security blanket.
Now 38 years old, by grace of God and a program called Celebrate Recovery, I celebrated 5 years sobriety from my ED this past November. I had a great support team and I made active choices to NOT believe or act on the negative thoughts anymore. It was changing my focus from from achieving a certain weight/size to learning how to find beauty in who I am on the inside. God changed my thinking and recently gave me the gift of finding Operation Beautiful as a way to give back to others.
The day I bought the book, I sat in the bookstore, crying, elated to have found another tangible way to give back for the healing I’ve found. He’s infused within me a passion and purpose to help other women know the truth, that they indeed are beautiful just the way they are and that REAL beauty comes from within. It’s the joy that radiates from inside our soul when we come to accept and love ourselves. God gave me the words "I am enough" and I will claim them and walk in them every day for the rest of my life! Thank you Caitlin for Operation Beautiful and for allowing your story to create a life-changing ripple effect in the lives of so many!