My struggle with eating disorder started in tenth grade. I can pinpoint the exact night. I was watching a YouTube video of a 9 year old dancer and became envious of her body and equated success with a thin body. Mind you, this was a nine year old girl and I was 15, I was not supposed to have that body but at that time I did not look at it like that. I remember spitting out my dinner and from that night thinking this way the best way to get success. Nothing really happened to my weight at first, I cut certain things out, mainly red meat and developed anemia from low iron consumption.
The dance world can be very vicious. I had partaken in ballet, lyrical, jazz and tap. I had the whole basic covered. I loved dance and had an amazing team of girls from the age of five. The viciousness was brought on by me. I was not pressured into losing weight AT ALL. The environment of our studio was homey and warm. We had a sisterhood. We bonded, laughed, cried, and rejoiced together. I never thought I would need to change myself for the team or the studio. It was my inner self that went against myself.
I remember being nine years old and going to the office of my dance teacher, into the back bathroom with titled floors and filled with boxes of old dance costumes and being weighed on an old fashion medical scale. Three girls were taken back to see who was the lightest to be the one who got lifted for the lifts. It was not me. At the time, this had no effect on me, I was nine years old. But years later the memory rushed back and the flashback replayed over and over in my mind. At the beginning of my eating disorder I saw success as the one who was thinner because she was the one who got to be in the lifts and be in the front. I was a good dancer for my team. I did get special parts, had solos, was in the front line, but I was average. I was dedicated in practice, worked my butt off but it never paid off. I never won the top prize, I was disappointed in myself and I so badly wanted to be noticed. So in my mind, losing weight and being thinner was the way to go. I thought if I could be thin, I could be noticed, I could be the one who got lifted. The girl who weighed the least when we were nine years old held the spot as the “lifty” from that day on. I wanted her spot. I wanted to be the spotlight, the one who had the eyes on them. During our lifts, three or four girls would lift the girl and the rest of the team was on the side or formed a circle, forming the backdrop for the lift. My obsession with weight and success was not based solely on being lifted. I wanted to long ballerina legs and fly gracefully in the air during a grand-jete. My dedication to dance and the want to be the best took off.
It wasn’t until senior year that the restriction and weight loss kicked in. I was becoming much more dedicated to dance and was also running to cross country and track in high school. I dropped 22 pounds in three or four months. It was first noticed by the high school nurse during the annual weigh in. I told a few girls on the cross country team I was struggling and spoke with my assistant coach too. My coach talked with the social worker at school and I began to see a nutritionist that the social worker referred to me. I manipulated the weight at times because I was not allowed to run winter track until by weight got to a certain weight. I hated gaining weight and after weeks of barely gaining anything and the intake of my food was going up I took matter into my own hands and put weights in my pant pockets to raise the number on the scale. This lasted one or two weigh ins and then I became guilty of my behavior. I went honestly in the weights from that point on. I went to a couple therapists too but did not like the people I saw and was also in denial and not wanting to get help at this point.
My dance teachers began noticing the weight loss and approached my mom. This was not the attention I wanted. I never got to be the one lifted even after losing the weight nor did I get the long legs. My body structure was not designed to have long legs. I have short calves, but at the time I honestly thought I could length my legs by restricting and losing weight. The one time I did was when the girl was possibly missing the competition so they wanted to practice with somebody else. When I was asked to try, I was ecstatic! I remember when I was lifted the girls saying how much lighter I was! I was frustrated it took them this long to realize it. I did not get to be lifted at the competition because the girl was able to compete.
Once my dance teachers approached my mom it was very difficult because my mom would get mad at me for not eating and losing weight but was never comforting to go to or had empathy. I got my weight up the bare minimum and was able to run again. Just because my weight was okay, did in no way mean I was okay. My weight would go up and down ten pounds but I wasn’t seeing the nutritionist anymore so nobody knew my actual weight. My parents still wanted me to gain weight but I was very angry at the time and was so wrapped up in my disorder. They never forced me into treatment.
I began college in fall of 2011 at George Mason University in Virginia. I was still very much in my anorexic state. I had some binge tendencies prior to go to college when I was restricting a lot but binging and purging picked up when I went to college. It was the first time I was away from home for an extended period of time and I was not liking it. I told people it was the school that I did not like but looking back I know it was my disorder that tainted my experience and made me hate the school. I hit a low after a binge one day and did not want to purge and just wanted to be done with my disorder. I went to the counseling center on campus in tears. I was told when I got there that I needed to make an appointment, so I left but right after I walked out I walked back in and the lady at the front desk could tell I was in a bad place and asked if I wanted to do an emergency consultation. I did. I balled to the woman I met with. She was not the eating disorder specialist so she made me an appointment to see that woman and she also took me down to make an appointment with a doctor. Later that day I was second guessing everything and could not believe what I had done. I did follow up with the doctor appointment and follow up appointment with a counselor. The doctor I met with was awful. She threatened to report me to the dean if I did not see her for weigh-ins. It was near thanksgiving break and I told her I would see somebody when I went home. Knowing that I would not but I did not want to see her again. I saw the counselor the next day but told her I was not interested in further sessions. So nothing really came out of my breakdown, Ed picked me up and I went on my merry way with him. I decided to transfer after my first semester. There were other reasons behind this decision such as the school being a commuter campus and I had not made many friends and had problems with my roommate but I know a big part of the final decision was because of my eating disorder.
I transferred to Temple University in Philadelphia in the spring of 2012 to be closer to home. This helped me a little bit but I was still struggling. I would weigh myself every day. I kept the scale in a shoulder bag and brought it into my suite bathroom every morning before my roommate woke up to weigh myself. I stepped on, stepped off, and repeated this three times so I could have a definitive number if the first two times showed different numbers. I exercised excessively. My weight was still low. I did eat, but I had to restrict to eat what I wanted. If I were going out to dinner, I would eat very little for breakfast and lunch so that I could have what I wanted at dinner and enjoy myself. This lasted the entire semester.
Once the summer of 2012 hit, that was when things got rocky. I had an upcoming internship in Washington DC with my Congressman of PA. However, binging started to pick up and become a struggle to manage. Years of starvation and deprivation were catching up to me. I talked with my friend who had recently gone inpatient and another one of my friends from high school. They both wanted me to give up my internship and seek treatment. They have tried in the past to get me help, but I always said no. The decision I had to make was extremely difficult. My weight was stable at this time because of the binging, but the weight gain was because I switched eating disorder symptoms, not because I was recovering. But to everyone I was at a “normal weight.” This was the battle I dealt with. Because my weight was going up, my parents thought I was doing better and questioned why I would give up the internship to go to treatment. I remember my dad telling me when I talked to him about that that I was “closing a lot of doors.” I agreed with him because politics was my passion and I was excited for this internship. They tried to get me to take the internship and that I could come home on the weekends if I needed to. They did not understand the battle I had with my mind every day. An eating disorder is so much more than physical matters. It is emotional and psychological pain too.
I kept talking with my close friends and I think the thing that broke the decision for me was when my friend said “the internship is nothing without your life.” I knew if I went down to Washington DC without getting treatment I would be in a consistent struggle. I needed to nip the disorder in the bud. I was also told by my high school running coach, who I had kept in contact with, that I should take the opportunity to get help now, as hard as it is to turn down the internship, if I did not get help now I may have to give something better up in the future. So I made the decision to go to day treatment in Radnor, PA at Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. I spent ten days in the day program, which was five days a week from 8am to 2pm. It was grueling. Waking up at 6am to drive an hour to get to the program and having all control taken from me by them preparing my food and what I ate. I still struggled and after ten days I spoke with my therapist there and we decided I needed a higher level of care.
On July 12th, 2012 I went to residential treatment at Renfrew Center of Philadelphia on Spring Lane. It was huge wake up call. I never expected to be at residential. I had watched endless amounts of YouTube videos of eating disorder clinics and treatment centers, and at times was jealous because they were thinner and succeeding. I never thought I would be in one myself. It was eye opening. Seeing girls emaciated, in wheelchairs, and on feeding tubes. My first meeting for orientation was with the psychologist, it was dreadful. I was in tears by the end of it because she was questioning why I was the only person in my family not happy, why I did not have a boyfriend, why I had these stupid eating disorder. Those were her exact words. And then she said she wanted me to take medication because I would not be able to recover without them. I left the room and was so upset. I did not expect a woman treating somebody with mental health issues to be so insensitive. She said she was joking, but come on, it was my first day in residential, I do not want to hear jokes. I did like my therapist and told her about the experience. Luckily, the psychologist I met with was not going to me my primary one, but it still left a negative impression in my mind. By the second day, I had a break down. I wanted to leave. I told myself and my treatment team and my mom that I was not as sick as the other girls, I did not need to be here. I told them I would see a therapist, have my mom monitor my weight, do everything right- just let me leave. I ended up signing a 72 hour release form. It meant I could leave in three days. I did, against medical advice.
As soon as I got home, I was babysat. My mom was working and I think she told my sisters to watch me that night because one left and the other one took over. My parents did not think I was okay. They said so what are you going to do now. You have to go to a therapist. They did not give me a chance to show them I was okay and was “recovered.” I did well for a week but having my parents and my friends disappointed and frustrated at me for leaving residential and thinking I could not do it was too much for me to handle. My binging escalated. I would binge once a day, twice a day, two times a week, four times a week, daily. I cycled through restricting and binging. I would not eat because I binged but that led me to binge more. The cycle continued for months. I was in school again at Temple and going to the vending machines or to the food store and getting bagels, cookies, cakes, candy- everything I would not allow myself to have. The things I restricted the most were the things I craved the most. My binging and tortured mind lived on until December. I hit my breaking point. I was sick of binging, sick of starving, sick of having to exercise endlessly, purging, sick of sobbing in my room, sobbing in the bathroom, and most of all sick of being sick.
I started looking for therapists in Philadelphia. I found one that sounded like a good fit. I emailed her and she quickly emailed me back. I was hesitant to try therapy again, and blew off her emails for three to four weeks. But after the holidays and back at school in January 2013, and still struggling I knew I had to make a change. I emailed the woman back and set up an appointment.
February 14th, 2013 is the day that began my life changing journey to recover. I knew instantly that the therapist sitting before me was going to help change my life. I expected the usual initial appointment of the therapist writing on a pad of paper endless about my life story, my family, my trauma, etc. and etc. She did not. She listened. There was not paper, no writing, just listening. I shared my history with Ed (nickname for Eating Disorder) and she gave me reassurance that I could recover and that she could help me. I knew I found a match. Upon leaving, she gave me a name of a treatment center that offered an intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Philadelphia called Seeds of Hope. It was four nights a weeks, and consisted of having dinner with a group of struggling women and possibly men, which there was, and have group therapy facilitated by a therapist. Each session was two hours and fifteen minutes. Tuesday night was nutrition night when a nutritionist would come in and lead the session, and Wednesday was multi-family night. We were told to bring a family member or friend to the session that could support us. I agreed to go through with this program. I wanted anything that anybody had to offer me. I wanted help and I would do anything. I called the office of the program the next day and started that following Monday.
The program definitely brought on challenges, the stress of recovery, and while in school was hard. I was also in the process of transferring again. I knew when I transferred to Temple I did not want to stay there. At the time, when I left George Mason, I wanted to be back home, but since high school I knew I wanted to be at a school in or near DC because I wanted to study government. I wanted to go to American University. Not liking Temple made dealing with my eating disorder harder. But I had an amazing therapist and amazing treatment team in my IOP program. I am forever grateful for the opportunity I got. I never did bring my parents to family night because of the battles I have had with them. However, after eight weeks of being in the program my time was dwindling down. I decided to bring my dad to the last multi-family session, to say I tried. It turned out better than I expected and after that night, we began family therapy the next week with my mom and dad.
Going into family therapy, I had an agenda. I knew I wanted to share my frustration with my parents of them not believing me when I said I was struggling or helping me. My parents and I had different remembrances of certain issues and we cannot go back in time so there were some things I had to accept but I needed to express how I felt to heal the wounds. Week after week, more and more was revealed and the communication between us was open. I shared parts of my eating disorder that I never had before and never expected I would. They never knew I had been purging so it was a shock to them. I knew it was going to be a shock to them and some trust would be lost and they would worry more but it was needed. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy, I wanted to end my secrets. I have had fights with both parents but my mom was harder for me. She always cared what others would say about my weight, about why I was home during the school year and she was always worrying and saying her life was on hold because she worried all the time. This caused me to cut her off and not want to talk to her about my struggles with my eating disorders. We spoke about politics and daily life but I keep her closed off from my personal life to shield her. If I needed something I went to my dad because he was calmer. This made family therapy hard because of our past it was hard to share more. I did however, with the guidance of my wonderful family therapist told them things I never imagined I would be sharing. We attended weekly sessions for about three months, some sessions just with mom, and then towards the end my two older sisters became involved. This created another interesting dynamic and was helpful to have them back up my experience of childhood and growing up.
Growing up, we lived healthy. My mom made dinner mostly every night. Treats were given on special occasions and having more than one cookie was not good. We were told certain foods were bad for us. Fast food, fried food, high calorie sweets clog arteries. I am not saying my parents are to blame for my eating disorder but our lifestyle did contribute to it. Eating disorders are caused by many things. It is highly unlikely a person can pinpoint one thing. Things stem off one another.
My middle sister developed an eating disorder when she was in high school. She was 15 at the time, I am 4 years younger, so I was 11. I remember the screaming, the fighting, and the anger in the house when my parents found out. I always stayed back and was the good girl, kept quiet and did what I was told because my parents had enough to handle and I thought this was the best way to go. This good girl mentality, I have realized, years later, also contributed to my eating disorder. My eating disorder was very secretive. Restriction was my game. Everything was in my control and I was able to look like I was taking things when I was not, I was able to make my lunch that made it look normal but really I was eating 40 calorie bread slices and 20 calorie cheese. I would avoid eating in the cafeteria during lunch so I was never questioned why I ate so little. I ate in the library to hide my meals but also to get work done because of the perfectionist drive I had in me to do well in school. I would calculate everything that went into my body. Energy in, was equal to energy out, by my active lifestyle in dance and running.
All I wanted was to be noticed, to have something unique about me. I did not want to be average. I thought having an eating disorder would solve this problem. I thought I was the best and so much better than others because I was able to eat less than them. This is the distorted mind the illness causes. I was so wrapped up in the disorder that I did not see how miserable I was. I know I caused pain to others, but how they voiced their pain to me by saying just eat and yelled at me for my weight or said I looked emancipated did not make me feel bad. It infuriated me. Nobody asked why I engaged in the behaviors. Nobody tried to make a connection to my life and the disorder. The physical wellbeing was put above all else. Yes, this is the main concern, and I understood when I was in an unstable stage that the physical wellbeing be the concern but when I was binging and purging, nobody believed I had a problem because my weight was not in danger. This left me in despair, lonely days and night. I had nowhere to turn to talk about my binging and purging because it felt so shameful to share. I rubbed my skin raw with a razor blade to numb myself and to rid my mind of the negative thoughts that were eating away at it. I cannot explain the feelings that went along with cutting into words. It was something symbolic to me. It was a way of punishment, a way to get on with my life. I wanted the scars to serve as a remembrance of the pain and the torture. The cuts were never deep. It was more of a razor burn but it left its marks years later.
We finished family therapy right before I left for college. I had been accepted to American University. I knew once I left for school things would be different. I would not be seeing my family therapist who was also my group therapist anymore. I had made an irreplaceable connection with her and it was hard to say goodbye. I also said goodbye to the nutritionist at Temple University in student health who had been helping me after I finished my treatment in IOP. I was going to continue to work with my therapist via Skype twice a week.
Today, I can say I am in recovery. I declared my declaration of independence from Ed on July 4th, 2013. I wrote and laminated my declaration and it is visible for me to see every day. I have meet some incredible people along my journey and amazing friends in treatment who mean so much to and have helped me endlessly and whom I have helped too. My relationship with my parents and sisters is opening and the communication is opening. It is still hard but I know I cannot live with secrets, nor do I want to. I have been down that road and it only leads to hurt and pain.
I want to be an advocate for others to see that recovery is possible. I created an Instagram page and joined the eating disorder community for inspiration and support at first, but now I am at a place where I feel I can inspire others. The support, wisdom, and encouragement we have for each other is like nothing else. We are strangers, but we share a bond that only those who have struggled can fully understand. We have are ups and downs, but when we see a post by somebody having a fear food or having a breakthrough moment the feeling is breathtaking. I am honored to help others reach their full potential. I have made pen pals all other the world. In Canada, in England, France, Sweden, Israel, and even Australia. We may be miles and miles apart but technology has made it possible to have support and to support those who cannot find support at home.
I am slowly moving into intuitive eating which for so long I have been afraid to do. I am starting to trust my body and not disrespect it. Some days are harder than others but I never regret the journey I have had. I am eating what I want and it is scary but also freeing. I am thankful for meeting my therapist, and going to Seeds of Hope and doing family therapy. I continue to speak with my therapist and have begun seeing a nutritionist in Washington DC who I have become fond of as well. I believe she will help challenge me and help me get to complete recovery. I am not fully recovered and have some way to go but I am determined to keep looking forward, even if I fall. I have cut ties with Ed.
I have made tremendous strides. Yes I have gone backwards at times but recovery is about progress not perfection. I have lived 5 years in a life of perfection, recovery does not need to be added to that. I never thought I would say that statement! I have grown as a person and feel I am touching people lives. I have formed relationships with people and touched their lives and have seen how one person can make a difference in somebody’s life.
I am currently volunteering with an organization in DC called Rock Recovery to help break the sigma of eating disorder and inform the community of the illness and why attention needs to be brought to eating disorders. The organization helps men and women who cannot afford treatment to come to the organization to seek help. They also offer a body image series that for the public to come to. My role is University Relations Representative. I will be going to universities to talk with students and workers in health care centers about eating disorders and about the organization so students know they have a place to turn if they are struggling. Being able to be in a place in recovery where what I am voicing is actually what I am practicing is very rewarding. I am proud of the work I have made to be able to stand up against eating disorders and to break them rather than defend them.
I continue to share my story and help others. My goal is to work to bring legislation to eating disorders nationwide to prevent this illness for girls and boys. This disease can kill and it needs to be defeated. I have a passion for politics, but my heart is with eating disorder awareness. To be able to fight for eating disorders by working with congressmen and woman, I think I would have so much pride in myself and feel like I have made a difference. I want to be able to bring awareness to eating disorders, create prevention programs, and to fight insurances to cover eating disorders so every woman and man can have the chance to beat this illness and free his or herself from his or her inner demons. Nobody deserves a life with Ed.
Recovery is possible.