what I learned from my struggle with an eating disorder

I received an email about a 28 day challenge for fitness and clean-eating and despite a pretty high price, purchased it immediately. I felt the motivation and jumped on the opportunity before my excitement could pass. The workouts (from Cassey Ho, the fitness guru I mentioned in my last post) are high intensity interval training, so they’re short but they get the job done, leaving you with an elevated heart-rate and fatigued muscles. The meal plans are full of fruits and veggies and whole grains like quinoa and oats as well as lean protein. Dairy is replaced with almond milk and lots of leafy greens for calcium as well as no products containing gluten. I usually hate “diets” and don’t see the point of cutting anything out unless you have to but I figured it would be kind of cool to see what happens. I get a lot of stomach pain and am confident it’s related to my diet but have no idea what it’s from.


truly enjoying some quality west coast fast food last summer

I was so pumped up about this challenge that I even managed to recruit my boyfriend to join in. I’m encouraging him to modify some stuff so he doesn’t have to do girly workouts or suffer from filling up on foods he despises/starving from too low of calorie consumption. We shopped together for groceries and started our challenge Tuesday. We did a lot of meal prep the other night and while we were cooking our quinoa we thought about how amazing some parmesan cheese would taste in it. I wanted cheese so badly but we can’t have it in this meal plan. Day one and I was already suffering. It only took me a few minutes to come to the realization that I was restricting myself from something I love and (in moderation) is healthy for me for no reason. We have a bad habit of munching on cheese while we’re preparing dinner, and when I say munching I mean we eat entirely too much cheese. I know most days I eat way more saturated fat in the form of cheese than I should. So we compromised. We added a little parm to our grains but didn’t snack on it beforehand. It was a healthy decision for our minds and our bodies. The other fact that lead me to this decision was that I consumed a large mac and cheese from Panera Bread on Sunday when I was hungover, and sopped the extra cheese up with a baguette. I clearly don’t have issues with cheese or pasta in my belly.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going into so much detail about my insane obsession with cheese. Stay with me, I promise there’s a point.

It’s because it frightened me that I got so into something I was doing, basically for fun, that I was afraid to eat a food that wasn’t on the pre-made list. Yes, in order to get results from a challenge like this, I have to be strong and not give in to having whatever I want whenever I want it. No, I do not need to be afraid to live because I decided to do a 28 day challenge. I’m not going to stop eating dairy or gluten after this challenge and with my body in the shape it is already I know I have room to indulge a little. I do have further goals with my fitness and nutrition levels, toning up more and eating cleaner on most days. But to accomplish this four week task to the level of perfection I always desire, I would have to attend zero social events or awkwardly just not eat when I’m out with my friends at restaurants or have water when they’re sipping wine. I can still make healthy choices but I do not need to let this challenge consume my life for the month of March. As a nutrition and dietetic technician, registered with extensive background on nutrition, I could have written up my own meal plan. I do it all the time. It’s just something I enjoy doing, challenging myself and getting better results. What I don’t enjoy doing is being scared of calories.

It’s really difficult to find a balance on the seesaw of eating. If you push too far to one side you end up overweight; too far to the other, you have an eating disorder. At least that’s how it’s always been for me. I had a very unhealthy relationship with food the entire time I was in college. It all started because I gained a few pounds from taking advantage of all the delicious food ready for me at almost any given time freshman year while living on campus. That same year I took my very first nutrition class and learned more about the basics of nutrition. It was all I needed to develop a quick obsession. I was eating too much and then I wasn’t eating enough. I was working out six days a week no matter what got in my way. I thought I was fat and was striving everyday to not let it get anymore out of control. And that was the norm for me. I talked in a previous post about how my real weight gain (not the weight gain I saw when I looked in the mirror while in reality I was tiny – that started years before) started after my boyfriend and I broke up and that I eventually started eating until I got sick. I didn’t mean that I ate until my stomach hurt and I threw up. I mean I ate foods I was craving to fill the emptiness inside of me and then felt atrociously guilty for adding calories to my already too-fat frame and would make myself throw up. I would lift my shirt in the mirror and stare at my stomach or notice it jiggle with every step I took. How could I do something to risk gaining another ounce. Throwing up was the only option I had to right my wrong.

The first time this happened, I was alone in our college townhouse on a sunny afternoon. I can’t remember why I needed the ice cream in the freezer as badly as I did, but I ate a lot and I ate it fast. And then I desperately needed to erase my action. I will spare you the nasty details but if you’ve never made yourself sick before, it’s not anything like throwing up because your body needs to when you have the flu. It’s messy, it hurts and it teaches the message of you can eat anything you want because if you change your mind, you can just throw it up. I never thought I would do it again, but I did. Anytime I felt desperately alone and miserable, food could fill that until the switch flipped and I had just done the most unthinkable thing I could have imagined to myself. It made me even angrier every time. I wished I could just starve myself but I wasn’t that strong. I loved food too much. I was the weak, chubby girl who gorged herself with food and threw up in private.

One night when I was home on one of the breaks before I started binging, I got fast food with my mom and brother. I ate a cheese steak sandwich and some cheesy fries. Immediately afterwards I burst into tears because I couldn’t believe I had just done that. I remember how weirded out my brother and mom were. Nobody understood why I was the way I was about food. I was offended when healthy options weren’t offered at family functions. I couldn’t believe people would force me to eat so unhealthfully, didn’t they know what it did to me? Why wasn’t the guilt so heavy for them that healthier options were chosen?

Because I started making myself throw up and was drinking to the point of falling over from intoxication 3-4 nights per week, it became difficult for me to keep anything down. I began to throw up every time I drank or when I felt nauseous or full, or simply hated my calorie consumption. I started to get scared that somebody was going to notice or that I would damage my teeth or my hair would start falling out. All the horror stories we were warned of as young adults in high school health education classes and then later in my nutrition classes began flashing through my mind. That could not happen to me and that was somehow enough to make me stop. It was so hard not to throw up and to just accept what I ate. Soon after making that mental change I was able to start making healthier decisions with my food and stop binging on a regular basis. Thankfully, it’s been almost two years since I stopped torturing myself with food and the disposing of it. However, the miracle of my life falling into place and experiencing pure happiness like you see from the skinny models on the covers of magazines did not occur. Happiness doesn’t come from the outside. It comes from the inside.

While I never told a Dr., let alone many people about my problem, I know that it was one. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit that this was another category added to the list of things I abused when I was in such a bad place. And that is why I had to be quick to snap myself out of thinking I was doing something wrong by eating some cheese this week. Once you’ve been low and broken, it doesn’t take much to get back to that place. I’ve promised myself not to let that happen.

My eating disorder was a spawn of many greater problems that luckily for me didn’t end up having any detrimental affects on my health or become a known fact to my friends and family (until I spilled the beans in a blog post years later.) That makes eating disorders even scarier -they can happen to anyone and might not even be detectable. Food is meant to nourish us and we need it. We should never be afraid to eat something or hate ourselves for fueling our bodies. Yes, making healthy choices is important and I will never back down from believing in being healthy and in shape, but with all areas in life – you must obtain balance so that you don’t fall. Love yourself, and you’ll be one step closer to finding it. That’s what made the difference for me.