There are three things I would like to clarify before I really get into this.
- I am not recovered from ED. I have made a lot progress and I feel much healthier, but I recognize and challenge restrictive thoughts every single day. My goal is that my social media account reflect that I have made many strides and learned so much, but I’m still on this journey.
- Since a theme of this blog is recovering from an eating disorder, I talk a lot about having an eating disorder, what I think about, what I’ve come to realize, etc. However, as I have learned from many other girls battling eating disorders, I am not my disorder. There is so much more to me than what I will talk about in this section.
- There are stressors that I’ve experienced in my lifetime that I believe contribute to the development of my disorder, but they are highly personal and I won’t talk about them on the internet.
Lower and Middle School – Overweight
I have always been a high achiever. I remember when I moved from lower school to middle school, I was most excited that I would finally receive letter grades instead of checks and numbers. All through middle school and high school, I strove to bring home the best report cards and score the highest on my tests. Of course, this didn’t always happen, but it was my standard. Due to my personality, my parents were never concerned about my grades, about me skipping school, or doing poorly on tests. In fact, they more often tried to reign me in, and told me to try and “find balance” in my life.
I had always been a chubby child, and when I was in middle school, cute and chubby became overweight and unhealthy. As an 11 year old, I was 5 feet tall and 140 pounds, which put my BMI at almost 28 (in the middle of the overweight category of BMI’s). Subconsciously, I think I felt that if I could beat everyone academically, It might make up for the fact that I felt ugly and unwanted. It was this feeling of “well I’m fat, but I can be smart, so I can be good at something.” I was so afraid that the feeling of worthlessness would creep into all aspects of my life that I had to ensure that I was good at something. If I was a good student, I was something. While most my peers wore skinny jeans and tees that read “Hollister 22,” I showed up for school in athletic clothing and a scrappy bun, afraid than any other clothing might highlight the roles of fat on my stomach. I knew that my body was different from other girls’ bodies, and it was their bodies and not mine that fit into the “cute” clothing. One of the hardest parts about middle school was that feeling of social isolation, and not being able to simply go out with my friends and buy a cute top without worrying if it was going to fit me.
I never stopped to pinpoint why I ate so much but in my defense, I was only in middle school and it wasn’t as though I had an acute sense of self-awareness. When I sat down to lunch at school, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to consume at least three plates of food. On top of that, I would often sneak/hide food in my room so I could eat more without my parents knowing (fun fact- my favorite sneak food was a white tortilla microwaved with mozzarella cheese – basically a soggy quesadilla). I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be sneaking food, but a part of me felt as though I was already overweight, so what was the stinking point? When my parents tried to moderate what I ate, I became incredibly defensive. When my mom asked me if I wanted to go on a run with her, I always refused. My mom has always been very thin, so the option of going jogging with my very thin, very fit mother didn’t exactly excite me. Even though I was overweight and refused to run with my mom, I was still pretty active because of my sports life. I have played soccer for almost 12 years (ages 5-17), and in middle and high school I also played softball and basketball before I started running. I was a strong soccer player in that I was aggressive, big, strong, and a smart defender. I loved soccer because it made me feel powerful outside the classroom.
I felt, therefore, that I had two redeeming qualities: I was smart, and I was a good athlete…that was my entirety of being. BUT My middle school years weren’t all dark and dreary, and it’s important that I’m able to look back and be able to see the happiness. I was fortunate to be a faculty brat, which is a slang term for a student who has a parent working at the school. This meant that I was on campus during the weekends, stayed late during the week, and knew practically every faculty member on campus. The small group of faculty brats on campus was the reason I look back on my middle school years and miss them. Out of that group of people, I made two friendships that will last my lifetime. Even though I was struggling with self-acceptance, I had a group of friends that had my back and often made me forget that I was struggling at all.
High School – Developing an ed
My dad got a new job, and we moved away from the community that I’d known for 10 years. I started a new high school, and for the first year, I felt as though nothing had changed. I love travel, change, and new things so surprisingly, the move wasn’t super hard for me. I still played three sports in school, and club soccer outside of school. I made friends fairly easily in high school, and I attribute that to two things: I’m fairly personable, and I went to a small, quaker school. My soccer career was getting more serious; I moved through teams, looking for one that would participate in college showcase tournaments. As I began to further my soccer career, my weight became more of an issue. I was reminded by coaches and fitness tests that in order to “go all the way” I would have to slim down and get faster. Although I cannot pinpoint the development of my ED to a single day, I can recognize a moment when my mindset was shaken enough for me to start acting of my pre-existing thoughts of how fat I was.
I was at soccer practice one night, and we were doing a suicide test (look it up – it sucks). I remember being the last one to finish it, and the assistant coach looked at my head coach and shook his head as I passed by. Now, perhaps the nod had nothing to do with me, but somehow I knew it did. My dad picked me up from practice that night, and as we were driving home, I became incredibly angry. Through a curtain of tears, I was screaming at my dad that I was sick of my body and I hated the looks I got, and the fact that I wasn’t good enough. I remember this moment explicitly because of the full-bodied and overwhelming feeling of anger. It was different from the times when I sat and cried about my body, thinking poor me, poor Abby. This time, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, I was angry at myself and angry at everyone who I thought was calling me fat behind my back. But I quickly realized that I was in control of my body, and I could do whatever I wanted to it.
“If they were going to laugh at me for being fat, I would show them that I could be skinny”
This is a real, recurring thought I had over the next year. Now, is was an unhealthy thought, because my weight-loss journey had begun out of spite, and not out of a wish to be healthy and happy. I wanted to prove everyone wrong and see their faces when I was everything they thought I couldn’t be. I didn’t even consider becoming too thin, I was only focused on losing as much weight as possible. Remember that sentence at the beginning of this where I said I was a perfectionist? Not surprisingly, that perfectionism extended into my weight-loss journey, and I went full force into it. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it well. I was surprised with the amount of control I could exert over my eating an exercise. Once I devoted a black moleskin journal as my “intake journal” and figured out ways to calculate calories burned during exercise, weight-loss became a game. I limited myself to no more than 600 calories (400 ideal) and exercised for at least an hour and a half every day. I would go on a 2.5 mile run, and then workout in the gym for an hour. The first couple weeks of weight-loss were surreal; I was dropping the weight like bricks off of my body, and within the first month, I had lost about 15 pounds. Once I realized that it was that easy, I again lowered my calorie intake and exercised more rigorously. I had never felt more successful at anything than I had when I was losing weight this rapidly. I felt like boys finally began to notice me, call me pretty, and not snigger behind my back when I was eating a trail mix bar.
Thinking about it now, that time of my life seems like a complete blur. My mood and disposition during those three months changed dramatically. I morphed into this angry, unstable, petrified girl who’s only objective in life was to be thin and beautiful; In my mind, thin equaled beautiful. It’s easier for me to list the changes that occurred, instead of writing them out in full because even today, even writing this, it makes me sad to know that I was like this, and it reminds me of all the consequences I suffered.
- Unpredictable and volatile mood swings – happy one moment, screaming and in tears the next
- Cold all the time. I would wear layers on layers on layers everyday to school.
- Dizziness when I stood up too fast
- Obsessed with my weight- the scale became my best friend and worst enemy. I couldn’t go a week without weighing myself.
- Physical weakness- I became a “lightweight” in soccer; I was thin, bony, and constantly pushed off the ball. This was such a hard transition for me as soccer was my whole life. I was devastated when my coach approached me and told me I couldn’t be a starter anymore because I wasn’t strong enough.
- I began to try and force myself to throw up, although I never once succeeded.
- My relationships became strained as I thought that people around me were just criticizing me constantly about my weight instead of truly caring for me
- Self-hatred- I became depressed, and began cutting myself as a stress relief.
- I stopped menstruating, and still have not gotten my period back
- I developed a nasty habit of lying to get out of eating obligations
- I began binge-eating, and then restricting for several days
- Soccer became too difficult a task, as I saw myself get weaker, not stronger, on the field. I quit the very sport that I’d been playing for my entire life; I no longer enjoyed it because after every game, I was left with a feeling of insufficiency, like I wasn’t good enough anymore. Quitting soccer was a result of the mental component of this disorder, not the physical.
Beginning to recover – now
Much like developing the ED, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when it became clear that I had an eating disorder and needed help. I do remember that it had to do with this nifty little habit that I’d picked up: running. Having quit soccer and been in the market for other forms of exercise, I began to take my 2.5 mile runs more seriously. I joined my school’s spring track team, and running was suddenly this huge part of my life. I was excited that as a former soccer player and athlete, I could step onto the team and I was instantly one of the top three girls. As I began to add to my weekly mileage, I noticed that there was a direct correlation between my eating, my energy, my running, and my times. My muscles felt sluggish, and it was incredibly difficult for me to maintain any sort of pace for more than 2 miles. With the help of my other track friends and online communities like instagram and other running blogs, I slowly began to realize the sheer amount of food that my body needed to perform. For the first time in months, the most important thing in my life wasn’t losing weight, it was running- and running FAST. Running makes me feel strong, a kind of strength that is infinitely better than the “strength” I felt eating as little as possible and saying no to every indulgent food.
If there’s anything I was to clarify in this section, it’s that actively trying to recover from and eating disorder is the absolute hardest thing I have ever done. It’s hard work, it drains me, and it sometimes feels totally pointless or stupid. I want to make sure that people understand that no matter how this writing portrays the recovery period, it should be clear that it, for a lack of better wording, sucked. I faltered, failed, and cheated constantly. It was the shittiest roller coaster I had ever been on. I would gain two pounds, freak out, lose three pounds, and then feel like a failure. This went on for about two years. Even though I do not consider myself fully recovered, I do know that I have weathered the worst of this storm. It’a hard, but it’s supposed to be. And the payoff? WORTH IT IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD.
I began to be able to eat out with friends, enjoy family meals, and for the first time, truly explore my newfound passion for cooking. I was so lucky in that all the relationships that I had tested during the worst period proved meaningful, and my friends and family never left my side. The worst of my depression and cutting habits faded, and for the first time in years, I felt like I was living a meaningful life. As my running improved, so did my body image in that I focused less on how I looked and more on my athleticism. So, there I was, entering freshman year of college, having gained about 15-20 pounds, and feeling my life open up to me.
Well, life’s a bitch. (sorry)
Right before I started my freshman year of college and collegiate running, I fractured my navicular bone. I’m not going to go into it, because it’s a novel in itself, but I’m still dealing with it a year and half later. I decided to take a break from school this year (my sophomore year) to figure the injury out and return fully recovered. Unfortunately, returning to school still injured and then leaving school five weeks in proved to be a huge stressor and in about three months, I gained about 30 pounds, realizing along the way that I was not recovered, as extreme stress had just resurfaced every destructive thought I had ever had, but instead forced me in the other direction.