For a large part of my 20's I was struggling with bulimia and didn’t know how to stop or get help.
Growing up and in high school I was an athlete and a dancer and ate well at home and in school. I was naturally thin in my teenage years and didn't struggle with my weight until I was in my 20's. I went to a very small school all my life, where there were all different types of kids. I thought being different was cool. Social media didn't exist back then so I grew up lucky enough not to have to compare myself to every image on Instagram and Facebook and compete with the media and idolization of celebrity. I can't imagine what girls go through today.
Looking back I do remember my mother and older sister being conscious of their weight, my sister was a faithful runner and did crunches in front of the TV every night and my mom often told me when she was "good" -good being when she ate well.
I looked up to them.
When I went to to college, the way I felt about my body did a 180. I went from a class of 90 kids to one of the biggest schools in the nation with the most good-looking people there could be. I joined greek life as a way to meet others and find a community within this giant university (which was great) but I quickly learned I needed to be skinny and hot. The girls in my sorority and around campus were gorgeous so I wanted to be like them and I also wanted guys to like me. I had never dated before and I wanted boys to like me, what 18 year old girl doesn't?
Due to the nature of change and freshman year I gained a little bit of weight onto my usual, underdeveloped and athletic high school body. It was not a lot, but enough for me to go home the summer before sophomore year and make sure I not only lost the weight, but got really skinny. I worked out everyday and ate very little. I came back sophomore year, very tiny and my friends noticed, guys noticed and to be honest, I felt really good about myself.
My roommate at the time was quite thin, and I wanted to be like her. Instead of eating a whole sandwich, she only ate half a sandwich, and when we went out with friends instead of eating a sushi roll, she only ate half a sushi roll - so I did those things too.
As the school year went on soon my diet consisted of not much more then a 100 calorie chewy bar for breakfast, a small can of tuna with nothing on it for lunch and a baked potato with nothing on it from the Wendy's nearby my dorm for dinner.
Sometimes I remember being as extreme as only eating a pickle for dinner.
I wasn't working out a lot, but my classes were really far away and I was walking to and from probably a few miles each day. The tiny bit of weight I still had fell off and fast.
I was dating my first real boyfriend, in a sorority filled with pretty girls, and quite frankly I thought I was pretty great. For two years, people always noticed how skinny I was and it didn't bother me. In fact, when people were worried about me that only motivated me to keep the weight off. It's sad now, but I was getting attention, it didn't matter what type of attention, it was what I always wanted from my loved ones growing up and it made me feel really good.
At 5'6 I weighed 103. I cannot wrap my mind around that now.
But this was also the first time I experimented with making myself throw up. I was thin and I didn't want that to ever change so from time to time if I felt too stuffed after I ate I would take a shower and usually throw up in there (so my roommates didn't hear me).
As I grew up and started to eat less restrictive like any normal young woman I started to gain a bit of weight naturally. And due to how seriously little I ate for two years straight I know now my body was screaming desperately for more food. When I was 20 I went abroad to London for a summer program and I started to eat more and drink too and quickly weight started to come on.
I came back from the summer and all of a sudden didn't recognize the person I saw in the mirror. At 5'6 I went from just over 100 pounds for two years prior to 130. Within a year and at age 21 this felt like the end of the world. My clothes didn't fit, I looked puffy and I wasn't getting much attention anymore.
I immediately started working out and trying to loose the weight but I was actually just gaining it. I became depressed about gaining weight and I started to emotionally eat. I started to really dislike my body, so much so that I started to binge and purge a lot more then ever before.
When I graduated college and moved out to Los Angeles things got much much worse, as maybe you can imagine. I had gained all this weight, was depressed, insecure and hated myself. I wanted to be the girl I was a few years before, who had all these friends, guys, fun and attention around her.
I started to equate happiness with thinness. Something I held onto for literally, a decade. I gained 10 more pounds.
For the first half of my 20's I turned to food to make myself feel better. It did of course for that moment I was indulging, take some of the pain away, but after I was done with a binge I felt terrible. I didn't understand what eating healthy was back then, but I tried- I was eating things like full boxes of wheat thins that I would buy for the week but eat in one night, subway sandwiches because I thought they were "healthy", and and tons of frozen yogurt that I tried to convince myself didn't count since it was fat-free.
I calorie counted everything, drank non-fat lattes and diet coke, and chewed sugar-free gum incessantly to keep myself from eating as long as possible...every, single, day.
But then, I would binge.
I was trying desperately to correct my binges and just eat healthy, but I was giving my body such confusing messages I was constantly starved both physically and mentally.
Weight continued to creep on, and all of a sudden I was 40 pounds heavier then I was in college. I was disgusted of myself and completely freaked by the thought of gaining even more weight.
I thought who is going to like me now?
So I started to binge and then throw up. This continued off and on for several years, and in my mid 20's it was in a full on cycle. I could not pull myself away from binging and purging. I would loose a pound with restrictive eating and pounding on the treadmill or stair master during the week, and then binge on the weekends to make up for the restriction I had put myself through all week.
Everything was so up and down and I was so unhappy. I absolutely hated my body. I started to only find joy in the moments I could binge. Nothing else mattered.
I was so low and depressed that it became literally the only time I felt good. But then, I would feel so bad, I would throw up, cry, crawl into my bed and pray for everything to be over.
I would feel terrible the next day after a binge and purge of course and usually end up starving myself, working out, and writing down the calories of everything I ate.
I kept a little notebook around- 100 calories here, 200 calories there, and when I got to 1200 I freaked out. But like clockwork, this restrictive cycle led me to end up binging and purging again. I looked terrible and I felt terrible. It felt like I was living in a nightmare of my own actions that I didn't want but didn't know how to stop.
I was working a job at the time that had late hours. The days I worked I obsessed about eating really well since I was out of the house and distracted and I could do it.
I never ate anything I wanted, it was always something fat-free, or just fruit or a really sad salad. When I would drive home those nights, unfulfilled, I rebelled against the restriction I had put myself through that day. Knowing I was headed home to an empty apartment, I routinely stopped to grab cereal, candy, whatever I was craving and would go home and eat it all, unable to stop.
I was running away from the emotions I was having, feeling sad, lonely, unhappy. Stuffed and hating myself, I would then purge. It felt shameful. Each time I did this I woke up the next day and had the worst feeling in the world...my head hurt, my body was confused, I always had red blotches on my face. I wanted nothing more then to sleep the day and the shame completely away.
For years I couldn’t break the cycle and I continued to beat up on myself for this deep dark secret.
I kept this from my friends and family for many years. I sank further and further in the shame around what I was doing to myself and my body and really had no idea how to break free. I found myself always saying, “tomorrow will be different.” But It was never that easy.
For years, as my depression got worse and I felt more and more insecure about my body, it felt like all I could do was eat to make myself feel any better and binging really became the only thing I could think about sometimes.
I woke up each morning with the desire to change but I never really could. I would do well for a few days, work out and eat well, research a new diet I could become “obsessed with”, date a guy that distracted me for a few weeks, but it didn’t matter. These were just distractions.
I kept thinking there's something else out there that can make me happy. I just need to find that. And I'll stop. I was always looking for something that was going to help me change. I was always looking outside myself, because I never thought that happiness could come from me. No, not me. I didn't like myself.
No one in my life knew what I was doing to myself.
One night years ago I hit rock bottom coming face to face with this nightmare I couldn't wake up from... I was out to dinner with a group of girlfriends at a really great Italian restaurant near the beach. I remember ordering a salad, something I felt I “should” have but didn’t really want. Everyone else was getting these huge pasta dishes and eating bread.
It should have been an amazing night out with good friends but all I could think about was how much I didn’t like myself, insecurity about my weight and getting home.
Every bite they took I felt envious of them.
All of my friends were beautiful and thin and appeared to me to have no issues around food - something that I struggled with daily, hourly, every second.
I compared myself to them, and wished I was different.
They could enjoy what they wanted and stop when they were full, but I couldn't.
Everything was so messed up from years of eating far too little, then far too much and throwing up, sending a lot of mixed signals to my poor body. I was always trying to fill a void and the unhappiness I had with myself. Being around foods like pasta and bread scared me because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop eating them if I started. They are things I routinely told myself I could not have so I wanted them more. I restricted myself. This is why I binged.
I was always too embarrassed of my body to ever order what I really wanted when I went out to dinner with people. These friends saw me in college when I was skinny and I was so embarrassed of my new body, the body I had been torturing with binging and purging behind closed doors to loose weight. I definitely wasn't even loosing weight, it wasn't "working" and I imagined them always thinking “she’s seriously let herself go."
Constantly restricting myself from eating what I really wanted and labeling foods as "bad" led me to want to binge more and more. Every single time.
All I could think about that night was getting out of that dinner and getting home so I could eat whatever I had in the house and feel better about myself. I thought that night my roommate was gone. When I got home and I saw her there, I freaked out. We hadn’t been living together long, and I didn’t want her to see me binge.
I had previously lived by myself where my binging was much worse since I was alone all of the time. I actually moved in with my roommate to help myself get over this since I knew I wouldn’t do it in front of her.
A lesson I was very far from at this time is that the strength to recover needed to come in the form of self-love, understanding about why I was doing this and nourishing myself, not moving in with someone to distract me.
That night instead of hiding away and binging where I wouldn’t have to deal with any of my sadness and insecurity stirred up from the dinner with my friends, I came face to face with myself and the raw emotions I was experiencing in that moment. I had just come from a night out where all I did was beat up on myself for how I looked and felt and compared myself to every one of my friends.
I felt I needed to escape what I was feeling with binging, and knowing I couldn’t do so I instantly felt uncontrollable anxiety unlike I had never felt before.
Writing this today I can still feel how I felt that night. I remember breaking down in tears and my roommate trying to comfort me.
I felt completely unhappy in that moment.
If you've ever felt that, you know. The way I was living my life, torturing myself in so many ways, painful, unhappy, empty feeling took over me.
I wanted out.
I was miserable for too many years, I was unhappy, I didn’t like myself and this was not the life I wanted. I knew that I wanted to change, but I still didn’t know how- but there was something deep down inside of me that knew one day I could get out of this...and that's what I held onto, somehow-even though I felt like I had fallen apart.
That night was was the first time I acknowledged what I was doing and what I was feeling, and that I wanted to help myself to get to a place where I enjoyed my life again. I didn’t even know what brought me any joy anymore. I wanted to do things that made me happy again, be around people I loved, do things that brought value to my life. Have passion again.
It took me many years of ups and downs, honesty, emotional work, and self-discovery to come to a place where this is no longer a part of my life.
When I embarked on my career as a nutrition coach and learned about the importance of being healthy over some ideal body type I was always striving for, I began treating my body with respect and nourishing myself. My focus became whole foods, self-love, and using your past struggles verses being ashamed of them.
I became aware of the mind and body connection, the pain I was holding onto and wanted to break free from and started actively worked on myself to find acceptance in who I am. With a lot of hard work I started to feel like I was worthy of a life free of pain and unhappiness.
After that night in my apartment with my roommate many years ago, I still reverted back to old ways a few times. When you deal with something this challenging, a pattern you repeated for many years- it’s not just an overnight thing.
But what became different these times, is that I had the awareness to break out of the cycle and turn things in a different direction the next day unlike I ever had in the past. Years ago a binge and purge always turned into another and another, but this time I instead found forgiveness in my actions and turned things around in a more positive direction.
I let myself breathe.
I started speaking to myself kindly. I started seeing that labeling foods as "bad" or "good" or thinking I "should" or "shouldn't" eat that-aren't things I wanted in my vocabulary anymore. I started eating for health, what made me feel good, what nourished me. I read, I researched, I started cooking all the time.
I took deep breathes, took time to myself, smelled lavender every night, chewed my food really well, I took note of how things really made me feel, and I did more of that and less of the other stuff.
I spent so many years restricting and putting my body through countless ups and downs that it’s really taken a long time for my body to acknowledge that it’s safe and in balance. To be honest I think I’m very much still finding that place. I treated my body like crap for a very long time and it's just starting to trust me again. As frustrating as it can be when you make changes and want to all of a sudden feel amazing you have to remember- things take a lot of time. Our bodies take a while to catch up to our mind.
Throughout my experience with the challenge of working through other health issues and just in general feeling down from a bad day I can’t lie and say my mind doesn’t go there-and I don’t fight the urge to resort to old patterns…because I do. But I’ve found awareness and I can work with myself to get to a place of pushing through those intentions, knowing that they aren’t the answer for feeling better. I'm able to pull myself out of the moment and coach myself through it.
What really changed things for me was the more I became honest with myself and others about what I was doing the more I felt supported to break free. Today it is no longer my deep dark secret. I'm actually so thankful that I have the experience because it's how I can relate to and help others. That is a powerful gift. I want other people out there going through this to know you're not alone and you can reclaim your power.
If you or someone you know out there is struggling, please don't be ashamed to ask for help.
photo credit: familyministerbrandon.wordpress.com