I knew I had a problem when I was very young, worrying more about being thin than playing house. Unbeknownst to me, anorexia and over exercising disorders had preceded me in at least three generations on my father’s side of the family. Without ever being told it was important- I knew I would get a pat on the head from my grandma, aunt, & uncle, for being thin. I would beam.
Functional eating disorders run in my family- and I am not a novel case- family history of an eating disorder makes it 11 times more likely that offspring will suffer effects. This not only speaks to the gravity of the genetic component, but suggests the need for preventative and awareness measures. Three out of four of my living relatives with visible symptoms of eating disorders would deny any issue – the disorder is instrumental in their lives, their work, and their relationships to community. I found my own ‘function’ when I picked up ice skating.
Here, was an opportunity, as a child, to exercise for hours a day, miss family meals, and be acceptably preoccupied with my own weight, diet, and performance. I got older, and it got harder, to wear spandex and mesh as a job. During puberty, I mitigated the changes by doing what the older kids did. Encouraged by a coach to, ‘watch my eating,’ I had an excuse to skip courses, work out harder, and manage my body for its potential rebellion, and what it would do to my jumps.
I quit skating in high school, due to head injuries, and my body changed rapidly. Without the hours of training, I hit puberty like a ‘normal teenager’. I felt out of control, offensive to the eyes of others, and depressed. I turned to the internet, for pro-eating disorder sites, where young men and women supported each other through hunger, and shared tips and tricks. I would recruit the friends with similar ideals, and we would ‘support’ each other. I ate cotton balls soaked in orange juice, took diet pills, and joined every sport I could.
In college, the disorder would subside when I was living in close enough proximity to others. Roommates and boyfriends helped me see periods of ‘remission’. I could give myself more permission to eat, and be social, when I saw the people around me living full lives without eating disorders… but during breakups, and when I lived alone – reality eluded me.
I was referred to the Eating Disorder Services Department at CU Boulder, by the Women’s Clinic due to erratic weigh-ins over the course of my collegiate career. I reluctantly went to individual and group therapies, spoke with a nutritionist, and kept a food journal. The food log was extremely triggering for me- creating an obsession with recording every ingredient and working toward a calorie deficit. I admitted to my providers that I did not feel ready to let go. With the uncertainty of graduating, and entering the working world, my obsession with intake and output provided safety.
Other students graduated, and moved in with significant others, or away for jobs. I moved home because I knew I was in trouble. I was unable to apply for a job, because my day was entirely swallowed by roaming from workout class to hot yoga, and from trailheads to my room, where I could log the calories I had burned. Meals with my family were tearful events, and I could see that I was no longer just attacking myself, but those I depended on. One day, on a fasted-cardio run, I passed out, on a trail with my dog. When I came to, my knees were cut open, and my dog was covered in dirt, shaking, because I had fallen on him. I hobbled back to service, called my mom, who tore up the road to my rescue. She took me to get my knees stitched up, and form a plan.
I called different centers, looking for one who would let me eat my restrictive diet-style, and exercise. Even in exploring recovery- I was holding on to the sickness. “I eat this way because of a neurological condition,” which was not entirely untrue, but kept me safe from the things I feared the most: white rice, sugar, dairy, bread, and fruit. My coach suggested to me that I find a clinic that teaches the Eat, Breathe, Thrive Program – which is a curriculum of tools and yoga, specific to eating disorder recovery.
After adjusting to the idea of treatment being the surrender of old patterns in exchange for new ones, I decided on a clinic in Santa Monica, where I could be away from almost anyone I knew, for the weight restoration and emotional roller coaster that would accompany it. My best friend, who got sober in a treatment facility from alcohol, came to drive me to California. If anyone knew about surrender, it was Maddie, and I could trust her with understanding my out-of-control state. On the way to California, I made sure we could stop at a hotel where I could do the exercises I needed to, to feel okay. We listened to our favorite songs. I cried. I longingly watched her eat road trip snacks, with a smile on her face. Her heart was not racing as she opened a bag of whatever it was. She was solid ground for me. I felt anxiety rush over me before biting into my hard-boiled egg.
I don’t really remember the first few days. I know the first question I asked my roommates was when they thought I would be cleared to run. I thought of myself as a special case, which may have helped me, in the long run. I thought, ‘I’m only here to learn how to eat everything I need, in a place where it’s safe for me to become healthy.’ ‘I’m only at this facility because it’s where they teach yoga specific to eating disorders.’ I did not know all of the dirt I would dig up, how vulnerable I would be with deep friendships, and how scary the body changes would be. It turns out everyone there was a special case.
Some didn’t have ‘eating disorders,’ they just couldn’t eat gluten or dairy or anything processed, or sugar or nuts or meat. It’s for health – so its not a disorder, right? Maybe not: orthorexia is the most insidious disorder in society today, allowing functional eating disorders a new level of acceptance, often praised as ‘wellness’.
I could so clearly see when my co-residents were using the tricks I had perfected, and it made me sad to see the mirror of me in the unwillingness and excuses. I turned myself in, to my dietician. I wanted to eat dairy, gluten, and all the things I had put on my allergy list… I really wanted to surrender. I met Chelsea Roff, of Eat, Breathe, Thrive, which came to teach us weekly yoga sessions at the clinic. I heard her story, and I saw her in a different light than any other practitioner, because she had once sat in my place, as a patient.
I surrendered. I surrendered again. But I couldn’t let go as much as they wanted me to. I could not sit medicated, and still, any longer. I was not done, but I was done, there.
Extremely uncomfortable in the body I had come into, but confident with sticking to my meal plan- I left without medical clearance, and moved two states away. I had this feeling that I couldn’t live separate of the world, I had come and accomplished my goals, and it was time to go.
this is where the work begins.
I feared that too much pressure would make me crumble, so instead of jumping into medicine, the field I had studied for, I got a job at a Nepali & Indian restaurant in Salt Lake. Delivering intentionally-prepared foods to others reminded me that this stuff is life-bringing. I took myself off all the medications I was given at treatment, which I would never recommend to another soul. They served their purpose and kept me still, at the center, for long enough to heal. It was time to find my feet.
I couldn’t run. I mean, physically could not. My posture slumped from loss of muscle at the facility, and hours sitting in floor chairs. I was too afraid to see most of my family, and skipped a few reunions while I came to claim my new appearance. That voice, the one that says, ‘I love my family, but I’m not ready to see them,’ is the voice I had been waiting to hear.
This voice- it has led me through. Some days, it has asked me to eat cookies for every meal- and I listened, knowing that this voice, is the one who’s looking out for me. Also, how fun is it that as part of recovery, I get to do experiments like this?! The voice has not led me to become inactive or unhealthy… quite the opposite. I am stronger in my body, than I have ever been, my relationship with my body is more awake, and I am well, but real- an example for others to find their own wellness. I am back to skating, for fun. I have the honor of teaching students how to hone their skills at the rink, while celebrating fun and ability. I get to explore conversations about food and exercise from mother to daughter, in both of my businesses.
My eventual goal, is to be the primary provider for someone struggling with an eating disorder- via nutrition, talk therapy, physical examination, and gentle movement coaching. I am seeking an advanced nursing degree, to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.