Letting Go

I once thought I knew everything about eating disorders. Even before mine occurred, I had done school projects on them, loved their chapter in nutrition related books the most, and as I said last week always really enjoyed the TV episodes dealing with them (and still do). But the truth is I knew nothing about my individual eating disorder. I had know idea that it could be so hard to gain weight and keep it on, that there was a whole mental side that I would have to spend years figuring out, and that this disease would effect every relationship (friends, enemies, significant others) in my life. You give up a lot when an eating disorder takes over your life, and that doesn’t just change because you gain the weight back.

That last statement is something I am just comprehending today, tomorrow, and in the future. This post is about my recovery, the biggest accomplishment in my life. But I don’t fully understand my recovery yet. I have however made some huge breaking points in my life and recovery from this mental disease that took over my life when I was 16.

A little background.

I started seeing a nutritionist (not an RD) immediately once I broke down to my mom about my fear of eating. (that is also something unique about me, no one made me admit I had an eating disorder. I knew it but didn’t know what to do with it anymore.) This woman was so nice and sweet, but she had no idea what monster she was dealing with. It was her job to help me gain weight, but I managed to take everything she told me to do and turn it into a way to lose more weight. I was going down the wrong road with her. Unfortunately my visits with her only made my weight loss and mental stability worse. After almost 4 months my mom was about to give up on getting me help at home and throw thousands of dollars that were saved for my college into a treatment program. Did I want that? Yes and No… I did not want to leave my home, but I just could not let go of this ED. It was the most important thing in my life. We decided as a family to try one more time with a new professional who was a Registered Dietitian. Thank you Babs. Who knew this old lady could break me down to tears while telling me I must now eat 6-9 servings of grains a day, 5 servings of veggies, 2 servings of fruit, 3 protein sources (she never made me give up vegetarianism), 4 cups of milk a day, and what eventually built up to 11 servings of fat (which I called Omegas). O I cried, I brainstormed ways to not eat all of that, and I continued to leave lotsof what I called scraps on my plate. But guess what? Even I could tell by the look on my mom’s face on weigh days that the number was slowly going up. All of my efforts were failing, the weight was coming back. And one day I left my last scrap…

A person must choose to recover for themselves.

And although my weight was going up (at a minimal rate) I was only doing it because I saw how much I was hurting my family. I figured I could recover for them for a little while and then just go back once I was on my own. That is not recovery. I chose recovery at an IHOP in Williamsburg, VA (Read it!) because I realized that I knew so much about this disease, and that I could do something with that knowledge other than unintentionally take my own life. I could use my recovery to help others. It could be my platform in pageants, and I could start to live again. After that night my weight increased every week and I became invested in pushing this invader out of my life. I can honestly say that junior year of high school was the best yet. I made the decision to stop going to Governor’s School, I was able to start exercising again, and on February 14, 2009 I reached my goal weight. But was I done with this? I thought I was close I really did. Until I decided it was a good idea to leave my school and city to go to Virginia School of the Arts in Lynchburg, VA. I felt anorexia coming back… and I fought it. It took me 6 weeks to finally say I was unhappy and had made a big mistake going to VSA. But because I did eventually realize that mistakes happen and we all make bad decisions, I went home. I went home to complete what was to be a pretty fantastic senior year. I loved my classes, I had a social life (even a boyfriend to go to prom with), and I won the title of Miss Hickory High School (a dream of mine since I first saw the pageant in 2007!) O and I was both accepted and wait-listed at a few colleges. I owe a lot of credit to my therapist who I didn’t start seeing until my senior year. I had seen someone initially but he had no background in treating eating disorders (he did his best and did help me cope with accepting recovery). My new therapist has allowed me to more than cope. She has showed me that what happened to me can be a tool to help me in life. Because of her I see that my recovery has been more than just gaining weight, it has been about discovering who I am, what bothers me, what makes me happy. Most importantly she has helped me to realize that I can deal with bad situations successfully. I can turn a curse into a blessing. So thanks to her and my own efforts I can honestly say that in my senior year I was not consumed by an eating disorder every day. For anyone who has had an eating disorder, you know how BIG this is.

Life throws some nasty curve balls.

Freshman year of college was amazing. Who was this girl with friends and tons of people who liked her? She was going to all of the football games, handling changing majors one too many times, attending military balls, and having a great time without thinking about the next meal! I was living and learning and stepping out of my comfort zone every day! I wish I could say that all of this lasted. but it didn’t and my sophomore year is now over and I lost a lot of the friends I was close to because I stopped being outgoing and got stuck in a rut. I got comfortable and refused to break from my routine. It was working right? Straight A’s, a best friend, keeping my weight steady… But I lost a lot too. I gave up time with friends, Hokie football games (which you just don’t miss!), and new experiences because I was scared. Scared of what? I don’t know. but I can name a few things like failure, not being accepted by others, and gaining weight. I lost balance in my life. And boy did it hit me this summer! I realize now that there are still some things I need to discover about my eating disorder.

The road is ever changing

Does the fact that I went a little backwards mean I am back where I started? OMGsh NO! The differences between this past year in college, and me when I was 16 are huge. For one I do not want an eating disorder. I want to live a life where I do not think about food and my next meal, or if I worked out enough for that day. I had no idea what was happening to my life this past year, no idea that I was losing important aspects of my life! But I figured it out and wanted to change it. This goes back to being at a healthy weight doesn’t = recovered. What does = recovery is never wanting to go back, and living a life that does not revolve around this disorder. I am almost there, I can feel it. I am searching for that piece of me that got lost when it was pushed away by the eating disorder many years ago. And I will find it.

Sometimes I feel like I am lying when I say I am recovered. But then I remind myself that if that weren’t true I wouldn’t still be living and accomplishing so much! The only way I would be lying was if I stopped recognizing my red flags, and stopped trying to dig deep into the roots of my ED. I am able to recognize my eating disorder and fight it. It took some pretty smart people to help me see that to be true.

Everything in it’s own time for that individual.

There was a time that I needed to be in pageants to recover from this. Now that isn’t true, I have a lot of other reasons to keep climbing in my recovery other than a crown, and a platform I love. There was also a time that I believed I could never be a dietitian because it would only hurt my recovery. That changed too and my goal to help others with this struggle only continued to grow. There was also a time not too long ago when I imagined my future as a dietitian as one who only treats eating disorders. That is beginning to change too. I believed that in order to stay in my own recovery I had to surround myself with eating disorders while helping others overcome them. This is still a life goal of mine, but my goals continue to grow and expand beyond eating disorders. I now realize that at one time I had to hold on to eating disorders to keep my recovery going strong. Now I see that there will be a time when I will let go. I will never forget, never stop fighting to educate others about this mental illness, or stop lending my hand to help others recover. But it doesn’t have to be my whole life.

This is where I am now. Working (and looking forward) to my future. And parts of that future include my passion for recovery and helping others do the same, but another part involves letting go and discovering the other passions in my life.

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Cause and Effect

I left off last Thursday with a bit of a cliff hanger… Sorry! So on to the next portion of my journey.

What caused me to have an eating disorder?

It is actually a question that even I have not answered all of the way. Every day/month/year I seem to uncover another portion of my eating disorder I had no idea existed. But I am getting ahead of myself… I am not going to highlight every trigger or every thought that came about as my eating disorder came about but I am going to highlight what I believe are the important parts that brought anorexia into my life.

*** I will not be sharing photos of myself at my worst because not only could this post about triggers lead to triggering others (and myself) but this blog is meant to show how much my life has grown and developed, and how much more I appreciate all of life’s challenges now. Looking back on the past and how unhappy I was does not really do justice to my motto of plating it and climbing. The goal is to climb up not down.

  • Dieting.

As I said before I have always been very preoccupied with my appearance. Being little was something I took pride in, and I grew up unconsciously worrying about my weight and size. I say unconsciously because it wasn’t something I tried to change, it was all thought no action. But I would hear about dieting and associated it with something adults did, so naturally, my time would come. When I started high school I put on a very little amount of weight and I was concerned because now that I was dancing in pursuit of a career my appearance was even more important. So my mom was just trying to get me into fitness and healthy living when she suggested I try out our exercise bike for 30 minutes. I loved it and weight did start to come off. Then she bought me the book above and I became obsessed. I would read this book at night and was inspired to take up cooking, eat vegetables, non-sugary cereals, and begin to realize that portions mattered. All of these things were great concepts. It wasn’t the book that caused the eating disorder… I believe that it was when the weight came off that my brain began to change. And then I regained a lot of weight (I still wasn’t overweight but when you have lost weight and then it comes back, sometimes it can be upsetting) and became so distraught and for some reason I couldn’t get back to where I thought my body was healthiest. Of course the weight I had gained and then couldn’t lose was probably where my body was feeling healthiest… but my brain wasn’t having it.

So dieting was a trigger for me but it is not for everyone.I just want to make that clear.

  • Competition, Being the best, the need to have something I was recognized for…

There was a time that dance was fun. I looked forward to class and I was good at it. There was no sense of doom and gloom when I talked about my future in dance.

I am on the right in pink shorts. This was when dance was still fun

But when I started high school I made the decision to leave my recreational studio where I had basically grown up. I knew that in order to really make it in dance I needed better technique than my studio could give me. I also started Governor’s School for the Arts (I was accepted into the Dance Department) and that meant I danced for my grades! Dancer’s heaven? I thought so. But then this is when dance began to bring more worry than fun. I was always comparing myself to other dancers and I never felt good enough. There was always someone better or some skill I was too scared to even try. And then suddenly class was something I dreaded. I would stare at the clock counting down the minutes until it was over or I would convince myself I didn’t feel well so that I could sit out. I didn’t know it at the time but my eating disorder was my escape plan…

I was a Virginia Tech HighTech Freshman year of college… it took awhile for me to give up dance

It took me a LONG time to admit that I didn’t want to dance anymore. I tried many things to keep me dancing: Pageants (I’ll cover that in the post about my recovery), The NCAA dance team in college, and taking classes because I though I was supposed to. When something has been a part of your life since the beginning of real memories it is hard to let go. And I will admit, most of dance comes so naturally to me (not all though). So it was hard to explain to people that it wasn’t that I didn’t love dance, it wasn’t that I didn’t feel good enough, it was that I didn’t like the feeling of dance anymore.

My last dance

A lot of people ask me if dance caused my eating disorder. My answer? NO. I was never pressured to lose weight or look a certain way at any of the schools I attended. I pressured myself to be too perfect. I lost my love of dance and didn’t realize it and then an eating disorder became my way out because when I did recognize I didn’t want it anymore I was too scared to leave the one thing I felt good at. Dance is beautiful, and it does wonders for so many young boys and girls. I would not be who I am today without my years in dance. I just don’t love to do it anymore.

  • Something more complicated

I don’t have a picture for this one sorry. This is incredibly complicated and I don’t understand it  myself. But ever since I knew eating disorders existed I have had a fascination with them. I have always enjoyed watching the movies about them, the TV shows (Emma of Degrassi anyone? or DJ on Full House?), and books that dealt with them. I don’t know why, but I glorified these stories and I think unconsciously I was in a way learning how to have the perfect eating disorder. There is a lot of research out there now suggesting that some people have a specific gene that makes them more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. I am someone who believes this to be true. We found out shortly after I was diagnosed that my grandmother exhibited bulimic behaviors throughout her childhood and young adult life. And my mom admits to also dealing with some disordered behaviors (although I look up to my mom so much these days, she eats what she wants, no longer diets or counts points/calories, and takes such great care of her body). When my grandma was young eating disorders were not mentioned and treatment was pretty much unheard of so of course she was never diagnosed with an eating disorder and no one would have thought to be on the look out for the possibility in later generations. Now I am. Because if there is a gene, research also suggests that the gene does not have to be activated. That happens when outside forces come into play, and that happened for me as you can see.

So many things can lead to a person developing an eating disorder and the 3 things I mentioned here are only a few of the things I believe led to mine. I believe it is so important to know possible triggers because eating disorders ruin lives. Yes recovery is possible, but it is hard to chose it and when you do the battle has just begun.
I did not realize how hard the recovery from an eating disorder would be. They leave that part out in the magazines and in the movies don’t they. Well I am not leaving it out because my recovery is what I am most proud of.

Come back next Thursday for my path to healthy and happy! I promise it is a good one!

Europe: Words Can’t Describe (Part One!)

I’m back everyone! And with very little jet lag! (although I did wake up after only 5 hours of sleep for the past 2 nights). I want to do a couple posts about everything I saw and learned in Europe.  Because I went to three different countries, and each country had something new to offer one post just isn’t enough (because it would be so long and you might get bored).

Let’s start with the trip over to Germany (and what I learned)

Getting there took a LONG time!

We left @ 6am sharp to drive to Newark Airport where we could park the truck for the time we were away. Notice Dad has the much needed coffee (my chocolate tea and breakfast of champs is waiting in the truck don’t you worry)

We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare (NOTE: this is good because security could have been horrific) so we grabbed food and relaxed while waiting for the plane. Airport people watching (and listening) provides great entertainment especially when you are not that into the book you are currently reading!

I have never seen a plane this big! It had two isle rows and a set of rows in the center AND 2 stories! wow. When we got on the plane we had to sleep but dad watched a movie and so did I because well i wasn’t quite tired yet. I actually just watched an episode of Desperate Housewives. I used to LOVE that show in the beginning but then it got really hard to follow

Anyway I fell asleep and was awakened by “dinner” I put this in quotes because I have know idea what time it was, but was a little hungry so I took the meal with a smile

It wasn’t bad! The pasta was sort of watery (apparently that is how Germans like pasta though) I really wasn’t that hungry (and I am now practicing my intuitive eating again but more on that in another post) but I knew I had to eat because it would be awhile until we got to my cousin Sherri’s house. The chocolate pudding in the left corner was the best pudding I have ever had. It had a rich chocolate taste and real dark chocolate shavings on the top 🙂

After I took a couple more hours of sleep I found this map that tracked our flight! SO cool. Do you see the Irish city I am named after?

Anyway the plane ride was surprisingly fast for being over 7 hours. And I did take a lot away from it. Here is the main point of this post coming up

***I realized halfway through my plane meal that I had brought a lot of worry about food on this trip. AKA the whole time I was eating I was only thinking of my eating disorder and how it could control my trip. Glad I caught this because this could have potentially ruined one of the best trips of my life***

  • It was OK for me to be nervous and a little timid, but it was not OK to let those nerves rule the vacation. from the moment I realized what was going on I made a promise to myself that I would enjoy every second of this vacation and allow food to be only a small fraction of the experience. Best idea and I did it too as you will see in my next few posts.
  • One more thing about this issue. Although I decided food would not be the focal point of this vacation I also realized that in order to enjoy myself I would have to be comfortable with the food I did experience and have no regrets. I read Intuitive Eating last year, but still have to remind myself of its principles and how I follow them. This was my opportunity to get back to that.

So everything I chose and everything I did on this trip was with joy and excitement. I have no regrets and only wonderful memories and lessons that I will never forget! I hope in the next couple posts on Europe I can at least give you a glimpse of everything I experienced as well as some tips that helped me to overcome fear and embrace what was to become the best experience of my life (So far)