Trigger Warning: This deals with eating disorders and could potentially be triggering.
Today’s post was meant to be about how I started running. Since running entered my life when I was 18, it forced me to look back at that very dark chapter in time. I have never shared any of this on the blog, until now. I just never wanted to go there because it’s depressing and I still have a lot of shame surrounding the topic. I decided if I was going to talk about how I started running, I better get honest and share the whole story. Not the fluffed up, inspiring, “blog-worthy” story. So here goes nothing (and everything).
I was 18 years old, living in a town called Normal. I was attending college at Illinois State University when I started running – but let’s back up a bit.
Prior to college, I never had any body image issues whatsoever. In fact, I was such a little party girl that I had quite the beer belly. I also ate junk food 100% of the time and it was starting to catch up with me. I probably weighed about 15 pounds more than I do now at the age of 17. But I was okay with it.
Then I went to college and learned a lot. Like how many calories are in a cookie and how many you need to consume in order to lose 2 pounds a week. I also learned how important it was to be thin, and I was up to the challenge.
It started off innocently enough. I was getting healthy for the first time in my life. I joined the student rec center and would exercise for 20 minutes at a time. I stopped eating the junk food in the cafeteria and opted for the salad bar instead. I began losing weight pretty easily. Things were all well and good. If I would have stopped there, my story would be quite different.
I went home for the summer and kept up my routine of healthy eating and exercising. I even started to run. When I returned to college for my sophomore year I was greeted with compliments on how good I looked. The praise about being a size zero was great but it started to mess with my head.
When people tell you how great you look because you’ve lost weight, it makes you feel like you must’ve looked pretty awful before. And who ever wants to go back to that?
Once you’ve lost weight, the fear of gaining weight is real. It slowly became overwhelming. Mind you, I was never “fat” prior to all this, just heavier than I am now. I began to obsessively count calories. I aimed to consume 1,200 calories a day no matter how much I exercised. I would run to the college track and then do 20 laps and run back. I didn’t enjoy running; it was simply a means to an end. The end being skinny.
I had the best self-control. It was so strong it earned the admiration of the girls around me. You’d never see me eat a cookie, or any dessert for that matter, during my sophomore year. On the nights I would drink, I wouldn’t eat all day in order to save my calories for the alcohol (a common practice among college girls). I’m sure you can imagine how well that went over. Many blacked-out nights waking up in places I didn’t recognize. I don’t remember a lot from that year.
Let’s fast forward to when it took a terrible turn. I can remember the exact day the shift happened. It is forever etched in my memory because it was the start to so much misery. It was summer break after sophomore year and I was staying with my dad. He has quite the sweet tooth and you will always find at least 4 cartons of Breyer’s ice-cream in his freezer and a drawer full of candy.
One day, I decided to be naughty and have a Reese’s peanut butter cup. It had probably been a year since I’d had anything like this and I just wanted a taste. The moment it touched my lips, my brain lit up. It was like heroin. I wanted more. I ended up eating the entire bag of Reese’s. It was as if I was in a trance as I did it. Like a full fledged chocolate black-out.
Once the bag was empty, I immediately panicked. My heart started racing and I couldn’t believe I had been so weak.
I knew I had to handle it so I ran to the upstairs bathroom. There was no way I could risk absorbing all those calories. It was not an option. I could feel myself getting fatter by the minute. I had never tried to make myself throw up before; I was too in control for that. It was unnecessary. But today, I felt weak and desperate.
My stomach hurts just typing these words and I don’t want to get graphic, but let’s just say I was successful. I was able to erase the damage I had done. I felt an immediate sense of relief. I could breathe again. I had slipped up with the candy, but I had fixed it. I was still in control. I told myself I wouldn’t do it again; it was a one time thing.
But of course that’s what every bulimic says.
I now had this back-up plan in my bag of tricks and I started to take advantage of it. It started to happen more frequently. Once a week. Then twice a week. Eventually, it was every day and then multiple times a day.
I returned to college my junior year and was living in my sorority house. It got really out of control during this time and I went into a deep, dark depression. I simply hated my life and who I’d become. I honestly just wanted to disappear. I rarely went out anymore. I isolated myself because I hated facing the world. At this time, I was about 10-12 pounds less than I am right now. That might not sound like a lot, but it scared my family who knew me best. They didn’t recognize me and it was so obvious something was terribly wrong.
I knew I was wasting my life away and it was only getting worse and worse. I couldn’t keep any food down and it was a full-blown addiction. I made the wise choice to start seeing an amazing therapist on campus. She was a godsend. I am still so thankful for her.
Eating disorders go so much deeper than eating and weight. My therapist helped me to identify all the causes of my own. It wasn’t about the food. My eating disorder was caused by the trauma that had staked its claim on my psyche years ago. I had a lot of work ahead of me.
The thing about eating disorders is that they ruin you. They make you feel powerless and they suck the life out of you. The most twisted part is that you are doing it to yourself. So on top of the hell you’re in, you’re also angry at yourself for not being a better person. For not being able to snap out of it.
I had to get out of my sorority house because it was time for me to focus on my recovery instead of chapter meetings and semi-formals. Together, my amazing therapist and I devised a plan. She set up treatment for me at a Behavioral Health Center back home. I would get intense treatment over the month of Christmas break and nobody would need to know. I would take all of my belongings home with me over Christmas and when I came back a month later, I would move into an apartment. It would be a fresh start.
I continued to battle with my bulimia until I had graduated from college. I was definitely improving but it was an ongoing challenge. After years of not keeping food down, it’s actually tremendously hard to sit with the sensation of a full stomach. That is not something people often talk about, but it took years to get over.
I began dating a triathlete who fueled her body for performance and had a completely different perspective on food. She never talked poorly about her body and ate for the energy to sustain the sport she loved so much. It was like a lightbulb went off inside me. I needed this healthy example in my life as much as I needed therapy.
I ran my first race and realized I wasn’t half bad at this whole running thing. It gave me a little spark of confidence. I began to actually fall in love with running as a sport rather than a form of exercise. It triggered something inside of me. I knew if I wanted to perform well, I had to fuel my body properly and sufficiently. I stopped running to burn calories and started running to get faster in races and because I truly enjoyed it. Running gave me pride in my body and some desperately needed self-confidence. I went from hating myself to feeling PROUD of myself! It was a a major shift.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I was eventually free from the shackles of the eating disorder that had essentially taken years of my life. I credit my therapist and running for this transformation. I could cry just thinking about how something as simple as running could save me from myself.
I haven’t once talked about this in all the years I’ve been blogging. Even though I know millions of women have been through the exact same thing, I’ve been too ashamed to admit this is my story. I credit my darling friend, Lauren, for even being able to write this post. She mentioned her own battle with an eating disorder in a recent blog post and I was in awe of her bravery and authenticity. Truly stunned. Why aren’t more women talking about this? Why are we so ashamed when so many of us have been there?
My story mirrors so many others. It is not unique or special. It is not crazy or rare. Quite the opposite actually. It is so common that it actually breaks my heart.
Those were some of the darkest days of my life, but I can honestly say they make my life today that much brighter. If you happen to be in the throes of your own eating disorder, I am here to tell you there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a beautiful life ahead for you. This is not your destiny. You were created for so much more. Trust me. I said earlier that eating disorders ruin you — but only temporarily. You can be re-built. This moment in time is only temporary. It’s only one little piece of your story. I promise.
If you or someone you know is interested in seeking help, please click here. If you just want to talk about it – please email me! I am all ears.