Friday, January 13, 2012

Food Talk Fitness Friday Mash-up - My story

I have been putting this off ever since I started this blog, and since I knew a lot of other bloggers shared similar stories and it just was never the right time.  Well, going into a fresh new year, a year I will turn 25 (a quarter-century), the year I will get myself back to physically healthy, a year I will concentrate more on what the food helps me accomplish and less about the obsession - I told you yesterday that I couldn't do the detailed food log for a personal reason, and here it is.

My name is Danielle, and I am, and always will be, recovering from an eating disorder.  

Whoa, whoa...what?! But you ran a marathon, and you play field hockey, and you can do 50 push-ups without stopping - you're not weak...you're not insecure...well...I have found a lot of strength over the years, yes, but I can be insecure, I do still have fear foods, I do still get obsessed with how much I ate, when I am going to eat again and what I am going to eat during the day.  Many of you that have known me throughout this ordeal, may have had their own opinions or concerns, or saw the change in my first hand, and I can't explain how grateful I am to those who stuck by me through it and still support me today.  Many of you have met me post-recovery, may not have ever known I went through this...

It is much better now, than it was, but I still many times wake up in the morning thinking about what I am going to have for dinner - not what I am about to nourish my body with right now - I had already thought about that before going to bed.

It may be hard to believe, as I stand here, an avid athlete, average sized, talking about food and tasty drinks.  However, there was a time in my life, I wouldn't touch a drink that had calories, I wouldn't eat pizza, I wouldn't touch sweets.

I will start with my background, I grew up in the world of gymnastics, where body image was always present, but more in a jokingly way between myself and my friends on the team - there was no mandate that you had to small, skinny, toned - it was actually looked highly upon for you to have tree-trunk legs, power-house legs. I then moved onto field hockey and track - two sports where you can eat without much focus on the foods and within reason, amounts - I was running and sprinting and jumping and dodging for hours out of the day.  I was always on the smaller side, shorter - thinner, than some of my friends and even my own family (which caused a lot of fights among myself and my sisters).

It was the classic weight gain tale...college came and I embraced the free food I got from field hockey get-togethers and the dining hall down the street, or our discretionary dollars at the student center deli (you don't use them, you lose them). I hit the freshman 15 in the first semester...but I didn't even realize it - as I look back now, it is because I wasn't that big, just bigger than my normal. Of course my pants were tighter than ever and my shirts looked a little shorter and tighter in the shoulders, but I just chalked it up to getting more muscle in my legs and arms from field hockey.
At a highlighter party fall freshman year - the weight gain can be seen in face and arms
But then winter break came, and one of the first comments out of my own father's mouth was "You put on a little weight huh - must be all that partying at school" - now previously, this comment would have just brushed right over me, as my Dad is pretty blunt and I don't usually take his comments too personally - I used to be rational about them.  A week or two passed and I went to put on my favorite jeans, and all I heard was this ripping sound, I looked down and I had ripped my jeans from my thigh up the butt - he might have been right - I was a little bit bigger...and then a couple of days later I ripped the second pair of jeans - that is when my mind-set took a drastic shift.
Only positive of this time was my larger chest, but that was part of the gain.
 How could I have done this to myself, how could I have lost my self so quickly? I was the small, perky, athletic one...I am a huge researcher, so I started looking up everything I could about quick weight loss the healthy (DOES NOT EXIST), weight loss tips, how to drop a pant size or two in a few weeks....everything I could on dieting and what exercises burned the most amount of fat and calories. Around this same time, my best friend came home from boot camp for the marines - he had always been a little more pudgy, and he came home leaner than ever - that same time we decided to try being more than just good friends, and so now my boyfriend, a marine, was smaller than me! I made it my goal after these events, to get small, get attractive, get skinny.

Everything I was reading about exercise and weight loss pointed to running as being a high-calorie burner and an efficient way to lose the weight.  I had one problem though - I couldn't run a mile without thinking I was going to die.  2 or 3 miles felt like a marathon to me.  Even though I was in track and field hockey and active my entire life, I never ran long distances, I was a sprinter, a pole vaulter, field hockey is a lot of small sprints, gymnastics is a lot of even smaller ones.  So I did the logical thing, and I started logging miles on the elliptical, being too bored to do more than 20 minutes at first, but then gradually adding in more interesting intervals and working up to consistent 45 - 60 minute workouts daily.  I would try the treadmill for a mile or two and then move to the elliptical - then one day I could run 3 miles, and then I got it to 3 miles in 25 minutes, and then I got it to 3 miles+ in 25 minutes with sprint intervals thrown in - I had my taste of running and the post-burn feeling and I was hooked...

I started going to the gym daily, and getting obsessed by the number of calories or minutes I was working out. I would set a goal of 500 calories or of 60 minutes, and I couldn't stop what I was doing until I hit that goal.  I started taking step classes at the local Y because I read that those classes could burn big calories quickly.

I didn't see much change at first with working out, so I started seeing what I could do about what I ate.  I started counting general calories of foods, but nothing crazy - and I would cave and eat whatever the family was eating, and then go sulk in my room...then I started skipping out on snacks, and then it was lunch - but I never stopped breakfast.  In everything I read, eating breakfast helped you lose weight, especially if you get a lot of protein and fiber.  Eventually, it also became the only meal I ate carbs at and that I ate consistently.

South Beach was big around this time, and so I did what any cheap college student would do, and I googled everything I could on the diet, instead of picking up a book myself.  I took the "off limits" foods and put them on my own personal "off limits" list.   This list eventually came to hold all nuts, cheeses, full eggs (only the whites), red meat, bread, sweets, alcohol, carrots and bananas (too many natural sugars).  My meals consisted of Kashi Go Lean for bfast with skim or lactaid milk with berries, lunch was non-existent most days,  dinner was a small salad of raw veggies and about 1.5 - 2 oz. chicken.  I limited my eating to an item every 4 hours, if needed - if I wasn't hungry, or thought I had too much previously - I waited another couple of hours.

Looking healthy and strong still - this was the transition point from normal to too thin.
How, you may ask, did I get away with this when I had a college sport, a "loving" boyfriend, a group of friends, and a supportive family?  Well it was spring season for field hockey, which meant wearing a lot of baggy clothes for cold morning workouts. My boyfriend was back in North Carolina for training - and whenever he did see me, he would gush about how great I looked, even better than the last time we were together!  I became so withdrawn from my friends, that I really didn't leave my room - I had moved into a single bedroom after winter break, and it was isolated at the end of the dorms in it's own area - it was very easy to disappear there.  My family didn't see me much at the beginning of my disease - yes, I am now comfortable calling it a disease - and so they didn't notice too much.

But there was a lot, I had lost 20 lbs. in 8 weeks (135+ down to 115) - 5 more than I gained going into school, and most of it in the latter 4 weeks...but, I was still unhappy, I still wanted more, I still wanted that size 00, I still wanted thinner.

My secret lifestyle was safe until mid-spring, when the field hockey trainer took notice - she asked me to see her after practice for a regular evaluation, she weighed me and took my vitals.  I was at 114 lbs and my HR was lower than the average.  It wasn't the 114 lbs that was the issue, it was the fact that I had checked into preseason the previous fall with a weight of 126, and had looked to be bigger at the end of the season, and now I was more than 10 lbs thinner - I assured her that I was being healthy, just more aware of my food intake as I had noticed I put on a lot this winter and wanted to be in top shape for field hockey the next season.  She didn't buy it, so she went to my coach with her concerns over my size for a college athlete.  My coach spoke with me and I re-assured her that I was just getting fitter for the next season, she didn't buy it either - that is when my mom was notified...that is when I had to get sneakier...

Summer break came and I was taking classes back home at a community college, so I had morning class and all afternoons free and a summer job at a local pizza shop during the evenings - I quickly found my summer schedule of class, gym, lay outside and study, work.  If I needed it, I would have a snack, but generally I didn't eat lunch.  I then would have a slice or two of deli turkey and some lettuce at dinner at the pizza place, and tell my parents I didn't need the leftovers they saved because I "ate" at work.  I was keeping detailed counts of my daily calorie counts and how much I was burning at the gym, so that I was having a deficit most days.  I wouldn't let my calories get around 1000 if I could help it.
My cheeks started to look gaunt, my arm & shoulder muscles were depleting (I was getting fuzzy hair on my face and arms), my chest and waist were thinning.
My frame continued to thin, my muscle continued to disappear, and my attitude was getting irritable and anxious - I was so deep in the mindset of anorexia, that I was blind to friends making comments they meant to be helpful and loving, but to me sounded mean and judgmental - so I stopped calling them, and stopped hanging out with most but a few close friends who I think were too wrapped up in their own things or too scared to say anything.  I went down to visit the boyfriend a couple of times, and each time he acted normal and happy to see me and couldn't believe how great I looked - he was the only one that really made me happy at that stage, everyone else was just jealous or mean in my mind.

FL fall 2006
My coaches were hypersensitive to my return to the team that fall, and I was given an ultimatum upon arrival to pre-season - I either kept my BMI at 18.5 or higher, or I sat the bench - to keep my BMI at that level, I had to maintain about 115 lbs. This meant I had to gain back a couple of pounds I had lost over summer, and at the same time I had gone through a messy breakup with the boyfriend.  I was not in a good place, but I made it through the season, although I didn't play much, I kept my weight as steady as I could - and once the season ended, I lost it.
  My 20th Birthday (left) and a toga party spring 2007 (right)

Over the next couple of months I spiraled down to 112, 108, 105, 103 lbs. At my lowest measured weight I was around 100, and I was facing some serious issues.  Mentally I was a mess, I still didn't see my disease as a problem, I still wanted to go lower on the scale.  

enough said.
At this time, about year after my downward spiral, I was hospitalized for low heart rate, they were afraid my HR would dip too far down while I slept.  This was one of the big wake up calls, and I started being a little bit more mindful of the health risks associated with the damage I was doing to my body.  I could actually go into organ failure and die if I wasn't supporting the pieces of my system that support my health and life.  The other came a couple of months later, when my parents and told me I needed to go to an in-patient help center, because they didn't know how else to help me get better.  This time I went without struggle, I didn't fight them, I went willingly.  The center wouldn't take me because I was not in dyer risk and my insurance wouldn't cover it.

My little sister and I at our older sister's graduation - tiny arm and shrunken face
I worked hard that summer to get back to normal, to get up to an acceptable weight/BMI for field hockey that fall.  I wanted to go abroad that next year and I wanted to be healthy enough to do it alone.  Gaining the weight was even harder, emotionally and physically than I had imagined - as you go through these fears of blowing up in weight, and going to the extreme opposite end of the sickness.  However, I pushed and I pushed and I gained the weight, just enough, and I played that fall - I still didn't play as much as I had freshman year, but I was well enough to play and that boosted my mindset to work even harder to get to go abroad and live without the fear of slipping back into the darkness I was coming out of.

 Summer 2007 - start of the road to recovery, and yes I tried to go blonde - not a good look all around


I did it, I got serious and spoke with a therapist, I started taking an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety pill and  I got back to 120 lbs over the next couple of weeks, I spent 6 months living in Barcelona, Spain, I had the time of my life, and it was the first time in three years I had felt alive-energetic-daring.  I lost a lot during my worst months, my energetic personality, some of my friends, my ability to have fun, and above all, I risked my life.

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Fast forward 4 years and I am a runner, a marathoner, a loving girlfriend, a strong daughter.  I still have fears and insecurities, but I am a lot more confident and I am a lot more mindful of my habits and pitfalls.  If I feel myself slipping I catch it and I adjust.  My BMI has stayed around 20 - 21 and I at a pretty consistent 125 (sometimes less sometimes more).

My blog title came from this period in my life.  It was my mantra to get back to the old me.  If I felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable with meals or rest days, I would repeat these words "I am Happy and Healthy in my Strong Body".
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 I will do a follow up on this post next week, but I thought it was about time I shared my story and got it out there, depression and anxiety and insecurities are real and dangerous.  If you know of anyone that you might suspect slipping into such a mindset, please do try to talk to them, try to convince Publish Postthem to get some help or just even talk about it.

12 comments:

  1. i'm so glad that you were able to pull yourself out of that sad place. you look strong and fit and you should be proud of how far you've come, physically but of course (and most importantly) emotionally.

    thank you for sharing your story. thanks for being brave enough to do so.

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  2. I agree with the already-posted comment. How brave and strong you are to tell your story.

    It is so important to share these things. Our actions and words touch people in ways we never know. Just like an offhand comment touched you, I know your story of survival and recovery and hope and happiness will help someone else.

    I wish you ongoing success and continued health and happiness in your beauty and strength, in and out!

    :)

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  3. So proud of you for sharing this story! Your blog name is so much more meaningful now that I know the reasoning behind it as well.

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  4. Wow, wow, wow -- you are such an amazing person and always need to know how strong and beautiful you are. Huge kudos to you for reaching out to all of your readers -- it's incredible how many people have similar stories, so this was definitely a huge step I'm glad you took in your blogging career.

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  5. thank you so much for sharing your story... you are so strong and inspiring!

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  6. this si so couragous of u !! this same thing happened to me .. fuzz on arms stoped cycle for 2 years ! this will b really help someone !!

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  7. SO proud of you for writing all of this down!!! you are amazing!! love you! lets get together soon?

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  8. Oh my gosh, I just saw this. I had NO idea! You are such a strong, inspirational person, thank you for sharing with us! You are so gorgeous and strong now I would have no clue about this having happened, you have come SUCH a long way! So proud of you.

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  9. it takes a lot to share this.I think we all have some struggle (yours definitely more serious) that we have dealt with growing up- seeing stories like yours confirms how everything we go through brings us to who we are today- and hopefully and stronger person at that :)

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  10. Wow, I can only imagine how hard it is to share something like this with other people but I really appreciate you being so honest and putting it all out there. You're such a strong person!

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  11. Yup relate to everything in this post!! Isn't it so crazy how fast it happens. Just pure crazy. I am so glad that you are doing better now and that you were willing to share your story. I think sharing our personal stories makes us even stronger and you are definitely strong. There is absolutely no doubt about that. Thank you for inspiring me and helping me to know there are others that understand exactly what I went through and continue to face on a daily basis.

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  12. WOW!!!!! i am so glad you shared this and even more so happy that you opted out of keeping that food journal now that I know all this :) I love you Danielle and you are so smokin hot now. I have never had eating disorder issues in regards to me weight but I used to emotional binge eat and then puke when I was a teen. But once my dad was out of the picture that all stopped.

    Thanks so much for sharing all this. and I am so glad I told you to eat whatever you want b/c you are tiny! :) you don't need to worry. if you ever do feel free to email me:) xoxox

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Thank you for keeping up with Happy, Healthy & Strong - I love to hear all of your comments and feedback!