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|
|Only positive of this time was my larger chest, but that was part of the gain.|
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.|
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.|
|FL fall 2006|
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.
|My little sister and I at our older sister's graduation - tiny arm and shrunken face|
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.
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".
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.