Yesterday I talked about the “Why” behind my photography business. Today I’m going to tell you the story behind my “Why.” Please be kind… this is incredibly difficult for me to share this openly. (Thanks in advance.)
Here’s my story… (It’s a long one, but if it helps even one person out there, then it was worth sharing):
The majority of my life I was the ‘skinny girl’. (Which as a pre-teen/teen means I was gawky, awkward, and lanky… and seen as unattractive to most of the boys that I recall.) Some ‘mean girls’ my freshmen year of high school spread rumors that I was anorexic (I was not). I was just over 5′ tall and around 100 lbs when I got my license at 16.
(Look – it’s super awkward early teenage Christy, just to give you an idea… oh lordy.)
Over the next two years I grew to 5’7″, gained some weight, and eventually held steady at a healthy weight (and ate constantly). I ran track, I was in ballet, and a member of a competitive cheer team. I was always super active, so I never thought about my weight. (Except for occasionally wishing I was bigger. I definitely remember hating being so damn skinny and under developed for the majority of my early teen years.)
Anyway – I’m not telling you these things to brag or whatever it may sound like. I’m just trying to lay the ground work so that you understand I NEVER thought I would ever develop an eating disorder. When I heard of girls (and guys) that were affected by them – I just never understood – “How could they not want to eat?!” I loooooooved eating (and still do)!! At the time I wasn’t even aware of what a calorie was and don’t think I ever read a nutrition label on a food item before.
Then came college. I was no longer in any competitive sports (although I continued to work out a few times a week). I was eating in a cafeteria that offered not the best options for food. I was going to parties, eating late night, and eating frozen yogurt covered in reese’s peanut butter cups every night after dinner. I started to notice my clothes weren’t fitting and that I was clearly gaining weight. Forget about the freshmen 15, I was at the freshmen 25+. I felt lethargic and not like myself. And for someone who was unaware of calories, fats, and nutrition in general – I was clueless about how to lose the weight other than through exercise (which didn’t seem to be doing anything at the time).
(Clearly, looking back at these images, I look perfectly healthy… but I was 19, gained almost 30 pounds in a 3 month period and was freaking out a bit.)
(I’m SO beyond embarrassed to tell you this – but am going for full disclosure here – so here we go.) Over Christmas break of that year I attended this ridiculous local modeling competition with my best friend where judges told you if you were chosen to move on to the next part of the competition. We were both chosen to move on, but we had to pay a good chunk of money in order to do so (can you say RED FLAG!?!?!). I begged my parents to let me go, and they eventually obliged. I remember getting ready for the next part of the competition by going through Victoria’s Secret magazines with my friend and figuring out how we needed to look in order to make it past the next part of the competition and get signed by an agency. (FYI – I always wanted to be an actress growing up and theater was a big part of my life. Modeling was never something I wanted to do – but I guess I thought this might be a route for me to get into acting. Oh I was so young and naive.) We had the spring semester to get ready for the modeling competition since it was being held in Chicago that May.
I decided I was going to take this seriously and needed to lose the weight I’d gained. So I called my friend to help me figure out how to do just that (since I was completely unaware of all issues surrounding weight loss prior to that). She told me all about calories, how to read nutrition labels, and that I had to burn more calories than I consumed if I wanted to lose weight. A light bulb went off in my head and I started paying attention to everything I was putting in my mouth and every mile I was running. Quickly the pounds started to come off and by the middle of second semester I was getting close to my healthy pre-college weight (which was only healthy because that is what is normal for MY body – not everybody’s body). But the problem was that I was afraid if I stopped doing what I was doing – all the weight would come back on. I didn’t know how to maintain my weight, only how to lose it. So lose it I did.
By the end of my freshmen year of college I was back to my pre-college weight and was continuing to drop. By this point losing weight had become an Obsession (with a capital O). It completely consumed my every thought. I couldn’t hold a conversation with someone without my mind drifting off to thinking about food and exercise. I was becoming more and more miserable by the day – but didn’t know how to stop it. I was slowly turning from the funny, outgoing, carefree person that I once was… to a straight out angry, depressed, and constantly on-edge person. I didn’t know who I was when I looked in the mirror anymore – and the sad part is that was only the very beginning of my disorder.
During that summer home from college things only got worse. If I were to diagnose what I was developing – I’d say it was a mixture of anorexia and exercise bulimia. I ate exact portions of certain foods every day (amounting to about 600-700 calories at most) and then would make sure to run enough to burn off even that small amount of calories. I had a small bowl of plain rice chex each morning (measured to the exact portion size for the cereal and milk) and a banana. For morning snack at work I’d have a small salad. During lunch hour I’d go for a 2 mile run. During afternoon break I’d have a small bowl of fruit. Then I’d run home from work (another couple miles depending on the day). Then for dinner I’d use the excuse of being too busy heading to play practice (I was playing Dorothy in the local community theater production of Wizard of Oz that year), and so I’d throw together what I lovingly called a ‘condiment sandwich’ at the time… bread, mustard, lettuce, pickles, tomato. And I’d head to play practice.
I was also member of a summer cheer camp staff (that I had worked for the prior summer as well), so I was obsessed with staying ‘in shape’ for when the camps started. By the time those rolled around I weighed about 110 lbs. I tried to eat ‘normally’ while we were at the camps because I didn’t want to be noticed or for anyone to think I had a problem. I remember thinking the all-day workouts would make up for eating some regular food now and then. I really thought I was getting away with something until the director of the camps pulled me aside one day and flat out told me that I had an eating disorder. I of course vehemently denied it and told her not to worry. I was so angry after that conversation because I couldn’t believe she had called me out like that. In retrospect, I can’t thank her enough for doing so. (Also, in hindsight I’m completely ashamed that I acted as any kind of a role model for young high school girls that summer. Ugh.)
When I arrived home from the camps at the end of the summer I remember weighing myself and being pleasantly surprised that somehow even after eating somewhat ‘normally’ I still managed to drop down to about 100 lbs. It should not come as a surprise that I was miserable, crabby, and completely not myself that summer. I remember my younger brothers yelling at me to stop being such a b*tch… which was hard to hear coming from people I loved, especially because acting like that wasn’t in my nature. I knew I wasn’t being myself, but I could not stop.
I went back to college that fall (I’d transferred to UW Madison) and it was incredibly difficult to focus on anything but my weight, exercise and food intake. I remember crying constantly and shutting out anyone who ever cared about me (old friends & family, and I had a really hard time making new friends in the dorms). I didn’t do anything social and spent most of my time exercising or in my room studying. Thank the lord I had my boyfriend at that time, Jake, (who had been one of my best friends since I was 14). If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure I would have ever gotten out of this.
I distinctly remember – it was around my 20th birthday and he wanted me to go out to a party and celebrate and I absolutely refused. (I was afraid if I drank or did anything like I did freshmen year that I’d put all the weight back on.) I had some form of a crying meltdown trying to explain to him why I didn’t want to go to the party (without really explaining the real reason why), when he finally asked me point blank if I had an eating disorder. He said he had asked one of his roommates (who was also an old friend of mine), “If you had just met Christy for the first time and saw her – would you think she had an eating disorder?” and he had answered, “Yes, absolutely.” (I should note that it can be easy to deny or not always notice an eating disorder in a loved one because those with the disease do a pretty good job of hiding/covering it up. So if you’re around someone constantly, like my parents and boyfriend were, it can be more difficult to notice the weight loss difference than if you only see someone occasionally.)
When I admitted to him that night that I had a problem, it felt like a million pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew I wanted to get better before he ever approached me, but I didn’t know how. I felt like I was drowning and didn’t know in which direction was the shore. I knew I was miserably unhappy and lonely, and that I didn’t want to continue to live life like this. Having him open to discussing it and wanting so badly to help me gave me the life preserver I needed at that moment. Bless his heart, he suggested he meet me for lunch every day. And when I wasn’t with him I was to report to him what I ate, and how much I worked out – no lying. He reaffirmed me, told me I was all the things I didn’t believe about myself at the time, encouraged me to be social, and held my hand through some of the darkest days of my life. (Thankfully we are still close friends, so I have told him in retrospect how much what he did for me during that time means to me.)
The story doesn’t end there though. That was just the beginning of a very long and difficult path to recovery. Every day for the longest time I battled my own inner demons. Trying not to listen to the voices in my head, and trying to move forward each day. It was a long journey but I’m so happy to say I reached the other side many years ago. Within 2-3 years or so I finally knew that I had come out on the other side. I no longer focused my energy on food. I exercised to be healthy and enjoy myself, not to lose or maintain weight. I feel SO fortunate to say that, because there are some people who sadly do not make it out the other side, and there are some who battle these diseases their entire lives. Thankfully I had the desire to be happy and healthy again, and family and friends to help get me through.
I’m not really sure how to end this other than to say if you or anyone you know suffers from any of the things I talked about in this post: pulling away from loved ones, sudden mood swings, change in behavior, obsessive calorie counting & exercising, dramatic weight loss, or anything else I talked about here – please, please, please, talk to them. Get them help. Let them know you’re there for them. Listen to them. So often I want to approach women at the gym and tell them I know what they are going through (when you’ve had an eating disorder you can pick out others suffering from it in a second), but I know that those words need to come from somebody they love and trust for it to really make a difference.
If you want to talk more about any of this, need help, advice, or just want to chat – please feel free to email me. I’m clearly an open book and hope that by sharing this awful time in my life – that I will help someone else to get out of theirs, or help loved ones of those suffering realize they can help.
And if you are currently dealing with an eating disorder please know you are not alone. Know that you CAN be happy again. You can laugh, and smile, and enjoy dinners out with friends without all the problems, thoughts, and issues that you’re going through right now. Know that you can be healthy and move on. You deserve better than the life you’re currently living. Most importantly – You are not alone.
For more information please go to National Eating Disorders.org.