Eating disorders to me are no different than any other type of addiction. I grew up in a family of alcoholics, and that taught me that addiction is simply about being dependent – having a crutch. My addiction to health and exercise allowed me to have control – control of food intake, my body physique, the number of calories I watched burn off at the gym. That control is not real, though it seemed real to me. However, we must give up control to truly gain security, good health, and love. If I can leave you with one piece of advice it would be to let go of the control and to live. Soak up each moment and treat your body, your mind and your soul with respect. Go after your dreams, because you only have one life. Take chances and take risks, but remember to slow down and ask yourself if what you are doing is what you truly want. Ask yourself if you are truly caring for your body, your mind and your soul. Only you can ever know the answer. You have one job in life, and that is to be happy.
My eating disorder began while my father was still alive. I always had an on and off relationship with food: it was all or nothing for me…just as most things in my life have been. Like many people, I struggle with balance. I had always been a pretty active person – played sports growing up. High school was a bit of a struggle, I gained some weight in my last couple years and was not super happy with my body image. After high school I lost the weight, but not in the healthiest of ways. Adderall and cigarettes became two daily staples. I was slender, but I would not have considered myself too thin at that point. Throughout my high school and college years it was periods of all work, no play, and then when I did play I played hard. Same thing with food…I would be super strict or I would completely let go. I would overindulge in unhealthy foods or deprive myself all together. After I graduated college was when my eating disorder took precedence in my life. I was not a super healthy college student…I lived off caffeine, sugar, stimulants, cigarettes and I partied a fair amount. I still did well in school for the most part, but I didn’t have balance.
Upon graduating college, I decided to make a drastic change. I quit nicotine, caffeine, changed my diet to all whole foods, and cut out the two dietary triggers that were not helping me: gluten and dairy. I began running again, then biking. I started competing in races and I ranked high. I began winning races, and I got sponsored by a natural supplement company. I enjoyed exercise and feeling energized and fit. After about 3 months of training for races, I stopped menstruating. Though I wasn’t extremely underweight at this point, I was overtraining. But, alas I ignored it and figured it would come back soon. Well, it didn’t. About eight months into my racing, I began training with two trainers for a 24-hour race that I had qualified for, and my hobby of fitness and health became an obsession, an addiction. Over the course of the next year I trained five days a week with my trainers, and on my weekends I would do massive amounts of cardio. My “rest days” consisted of a “leisurely” 20-mile bike ride. I thought I was doing great, I had so much muscle, I could see my “abs,” I could lift heavy amounts of weight. I was burning 1000+ calories a day. However, as I continued I also began eating a hell of a lot less. A year after I began racing, my doctor diagnosed me with an eating disorder.
A disorder! In my head, all I could think was, “I don’t believe in disorders, I am just really healthy!” I didn’t smoke, I ate lots of vegetables, I worked out. I was not ready to face it. She told me I should stop working out completely and admit myself into inpatient program. What??? I couldn’t do that. I had a good job working at a PR agency, making a good amount of money. I had a boyfriend of 6+ years at that point, an apartment to pay for, races to do. I was going to overcome this on my own. I made a few changes, shortened my workouts a little and cut down on my training days. But I was still putting more demands on my body than it wanted. I still couldn’t go a day without a workout, I still obsessed over every calorie that went into my body. The only time I would ‘let go’ was after drinking a bottle of wine on a Friday or Saturday night…I would then give myself permission to let loose and eat a lot more. Then, I would wake up feeling crappy and guilty and figure out how I was going to go work off all that extra. Usually this meant the first few days of the week I would cut my meals in half, or even cut out meals completely until I lost all that water and bloat that was hanging on since the weekend. It became an obsessive cycle.
Almost a year after I was diagnosed with a disorder was when my father got sick. He was not given a lot of time, and I ended up leaving my job to be with him and help care for him. I was unhappy with what I was doing at this point and had been actively seeking an out. My wish had been granted, but not under the circumstances that I would have hoped for. However, my father was more important. He passed away within six weeks. When that happened, I felt more empty than I had ever felt in my life, and I fell into quite a depression. Just a few short months later my boyfriend and I of almost 8 years broke up. And a few short months following that, my best friend passed away in a tragic accident. I went from feeling like a strong independent woman to feeling depressed, empty, and weak. My exercise increased, my eating decreased. Exercise was the only thing that gave me confidence at that point because I was good at it. With time, that power diminished along with my muscle, my brainpower, my health. I searched for fulfillment, and decided that becoming a personal trainer would give me a feeling of power and help me gain my motivation back. I didn’t want to admit that my lack of motivation for fitness was a result of my body starving. I got my personal trainer certification, but at that point I had lost my super strength because I wasn’t fueling myself. How could I train someone else to be fit and healthy when I couldn’t even do it myself? I decided that change was what I needed.
At that point, I ended up taking off to Florida. I thought I could start fresh, try something new and life would get better. Well, it didn’t. Change in environment made no difference, I still had myself to face. At that point, I could hardly work out…though I would still force myself to. I was hardly eating anything at all substantial. People would comment on my thinness. I would respond, “I eat a lot!” In my mind I was eating a lot, but living off of mainly steamed vegetables and copious amounts of herbal tea doesn’t really fuel your days. I’ll never forget the night I was living in Florida, renting a room from a family friend. It was a New Moon that night, and I decided to take a salt bath. There was this strange and very dark calmness that came over me. I remember thinking, I could just let this water keep running and drown in it. It sounded like such a relief, I could stop feeling so awful. I went to bed that night strangely hoping that I wouldn’t wake up, and I wasn’t even bothered by the thought. I had lost so much emotional and mental strength at that point that I just didn’t want to be tired anymore. Looking back, I know that wasn’t me…I have always been a fighter, a competitor…that was my disorder. Shortly after that night, I decided to move home, and about 4 months later was when I truly hit rock bottom, physically and mentally.
One afternoon I was helping my brother move some very light boxes and he noticed me struggling. My brother and I are very close friends, and he can be bluntly honest when he cares deeply about someone or something. Plenty of people in my life had expressed concern for me, but it was that day that I began to feel something for the first time in a long time. I had numbed my emotions, I have always been good at that. I think he knew the only way to get through to me was to fill me with fear, for good reason. After voicing some explicit concern, he told me I was soulless. He also told me that I should either make the decision to change or let myself die, because if I continued on the same path he wasn’t going to have a sister in a few months anyway. He was right, and this woke me up. This reminded me of one of the last things my father said to me, “Cait, life is for the living.” The moment that my brother uttered those words was when I realized I was not living…I was barely even alive. For someone who is a fitness freak, there were a good two years where I could barely work out and when I did it felt like a form of torture. It was painful just having to go up the stairs, never mind completing an intense workout. All the muscle I had spent so much time building was gone, I was nothing but skin and bones. I didn’t know what I wanted at that point, but unlike that night in the bathtub I did know I wasn’t ready to die. It wasn’t my time. It was, however, my time to make a change. About 6 months after that night in the bathtub was when I walked into my first appointment with my therapist and scheduled my first appointment with a dietician. I was ready to gain my life back. I was ready to fight again.
Like anything worth doing in life, my fight for recovery has not been easy. However, like anything you set your mind to and actively practice, it has gotten a little easier every day. Sort of like starting a new workout routine, it is always difficult in the beginning until you gain strength. Today, I am 28 years old, and I have been in recovery for about two years. Do I still have a ways to go? Hell yes. Do I still struggle? Absolutely. Am I better than I was when I first walked into my therapist’s office? I am a new person. I have restored a fair amount of weight, I can think clearly again, I can workout again, I can enjoy food again, I can enjoy life again. Most importantly, I have learned to love myself again…all parts of myself. I am kinder to myself and I actively try to listen to my body. I currently run my own business, I’m working on a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and I have a side business doing the one thing that has always filled my heart with enjoyment….cooking. I started a healthy food blog and have connected with amazing individuals through social media who are like-minded. Life is constantly changing, there will always be bad days and there will be always be good days to make up for it. It’s all about balance. Embrace life with an open mind and a good sense of humor and it is amazing how much more fulfilling it will be.
“Your job in life is to be happy.” This was one of the only demands my father asked of me throughout my life. I always thought I knew what he meant. “I am happy!” I would tell him. I had everything going for me in my mind…top of my class, good friends, good family, etc. In reality, it wasn’t until recently I truly began to understand what my dad was trying to tell me. It wasn’t until I realized that that I wasn’t happy at all that I knew I needed to listen to him to feel some sort of fulfillment in my life. My dad was my best friend; my rock. He was taken from this earth four and a half years ago – sooner than he should have been. For a long time, I resented the fact that my “safe haven” had been stripped from me. My father made me feel safe, just knowing he and I were coexisting. However, I always tried to remind myself that there is a silver lining if you search hard enough for it, and in this case it took my father passing away to allow myself to really fall apart. I had to fall apart – so that I could learn how to put myself and my life together in the way my heart yearned to be. I am now able to close my eyes and tell my dad for the first time that I am honestly happy. The most important thing I have learned is that it is never too late to begin living your life, the way you want to live it.
By Caitlin Greene