My journey started like many other young women my age. Surrounded by people talking about their latest diet and their recent drop in weight, made this topic very normalized. The constant talk around if foods were good or bad was a very common conversation for many families.
Growing up I loved food. I remember when my family went on vacations I would look forward to when it was the next meal because it was fun, exciting and new vacation food. I freely enjoyed a variety of foods without ever giving it a second thought. Food was a meaningful part of my relationships with family members, including my grandparents.
I had a lot of friends growing up. I did competitive gymnastics starting at age 6, I went to a sleepaway camp from ages 10 until I was 16. I had lots of friends at school and was overall a very social kid. I always had a smile on my face, people would say that my smile lights up the room.
I’ve also always been the short one in the group. Growing up I would always be the little cute one in class or on my gymnastics team. My coach’s nickname for me was peanut. My head was always the arm rest for my tall friend’s arms.
When I was in 4th grade my mom brought me into the endocrinologist, if you don’t know what that is, doctor who specializes in the endocrine system and the network of hormone producing glands in your body, including the growth hormones. My sister had been on growth hormone shots for a few years by then as she was even shorter than me. I will always remember that appointment when I was asked, as a 4th grader, if I wanted to get growth hormone shots.
I immediately said no. Other than the fact that I was deathly afraid of needles, I was also deathly afraid to not be known as a peanut anymore. The world around me made me feel like I wasn’t worthy if I wasn’t the smallest version of myself. Being offered this felt like they wanted to set me up to be a failure in life. I always feared the day someone would not call me cute and little anymore and I did not want that day to have to come faster.
As the years went by and my body started to change, as it always will as a growing teenage girl, I started to feel that I was no longer that cute little peanut girl. While I was going through my little quarter life crisis about not being a peanut any longer, the world around me was telling me how to continue to be that peanut. Social media videos of petite girls making diet and fitness videos was all I would watch.
I started to restrict my diet at around the age of 12. I will always remember the stress I had before my bat mitzvah, not because of how I had to memorize long paragraphs in a completely foreign language, but because I wanted to look skinny in my dress for the pictures.
Following my bat mitzvah in 7th grade, I had a very hard time my last year of middle school. Mean girls made my life a living hell. Girls who I had been friends with for years would make fun of what I brought to school for lunch, asking why I didn’t bring a salad like they had. They would make fun of my body asking why I gained weight and why I was no longer my little peanut self. This only fueled the eating disorder I did not know I had. Since the majority of middle school my main focus was to stay in the “popular” group. When they criticized me saying I had to be someone different, my main focus was to make them accept and like me.
High school was a huge transition. At the end of my 8th grade year, after many talks with my parents, I decided to cut off contact with the mean girls. Going into a brand new school, double the size of my previous one with no friends was truly a rude awakening. I would sit alone at lunch, sometimes eating in the bathroom or I would beg my mom to pick me. This was extremely lonely. I felt like no one understood and that no one wanted to understand. I would constantly isolate which did not make making new friends easier.
Gymnastics has always been a huge part of my life. The gym is where I felt at home. I loved my friends and coaches, it always felt like my safe space. Gymnastics was always my escape from the real world, I got to be with my best friends doing the thing I loved most. I had always looked up to the girls who were on the Natick High School gymnastics team and I was so so excited to finally be on it my freshman year. My club coach Rusty was the head coach of the high school team so I already had a familiar face going into tryouts that first year.
Starting at 10, I went to sleepaway camp every summer in New Hampshire. As cheesy as it sounds it was my home away from home. 7 weeks with no phone, no contact with the real world, living with 30 of my best friends. What more could you ask for? Having two places that felt like home, camp and the gym, it was hard for me to be in one place when I felt I had to be in the other. That summer I felt guilty for not being with my gym friends during that hard time, but I knew to keep my spirits up I had to stay at my other home, camp.
During my last summer as a camper in 2019, one of my counselors had to give me the terrible news that my coach Rusty had passed away of a heart attack.
Rusty was one of a kind. If you were lucky enough to have known Rusty, you would know that he is the main character. He dressed up, either wearing one of his ties from his very large collection. Or he would wear some crazy shoes, from who knows where. His personality was huge. He was always smiling and cheering us on as a team. His passing was very hard for me as I could not be home with my family during this hard time. I felt a very large loss of control after his passing as there was nothing I could do about it.
That next school year was hard. My safe space, the gym, didn’t feel the same. Rusty’s presence was so large there was a hole missing at every practice. High school gymnastics season was hard, that season was always his favorite time of year and without him was not easy.
With the loss of control of losing Rusty, I started acting on eating disorder behaviors more than I had in past years. I started to lose my love for the sport I had loved forever. The fun I used to have at the gym turned into non-stop thinking about how I can burn more calories during practice.
Just like many teenagers my age, COVID quarantine was a struggle. Empty days stuck in your home with just you, your family, and social media. Creators with huge platforms like Chloe Ting, created videos promoting false facts regarding food and exercise. During those long days where everything in the world was changing on a daily basis, just like many others, I felt like I had zero control. With the lack of control going on in the world around me, I felt that the one thing I could control was my food intake and my exercise routine. Being home all day gave me plenty of time to be in my eating disorder.
Since I grew up surrounded by diet culture, I thought getting “healthy” meant losing weight, getting lean, and eating minimally. I tried every single fad diet I saw on tik tok. Everything from taking detox concoctions to juice cleanses to intermittent fasting. I would follow youtubers 10 day programs to “get skinny for summer.”
My weight was dropping. I felt a second of happiness when I saw that number. But every other second of my days were surrounded by awful thoughts regarding my body and stressing over if I ate even a single bite over what I had planned to do. I was depressed and anxious. I was in constant fights with my family, my OCD was off the rails, and I was genuinely a miserable person to be around. If I wasn’t in the basement working out or planning my days of what I would eat, I would be sleeping. My depression led me to not brush my teeth enough, I rarely showered, I only brushed my hair when I was told I looked like I rolled out of bed. My anxiety made me have panic attacks almost daily, and my OCD had me doing hours of routines before I was able to go to bed. This time in my life was extremely dark and exhausting. I had no idea why my depression and OCD were so bad, I thought it was normal. I didn’t really know what poor mental health looked like so I thought I was just upset that we were in quarantine.
On April 9, 2020 my mom sat me down. I had not been myself for the past few months and as a mom she knew my real self was spunky, bright, and bubbly. Given the daily panic attacks, the non-stop sleeping, and so many fights, she decided to talk to me about what was going on. I had been holding this secret for so long about my poor relationship to food and body. The world around me made it seem like this was normal and that everyone felt this way. The world really normalizes eating disorder behaviors. Not until that day that my mom sat me down did I realize that I had an issue.
From that day on it was an uphill battle. My mom did lots of research about eating disorders in teens and how to help them. We started to meet with an FBT therapist for the whole family. FBT is “Family Based Treatment” and it is where your parents or caregivers plate all of your meals and snacks, and for me, my parents sat with me for every single meal and snack. This was a huge challenge for me, it caused daily fights and so much unwanted tension in my house. When I tell you I never spoke a single word on those calls, I mean it. My mom had me meet with a therapist, and again, they were pulling teeth to get me to speak.
That summer was hard. I was attempting to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks every day. I hadn’t eaten 3 full meals since probably 5th grade so this was a huge change. I would cry after every single bite and fight with my parents that I was done even though there was still food left on the plate. Some days I got away with it, others I did not.
It wasn’t until I met my dietitian, Melanie, that I started talking about my thoughts. After some time she finally cracked my shell and I was able to talk about what was really going on underneath the behavior use. She taught me what exchanges were and the science behind food and how it makes your body and mind feel. I started meal supports and challenging fear foods.
That fall, I did a program through my dietitian’s office. This program was for patients with eating disorders who either are stepping down from higher care or just need a bit more care than outpatient care. This was the first time I had met someone who was struggling with issues like me. It was super motivating having a group of girls who I could relate to. As amazing as that was, I struggled with every meal at the program. I struggled with comparison and having others watch me eat. Comparison is emotionally exhausting. One of my favorite quotes is “comparison is the thief of joy.” Constantly comparing your body to every single person around you gives you no breaks to be alone with yourself. Struggling with having others watching me eat was a very hard obstacle to get over. I felt ashamed that I was eating enough. After about a month or so, I decided to leave this program.
From the course of April 2020 until February 2021, I met with 4 therapists. I was always super shy around adults and even anyone older than me. I did not like anyone who was trying to combat my eating disorder so I kept telling my mom I didn’t like the therapist’s personality.
In late February 2021, I met a new therapist, Liz. Something with her just clicked with me. She was laid back but if there was an issue she was there to be my therapist. She always lets me speak when I want to speak, but understands when I am feeling nervous to talk. I still to this day see her and I now look forward to meeting with her every week.
I was always scared of getting on medication. It was always brought up in therapy sessions about how helpful it can be. I always said I want to be happy for real, not by medication. To be fair, I do not think that medication makes recovery unreal or any less – for me I always felt pressure to recover without it. Regardless of whether or not you’re on medication, you as the person in recovery get full credit for that process. Medication is just a resource that you use in the process. After much convincing, I started my first SSRI. This process was super frustrating. The first medication I tried made me even more depressed. The next led me to have more panic attacks. After trying around 6 SSRIs, I finally landed on one that made my days a bit less miserable.
In July 2021, my family went to the Cape for vacation. I was in an okay spot in recovery where I was completing most of my meals and was weight restored. This vacation sent me into a spiral and eventually made me relapse. Being in a bathing suit all day, all week long, comparing my body to others on the beach, and seeing my own body in photos and the mirrors sent me spiraling. That vacation I started to restrict again. My parents gave me a bit more freedom with my food choices that week, as we were on vacation. With this new freedom, my eating disorder began to take control of the food I ate.
The rest of that July was super hard. I got in many more fights with my family, not even just about food. Eating disorders tear up relationships, when you are malnourished your brain is not fully functioning so, for me at least, I started unnecessary fights with my loved ones. My depression, anxiety, OCD were back, very strong, and I was out of my range.
After many conversations with my team and family, they decided a higher care would be the best route to go in. My mom did lots and lots of research on places, and eventually my team and parents decided to send me to one that was out of state.
Missing the start of my senior year of high school was not ideal but I knew I needed help. I kept getting told that going to a higher level of care would make this process quicker.
My stay out of state was far from easy. I still get nightmares about what happened in that building to this day. The care there did not help me with my thoughts, but it did scare me that I would have to ever go back to a place like this. The eating disorder treatment system was incredibly messed up, and not only left me, but others with PTSD.
After a traumatic 5 week stay, my team from home let me leave. I ended up finishing PHP and IOP at home. These two programs were like night and day. I felt seen and heard at the program near home. I felt I could be who I wanted to be and not be judged for my past behaviors.
Once I was finally stable, I was allowed to practice gymnastics again. The sport I had lost all love for was coming back into my life, but this time I really appreciated it. I learned that I cannot take this amazing sport for granted and I have to enjoy every second. I got to participate in my senior season of high school gymnastics and be the captain of the team.
After spending a quarter of my senior year not in school, I never thought I would get into any colleges for the following year. I thankfully finished all of my applications before I left for treatment, but had very little hope about any acceptances.
I will always remember getting my first college decision letter back. I was sitting in math class when I got the notification of a status update. I immediately ran to the bathroom as my heart was racing a zillion miles an hour. I go into a stall, lock the door, and sit down on the toilet. I pulled up the email, closed my eyes and hit the open button. I kept my eyes closed for probably 10 seconds then opened them. When I tell you I screamed, I really did scream. I had just gotten into freakin college. For those past 2 years, I had told myself I am going to be a failure in life and that I had no future. Seeing that “Congratulations” at the top of the letter was a huge sign that my life may mean something.
After the next month or 2, I had gotten 5 more college acceptances. I got into every single one of the schools I applied to. I was never the smartest one in class, I wasn’t in 5 AP’s or honors classes, I had failed tests, and I sure as heck did not have straight A’s.
I committed to the University of New Hampshire in March of 2022. Growing up around older counselors at camp who were in college, it had always been a dream of mine to go to school and because of my eating disorder I NEVER thought that dream would become a reality.
In recovery, seeing wins can be a very tricky thing especially because so many wins aren’t obvious. Graduating high school was one of my first wins that really made me think about the past two years. Walking across that stage and getting my diploma made me realize what recovery is all about. It is not all about weight , it is not about proving to people you can eat. It is about those wins, big and small ones every single day. It is about proving yourself wrong time and time again. It is about making your loved ones proud of you. It is about making genuine relationships and rehashing ones you may have lost in the past. Recovery is a lot more than just eating. During recovery, you find the person in yourself that you had lost for so many years, and you better yourself each day.
Going in to college I was terrified. The last time I had been away from home for a long period of time was I was scared I would be trapped there similar to how I was when I was in treatment. The first week of school was hard, as it is for the majority of incoming freshmen. The transition is very rocky for many students. Everyone is homesick at one time or another. No one had been in a situation similar to their first year at college, and getting used to living away from home is tricky. Getting adjusted to living on your own for the first time is not an easy thing. You have zero parental guidance for your day to day living. For me, this was a breath of fresh air. I have a new beginning, a new start to life. No one here knows me or my past.
I decided at the last minute to do recruitment to eventually join a sorority. While this process was stressful, it broke me out of the shell I had been in for so many years and got me talking to girls who I usually would never talk to. For once, I actually felt like myself. I ended up joining Alpha Chi Omega and I have met my best friends there already. Going through recruitment made my world so much bigger, I got to see that there are some pretty amazing girls in this world who care for each other day after day.
My freshman year at UNH was the best year of my life, so far! I learned not only academics, but so many valuable life lessons along the way. I learned how to properly fuel myself on my own, how to set boundaries with friends and family, how much alcohol is too much alcohol, but most importantly I learned how to love myself.
This past spring I joined a community of girls who struggle with eating disorders and starting to weightlift in their recovery. With the loss of no gymnastics in college, I decided I needed a new outlet and when this opportunity arose I jumped right on it. This amazing group of strong women have not only supported me when starting my weightlifting journey, but have also supported me when I am having an off day, or cheer me on after I have a big or even small win. Having a community surrounding one another has made my hard days just that much easier. Keeping my eating disorder in check when lifting has been a bit easier because I took a long break from any movement. Slowly being healthy enough to bring movement back into my life, I don’t take it for granted.
If I were to give someone struggling some words of encouragement, it would have to be that things do get better. When you are in the darkness of your disorder it may seem that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I am here to say that it is there, it just may be a bit farther down the path. You have so much resilience in you, you just have to be willing to share it with others. Recovery is not easy, but damn is it worth it.