gym

When a Compassionate Stranger Told Me to 'Take Care of Myself' at the Gym

7
7

Take care of yourself.

Those words are said quite often to others, whether it’s an acquaintance, a close friend or a stranger. We thrown them in with our goodbyes and see-you-laters. We say them to our co-workers who are headed out on vacation.

But those words spoken to me that day mean more now than ever before.

Back when I was a freshman in college, I developed an eating disorder that took over my life, day in and day out. It started off as just “trying to get fit,” but soon became something that consumed my every thought. I fluctuated between bulimia and anorexia until I had the dangerous and life-threatening combination of both.

But one of the major problems was I didn’t think anything was wrong.

I didn’t listen to a single thing anyone said to me about my drastic weight loss. I didn’t want to hear someone ask me what was wrong or if I was doing alright. In fact, I don’t think I really listened to anyone about anything.

Until one day.

I frequented the recreation center at my university during this time in my life, often exercising for long periods of time to obsessively “burn off” more calories than I had eaten. I was losing weight — and quickly.

The man who said those four words to me also went to the gym the same time I did on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so I had seen him before. I think we had even spoken a few words to each other, though I didn’t know his name. One day, around the time of my lowest point in my eating disorder, he looked at me and asked me if I had been losing weight, though he already knew the answer. I shrugged and said, “I guess I’ve lost a little bit.”

I tried desperately to hide it, but there was no getting around the fact people were noticing now something was wrong.

I was even noticing something was wrong.

He paused for a moment. I imagined he could see the hurt in my eyes and hear the quiver in my voice. I wished he would just walk away. But instead he said to me, “Take care of yourself.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

His words drilled into my head, but the disordered mindset I had fostered for so long didn’t truly understand why he said this. I decided to brush it off. And I never saw him again.

Looking back, this man’s words really impacted my journey back to health. I had a lot of healing to do: mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence I remember this particular day. I’ve never been able to say thank you to the man who cared about a total stranger, though now I wish I could.

I share this story to tell anyone who is going through something like this to take care of yourself. I’m serious. It may be one person reading this or a thousand, but you need to take care of yourself. There are so many people who truly care about you and what you are going through. Including strangers. Including me.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

7
7

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Why Anorexia Recovery Is About More Than Gaining Weight

8
8

I may have gained weight, but in reality, I have gained so much more. I have gained happiness, I have gained laughter, I have gained truth. There is no more lying or hiding or running. I would say no more fear, but there is. There is fear. But who isn’t afraid? Life is scary; life is a big frightening world of experiences and lessons and people. It would be more worrying if we weren’t afraid. But now, bigger than the fear, something else has begun to take over. Hope.

My whole world is different now. I wake up without the cloud of a bad night’s sleep interrupted by nightmares or drowned in a medicated fog. I open my eyes and see. Not calories, not numbers, not the lurch in my stomach on weigh day. I see the day I am about to have. The friends I will see. The things I will learn. The new experiences I will gain. Breakfast is no longer a battle of wills, a fight between me and my parents, me and my own mind. I listen to the radio, hear the music, sing along, laugh at the jokes. I can laugh now. I can sing.

I walk to school, not alone any more. I’m surrounded by people and don’t feel alone. I talk, about my day, my week, his day, his week. I look at him, I see him. He sees me. I don’t pace anymore, trying to walk as quickly as possible to burn more and hurt more. I stroll along, taking in the trees and the cars and the weather.

Arriving at college doesn’t bear the heavy weight of fear and apprehension about the day ahead. Instead I am excited to see my friends. I have friends now. They know my story but not all of it. Maybe one day they will. But for now they know enough, enough to understand, but they don’t judge; they listen. They don’t berate me for struggling; they berate me for not leaning on them enough. They want to help. My conversation is no longer restricted to me and my brain, numbers and percent signs. Sometimes I join in, talking and laughing. Sometimes I just listen. That’s OK too.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

In lessons I can think straight. I look down at my page and it’s full, not of my problems and my past but of algebra or the American constitution or French verbs. I look up at the clock for the first time in half an hour. Time goes more quickly now. My head isn’t so full.

It’s not all about the food, but it helps. Timings are more relaxed. If lunch is not at 1 p.m. sharp the world will not end. That extra chocolate or the sweet given to me in class or the chip off my friend’s plate will not hurt me. Anorexia will hurt me. Eating will not.

So much has changed. Walking is for pleasure and purpose, not for walking’s sake. I don’t run. I don’t like running. That’s OK. I choose the shortest routes now or the most enjoyable, not the longest. I make a habit of seeing people, speaking to people, smiling at those I pass in the street. At work I can smile now, chat, ask people about their day. I can stand without it hurting now, and last week I chose to switch off the heater. I’m warmer. I smile.

I am growing in more ways than one. I am changing. I am smiling. I am laughing. I am singing. I am healing.

So yes, I have gained weight. But it wasn’t just weight. It was life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Comstock Images

8
8
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What You Should Know Before You Compliment My 'Skinny Body'

8
8

It started as a retaliation to my pubescent body changing in ways I could not control. Wider hips, a soft layer of fat on my belly, breasts beginning to develop. Looking in the mirror, all I felt was disdain for the changes happening to me, despite my internal protests. So, I began to restrict my intake, trying to gain some semblance of control over my body once more. But as those of you who have anorexia nervosa will know, this only led to a downward spiral that markedly altered the course of my teen years.

I was engaging in a number of harmful behaviors – poring over so-called “thinspiration,” participating in toxic pro-ED communities, fasting desperately and religiously weighing myself every morning and night. I wouldn’t say I merely “grew out” of these behaviors, but by the time I was 18, I had managed to place myself upon the path of recovery. However, I experienced some traumatic life events in the last year and an unfortunate consequence was the reemergence of my anorexia. I have begun seeing a wonderful therapist weekly and I am once again trying to recover from this awful disorder. This time I have the help of a professional who is helping me undo the problematic patterns of thinking I have developed around food, my body, exercise and eating.

In my teen years, no one around me seemed to notice the physical and mental changes I had undergone. Upon my recent relapse however, friends and family have noticed my weight loss and the reactions have been mixed. Some do not believe I need treatment or should be trying to gain any weight, whereas some of my loved ones are very pleased I have realized how damaging my relapse could be and are glad I am seeking help.

What stuck out to me, though, was the reaction from a couple of people in my life who went so far as to compliment my body, telling me I look ‘well,’ that weight loss looks good on me and I have a beautiful figure they are envious of. This stunned me because even though I am not at the moment experiencing the most rational thought processes around my body, I know well enough I do not look good and my “figure” is not something others should strive for.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Here’s the reality. I am sick. I have restricted my intake until my body has been starved and I am now paying the price for that. I am cold all the time, a kind of cold that feels as if it is in my bones themselves. It has taken me twice the amount of time as my partner to recover from a virus that hit me so hard I was almost taken to the emergency department. My skin is dry and flaking, to the extent I need a medicated shampoo to control the embarrassing dryness that has developed on my scalp. My eyes look bruised constantly because of the permanent dark circles that have appeared in recent months. My nails are brittle and no amount of manicuring will prevent them from splitting and snapping. Social events and holidays are a nightmare because they inevitably include food in some shape or form and my neuroses around eating mean I can’t enjoy being around my loved ones because all I can think about are the number of calories in whatever I do manage to eat.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. My body is a sick body, a body I now have to take great care of to help it recover. My anorexic body is not one to validate, to tell me I don’t need treatment. I know I do. My attitude towards food is incredibly unhealthy and I have to work with my therapist to reverse this. My anorexic body is not one you should envy. The body I will have in my recovery will be a body strong enough to take me through life as this one can’t yet. There is strength in acknowledging you have a problem and this is what I am trying to do.

To my loved ones, please don’t get mad at me for struggling but also please do not try to validate my unhealthy behaviors and thought processes. I need your support in fighting this illness, not your well-intentioned but misguided compliments. I am choosing recovery now. For the first time, I am ready to accept my eating disorder and begin a new life without it.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

8
8
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When Resolutions Turn Into Relapse

8
8

Over the Christmas period, people tend to indulge in desserts and nice food because it’s a festive time of the year. This leads to strings of healthy eating, diets, weight loss fads and gym memberships during the New Year.

There are weight loss programs starting on TV. People are talking about the new theme of 2017 and how their diet is going. People are sharing photos of themselves at the gym. I really like that people become motivated in the new year to do something for themselves, but New Year’s resolutions can be extremely trying for someone who has an eating disorder or for somebody who is in recovery for one.

New Year’s resolutions can be really helpful in putting people on track and motivating them to do more for their bodies and for themselves. However, people don’t tend to think about how negative New Year’s resolutions may possibly be. As someone who has battled with food and anorexia nervosa since the age of 15, the new year is a treacherous time. Each year it rolls around, I feel the same sinking dread and triggers.

I feel the urge to submerge into eating disorder behaviors. I become victim to the new weight loss fads circulating in the media. I sit and listen to friends and loved ones talk about their diets and can’t help but want to do the same. I become engrossed with exercises and gym memberships just like everyone else.

It’s so much easier to mask an eating disorder in the new year. When everyone is practicing healthy eating and exercising, no one really sees eating disorder signs as abnormal.

That’s why New Year’s resolutions set me back rather than forward. Resolutions turn into relapse. People’s talk about diets and exercise become extremely triggering with no fault of their own. The eating disorder becomes easier to hide and much more tempting to keep.

Resolutions can be completely rewarding, positive and healthy, but please, be considerate and spare a thought for those who may be struggling during the new year. Please, be aware that talks about diets and exercise can be harmful in the wrong hands. If you know someone who is recovering, then offer some support.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Here’s to a healthy, recovered 2017.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

You can continue to follow Savannah’s story at Saving Savannah.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

8
8
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

10 Truths About Turning 30 and Recovering From My Eating Disorder

17
17

Only a thin white gown covered my body as I shivered ferociously, despite the plush white blanket my mother had brought from home. I couldn’t move, not even to make eye contact with my mother, who, flanked by doctors and nurses, peered over me.

“What happened to me?” I wanted to ask, but I was too confused to form words. I knew one thing for sure — my head hurt. I closed my eyes again to relieve the pain and blurriness. I could hear the piercing wails of the ambulance, so loud yet ever fading as I went in and out of consciousness.

“Danielle, can you hear me?” the EMT asked with such command it scared me into answering him. But what came out of my mouth was only gibberish, like playing a record backward in slow motion. The one thing in English I could say became my mother’s saving grace as she squeezed my hand in terror: “I don’t want to die.” Her saving grace because for far too long I had done everything in my power to die.

My abuse of laxatives had been going on for a good 10 years, and I was finally paying the price. I swore I could feel my body breaking down the night before, and I was right. I had known something bad was going to happen, and it did. Like I had a crystal ball, I’d predicted it, and I was lucky I’d asked for help and wasn’t alone. Now, what was going to happen to me?

***

It’s hard to believe this was four years ago when my body broke down and had a seizure. Now I am going to be 30 — the big 3-0. I didn’t believe I was going to make it to 26. I was going to die of anorexia. But, lo and behold– here I am, and a shitload has changed. I have learned so many lessons, and I am here to tell you what 30 and being in recovery feels like for me. So listen up:

1) My soul feels so much older than 30.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Growing up with mental illness I took on a lot being the perfectionist, type-A girl I was. While my middle school, high school and college peers were talking about parties and each other, I was worried about everything from my grades, the state of my family’s happiness, to homeless youth on the street. I felt like it was my responsibility to make everything in the world perfect. With that Superman-like responsibility, I had to mature a lot quicker than most.

To recover from mental illness, you also go through a lot of self-reflection and discovery that makes you feel way beyond your years. This is why turning 30 is a piece of cake. I actually am excited to have a whole decade ahead of me, the first sick-free decade I will ever have.

2) I have perspective from being sick and appreciate things a little more.

I appreciate the small things like going out for dinner and being able to eat. I appreciate the fact that I have the strength to carry my daughter in the Baby Bjorn for a couple of hours or at least until my back feels like it is going to give out. I appreciate being able to watch “Stranger Things” on Netflix and not feeling guilty for being unproductive or not having my own Demogorgon in my mind telling me how lazy and fat I am.

3) My possibilities are endless in recovery.

It’s amazing what your brain can do when you are in recovery. You have so much more room for creativity when you’re not constantly counting calories. You have more time to have an actual life. Without anorexia, I was able to meet a great guy and now have a beautiful baby girl. He was not my cure-all, by any means, and I am not saying that a ring and a wedding cured my eating disorder or made me well because it didn’t. What I am saying is that because I was happy and healthy enough, mentally and physically, to let myself be vulnerable, the conditions for true connection were set. Without anorexia, nothing is holding me back. I can do whatever I set my mind to. There is a whole world out there, with endless possibilities.

4) I know who my real friends are.

When you go through mental illness you realize who your true friends are and who you have been keeping around as filler. And you know what? Fillings can stick to the cavities in my mouth, thank you very much. I don’t have time for filler-friends of any kind. The number of friends I have dwindled, but the quality has gotten more like that authentic Chanel bag than the fake knock-off on the street.

The facilitator for a webinar I took through the National Eating Disorder Association summed it up perfectly with these words: “Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.”
At 30, I finally feel deserving of surrounding myself with these kinds of people because I am kind enough to myself to accept them. I don’t have anything to hide from them anymore or push them away now that I am in recovery. I am finally embracing my flaws, so I have to believe other people will as well, and if they don’t, well… fuck ’em.

When I was struggling with eating disorders I was so caught up in my own struggles and convinced I couldn’t trust anyone, that I lost any form of true connection. In recovery I realize I need to act as a friend as much as I need friends. Sharing begets sharing, authenticity begets authenticity, and these are all positive rewards from letting yourself be vulnerable.

5) I have learned how to say no to the bullshit.

This person cancelled plans on me for the fifth time with no excuse. That person has me waiting over 30 minutes. I am going to leave. Your priorities change too much to care about the bullshit. I have a baby too and way too much going on. If you aren’t here for the right reasons, bye Felicia!

6) Me time, is more than OK.

This is hard to fit in as a mama of a 9-month-old, but I deserve it and need it. For the longest time I did everything for everyone else and was people pleasing up the wazoo that I forgot about myself. Now I make sure to have some time at the end of the day to write, watch television, and do whatever I need to unwind.

I don’t abuse my body and push it to the limit. I listen to it and let it guide me. It’s like in the book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. The controversy stems from whether the relationship between the main characters, a tree and a boy, could be interpreted as positive (i.e. the tree gives the boy selfless love) or as negative (i.e. the boy and the tree have an abusive relationship). I looked at it more on a positive, with the tree being like a mother figure to the boy, content just to make the boy happy. However, if it were multiple people just taking, taking, taking from the tree, the tree would wind up with nothing, and maybe no one would care. The boy appreciated the tree as a stump, but some people wouldn’t.

I almost wound up being a stump because I gave too much of myself and never gave myself anything or took anything in return. You can’t give, give, and give until there is nothing left of you. You have to find a balance. I am learning that. I refuse to be a stump ever again.

7) I finally feel found.

I know who I am. I know my beliefs. I am not wishy-washy on them like I was in my 20s. I used to be insecure and wouldn’t voice my feelings, scared I wouldn’t be accepted or liked — the horror! Now I am not affected by what others think. I don’t need to be liked by everyone as long as I know I am a good person. If they don’t like me, so be it. Yes, I doubt myself at times, but far less than I used to.

8) I am finally comfortable in my body.

Gosh, this one seems like it took forever to achieve, but I am finally here and yes at dirty 30. Wahoo for that! After I had my baby I realized how amazing my body is and what it can do. I mean it created my little girl so it can’t be all that bad. I am more than my body, and when it came down to it my anorexia wasn’t even really about my body to begin with.

9) I accept my flaws and even like them believe it or not.

Part of my recovery was realizing that no one is perfect, and that is actually the most beautiful and life-changing realization I ever had. I want to shake all those people who are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves and scream loudly in their ears so it registers in their brains: “Snap out of it! It’s OK to be imperfect! Your flaws set you apart in a great way. You will be so much more happy once you embrace them!” Because now that’s really how I feel. And it’s true. I am happier now that I have embraced and even love my flaws.

10) I eat what I want and don’t feel bad about it.

I don’t have “good” or “bad” foods anymore. I don’t believe in diets and have a really healthy eating lifestyle with moderation for whatever I am in the mood for. If I want a slice of pizza, I am going to have it, dammit! Now that I am eating normally (compared to disordered) I listen to my body’s hunger cues and enjoy what I am eating. It takes time to get to this place of enjoyment with food. For me it was probably a solid three years into recovery, but once you get there it is amazing

I never was actually aware of the concept of mindful eating until I was recovered and realized I was practicing it all along — while I kept on getting better and better. I was slowly letting myself become more aware of my feelings and why I was restricting or bingeing — turning to food to cope. This way I am never tempted to over eat or under eat again. I listen to my body.

So this year when my family sings the “Happy Birthday” song and I blow out the candles on my birthday cake, I will be feeling happy, even grateful to be here. I feel like I have a second chance and am so lucky that I have a beautiful family to celebrate with. So, 30, bring it on, I am ready for you!

Dani is four years in recovery from anorexia and bulimia, Vice President of a transportation company, and a mother to a 9-month-old. Hobbies (when she has a minute to breathe!) include reading, writing or blogging, anything on Bravo and the occasional workout. Follow her on her blog Living a Full Life After ED and like it on Facebook.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by max-kegfire

17
17
TOPICS
, Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

You Can't Always 'See' an Eating Disorder

84
84

Over the past several years, I’ve struggled with a severe exercise addiction, orthorexia (a form of disordered eating), anorexia nervosa, depression, and anxiety. Having worked for years to overcome these things, I’m invested in spreading awareness about mental illness, particularly eating disorders since they get left out of the conversation far too often.

woman selfie

This picture is one I took right before cutting off several inches of hair last summer. The sad thing is my main reason for cutting my hair was because I thought it might trim a little bit off my weight. That’s the thing with anorexia, even half a pound can make or break your entire week and determine if and what you can eat. My hair was also falling out in chunks so I figured it would be less noticeable if it were shorter.

This picture is the face of someone with anorexia nervosa. When I started dropping weight people told me I looked great because I still looked mostly healthy for the first few months. This picture is from about a month before I started to actually look sick. What you don’t see in this picture is the pain behind it. You don’t see the hours spent agonizing over every single number down to the 3 calories in a stick of gum. You can’t see the pain. You can’t see the times I broke down crying because I was so terrified to eat. I was in constant agony, and every second was spent feeling terrified that I would gain weight. You don’t see the hours in the gym, the battles fought over dinner, the lies to cover it all up. You don’t see the times my mom held onto me crying because she thought she was going to lose me.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

This picture doesn’t show you that I spent last summer at doctors’ appointments. I went to my psychologist and my dietician weekly, went to the doctors biweekly, and had to have blood tests done every month. It doesn’t show you I was a hospital outpatient for many months and was set to be made an inpatient many times. My mom and psychologist worked incredibly hard to keep me at home. You can’t see the painstaking work my parents put in by doing the Maudsley method, a form of eating disorder treatment for adolescents.

The stress on your body isn’t always obvious. My muscles, including my heart, were deteriorating and being used to fuel my starved body. I had severe heartburn. I couldn’t eat more than a quarter of an apple without my stomach hurting. My nails were blue. My skin was grey. My bones poked out. I bruised from a tight hug. My body was dying, but from this picture I look like a normal, happy teenaged girl.

You can’t always tell someone has an eating disorder by looking at them. You don’t have to “look” severely sick. In this picture, I’m underweight, but you can’t necessarily tell. Plus not all eating disorders cause you to become underweight. The idea that you have to be underweight to be “sick enough” for treatment stops a lot of people from seeking the help they need and deserve. There is no such thing as “sick enough.” If you are sick, you are sick enough. On top of having this widely held idea of what someone with an ED should look like, an ED will tell you you aren’t sick enough too. It will convince you that you’re “fat,” that you’re not enough, that you don’t deserve to recover.

Anorexia isn’t skipping a meal or thinking you’re fat. Eating disorders are not an edgy punchline on a sitcom. It’s much harder to laugh at when looking at the painful repercussions on both the person and their loved ones. It isn’t a “white girl illness” –anyone at any age can be affected. They are not about vanity or about being skinny.

Today, I am strong. Today, I am healthy. I listen to my body, and I treat it as lovingly as I can. I work on it every day. I nourish myself so I can be a good friend, a good daughter, a good student, a good person. I feed myself so I can be myself. Loving my body is not easy. I don’t love how it looks yet. But I’m learning to love what it does for me: it lets me walk, and talk, and have fun. I’m able to run, jump, go to school, dance, spend time with friends. I’m able to be Abby again.

To anyone reading struggling with an ED or disordered eating, you deserve recovery. You deserve treatment. You deserve a life without your ED screaming at you nonstop. There is no such thing as an exception to recovery. We all can. We all deserve to. We are all strong enough to. I often hear people say they can’t recover or don’t want to. That’s the ED talking. Life with an ED is not a life at all; it’s a slow death. You’re worth more than that. I know everyone says “it gets better” and it means nothing coming from doctors who have never been where you are. As someone who told their psychologist to F herself over and over when she told me it would get better, I get it. But I’ve been there. I know how it feels. I promise it gets easier every day. Recovery is hard, but once you get to the other side it is so worth it. You can enjoy life again. You deserve to be happy. You are worth it. You are more than enough.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

84
84
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.