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

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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.”

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.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 26, 2017
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