Twelve years old - I'm on a trip with my family feeling overwhelmed by the chaos of our journey and life in general. I felt so anxious that my appetite disappeared and a week later I returned to school in a smaller body. Greeted by compliments and praise, I noticed how people began to look at me different, I became an object of desire. I realized that 'sexy' was my ultimate body goal, if I was sexy then I was wanted. As a young girl searching for validation and identity this was all I needed to associate being wanted with being loved.
It didn't start to consume me until high school, where life circumstances granted stress beyond my wildest dream. My eating disorder became my only means of emotional comfort and regulation. Simultaneously, the pursuit of sexiness heightened as I started modeling, where sexy was a too tiny waist and visible collarbones. My eating disorder behaviors were not just passively accepted anymore, they were required. 4 years went by with my memory of the details in between lost from the effects of the disorder. I remember the moment though, at a conference being asked to lose even more weight in order to model across seas. I remember everything moving in slow motion and hearing a voice inside me say - this will cost you your life. To this day I can’t say I understand where that voice came from or how I had the courage to turn down the offer. But that day I chose recovery and I’m grateful every day that I did. A change in life plans and one application later – I found myself off to college.
Six years later and I’m months away from getting my masters in counseling, intensely passionate about helping others fight for their recovery. No part of it was or is easy, this recovery journey is messy. But messy in the ways that finally allow you to breath, to love again, to be at ease in your body. Along the way, I’ve found myself grateful for every thought, emotion, and experience that makes up the mess. Life has begun to look more like gallery worthy abstract art rather than a child’s finger-paint. So here I am 6 years later in this beautiful mess of recovery, fighting for others to create their beautiful recovery too.
Written By: Rae Thomas
Recovery from an eating disorder is complex to define. It looks and feels different to everyone. However, the stamp on my recovery came in July of 2010 as I began to discover my infinite worth in Christ. As a little girl, feelings of shame, embarrassment, and unworthiness consumed my heart. I craved to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. In an attempt to fit in, I sacrificed my core values which left me feeling torn and regretful. The eating disorder was a master manipulator in that it filled my mind with empty promises; “If you lose this much weight you will be pretty.” “If you don’t eat past this amount of calories you will feel good about yourself.” Lies. They were all lies. The truth is, there is no magic number that signifies self-love. Although, the eating disorder will fight till the end to convince you otherwise.
Treatment centers became a revolving door in an attempt to keep me alive; 10? 11? 12? I lost count. I remember asking myself, “Why is it that others are choosing recovery from the eating disorder yet, I continue to be imprisoned by the obsessions and compulsions of Anorexia?” The amount of hopelessness I felt was suffocating at times. In early 2010, I hit the bottom of rock bottoms. I began experiencing something I had never felt before; my body deteriorating. It was screaming for love, for nourishment, for rest. The truth was, I didn’t know how to give it those things. For the first time in my life, I feared for my life.
What happened next is nothing short of … well, God. I remember very clearly getting ready for bed one evening in January when God spoke loud and clear to me. He said, “If you don’t seek help, you will die.” I prayed. I called out to Jesus. He heard me. I firmly believe God guided my footsteps from that day forward. He led me to the Kirsten Haglund Foundation who provided a treatment scholarship where I not only found recovery, but God. I found my worth in Him and in Him alone. Today, almost 8 years later, I can honestly say that I love myself. I appreciate my body. I enjoy nourishing my body with satisfying food. Through recovery, God blessed my husband and me with our son on July 5, 2016. July 5th was the day I said goodbye to the eating disorder and hello to life. Redemption is sweet.
Written By: Kaylin Boni, Survivor
My journey to better health has been a learning experience not all that different from learning to walk. A child learns to walk by first learning to stand, and then wobbles and falls many, many times before he gets it right. I spent many years trying to learn to stand, as I tried all the popular diets and plans, and each of them failed me. It was not until 2010 that I finally gained the support I needed to stand. My doctor, who was concerned about my health and obesity, suggested I work with a campus dietitian. The most important thing the dietitian did for me was make me realize that I did not have to give up the foods I love, nor did I have to eat foods I loathed just because they were healthy, in order to have a healthy and balanced diet. I realized after many failed diet plans, they all had one thing in common – I was no longer enjoying my food. Once I learned to eat the foods I loved in moderation, healthy eating became much easier. Then, eventually the exercise component came along, as I joined a program full of supportive people that helped me learn not only how to exercise properly, but how to enjoy it.
I have also wobbled and fallen a great deal along the way. Life gets in the way sometimes – major changes and disruptions in my routine caused me to fall back on old habits. But, each time I have fought my way back to becoming healthy again, and in fact I am doing that right now. But it has become easier to get back on track now, because I have been here before and I know what to do to make my way back to a healthier lifestyle. Am I walking yet? Not exactly, but I think I am getting there. Given my experiences, the best advice I can give is to think of working toward a healthy lifestyle as not a sprint, but a marathon. And, be sure to enjoy life while running this marathon, or you may not get to your destination. Do what is best for you to get there, and hopefully you will begin walking soon too.
Written By: Crystal Stiles
At first it seemed so unique. So special and isolated. It wasn’t until I had been in this field for a while before I realized my story starts out the same as a lot of other people who have struggled with an eating disorder: a distorted body image that started way too early.
In second grade I was comparing my private school uniform sizes to those of my friends on a playdate.
In third grade I wasted too many birthday, eyelash, and shooting star wishes on being thinner and losing weight (coupled with the wish to ride on an airport baggage claim carousel, which has yet to be fulfilled).
In fourth grade I remember lying in bed with a pair of scissors, wishing more than anything that I could just cut off that chunk of fat on my stomach.
In fifth grade I remember boasting that after being sick for a week with the stomach flu that I had dropped 8 pounds.
I was young and full of adventure. I lived for playdates with my friends. Sleepovers and pool parties cluttered my summer. But I could never get rid of the nagging feeling that I was bigger and weighed more than my friends. There was always a little voice that would tell me my stomach was too big to wear that swimsuit.
To change into my pajamas in the bathroom because no one wanted to see my thighs.
That I shouldn’t have popcorn AND candy during the movie.
In middle school I was AWKWARD. Not the typical braces and crocs awkward that everyone can relate to. I mean awkward in the sense that I had braces, and awful haircut, and a horrible sense of style. (Think: sundress over a long-sleeved t shirt over jeans). I didn’t know where I fit in, and I definitely didn’t feel like I deserved to fit in. That voice had gotten louder. It told me to eat salad for lunch. It told me to skip that pool party. It told me I was disgusting, fat, and overweight.
But one day, that voice wasn’t just internal. It wasn’t just me beating myself up. One day, that voice came from a boy in my class who walked right up to me in the hallway and told me how fat I looked.
That night I threw up my dinner for the first time. That night started a cycle of harmful eating habits, excessive workouts, and a pattern of binging and purging that would last way too long. In my mind, if I had all these thoughts, and he said them, then they must be true.
These thoughts, that voice, and those actions affected me for too long. I blame this partially on the lack of education on eating disorders and mental illnesses. My knowledge was limited, and what I did know scared the hell out of me. All I knew was that something in my brain wasn’t matching up. I didn’t know that 4 out of 10 Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. I didn’t know that eating disorders were the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. I didn’t know that I wasn’t alone. I didn’t know that I wasn’t the only one with this story.
Written By: Becca Schollaert
Emily Estes lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her Goldendoodle pup, Miss Adley Mae. Recovery from her own struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has led Emily to create community and resources to empower others on the journey. Emily owns Sage Nutrition, LLC where she serves as a Registered Dietitian. Her work revolves around her motto that "food is meant to nourish our bodies, not nurture us."