Lake Effect Series: Bulimia and Swimming
Note from Hollie: I cannot believe there is less then a month to go until the Lake Effect Half Marathon. This story is from someone who I know personally and it has touched me so much. The first time I read this post I cried. Thank you for sharing friend. If you would like to submit your story please don’t hesitate to email me, I am looking for about 10 more. Please don’t hesitate to donate to my fundraising campaign. My goal today is to reach 1600 dollars (about 140 until that point). It means a lot to me when you do, or if you share the page with someone else. Sharing a story, my fundraising page, or raising awareness are all so helpful. Thank you everyone for your support. I know I have two various campaigns going on right now but this is by far the most important to me. I have enjoyed how many people have donated, shared and how many lives this series of posts is touching. I cannot believe how big it is becoming!
Submitted by anonymous
I had body image issues for as long as I can remember. For example, when I was in gymnastics: I was probably 6 or 7 the day I moved up from a white belt (belts symbolized your level) to a red belt and I remember being self-conscious when the lady was measuring out the elastic band to put around my waist. I was so upset, secretly, that my new red belt was bigger than my white belt. In my family food and weight has always been a weird topic. My parents would openly make rude remarks in front of us about fat people, or use them as an example of what we would look like if we didn’t eat healthy. My mom only wanted us to be healthy but it came across in a very negative way to me as a child and being fat seemed like the most shameful thing I could do. I started sneaking into my parents’ bathroom to weigh myself by the time I was 10.
My eating disorder began gradually in 8th grade and the summer before my freshman year of high school. I was a competitive swimmer and ever since I began, I had a lot of pressure on me to “reach my potential” and eventually get college scholarships. I felt so much pressure and stress to perform the way I was expected to, especially once I started swimming for the high school team and was the one expected to win all my races and save all the relays. Somehow, in my head I based my worth off my weight and became obsessed with getting thinner, convincing myself that I’d be faster. By that fall of my freshman year I was only eating an apple or a clif bar most days – while swimming 2 practices a day, a cross training/running PE class, and excessive exercise on my own when I got home at night. My weight never dropped low enough to be concerning and I hid my eating habits very well. Even when I was completely fatigued and exhausted, I always managed to push myself enough to scrape by – although I got frequent lectures about how I wasn’t swimming fast enough or training right. A lot of times I hid my physical exhaustion in my let’s-make-coach-mad antics. I was a troublemaker in the pool. Despite my issues and terrible self-esteem, I wasn’t miserable. In fact I had a false sense of pride – I was still the fastest swimmer and a straight-A student and I didn’t even need food to do it! But I still hated how “fat” I was and would constantly beat myself up over everything I did.
I couldn’t keep up this starvation act for long. In the springtime of my freshman year after passing out in the shower one morning, I was scared enough to eat a bit more. This turned into binging about once a week. But I started to gain weight. I had always sworn to myself that I would NEVER stoop low enough to vomit, but it was inevitable.
The first time I tried to make myself throw up was after I had pasta for dinner one night during a rare family dinner. I tried but had no luck. But once I had broken down that mental barrier, there was no stopping me and within a few weeks I was able to make myself throw up easily. By summertime I had full-blown bulimia. There were some days I’d eat and throw up 6 times in a row before heading to a workout. My sophomore year and the following summer were like this, still with periods where I’d just restrict my food to nothing. This all wreaked havoc on my swim practices and my times got slower, after that summer, not faster.
Junior year, I went back to being homeschooled. This meant I had tons of time and tons of food. Disaster. After morning practice I’d come home and eat and throw up. Sometimes once would be enough; sometimes it would happen over and over again. I kept gaining weight, which didn’t go unnoticed – especially when you’re a competitive swimmer. The missing food didn’t go unnoticed either. Eventually at some point my mother sent me to a nutritionist at the gym. I decided to come clean about my eating habits. I can’t remember exactly why – I was by no means willing to stop at that point. But long story short, eventually I got set up with a nutritionist and therapist in the closest city. That was one of the worst seasons of my life. My mom and I fought so much over this issue. I was going to appointments, but I didn’t like them at all. In the end the therapist basically told me to stop coming because we were just wasting money and time. I was having nothing to do with it (and no way I was able to follow a meal plan). The traditional eating disorder recovery approach was NOT going to work with me. (granted, I didn’t truly give it an honest effort. But at 15 or 16 this was my impression.)
Things got worse and at one point in which I realized I needed to stop hating myself and stop hurting myself. I realized I could never be the person I wanted to be if bulimia defined my life. The real kick in the butt came one night though. It was late at night and I started having chest pains, feeling faint, shaking uncontrollably, and was beginning to black out. I was desperate enough that I tried to get up and go downstairs to find my mom, but I couldn’t even walk down the hall. I was terrified. I may have hated myself, but deep down I cared enough about myself that this was not okay! Ruining my health and living my life in a self-obsessed bubble was NOT going to get me anywhere worth going. I decided to “fake it till I make it.” I basically pretended to be a confident person who loved herself and her body. Whenever I wanted to mentally beat myself up I would just stop and not let it happen. Slowly but surely without even realizing it my pretending turned into reality.
The food side of things was a bit harder, seeing as that was more like a physical addiction to me. Even when I stopped feeling super guilty every time I ate, my body had a hard time keeping down and digesting food. So then I would just NOT eat, but the deprivation would trigger such an intense desire for food that I would end up binging. Sometimes I purged, sometimes I didn’t. I sure didn’t like gaining weight from that though. I found a book that really resonated with me – it’s called Brain Over Binge and like me, the author didn’t find traditional therapy to be very effective. Instead, she looked at her bulimia from a physical standpoint where FOOD actually IS the issue (binging becomes an addiction). I was so glad to have read this book. Gradually, my situation with food got better. I was over feeling guilty, so I just needed time for my body to get used to being fed consistently.
It’s not as if I’ve never worried about my weight or had poor body image since then, but it in no way shape or form dominates my thoughts anymore. I became more focused on what my body can DO versus what it looks like. I’m more proud of my athletic accomplishments than I ever will be about any weight loss. And I love my body enough to treat it well and want to feed it with appropriate nutrition to support my activities. I was very into crossfit and bootcamp classes late in high school and I started to appreciate my abilities rather than my looks.
I no longer swim. I started to swim in my freshman year of college, but I found myself mentally reverting back to old habits and thought processes. My eating disorder past is just too entwined with swimming. Now I’m in love with a new sport – rugby! If there’s any sport that is completely discourages eating disorders and thinness, rugby is it. I am incredibly lucky to be at a point where an eating disorder no longer dictates my life and I can focus on my friends and family, school, and rugby. My relationship with my mom was once extremely rocky and fragile, but now we’re very close and don’t fight anymore. We never talk about my eating disorder though. I hope that everyone struggling with an eating disorder can find their own path to recovery. Thanks Hollie for everything you’re doing!