I owe Rachel a bit of credit for inspiring of Monday’s post “It’s Not About the Back”. My conversation with her opened a space for me through her story of overcoming her eating disorder. She spoke so candidly with me about things that are all too common for most women and how we see our bodies. Listening to her story I found commonalities in my own struggles with my body.
I think the way we (the collective) use our words, our own perceptions can start to corrode the mind with false truths. What we think we are doing out of “health” can start to turn on us. We can get lost. Rachel shares how she found her way back.
Because I remember this moment so vividly in my own life, the first thing I wanted to ask her was if she recalled the first time she was called fat. She answers with the same recognition “I was 12. I was very lanky, just skin and bones. It was after soccer and some kid probably joking said it.” She recalls laughing and then looking down at herself thinking, “Am I?”
Rachel grew up with health conscious family, where there were norms about healthy and unhealthy foods. She said diabetes ran in her family and her mother was conscious about all of them eating healthfully.
She found it confusing as young girl. She said in 8th grade she gained 5 pounds after quitting soccer and remembers it being topic around her family and friends. As something that needed to be addressed. Around this time she started dieting.
The deprivation as young adolescent made her moody, irritable and it lead her to binging. She became increasingly frustrated with her inability to lose weight and control her eating.
Around the age of 16, she said she had finally learned how to binge less by exercising a lot, which eventually lead her to anorexia. She expressed being praised by her peers for how skinny she looked. She started to associate skinny=good. She then learned that if she binged then starved herself and exercised she could maintain her body but it didn’t work.
At 17 to 18 she said her whole body began to just look unhealthy. Her face was puffy from the bingeing, she gained weight unevenly through her body and she was increasingly controlling of her eating. Her best friend at the time told her she thought she needed help. Rachel says knew she did. Her friends’ mom and her mother helped her on a path of getting the help she needed.
When she found a local therapist, the first thing she learned was to eat without guilt. That first week with her was about eating whatever she wanted without guilt associated to it. She spent 3 years with her therapist who re-trained her to view food as simply food. To eat what Rachel calls like a “normal person”. With her therapist there was no longer dieting or calling food “healthy”, “bad” or “good” or “junk food”. Food was just that, food.
Rachel was doing well on the program and left for college. Being away from home, on this new program became overwhelming. She started to drink, hang out with not-the-best crowd and started to feel old habits start up. She says mentally she couldn’t get herself to eat normal in the chaos of college.
She decided to leave college and move home. With the recommendation from her therapist enrolled in an outpatient program at St. Joseph Hospital for her eating disorder. The program was 7 hours a day intensive with the weekends off. She took different classes with a hovering staff that made sure she ate. She did this for 7 months, deciding at the age of 20 to end her therapy with the hospital and her therapist that she was still seeing as well.
She knew she was ready even though it was advised against. She started to not feel like herself. She attributes this to the given Prozac they put everyone(in the program) on, which she disliked immensely. She felt she had learned what she needed, that she was ready to move on. She says it was starting to make her feel crazy, like she was losing her sense of self.
She felt stuck. Doing the program was the best thing she had ever done for herself and is so thankful for all that it taught her. She learned how to eat and revisits the binder given to her when needed. At the same time, she found the decision to leave to be the next best thing she’s ever done for herself. She started to go to church, finding her higher power with God and meeting wonderful people. She trusted she was ready to move forward and she was.
Now at 22, she says she will carry her disorder with her always. She’s fine with that because it’s given her substance; something she’s been through. She knows what trials in life are like and that she can get through them. She realizes she went through it for a reason.
The greater lesson is still unfolding for her but she says it’s made her more understanding. She is enjoying her life and all that she’s been given even when it’s difficult. She has a great support system around her who she is able to come to whenever needed.
She hopes to revert peoples minds back to the way eating should be. A normal, enjoyable experience that, our body requires. The experience has made her less judgmental. She digs deeper with people. She understands that there is always more to everyone’s story than what you can see on the outside. We are meant to build each other up and not bring each other down.
photos Mary Claire Roman
makeup, hair, styling Janelle Walker
written Janelle Walker
edit Ashley Walker