The Difficulty in Understanding

Eating disorders thrive in secrecy. Friends and family members will rarely (if ever) see the dozen empty candy bar wrappers stashed in your trash (perhaps wrapped/hidden in crumpled toilet paper) or find measuring cups lying on the counter. It may take months or years for them to find the scale hidden beneath your bed.
They may never know your struggle until you tell them.
Having to explain your eating disorder to a loved one is probably one of the most difficult tasks to take in the journey to recovery. The biggest lesson I had to learn is that friends and family members simply may not understand–but the goal in itself isn’t to make them walk in your shoes. It’s to feel they will always support you and that even in their confusion, they will understand that having the disorder is just that–a disorder. It’s not a way of living we decide to take on.
The Questions
When I first told my mom about the eating disorder she seemed to continually ask the wrong questions and make the wrong suggestions (“Well let’s step on the scale to see where you’re at!” and, “But did you throw up all your food?”). It’s tough to get off to a good start when someone hasn’t experienced an eating disorder. My dad probably had one of the most difficult times trying to break it apart.
“How can you physically keep stuffing in more and more food?” he asked one night when we had agreed to sit down to talk. “I mean, I get to the point where enough is enough in one meal.”
I sat there trying to figure out how to help my dad understand this. It seemed so obvious to me, but I knew we had different bodies and different lifestyles. I had to help him see how different my mind and body processed food—especially since I had such a warped view of it after all the restriction in my past.
Thus the hour-long conversation went a little like this:
Me: “When you hold back on food for so long–like my two-year restriction–then your body is going to try to make up for it. It’s going to go for the simplest sugars. That’s why many people crave junk food at the end of the day if they don’t eat enough. Your body wants to find the most calorie-dense, simplest form of food so that it can break it down fast and get into the body’s cells. And with an eating disorder–with your body in that desperation mode–you often stuff yourself until you are uncomfortably full, even if it hurts.”
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When running and nutrition dominated my life

Dad: “But how is that physically possible? When you’re full of food, how can you take any more in? That would feel so uncomfortable.”
Me: “The body will do anything in its power to get the calories, even if it means shutting off your brain to it or overcoming ‘willpower.’ Believe me, your body can do the seemingly impossible to get what it needs–especially when you have forcibly deprived it.”
Dad: *confused silence*
Me: “Do you understand that?”
Dad: “No, not really. Aren’t you full after a meal?”
Me: “I am, most of the time. But some days I feel hungrier than others. That’s when I go back to get another small meal or a snack, according to the meal plan I was given by my dietician. But I try to wait for a while first.”
Dad: “But where does ‘discipline’ and ‘disorder’ get mixed up? I mean does me eating a whole tub of ice cream qualify as a ‘disorder’? Or is it my lack of discipline?”
I could see his point with this last question, but it made me uncomfortable. I suddenly realized he did not see my case as a disorder at all, but perhaps just something to cover up a lack of discipline. He had not seen the battles raging in my mind, had not felt the emotional guilt during and after every meal.
Me: “I wouldn’t see that as a disorder unless you did it almost every night and felt guilty or out of control about it. If you are living in constant fear of food and fear eating all of that and feel like you can do nothing to stop yourself . . . if it holds you back from living a normal life, I feel like that would qualify as a ‘disorder.’”
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Working towards that “normal” life beyond the obsession with food and researching nutrition. My friends were good influences.

Confusion and Building Trust
My dad and I continued to talk in circles late into the night. I hadn’t ever thought it would feel this difficult to explain the eating disorder to him. I had imagined that he would come away enlightened, fully understanding everything I had gone through.
It wasn’t until weeks later that I began to realize the best support I could have from my parents is that they were willing to listen, made an effort to understand through books and speaking to specialists in the area of eating disorders, and accepted that this was a disorder–that like anorexia on the opposite end of the spectrum where you cannot force someone to “just eat,” you could not force someone with binge eating disorder or bulimia to stop eating “too much.”
Despite the difficulties in understanding, I feel I have grown with one of the greatest support systems I could have ever asked for. I have spent countless hours venting, crying, and explaining my eating disorder to my mom. I repeated myself more times than I can remember, but the repetition–with someone there to listen–was essential in my recovery. I needed to speak, needed to repeat thoughts and feelings for me to come to my own realizations and make changes. If chose to change, if made the connections, I was much more willing to make better decisions for my body.
My loved ones listened. They allowed me to speak, encouraged me to get the confusion, loneliness, fear, and isolation out of my frantic mind.
I am my best form of myself now because of my parents and my friends.
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Finding Strength in Solitude

In the midst of a fall and winter of bingeing, it seemed as if all hope had disappeared from my life. All I could see ahead of me was losing myself more and more to the eating disorder. I was far from wanting to commit suicide, but looking at the dark wall ahead of me made me wonder if there was anything worth living for anymore. I knew I was blessed with so much in my life, but the black pit of grief and confusion kept me trapped in a mind and body I hated.
At a loss as to what to do for me, my friends suggested I learn to sit with myself–to find strength in solitude. Unfortunately this sounded like the worst solution, because at that point in my eating disorder being alone was the darkest part of my day.
Destruction in the form of bingeing, counting calories, obsessing, and occasional purging dominated any time I had to myself. My eating disorder thrived off of this chance for just the two of us to fight–a battle which I often lost. I was trapped in a mind with circulating thoughts, fear, and wondering when my next downfall would come.
My friends’ suggestion was not wrong by any means, but at this point in my life I didn’t want to be in my own mind. I had to learn how to battle the eating disorder with tools like the meal plan and understanding when and how the eating disorder rooted itself instead of putting a band-aid (“just love yourself!”) over the problem. Once I had a strategy to tackle the basic eating errors, loving and accepting myself eventually trickled in on its own.

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Transformation
Gradually I began to understand myself and the eating disorder enough to see solitude as a place of peace. I was no longer tiptoeing fearfully into isolation, but instead jumping into solitude to see what Rachael was thinking and exploring now. The screams of calories, weight, and defeat were no longer as strong, and I thought that perhaps I could actually live within myself again. The idea of being “stuck” with myself for the rest of my life finally didn’t seem too bad.
The black wall of lost hope began to disappear.
I sat with myself. I heard the real Rachael speak out between the written notes of calories and food rules. And as I stared into the darkness of the night, my mind exploding with exploratory internal dialogue, I enjoyed the new, kinder thoughts and revelations.
Healing and Growing
Now I needed time to remember who Rachael was without the obsessive thoughts. Now I had to remember what Rachael liked from the beginning–maybe even as far back as childhood when I participated in gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, and swimming along with running; the Rachael who enjoyed dessert pizza as well as fresh vegetables; the Rachael who created art, who led make-believe adventures on the playground with her friends, and who read dozens of novels (not all these eating disorder and diet books that litter my bookshelves).
To find Rachael again, I had to go back to that exploration of the self through activities and adventures.
The result? I began to have experiences where I felt the highs and lows of “normal” circumstances people deal with on a daily basis: Job problems. Stress in school. A broken heart. But also the excitement in meeting new people, having adventures outside of a fourteen-mile long run, and having more time to pursue my dreams since my days were no longer solely devoted to researching nutrition and worrying about calories.

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The Balance
In these adventures I began to test my boundaries and limits. There were moments when my explorations went from finding freedom and excitement to just plain unhealthy actions, but those mistakes allowed me to see where my limits were and what was best for Rachael.
The bingeing and restricting of life experiences went from extremes to gradually finding a happy, healthy medium–just as I had done with food. But having that connection to myself–being able to speak with and listen to Rachael in solitude–allowed me to understand my choices and helped me to continually communicate with myself and grow.
Taking this journey into self-discovery gets tricky since eating disorders often thrive in loneliness. The key is to find solitude–that “holy” place where talking freely to yourself is therapeutic and helps you to progress rather than fall back. Getting to solitude instead of loneliness requires utilizing the recovery tools (like eating enough throughout the day, talking through the difficulties with someone, etc–whatever aids in your recovery). From there the journey to self-discovery, with occasional or even many slip-ups, will help us to find that happy balance and the road to recovery–
A natural path to self-love and acceptance.
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Caitlyn’s Identity–and Our Own

I have quietly observed the controversy/debate littering social media over Caitlyn Jenner receiving the Arthur Ash Award at the ESPYs—especially from people who have felt that other candidates have exemplified “greater” acts of courage and thus are supposedly more deserving of the award.
What saddens me is when people believe Caitlyn is not worthy of such an award in comparison to others, that coming out and striving to be herself in the face of public criticism, controversy, and hate does not qualify as something “profound” or significant enough for us to feel comfortable with her receiving an award of courage.
Courage does not have to come as a momentous roar. Sometimes courage is simply standing up for who we are to overcome emotional battles that are not as visible as physical ailments or scars.
Jenner’s Story is Our Story
My own running journey is, on a small scale, somewhat relatable to Jenner’s experience. As a national runner in the NAIA who had an eating disorder, I have realized that the physical struggle in a race–achieving All-American and breaking school records–was nothing compared to the long, emotional struggle with the eating disorder. But that trial forced me to face who I was beyond the need to meet the standards of what society asked of me (a thinner body, having my life completely “together” and “in control”).
Rather than achieving a tangible award like a first-place medal to show my “comeback” from the eating disorder, I achieved an internal award–that of peace and love for myself at last without seeking validation from others. And I began to realize that the biggest achievement was never out on the cross country course or track, but in my daily life in finding who I am. But it took speaking up about my secrets and struggles–and learning to be okay with the real Rachael inside–to finally get to that point. I agree with Jenner when she states that “life is much more difficult than running a decathlon” (or any race for that matter).
Even though Jenner represents the transgender community, she also shows how having the courage to speak up about our struggles and being exactly who we are–despite enormous criticism–is the best gift to give not only to ourselves, but also to society. Jenner is a model for us–a hero that, yes, differs from the usual award recipients that may have overcome physical ailments or raised an extraordinary amount of money for great causes–but someone who, beyond the transgender topic, is very relatable. If we can be all of ourselves and accept differences in others, our individual strengths and self love will carry over to a powerful community and society.
Lack of Understanding
We don’t have to completely understand one another’s struggles, just as we don’t have to understand Jenner’s reasons for wanting to be a woman. When I told my dad about my eating disorder and tried to explain it to him in a way that would help him to understand it, he simply could not grasp it. But I began to realize that it wasn’t necessary to make him understand completely. The best my dad could do was read information about eating disorders to learn about what I was going through, accept that it was a disorder, and support me no matter what.
We may all have varying identity issues–wanting to act and be one way but feeling we cannot bring that person out because of the criticism we may face. It took Jenner 65 years to have the courage to break out of the mold. In suppressing who we are, we not only hurt ourselves but also others–something Jenner speaks about when she discusses her poor relationship with her family as she struggled with her suppressed identity. Jenner says that “Bruce always had to tell a lie. Caitlyn doesn’t have any secrets.”
Lies and Skepticism
I myself finally came to a point where I realized hiding behind the eating disorder kept me drowning in lies. By exposing my struggles–telling my friends and family, and finally facing the public through this blog–I knew I might meet people who were skeptical or didn’t understand the eating disorder. They could tell me to “just eat less and exercise more” to lose the weight from bingeing. They could tell me that it was a “petty” issue or just a “phase” I would go through as woman. They could tell me to just eat whatever I wanted and that I’d be okay.
Luckily, I have not encountered those situations too often but I know that many others with eating disorders have peers who greatly trivialize mental illness. There is stigma against anything that not all of us can understand.
In receiving the award of courage, Jenner is not only encouraging us to open our minds and raise awareness for the transgender community, but on an individual level, she is touching each of us. In my own struggle with the eating disorder, Jenner helps me to find the best part of myself–because just as Jenner has “high hopes that Caitlyn is a better person than Bruce,” I can say that I have high hopes that Rachael is a better person than the eating-disordered, raw-food obsessed “Rawchael.”
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Rachael, Be Brave

“To try to be brave is to be brave.” –George MacDonald
Life outside of the eating disorder feels both scary and exhilarating. I’ve had to learn to adjust to and enter the “real world” outside of my own safe nutrition-obsessed cage–which means taking on adventures that initially sound too risky for the uptight Rachael. How would I get anything done? What if this means consuming more calories than if I were to stay at home with my healthier, controlled food? And what if the whole thing goes terribly wrong, leading to boredom, discomfort–or worse, embarrassment?
Taking on adventures that don’t involve 30 bananas a day means encouraging myself to go out and actually do things rather than stay holed up with a nutrition book or on the internet trying to find the “key to happiness” through a diet. Now that I’ve recovered from the eating disorder, I have to like, you know, live. I know that the Rachael deep down wants adventure and fun without guilt–but it takes that leap of bravery to get there.

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So of course, it’s not been easy. Taking chances to stray away from my own schedule for an adventure that could go absolutely perfect or terribly wrong is a big risk–especially for the organized, scheduling, people-pleaser Rachael. The thing is, I know that by taking chances and getting “out there” will usually make me happy in the end for at least trying it.
The tough part is taking that first step.
On a recent trip, I found myself saying “Be brave, Rachael. Be brave.” And in following those wise words of wisdom the real Rachael had permission to come out at last and enjoy what life has to offer. The eating disorder voice was drowned out by laughter and bursts of joy–that, and by fun food and drinks of course. Even the awkward or embarrassing moments that did come up ultimately made for great stories to laugh about later. I found how much of myself I could be–how fun it is to balance the hard-working, organized, productive woman with the side of me who cracks jokes, is eager to take on spontaneous adventures, and can let her passion spill over to others.

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Eating disorder recovery is scary because you have to be brave, you have to be daring, and you have to get out of your comfort zone in order to find adventure for the possibility of something wonderful–or yes, even disastrous. Like I mentioned in my last post, feeling great emotion (whether it’s terrible sadness or euphoric joy) is what comes with living a great life. By just staying home to be “productive” and “in control” with food all the time there would not be much to enjoy, no memories to share, no chance for a step in a new direction. I’ve found through wonderful experimentation that the more you try out this bravery thing, the better you get–and the more fulfilling life can be.
So be brave, readers.
Be brave.
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Embracing Emotion

“I am thawing.”
These are the final words in Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Wintergirls. Mind you, it’s a triggering eating disorder novel for those with eating disorders, but that’s probably because it’s one of the most accurate, artistic portrayals of what it’s like to deal with an eating disorder. And those final words in the book come closer to me than any other words I have read–words that very much describe what bingeing and recovering from the eating disorder did for me.
I thawed.

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When I was at my thinnest I sat through high school like a zombie. I barely interacted with friends, nor did I care to try. I knew I felt sad, but it was a distant feeling, too. I simply got through each day attending school, running for the track team, practicing piano, spending hours on homework, and cross training with any extra time I might have had. I lived mostly on working and trying to please the adults in my life. Meanwhile, of course, my friends had almost all but disappeared. The only thing that seemed to keep me “happy” (or rather, in my own form of control) was the very thing keeping me trapped: restricting.
You would think that thawing would feel good–but that’s when the pain actually hit. That’s when my hunger roared like a beast unleashed, when my mind and body awoke to what I had done to it with all the restricting. Because with every binge, with every push back for life, my mind screamed with resistance and fear. My body was ready to fight back to get the Rachael that was meant to not merely exist, but to live.
I thought that researching nutrition further would save me, that a new diet might save me, that treating everything with numbers and logic would bring me back to where I needed to be. I fought myself for years doing this until my friends, family, and even a bit of myself helped me to let go.
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Freshman runner to senior graduate! Many changes emotionally and physically in that time frame

The emotions that came with gaining the weight back and with developing into a normal “human” who interacted with society instead of staying home to research the 30 Bananas a Day diet online and smashing in salads until my jaw hurt, found me suddenly full of intense euphoria, intense anger, or intense sadness. Just as I was either restricting or bingeing, my emotions were seemingly following the same up-and-down path. It was not until I was completely removed from competition, applying more of my ED recovery tools, and using the support of my friends and family that I felt the comfort of a good thaw. I was allowing my body to do it’s thing. I was allowing my mind to rest from the numbers and fear. Instead of feeling the icicles slowly, painfully melt from my fingers, I felt the warm rush of life flood me.

Warm at Last

I think that no matter the destructive coping mechanism we deal with, we trap ourselves in a world of our own. It is not selfish, only a sign that we are struggling–and that we can’t get out alone. What life has to offer feels both horrifying and magnificent. We can eventually find balance if we take the chance to allow ourselves to thaw.
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What the Eating Disorder Taught Me About Coping

I have often been told that a breakup with someone is one of the most difficult things I will have to go through, but I think many of us fail to realize we often go through “breakups” just as difficult through other experiences in life–“breaking up” with a passion, addiction, etc. So as bizarre as an eating disorder may seem to those who don’t have one, it is not that foreign when we think about the recovery from an eating disorder as coping with loss–a breakup from something that we feel has become a part of ourselves. No matter how painful it is to live with, the greatest fear is learning to live without it.
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One of my “safe” buddies who listened to a lot of my venting and frustrations. I gave her piggy-back rides in return :P

Since the eating disorder was my first major “breakdown,” getting through it has taught me what it takes to work in recovery and come out the other side–a kind of preparation for the next series of losses I will and have had to work through. It hasn’t made those next losses any easier or less painful, but I knew I would find happiness and balance again in similar ways that I did with the eating disorder–by writing out my thoughts, talking to safe people about my feelings, venting through exercise, staying busy with new activities, and allowing my mind to deal with the thoughts when they came instead of trying to constantly push them away.
It’s important to analyze our struggles so that we can know how to survive our grief and give back to the world. If we don’t take time for ourselves to understand the hurt, the emotions may build inside and cause us to lash out at others or harm ourselves. The mind is smart. It will not allow you to hold in what it needs to get out. My eating disorder is a prime example of that–something that came out of my inability to address my loss of identity and yearning to be “perfect” to please others.
Sometimes the most comforting feeling is having others somewhat understand our pain–and in recognizing that breakups from a part of ourselves can be just as painful and quite similar to breaking up with someone else, we can be there for each other with more empathy and understanding.
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Today, I Graduate

I will tell you a story about a girl.

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I will tell you a story about a girl who entered college anticipating a chance to start over—a chance to bring out the person she always felt had been trapped inside. I will tell you about a girl who left high school as a depressed, eating-disordered, running-consumed, people-pleaser perfectionist who found out, upon entering college, that she still couldn’t let it all go.
She didn’t know how to let it all go.
I will tell you that this girl reached her ultimate dream of running prestige with All-American finishes as a college freshman, only to realize that this was not as fulfilling as she had hoped it would be; that as everyone praised her for her efforts, fear of the dissatisfaction she felt and a yearning to go to extremes haunted her in the loneliness of the disorder and perfectionist mindset.
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I will tell you about the leap this girl took to start a raw food diet. While there was skepticism from her peers, raw food was the first major change, a DARE, a switch where she realized she was in control of her life, that she could do big things, too. While it did not end up as the healthiest means to an end, it was a path to the voice she had buried down for so long.
I will tell you about a girl who faced reality after that dream-come-true year of running—a girl who turned from a judgmental, glory-driven athlete to a humbled, scared, bingeing addict stripped of her running “superpowers.” I will tell you about the fears she faced in a life without her control of food or success in running, and the reality that hit her: she could be more than just running and food.
She had to be more than just running and food.
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I will tell you how this girl’s written words began to give her a voice at last despite anxiety and shame in sharing it. I will tell you about the way her eyes opened beyond her own fears to see how many others dealt with what she went through, and worse—that it was never about discipline and desire, but about disorder and chaos and a missing identity.
I will tell you about a girl who realized she could be more than the food she ate, the amount she weighed on the scale, the schedule she dictated herself by, and the times she ran in races. I will tell you about a girl who began to open her mouth not just to eat, but also to speak with confidence and enthusiasm because she realized how painful and frustrating it had felt to run in silence.
I will tell you about a girl who became me.

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I will tell you that I am graduating college with a four-inch surgical scar tracing down my right knee that tells a story not of physical pain but emotional rebirth; that a comeback was never about racing after breaking my kneecap, losing weight again, or achieving All American, but about learning to be the best Rachael I could be under the strain of every fear that became my reality. I graduate now with extra meat on my bones, a body that has carried me through it all, and a mind that never gave up.
I will tell you that I began to see the joy in life with great friends and family—that I took the chance to break a few rules when I slept on the college soccer field for my twenty-first birthday, when I decided to not complete a school assignment for the first time in my life, when I got my first-ever C on an test, and when I decided that enough was enough with running to quit competing because the sport was taking away more than it was giving back.
That it was my turn to give back.

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I graduate having enjoyed all-nighters, having broken away from rigid schedules, and feeling the serenity in sitting peacefully with myself without feeling guilt for “wasting” time. I graduate having met amazing new people with different ideas and views on life that allowed me to see beyond a world of running and food.
Today I graduate knowing that the desire to be the best runner was not what would make me feel better; that the “right” food would not bring out the real Rachael; and that self-discovery is painful but it forced me to face myself at last. I graduate knowing I am privileged and blessed, and that a big part of my success is from the people I am surrounded with–a community of running and writing friends, fantastic professors and classmates who supported me through everything, coaches and parents who believed in my potential to be a great person and not just a great runner, and everything beyond perfection.
Today, I graduate from the best five years of my life with a story to tell you about a woman.

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Rachael Recovered?

[[[TRIGGER WARNING.]]]

I didn’t realize until recently how unhealthy and DISORDERED my mindset was these past five years–in all stages of an ever-changing eating disorder. After presenting about my experiences to my college a few times I’ve realized that when I talk about my past eating disorder practices, the person I speak of seems so different from the Rachael I know now. I didn’t realize how much I’ve changed because it’s been so gradual, but when I write it all out as I’ve done here, it becomes clearer than ever.

Restriction schedule

(2 years)
7 a.m.: Wakeup and the first thing you think is BREAKFAST. But you weigh yourself first, of course.
You run to the cafeteria in the darkness of dawn, feeling the ache of an empty stomach and a crazed anticipation to eat at last. You arrive exactly the time it is suppose to open but rage within when you realize the cafeteria has not opened yet. You are starving starving starving.
It opens five minutes later and you eat the exact amounts you have measured and promised yourself. You eat it all slowly, controlled with a tiny sample spoon you saved from an ice cream shop a few months ago. You are still hungry when you leave but you know that will be your biggest meal of the day because MIND RULES.
You anticipate lunch all morning. You are the first person at the cafeteria when it opens because you are starving starving starving. You eat with your teammates and try to participate in conversations but all you are thinking is how many calories how many portions how many bites how many vegetables how much do they think I am eating how much are they eating will they notice what a glutton I am what if I can’t avoid desserts.
But you escape without desserts and run through the hunger in the afternoon and anticipate/dread dinner since that has to be the SMALLEST meal of the day because MIND RULES.
You chew through a whole pack of gum an hour after dinner to avoid eating, and hit the pillow with stomach rumbling.

Binge Phase.

(2 years)
You wake up feeling guilty. You wonder why you feel guilty.
And then you remember.
You remember the three sandwiches, the four granola bars, mounds and mounds of peanut butter, trying to stuff down vegetables so you can keep the binge as low-calorie as possible. You remember going to bed with your stomach aching, fit to burst, hating yourself, wishing you could have had more self control.
But it’s a new day, so you’re starting over—right?
With each meal the dread of a binge is there—but you don’t know when it will come. You don’t control when it comes. You DO feel the urge build, though.
You try to make strange concoctions of food to keep it as low-calorie as possible so that you can try to lose the weight again. Week after week you feel like you’ve found “it”—the best way to eat. This morning it’s chopped bell peppers, cucumbers, and steamed sweet potato.
And in class you might be eating some oranges, but you are so self-conscious that people will smell it, that they will stare at you, that they think you are a gluttonous pig.
Track practice feels uncomfortable because you ate too close to practice, and you knew this as you were eating, but the urge to eat is so strong, so animalistic, that you can’t resist any and all food even though you know there are consequences. You can’t resist and now your body is suffering through the run because you are not used to handling so much food, so many heavy fats from avocados or granola bars and chocolate and peanut butter.
You have a night class and you bring in your oatmeal-tuna-coconut oil-vegetable “stew” to try to go as low-calorie as possible. You are aware that this is a strange combination but it’s your “safe” food, and you feel like people are staring and thinking about what you’re eating and you hate eating in front of people because of this but you are so, so hungry. Food is not about pleasure—it was never about pleasure since you started counting calories. And even when you finish your meal you think about what other foods you can get.
During the break, after much contemplation as you try to focus on the lesson, you cave into the vending machine food and buy two granola bars, sink your teeth into them, and transport yourself into heaven. And then they are all you are thinking about for the rest of class—how guilty you feel about eating the “forbidden” and how badly you still want more.
You come back to your apartment late at night after class only to shovel in all the food possible, hating yourself, your body, how out of control you feel, how you wonder when this will all end, when the weight will stop piling on, when the obsession with food will diminish. It is still ALL you think about.

Bulimia.

(9 months)
You’re sad. Frustrated. You want to fight back. You don’t want to feel the ache and pain and guilt from bingeing, so bulimia gives you power. When you’re angry with someone, you can just flush it away. When you’re frustrated with yourself, you can just flush it away. When you feel guilt from the food, you can just flush it away.
It is violent. It is purging food AND emotion from these past few years. It is releasing all the pent up anger and frustration with your body for all these years of pain and heartache and frustration and stigma. But no one will have to see your anger and frustration because you can hide it while still letting it all out. And now you have a form of control again like restriction. But since you can’t restrict anymore, this is your new control.
HA. You laugh at your body, at it’s ignorance, because aren’t YOU in control again now?
You eat and purge all day. You eat, and purge, and then you feel hungry again twenty minutes later because purging, you realize, doesn’t really do anything except waste the food you were buying. And to escape the hunger again immediately after a purge you escape and bike to the Y, because if you work out, you will take away the pain. But the moment you get there your stomach screams and you cannot even walk into the building. The intensity of how badly you want food gets you back on that bike and you’re flying back to your home, even contemplating stopping at Jimmy John’s on the ten-minute bike ride because your body is that desperate for food NOW.
Bulimia is not a fix.
~

Now.

I still wake up in the morning shocked with my appearance. I am still getting used to looking at “now” pictures because I am not used to a body like this. But I no longer wake up with guilt. My weight has been stable. I still have downfalls once in a great while, but nowhere near to the extent I had before. I pack a healthy lunch and peanut butter sandwiches for school. I eat the sandwich calmly in class, no longer worried about what other people think about my food. I engage in conversations and I’m able to pay attention. I laugh and smile and feel like I am MYSELF at last–without food and the obsession with running better to dominate my thoughts. I’m not constantly thinking about when my next meal will be because I eat until I am full and I go about my day. I’ve been cooking new foods and enjoying going out to eat with friends and family. I don’t have set times or schedules. I listen to my body and enjoy the peace of mind.
I do not weigh myself. I do not count calories.
As of right now, I have recovered from the eating disorder.
Granted, I still have some quirks and I still remember all the calories of most foods. I still try to eat healthy, but this time it’s with a healthy mindset. I may purge once in a while but it’s very rare now. There will always be a lingering fear from something that I dealt with for five years.
There is no quick fix or absolute answer. All I can say is that it has come with patience, learning my triggers, avoiding the competitive running life for a while, and learning how to be happy with MYSELF.
In two weeks, I graduate college. I’d say this is a nice way to enter the next phase of my life.
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A WALK in the Woods

About a week ago, I decided to take a walk in the woods.
I have no idea how many miles I covered, and it was freeing not to care. I strayed off the path once in a while where I found a lake I had no idea existed, where I found a drop-off I had never taken the chance to admire. I could spread my toes, roll and bend my feet to meet the ground, climb onto logs and explore odd angles and points of view of the forest with my camera phone. I listened to the creak of the trees, a tumble and crash of a branch falling from the heavens, birds twitting in the distance, and frogs croaking in the swamp.
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After years of running these paths–where I spent half of the time assessing my body for aches and pains–I was now walking calmly and assessing my mind.
This walk epitomized the strong relationship I have built with myself after five years of battling the eating disorder. Instead of running away from fear and anxiety, I slowed down to see more clearly what nature–life–had to offer. Life isn’t perfect at this point per say, but any tough situation I deal with now doesn’t compare to the way I felt inside before.
woods6There is a happiness that comes from within; it wells up in my chest and explodes in random bursts of laughter. I like myself now. I enjoy the people I am surrounded with and there is freedom when I wake up each day without guilt and fear. Sure, there are things I’m working on (who doesn’t have room to grow?), but I am enjoying the process and I am open to new perspectives and suggestions without breaking away from my core personality.
I no longer feel like “Rachael” just in running, but in all aspects of my life.
People can remind you of how good you have things, how blessed you are, and that so many others have it “worse,” but if you are simply not happy with the way you are living and cannot find peace within yourself, the sadness will not be fixed by a matter of comparing your grief to those “worse off.” Grief is real and painful to those who feel it, and we all owe it to ourselves to learn how to fix what feels broken and find what makes us happy.
The tough thing is that it takes time, hard work, and often painful self-discovery. I never thought I would reach a point where I could feel joy each day simply because of the people who are in my life and how I feel about myself. I always relied on happiness from outside circumstances like pleasing others, racing well, or getting good grades. I’m sure there are plenty of new lessons and trials to go through ahead of me, but making it out of the first round makes me feel confident that I can face what’s ahead without overwhelming fear.
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With this happiness comes a greater desire to help others so that they can feel this joy as well. I remember all too well the grief, anger, and loss of hope I had felt for so long, and I never want anyone to hate being in their own mind and body. I never want anyone to feel that they are alone and out of control.
I want the next person–maybe it’s you–to take a spontaneous leap and go for a walk in the woods. I want you to laugh at yourself when you are caught taking a selfie on the bridge by another wanderer along the path (don’t judge me). I want you to slip into a muddy part of the path, to take off your shoes and wade in the chilly spring water, to peer over the edge of the ravine and marvel at the winding brook below.
I want you to find the time to take a walk, to converse with yourself, to save YOU–because by saving yourself, you possess the tools to help save others who want to find themselves again, too.
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Embracing the Life Experience

Lately I’ve been trying out new avenues for the full life experience, because the more I’ve explored what it means to live outside of perfection, the more I’ve realized how much pleasure I have denied myself. Worry and guilt were the two feelings holding me down, and courage was what allowed me to stop making myself my own worst enemy. Thus, I’ve realized several things:
1) Procrastination should be used sparingly, but it should definitely still be used.
2) Time is never wasted with good friends because having a dose of laughter makes going back to work easier. That, and life is just more fun this way.
3) You can learn a lot about yourself when you allow your mind to wander and ruminate, even when it’s 2 a.m. (insomnia is not necessarily a bad thing).
4) Trying to be productive 24/7 results in less productivity because your brain can only handle so much at one time. Breaks are healthy–and NOT a waste of time.
5) Sometimes you gotta stop doing the one activity you are obsessed with to see what other quirky things you are obsessed with. This also allows room for quality people to come into your life and give you new perspectives.
6) Pain (physical and emotional) is only scary if you make it seem scary. As a kid I used to worry and fear about all the diseases I could possibly contract, or about making mistakes that would disappoint the ones I loved, but once I faced so many of my fears (scary surgeries, painful physical therapy, mental illness, and yes, stupid mistakes) I’ve learned how strong I can be. Facing even just one fear allows you to feel like you can face them all (not happily, of course, but at least you have some confidence in what your mind and body can handle).
Sometimes you have to get through all the pain to get to all the pleasure.

Sometimes you have to get through all the pain to get to all the pleasure.

7) Our actions don’t always solidify the kind of people we are. As long as we learn from the action and feel it needs to be changed (and make steps to make that change), we can continue to grow into the best version of ourselves.
8) Sometimes you gotta fake confidence until you actually get to the point where you are confident.
9) Going with the flow is easier than having a plan for everything. Life will take you to where you need to be, and by following this principle you may have less worry and fear in your life.
10) Food tastes better when you eat what you want, when you want. I’m still learning to strike a balance and find what RACHAEL wants, but it’s getting there.
11) Nature walks (who knew walking could be just as nice as running) and little personal adventures are cool ways to build a solid relationship with yourself. I actually like hanging out with me now.
12) Life is life, and patience is the key to allowing it to come together when it should. This way, you can start sharing yourself with others and interacting with the amazing people out there–because once you love yourself, you can feel so much love and appreciation for others.
Hang in there, folks.
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