My Story

{originally published on October 2, 2013}

I have sat down at my desk to write this story many times, but just couldn’t find the words – or the courage – to begin.

Vulnerability is a scary thing, because you have no idea how people will react to what you share. For so long, I’ve been ashamed of my story and the things that I have struggled with. But over the past 6 months, God has brought so much healing into my life, and I no longer beat myself up every time I think about my past. Yes, I still have those days, but for the most part I am able to appreciate what God has carried me through and even be thankful for it.

There have been many times in my journey that I felt complete despair and just wanted to give up altogether. But in those darkest, most heart-wrenching moments, I still sensed God’s comfort and love. I knew that He was with me and that He still had good things in store for my life.

Looking back now, I see how everything has worked together to bring me where I am today. I see the good in even the worst times of my life. These experiences made me into the person I am today and strengthened me in ways nothing else could.

My story – like most – begins in my childhood. Growing up, I was quite the active, athletic little girl. I loved playing kickball with my family in the front yard and running around the neighborhood with the girl next door. P.E. was the highlight of my school-day, and I started gymnastics as an after-school activity. I’m pretty sure every little gymnast dreams of being in the Olympics someday, and I was no exception. My coach shattered my (admittedly naive) dream in 5th grade when she bluntly told me that I was “way too tall” to ever be that great at gymnastics. This is the first time I remember being envious of another girl’s body. I looked around the gym at all the tiny, petite girls in glittery leotards and wished I wasn’t so tall and athletically built. The next year I switched to playing soccer, which I continued throughout high school and better suited my (eventual) 5’8″ frame.  soccer

After gymnastics practices and soccer games, I enjoyed huge dinners with a hearty appetite. Throughout my childhood, I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. Meal times were always enjoyable and I looked forward to family dinner every night. Life was good. I went to a private Christian school through 5th grade and was homeschooled from 6th – 12th. Because of this, I was fairly protected from the bombardment of the media pressuring me to be a certain size or weight. As simplistic as it sounds, my life revolved around freeze tag with my friends and ice cream sundaes on summer nights.

My family was never very focused on weight or dieting, and I hardly ever thought about my size or shape. But as I reached the beginning of high school, I definitely became aware that my culture’s message to me as a young woman was that my weight and body shape had a direct affect on the amount of love and affection I received. My family also became very health-conscious during this time, and my dad especially was developing a passion for healthy eating and nutrition. Our family dinner conversations often included the latest health news and knowledge that my dad was learning. He didn’t try to force us all into healthy diets, but I quickly realized that my dad was proud of me when I did choose to skip dessert or eat some extra vegetables. That was all I needed – I was at a vulnerable time of my life and really seeking to know where I belonged. The affirmation and encouragement my parents gave me for healthy eating and exercise filled a need I didn’t even know how I had. I wanted to be the child they were proud of for following in their footsteps. And, at this time, following in their footsteps meant embracing this new passion for nutrition and carefully watching what I ate.

Throughout high school, I became more and more obsessed with eating only healthy foods and would experience guilt whenever I slipped off the “right” path. I was terrified that I would end up in a bigger pants’ size than my older sister. Even though I was growing appropriately for my age, the slightest changes in my weight felt like insurmountable blows and a punishment for not following my “healthy” diet perfectly.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the causes behind my lapse into an eating disorder. I don’t know what exactly caused me to get caught up in this world of obsession and competition. I do know that I craved endless amounts of attention and affection, and wanted to feel loved and accepted. But it wasn’t just enough for me to be well-liked. I wanted to be perfect in the eyes of everyone around me. This drive for perfection was the beginning of my exhausting downward spiral.

senior year of high school
senior year of high school

My goal was to reach “perfection” in my eating habits, and I was willing to do anything to achieve it.

I developed a long list of good and bad foods, and researched calories and fat content on everything. If I ate “good” foods all day, I felt proud of myself and on top of the world. However, if I fell off the bandwagon and ate something “bad,” I was consumed with guilt, shame, and remorse. I felt like my food choices reflected my self-worth and value as a person.

After high school, I started a one-year internship at a non-profit organization in Dallas, Texas. Moving away from home was a huge transition for me, and I used food to help me cope and deal with my new environment. 
My lists of good and bad foods became even more lengthy, but I fell into a vicious cycle of bingeing and restricting.

I wanted to establish myself in my new city and friends group as someone who was fit, healthy, and fun. Living in a house with 3 other interns and a house leader, all of us sharing one kitchen and pantry, meant my eating habits were constantly observed. I worked hard to keep up my desired reputation.  Over time, I became known in my house and at the office as the girl who woke up at 4am every morning to run before work and always ate a salad in the cafeteria. I was the girl who turned down pizza, burgers and cake. My coworkers saw me as healthy and admirable because of my self control. What they didn’t know is that I HATED trying live up to the reputation I had created for myself. I just wanted to eat the pizza, sleep in, and not worry about my weight. But that felt like an impossible dream. I didn’t think I could ever break free from this place of fear and obsession. I felt destined to worry about my weight for the rest of my life.

My year in Dallas was filled with cycles of healthy and unhealthy eating. I would eat extremely healthy for as long as my willpower would last, until I couldn’t take it any longer. Then I’d make an excuse to my roommate about “wanting to splurge” and we’d walk a half mile down the road to Sonic, where I’d scarf down a milkshake as fast as I could. Of course, I’d feel guilty the whole way back to the house, and usually collapsed into bed with a sugar crash, vowing to get “back on track” in the morning. More often than not, my splurges set me on a path of full-out bingeing and raiding the pantry when no one was around, stuffing myself full of every “unhealthy” food I’d been avoiding the past few weeks. The bingeing episode would usually last 3 or 4 days, before I would finally get back to my salads and early morning workouts. This battle with food consumed my energy and kept me from fully enjoying life.

After my internship, I moved back home to St Louis. I needed to raise financial support from family and friends in order to come back on staff full-time in Dallas. During my two months back at home, I continued to struggle with the cycles of bingeing and restricting. I kept failing at my “healthy diet,” which frustrated me to no end.  Sneaking bags of pretzels and chocolate from the pantry at night became a regular habit, and I would eat and eat in the secrecy of my room, until I felt sick to my stomach. As soon as I was done bingeing, the guilt would set in and I would cry myself to sleep, hating myself for being “bad” once again. This constant frustration caused me to withdraw from the people I loved. I was so ashamed of my secret bingeing life and was sure they would be too, if only they knew. 

during my 2009 internship
during my 2009 internship

Despite this inner turmoil, I finished raising my support and packed up all my furniture for the big move to Dallas. Now I would be living in an apartment with a co-worker, which excited and terrified me at the same time. I loved the fact that I would have more privacy about my food choices and could do my own grocery shopping…but what if I couldn’t stay healthy and started buying bad foods and bingeing without control? Lacking the accountability of a shared bedroom and kitchen with 3 other girls, I had no idea what to expect from myself.

After my move into the new apartment, I surprised myself with how easy it was for me to get back on track with my “healthy” diet. Before too long, I was completely out of my bingeing slump and back on the path of restrictive eating and excessive exercise. It turned out that being in my new place, with my own bedroom and grocery budget, made me feel like I had a fresh start and renewed inspiration to lose the weight I’d gained from my bingeing episodes.

And I did drop a few pounds. I woke up at 5am every day, ran the same 7 mile route on the dimly lit sidewalks in my town, and returned home to a very carefully measured bowl of oatmeal. I developed a strict routine for myself that required a lot of discipline and self-control. My obsession paid off and over the summer I lost some weight. I was so proud of myself. I remember going shopping for some new clothes and the thrill that went through me when I was able to go down a size or two in pants. Everything was working! Motivated even more to “stay on track”, I began recording my calories online and worrying about little things like how much dressing was on my salad. I was falling deeper into my compulsions and obsessions, but the control made me feel on top of the world. Such is the crazy world of an eating disorder.

In late July, I was approached with an opportunity to travel to India for a special assignment that would last 2-3 years.  The plan was for me to travel over there with one of my former roommates (and best friends) from my internship and live and work in the field office together. I had never felt particularly interested in going to India, but I was honored and humbled to be considered for this project.  Somehow it felt like a reward for all of my discipline and hard work and my disordered mind tied it all in to my recent weight loss.

The next month was a whirl of excitement – applying for a visa, putting my things into storage, and one last trip home to see my family. Within a month, my friend and I were on a 15 hour plane ride to India, with no idea what lay ahead.

riding a camel in India
riding a camel in India

Having no access to a gym and no control over my food selection made me nervous as I thought about the months ahead. It would be difficult to stay fit and eat healthy – but by this time I had built up momentum and was determined I would find a way. There was a track of sorts on the campus where I was living, and before too long I had developed my morning running routine again.  I scoured the internet whenever possible for workouts and found many ways to keep up my strength training without any equipment. My anxiety was calmed with endless sets up sit-ups and push-ups in my bedroom at night.

The food situation turned out to be quite manageable – even though I had no control over what was put on my tray in the cafeteria, I could easily control how much I ate. I began taking smaller portions of the food on my plate and challenging myself to make it from one meal to the next with less and less food each week. I refused to buy any snacks with my roommate when we made trips into town – I knew if I kept food in our room that I’d be tempted to indulge in between meals.

It became a game for me to eat less food as the months went on, and to increase my exercise at the same time. I began running more and more laps on the track and started working out twice a day. My life revolved around working out before and after my day at the office. I got up in the wee hours of the morning and maintained a very strict schedule for myself. Outside of working full-time and working out twice a day, I taught Sunday school for some native girls, sung on the worship team for the local church, and joined in soccer and volleyball games on the campus. I was running my body into the ground, and it was just a matter of time before I crashed and burned.

Those six months in India were the most intense time of my eating disorder. I started seeing some of the common side effects of anorexia: my hair falling out, fingernails becoming brittle, and being cold all of the time. I became obsessed with cleanliness and keeping to my daily schedule. With what little free time remained, I kept up a rigorous journal and read books from the campus library. Every night, I lay on my back in bed and ran my fingers over my ribs and hips. I loved the way my bones protruded through my skin. It gave me a sick sort of pleasure to realize there was hardly any fat left on my body. I was in such a deep pit, but couldn’t see that at the time. In my mind, I had reached the ultimate level of control and willpower.

I hid my shrinking body well with the native dress which hung loosely on my frame. Before too long, though, my Indian friends and coworkers did notice my frailty and began asking if I was okay. Their comments proved to me that I was reaching my goal and gave me the strength to keep going. Having people concerned about me felt good for some reason. I wanted them to care about me – and now I knew they did.

Those last few months in India are somewhat of a blur for me – literally and figuratively. I began to have dizzy spells and get lightheaded when standing up from my desk. I lost my monthly cycle and became quite numb and emotionless in my friendships. But I still kept up with my morning runs, and carried on with all of my obsessive habits.

clockwise from top right: arriving in the airport in Dallas; at a picnic with friends; baking treats for my family in St Louis.
clockwise from top right: arriving in the airport in Dallas; at a picnic with friends; baking  for my family in St Louis.

In late February of 2011, my roommate and I returned to the States to renew our visas, planning to return to India in May. Walking through the airport in Dallas, to the friends who had come to welcome me home, I felt proud of my accomplishments. I had returned more thin and fit than when I left. I was sure that my friends and family would love my new weight and somehow love me more as a person because of it.  I’d finally experience the affection and affirmation I so desperately wanted.

And I did receive a lot of comments, but not in the way I expected. People were concerned for me, saying I looked too thin, asking if I had been sick. I assured them that I was fine and that this weight loss had just “happened naturally.” I made jokes about how I had to walk everywhere in India and the weight just seemed to “fall off.” Over the next two months in Dallas, I basked in my sense of accomplishment. All of my clothes hung off me and I had to wear belts with all my pants. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I felt so trim and tiny. For the first time in several years, I was actually happy with my body. 

A lot of people with anorexia are never satisfied with their body and keep trying to lose more and more weight. However, I was happy with my new look and felt I had finally reached my goal. I was quite content to stop where I was with my weight loss and enjoy this sense of success.

The problem was that my body – and soul – were famished and ravenous. And being in the States again meant there was food all around me. Food that tempted and taunted me to give up my rigid control. This new environment was terrifying and threatened my ability to stick to my rules and established routine.

For a few weeks, I was able to stay strong at the pizza parties, birthday gatherings, and potluck dinners. Still, every day I feared “losing it” and giving in to all the fried, greasy, and fattening food. I dreaded coming in to work and finding a homemade dessert in the break room. The rest of the day, my thoughts would be consumed with imagining how good it would taste. I would begin walking purposely past that break room every hour or so, just to get another glimpse and see how much was left. It was incredibly hard to walk away, and I breathed a sigh of relief when the last piece was finally eaten by one of my coworkers.

Each day – each meal – became such a battle for my self-control, and I knew I was approaching a breaking point.  My willpower was weakening every day.

It was just a matter of time before I completely lost it one day and fell into my bingeing habits again. At first, I gorged myself on healthy foods like granola bars and frozen fruit. One night I ate a whole Costco-size bag of frozen fruit in one sitting, filling bowl after bowl til I felt sick to my stomach.

I began sneaking oatmeal packets from the kitchen at work and adding hot water from the coffee machine in the break room. I would plow through bowl after bowl of oatmeal throughout the morning, until I felt so stuffed and numb to everything around me. It was as if I could never satisfy my hunger, no matter how much I ate.

One night after a lovely dinner with some friends from the office, I came back to my host’s house and found I had the place to myself. I made a whole batch of pancakes with some Bisquick mix and ate the entire stack in one sitting. The whole time I was eating, I was in a daze and felt no ability to stop gorging myself. I collapsed into bed and slept off the horrible stomach ache and barrage of guilt.

the people around me only saw the healthy foods I cooked...not the secret, late-night binges
the people around me only saw the healthy foods I cooked…not the secret, late-night binges

It was ridiculously difficult to hide these things from my coworkers and the people I was staying with at the time. But I had no other option. I couldn’t possibly let them know that I had fallen off my “healthy” bandwagon – what would they think of me? I still had a reputation to maintain – and that reputation did not allow for any of this behavior. My binges at the office were the most difficult. I came up with some crazy ways to hide my behavior, sometimes even retreating to the back stall in the bathroom to eat a bag of chips in secret. It’s embarrassing to think back to all the crazy things I did to cover up my binges, but at the time my body was emaciated and starved, and I was in survival mode.

Looking back now, I wish I had realized how much my friends and coworkers cared about my well-being. I know if I had opened up to them, I would have been met with compassion and understanding. But at the time, the thought of opening up seemed impossible and terrifying. So, I continued to live with all of the secrecy and shame.

When I flew home to visit my family for a couple weeks, I maintained the same concealment of my eating habits. By this time, I was only a few weeks away from heading back to India and I reassured myself that I would get back to my restrictive eating when in that safe environment once again. I kept telling myself that once I wasn’t being tempted by all this “bad” food, I would be able to eat healthy and lose the weight that I was gaining. My bingeing intensified,  as if my body knew it was only a matter of time before the abundance of food disappeared. Day after day and night after night, I gorged on all kinds of food and began desperately counting down the days til I would leave the States. I felt so out of control and scared by what my body was doing – but I had no idea how to stop.

Needless to say, the bingeing didn’t stop once I arrived back in India. Desperate for nourishment, I found ways to sneak extra food from the cafeteria, and gorged myself on tubs of peanut butter and oatmeal that I had bought in the village. I withdrew from everyone around me on campus and shut myself in my room whenever possible. I excused myself from activities, claiming that my jet-lag was still making me tired in the afternoons. Evenings were spent laying on the concrete floor of my room, playing Hearts on my computer and stuffing myself with countless bowls of oatmeal. I cried myself to sleep every night and wished there was some way out of this chaos. This continued on for two weeks until I was barely able to function any longer.

During this time, another situation was also coming to a breaking point. A few months prior, I had begun having conversations with some of my supervisors and leaders about various practices of the organization which were concerning to me.  I was uncomfortable with things I was seeing about the organization in India and some of the doctrines that were being introduced and promoted to the staff in Dallas.

All of this came to a climax during my second term in India, when I had a conversation with the president of the organization and expressed more of my feelings and concerns. He offered for me to take a month to travel home and figure out my next step. By this time, I was not only ready to leave the organization, but was also desperately longing for a way to stop my bingeing and heal my relationship with food. With a lot of tears and tons of uncertainty, I accepted the offer to travel home. Within 3 days I was on a plane ride back to the States.

My family was so happy that I was coming home, as they were extremely concerned for my health. I was an emotional wreck those last few weeks in India and had been sending my parents desperate emails describing my out-of-control binges and asking for their help. They wisely realized that I was under a huge amount of stress – both from my eating disorder and the dialogue with my supervisors.

Coming home felt like admitting defeat to me. I was so humiliated and felt sure my family and friends would be ashamed of my seeming failure in ministry – and my weight gain. I’ve been blessed with amazing parents, though, and I should have known they would welcome me with outstretched arms. And they did. Those first few weeks at home were SO incredibly difficult. I was fighting to keep my head above water, but saw no end in sight for my uncontrollable binges. I didn’t know which way was up and I had no idea how to move forward.

my dad and I during 2011
with my dad, a few months after moving home in 2011

Moving home to St Louis was the best step in my recovery. My parents were there for me every single day, providing a safe environment for me to start my journey of healing. Even though they didn’t always understand what I was struggling with, they listened and cared, and it made a world of difference.

I started seeing an amazing Christian counselor who specializes in eating disorders and her compassion and grace allowed me to start my journey to recovery. I’ve cried on her office couch many times, ready to throw in the towel and give up on recovery altogether. She’s been there to encourage and assure me that it will get better. And she’s celebrated with me over each small step of victory that spurred me onward.

There have been MANY ups and downs in my journey, and for quite awhile I had to just take it one day at a time and believe that I was on the right track. 

my beautiful mom and I in 2013
my beautiful mom and I in 2013

After a year and a half of therapy, I recently graduated to an “as needed basis” in my counseling sessions. It was an exciting and terrifying step at the same time, as most things seem to be in this journey of recovery. I don’t claim to have it all figured out, and I still have my share of struggles. But I look back now and see how far God’s brought me, and it makes me want to spread this message of hope.

My desire is to help other women – young and old alike – to realize that you’re not alone in your struggle with food and weight. You can have freedom from your obsessions and compulsions. It is possible to appreciate your body just the way it is and end the barrage of guilt and self-hatred. You are beautiful just the way you were created. 

I fully believe, from my own experience, that you can develop a healthy relationship with food, no matter where you’re at right now. I’ve learned so much through my personal counseling experience, as well as my education to become a Holistic Health Coach. My goal for my coaching practice is to encourage women of all ages to let go of the need to have the “perfect body” (there’s no such thing!) and to develop a healthy balance of food and fitness in their lives. Let go of the obsession and the self-shaming. Learn to love your body the way it is. Make fitness enjoyable and eat indulgent foods without guilt.

I shared my story with you in the hope that it will encourage you or someone you know. Maybe my story can be of help to others who are struggling like I was. Please send me an email at healthwithhope@gmail.com, or comment below if you would like someone to talk to! I would love to hear your story and encourage you in any way that I can.

Thanks for reading!

Hope

0 thoughts on “My Story

  1. Wow, Hope. Obviously I had no idea. Wonderfully brave of you to share – and you’re a good writer to boot! Glad you are healing – keep it up! XOXO

  2. Thank you for bravely sharing your story, Hope. Really appreciate your openness and honesty. Everyone battles with food or maybe something else. It’s encouraging to be reminded that victory possible.You are a beautiful person inside and out. Praise the Lord for bringing you through. 🙂

    1. Hi Pauline,

      I’m so sorry I never replied to your comment…not sure how it slipped through the cracks! Thanks for your encouraging words, that meant a lot to me!! 🙂

  3. Hope,

    Wow

    I stumbled across your blog and am so touched by your story. I too have just started my own recovery from anorexia. It has been a long hard road, and I can relate to everything you said, especially about the part of God working in ways I couldn’t even have dreamed. What an encouragement your testimony has been. I’m finding more and more women who are affected by this illness and have found hope and healing. Thank you for being so transparent. Blessings,

    Nicole

    1. Hi Nicole! Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad you stumbled across my little blog and that it was an encouragement to you. I’m so proud of you for choosing recovery and I know you won’t regret it, even the road is really tough sometimes. Glad you have found some encouragement from other women that have gone through this and found hope and healing. It’s such a blessing to know we’re not alone, isn’t it?

      Please feel free to email me anytime if you’d like to talk more about these things! (healthwithhope@gmail.com)

      Blessings to you, Nicole!
      Hope

  4. So glad I stumbled across your story! I used to question why God made me go through disordered eating too, but he revealed that if my story can help at least ONE person, that is why He allowed me to go through it. Of course, I still have bad thoughts pop into my head now and then, but now I can say NO to them! Remember that God is your strength and He will help you through anything!

    Check out my blog sometime if you’d like! 🙂

    Kelsey

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