‘All I have to do is lose weight, and I’ll be happy forever.’ I had no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t strong enough to live this way.’: Woman recovers from eating disorder, ‘It’s a battle’

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of eating disorders that may be upsetting to some.

“I would like to say my story started 4 years ago, but that would be absolving the impact of my childhood on my eating disorder, and more importantly, my recovery journey. Ever since I was a little girl, I was always heavier than my brothers and friends. Being the younger sister of two older brothers definitely made it easier when it came to body image, as there was no sister versus sister comparison, or for lack of a better word, competition. My brothers and I always poked fun at each other and bickered as typical siblings do. I remember them teasing me and calling me fat without even realizing the impact their words had on me and my own body image.

Courtesy of Raquel Benitah

In fourth grade, I remember frequently looking in the mirror and squishing my fat. I wondered why God chose to make ME the fat kid, not understanding at the time body fat comes partly from the food you eat and partly from genetics. I vividly remember going shopping with my mom and feeling ashamed I was the biggest size in kids’ clothing, almost fitting into a woman’s medium. My relationship with my mom played a large role in my childhood, as she would continuously try to raise my spirits, telling me, ‘Don’t worry about what other girls look like.’

It wasn’t until I started attending sleepover camp I started to seriously want to change and alter my body. This was a major turning point, as it was my first time living with other girls. Living with 15 other girls for 2 months created a lot of turmoil in my brain regarding my self-image. Every summer, I wanted to lose weight. I would create these schemes, telling myself I would exercise and go to different activities all day, all while starving myself. But I never actually did it. I was never able to share clothing with the girls in my cabin. I was always worried about what I was wearing, especially during activities that required bathing suits. I was never given the attention from boys everyone else was receiving. Rather than worrying about having a fun summer and making the most of my time, I was worried if the boys would look at me in disgust or make fun of me behind my back. This ultimately came to fruition. During the camp was the first time I was bullied for being fat or at least the first time I was aware of it.

I can recall the day like it was yesterday. We had all just auditioned for the camp play, which was Glee. I tried out and got the part of Rachel. I was so thrilled, while at the same time nervous because although I was very outgoing, I was always shy when it came to performing in front of large crowds. I realize now this was partly because of my body image. The night we found out about the roles, some of the boys our age came to our cabin to hang out. A few of us were sleeping, me being one of them. The next morning, my friends told me they were talking about the play when one of the boys asked, ‘Who got cast as Rachel?’ My friend told them I did, and in return, the boy said, ‘Oh, isn’t Rachel supposed to be skinny?’

Unfortunately, I expected to get comments on my weight or be made fun of for my whole life. I was actually surprised I didn’t get it more often. Typing this out now, I feel sad for the young girl who was vulnerable and conformed to the convoluted and harmful norms of society. Looking back to that moment now, I honestly thank that boy for his comment. It has only made me stronger throughout the years. But with that being said, I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me to this day, because 11 years later I can still recall the exact boy, the exact cabin, and the exact moment I heard about the comment.

Courtesy of Raquel Benitah

Years later, without even realizing it, the summer of eleventh grade led me to the place I am at today. I felt self-conscious every single day I stepped into my high school. I would wear baggy clothing every day to cover up my body. I bought weight loss pills at a local supplement store and kept them in my locker. And in case you’re wondering, they never worked. It was another year of trying to figure out a quick fix to lose weight, how I could wear the cute clothes all the other girls were wearing, how I could eat whatever I wanted but also secretly be anorexic, and how I could get a boy to like me even though I didn’t love myself. Then summer came around. I was so thankful because I was determined to make this summer different. For the first month, I went away on an organized teen travel tour throughout Europe.

The trip to Europe was perfect. Or at least perfect when I look back at the surface of it. We ate every single food under the sun, had no responsibilities, and got to live in a different country for 28 days. But when I dive deeper into the memories of what I actually felt during that month, I remember the difficulties I experienced. The getting dressed every morning and having to feel ashamed in front of 50 other people, ordering food in front of everyone when I thought they were judging me, liking a boy and watching him walk away with another girl. All these moments were truly heartbreaking. The one that strikes the biggest chord with me was when I saw a store with a scale in it. I instantly ran into the store to make sure I was not gaining weight over the month.

Courtesy of Raquel Benitah

Getting back home and starting summer school was another highlight of my summer until it wasn’t. I remember loving it until I was 3 weeks in and I stepped on the scale at home in front of my mom. I started crying because during those three weeks I had gained 16 pounds. I was lying to my mom. Denying what I had been eating. She didn’t know for the first time in my life, I had the freedom to make my own choices. That summer I had access to a car. I drove to and from school every day. I went to get food every day during our lunch breaks. Every day for 3 weeks, I had two Starbucks drinks, pizza for lunch, and snacks from the convenience store. I couldn’t stop myself. I felt like all of the mental restriction and guilt I had pent up for the past 16 years had finally left for those 3 weeks.

At this point, I thought I had hit an all-time low, thinking it could never get worse… If only I knew what I was in for. It was a week after that 16-pound weigh in with my mom and I just could not stop thinking about it. We were on the way to the local amusement park. My mom and I drove separately from the rest of my family. At the moment, it seemed weird, but it was clearly meant to be because when I look back at it now I know if my brothers and dad were in the car, I would have never had the chance to have a very critical conversation with my mom. While we were driving along I burst into tears. I knew why I was crying and so did my mom. A feeling rushed over my body I had never felt before. My mom always knew how to calm me down and think of possible solutions to make me feel better, and this time she proposed we go see a nutritionist. I agreed but in the back of my mind, I never thought it would work. I had tried all the diets under the sun, counseling, dieticians, Weight Watchers, and everything a teenage girl could get her hands on, and they never worked. I thought I would give it a try because, at this point, I was SO desperate and knew I needed to change.

This was where I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. On September 8, 2015, I went to my first nutritionist appointment. I don’t know how but I listened and internalized every single thing she told me. Cut out every food I loved and stick to a strict meal plan. This was the plan and what was going to finally help me. I was feeling good, going to the gym every day and watching the pounds melt off. Month after month, I was looking better than ever, reaching goals I could never even fathom. My new goal became fitting into a tight dress for my prom. When that day finally came, I showed up in my dream dress, 60 pounds lighter, and received the most compliments I had ever received in my life. Imagine going from an extremely unhappy, self-conscious 17-year-old girl, to being the same 17-year-old whose brain and internal thoughts did not change much in those 8 months, but whose body drastically changed. If I’m being honest, I was living for it and the attention I received. I felt like everything was finally good and nothing could bring me down. Ever since I could remember, I always said to myself, ‘All I have to do is lose the weight, and I’ll be happy forever.’ I convinced myself of this for years until I finally lost the weight and rather than being happy, I slowly became unhappy. It wasn’t until I moved to my university I truly experienced a shift in my entire being.

Courtesy of Raquel Benitah

University taught me a lot. I was battling anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. My first year was definitely the most difficult. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I didn’t realize, until being away from home, how much of a crutch my mom was for me. She helped me through my weight loss journey when all I was really worried about was my weight loss. This changed when I got to university. There were many more factors occurring in my life I had to focus on, including a new social life, new school, living with new roommates, grocery shopping and cooking for myself, and the most difficult of all, not being able to go home. All these factors combined caused me to feel trapped and completely out of control.

This is where I believe my eating disorder truly began. I realized I was able to take the reins and be in control of every single thing that entered my mouth. This meant restricting my food choices even more in an attempt to lose a few extra pounds. I started waking up early at the same time each day in order to eat breakfast, just so the rest of my meals were perfectly lined up within 3 hours of each other so I was not eating dinner too close to when I was going to bed. I planned a workout for every day of the week, taking a rest day once a month. I chewed gum by the pack so my mouth was always occupied by something other than food. I constantly drank diet Coke like it was a snack. I had rules for myself, including never consuming a piece of fruit or a carb past noon, avoiding buying peanut butter because I knew if I had it in the apartment, I would eat the whole jar uncontrollably. I would chew things to get the flavor then spit them into the garbage to avoid consuming the calories. The thought of eating a so-called ‘bad’ food such as chocolate, chips, pizza, ice cream, or anything else that wasn’t weight loss approved was a joke to me and would be an immediate no. The saddest part of this all was I thought I was behaving perfectly normal and healthy. I thought I was so healthy because I had lost 60 pounds, ate nourishing foods, and could run on the treadmill for over an hour without getting tired.

Courtesy of Raquel Benitah

All I can recall from my first year is being unhappy and putting a fake smile on my face in public to pretend I was the most confident, happy girl. I remember constantly comparing myself to my friends and roommates all the time, wondering why I was still larger than them. I wondered why I was still putting in more effort than everyone else. I was always deceived into believing once you lost the weight, the work was over. I remember lying in my bed at school every night feeling my stomach and ribs to make sure I wasn’t bloated. I would wake up every morning and take a picture in front of the mirror to compare it to the day before. Even now, 4 years later, it is these memories that constantly come up, reminding me of the darkest time in my life.

One weekend, I came home from school. I saw my parents and immediately melted into their arms. I told them I could not keep it up anymore. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to continue through life this way and needed their help to get me out of this dark hole. To the rescue again, my mother swept me off my feet and took me to see a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. Low and behold, that was the day that changed my life forever. It’s funny when I say that because before seeing my therapist for the first time, I would say the day that changed my life forever was the day I went to my first nutritionist appointment. The second I sat in the chair across from my therapist and told her why I was there, I was in uncontrollable tears for the next hour. She asked me questions about my childhood and what my life was like growing up. I essentially told her everything. She was the first person that truly helped me realize the things I was doing were crazy, particularly strictly counting out eight almonds, never nine.

Part of me hated her for doing this to me because it meant I needed to make changes. I knew she had good intentions but my disordered brain told me otherwise. It told me she was trying to sabotage me and make me gain weight. My mind said, ‘Don’t believe what she’s saying, keep behaving the way you are because it’s working.’ Right at that moment, she said, ‘I know this is hard for you because one side of your brain is trying to heal you, which is why you are here, but the other side of your brain is trying to drag you down and wants you to continue on the path you’re on.’ At that moment, I knew she understood where I was coming from.

Courtesy of Raquel Benitah

From then on, I have been on my journey to recovery. I’m not going to say it has been easy or perfect but it has definitely worked for me. It has been a slow process of finally allowing myself to let go of my old ways and fill my life with things other than thoughts about food and the gym. I knew I had a purpose. I knew this purpose extended far beyond eating salads and running on the treadmill, and I just had to find it. It was the small bites of chocolate, the rest days, the going out on the weekend and missing my spin classes, the drinking a fruity drink at the club with my friends and not thinking about what was in it, and the freedom of knowing my eating disorder did not have me wrapped around its finger anymore.

The experiences I have had not only allowed me to grow but have provided me with the tools essential to my daily life today. This journey has instilled in me a true passion for health and wellness, and as a result, I am currently in school for Holistic Nutrition. My goal is to be a nutritionist for young girls who are fighting the same battle I fought for so many years. I want to be the person for them I never had but always wished for.

The constant internal battle with myself to want help but also want to continue losing weight was, and to be frank, still is a battle. With the help of my therapist and constant personal growth and self-work, I have been able to face my eating disorder and come out on the other side as a different woman. Whether you’re reading this as someone who has never gone through something like this, someone who is currently battling an eating disorder, someone who is in recovery, or someone who knows someone with an eating disorder, I thank you for reading my story. My hope is you have been enlightened and made aware of how serious, pervasive, and impactful eating disorders are, but more importantly, there are resources out there for help that truly are endless and incredible.”

Courtesy of Raquel Benitah

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Raquel Benitah. You can follow her journey on  Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more about eating disorder recovery:

‘It’s nobody’s business!’ I’d tell myself. I was in survival mode. I dropped to 75 pounds. I thought I’d never wake up.’: Woman shares recovery journey from eating disorder, ‘I chose a life of fullness’

‘Please give me something to eat. I can’t do it anymore.’ My stomach was swollen. I felt weak and powerful at the same time.’: Model overcomes eating disorder, ‘I’m MORE than a label’

‘You’re embarrassing to be seen with.’ My BMI was too high. He told me, ‘I want to break up, I’m bored.’ I began starving myself for his attention.’: Woman urges ‘never let anyone determine your worth’ after nearly-fatal eating disorder

‘I threw plates across the kitchen and threatened to hurt my sister. ‘Accept that you’re never going to get better.’: Anorexia survivor says, ‘recovery can only come from within’

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