‘Watch what you eat. Work harder in the gym.’ I started purging. To be better means to be smaller.’: Young woman overcomes eating disorder, uses her recovery to help other young women change their way of thinking

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“’I feel fat’ was one of my most used phrases growing up. I was always very aware of my tall and large body, comparing myself to everyone from my sister to my teachers at school. I equated my body type and size to ‘less than,’ or something unworthy. I would tell myself, ‘You need to change, and to be better means to be smaller.’ I researched different diets and weight loss tricks. Growing up, people used to comment that I was larger but much of it I don’t remember due to suppressing those memories. They were too painful.

This pattern of thoughts developed into body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and eventually a diagnosed eating disorder. I was always active growing up, finding my niche in tennis when I was 8. My sister and parents had a typical relationship with food and body. Not particularly liberated, but typical. So, why me? Why did I end up this way?

Courtesy of Taylor Stout

When I was thirteen, I was admitted to the hospital for a week with a heart rate as low as 32 BPM. I initially went in for a check-up before tennis season and my doctor advised my parents to immediately take me to the hospital downtown. I was strictly limiting my calorie intake as well as exercising excessively. High school was a blur of therapists, doctors, and nutritionists. Where most people worry about zits and grades, I was worried about staying alive. I was scared straight more times than I can count but the eating disorder kept creeping back. The disordered thoughts were my ‘normal’ so I had to reteach myself how to view body, food, and exercise. At first, anything would trigger me. From a look someone gave me, to someone simply commenting on different body types. I was very sensitive, and still am, about many things. Now, I deal with those things differently.

I went to college on an athletic scholarship at a Division II state school in Kansas. Within the first month I was told, ‘Because you can’t run an 8-minute mile, you need to really watch what you eat and work harder in the gym.’ This immediately set me off and I felt weak. That exact day I went back to my dorm and started purging again. It got so bad I had to go home in November and finish the semester at home in Kansas City. I made the decision to go back to treatment and was admitted on March 1st, 2015, to the center that finally changed my life. Rather than being forced by my parents, this time I wanted this for myself and made my own choice. This gave treatment a whole new meaning. I wanted it for myself.

Courtesy of Taylor Stout

Don’t get me wrong, none of this came with ease. After graduating from college in December of 2018, I relapsed. I started working out every day and cut back calories to the extreme. I never thought this would happen again. I even have March 1st, 2015, tattooed behind my ear to remind me how far I’ve come and a reminder of a place I thought I’d never go back to. There was talk about going back to treatment but I refused let myself get that far. I leaned on the skills I had learned in high school and yearned for the food/body freedom I had felt for almost 5 years. I told myself, ‘You didn’t fight for so long to just give into the eating disorder now. Recovery feels too good.’ I began cutting back on exercising and heavily focused on variety in my intake, while also eating more. I incorporated a lot of flexibility back into my eating habits. It was hard work but I knew it had to happen. I didn’t want to get back to ‘that place’ again.

Courtesy of Taylor Stout

I slowly got back on track but not without feeling like a total hypocrite. I was supposed to be this eating disorder recovery ‘warrior’ who had it all together. I felt like a phony. It was a real ego check for me. I had to practice grace with myself, knowing relapse was always a possibility, and it didn’t make me a failure.

My recovery story has brought me to meet some of the best people I know. Something I pride myself in is being so open about my struggles and triumphs. Being in the recovery world for such a long time, I have grown to be vulnerable with others, especially on social media. I have connected with people from across the country who have reached out for support or just to let me know I have made them smile. That in itself makes all this worthwhile. I went back to school to pursue a degree in psychology and I am currently studying to get my masters in social work. I plan on working at the treatment center where I found my recovery in once I graduate.

Courtesy of Taylor Stout

My life motto is, ‘vulnerability creates community and community creates strength.’ I used to work at a boutique in Lawrence, Kansas, where I got to see this quote put into action. I set up a booth for eating disorder awareness week and a mother and her daughter walked in the store. The daughter was walking around when her mother struck up a conversation with me. ‘What made you so interested in the advocacy and awareness of eating disorder recovery?’ She said, ‘My daughter is struggling herself, would you mind chatting with her?’ I told her daughter my story and shared with her my hope that she would find a way to battle and eventually, win.

Six months later a woman walked into the store with a clever shirt on, which I complemented. She immediately lit up saying, ‘Oh it’s you, you helped my daughter!’ I told her, ‘I probably did, I work here a lot,’ because I had no clue who she was. She proceeded to say, ‘My daughter is the one you talked to six months ago!’ Not only was she doing better and eating well again, but she told her mom she was ready to share her story ‘like the girl in Lawrence.’ How proud it made me.

I am so lucky to be on a platform where I can freely share my story. Many people aren’t ready for it or don’t have supportive people in their life to make it happen. I am grateful for my recovery and the many people who made it possible. And I’m so grateful to pass it along.”

Courtesy of Taylor Stout

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Taylor Stout of Missouri. You can follow her on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more inspirational stories about others recovering from eating disorders here:

‘I was teased that toothpaste had calories. I hated the whispers and stares. I thought it was cool to not get my period anymore. I’m ashamed of this.’: 43-year- old mom finally confident in body image after struggling with eating disorder most of life

‘Do you ever worry about dying? You’re killing yourself.’ She was right.’: ‘Misguided teenager’ credits her unexpected pregnancy for saving her life after ‘horrible’ eating disorder

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