‘Oh my word,’ cried my mom when she saw me for the first time since I left for university. I’d lost almost 25% of my body weight.’: Woman candidly shares lifelong journey with eating disorders

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Disclaimer: This story includes mentions of eating disorders and disordered behaviors that may be triggering for some.

“It all started very innocently.

‘Women shouldn’t eat much for dinner if anything. And snacking is horrible for your digestive system,’ the head cook at my boarding academy explained. ‘If you eat as much as a peanut after a meal, your digestive system will stop digesting the meal to digest the peanut.’

baby girl eating cake
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

My limited knowledge of nutrition didn’t flag the error in the cook’s comments. I was raised fairly conservatively with interesting ideas of what ‘health‘ was supposed to look like, so I wasn’t surprised by the idea that women shouldn’t eat dinner or that snacking is terrible for the body. I’d heard it before. But as I sat with my peers listening to the cook’s pep-talk before our shift in the kitchen, I started thinking, ‘I could start making some changes for my health…’

I grew up believing I was fat and ugly. Hurtful insinuations from family members over the years broke down my self-esteem and confidence.

‘Kristi’s just built differently than the rest of us,’ my mom explained to my family doctor after I stepped on the scale during a doctor’s visit.

little girl posing
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

I was only 10 years old at the time, but I knew what that meant. I was fat. I didn’t fit in.

During my pre-teen years, I was ridiculed for my body. I was told to eat less. My parents even faced criticism for the food they gave me. I was referred to as ‘chubby’ and ‘big-boned.’

‘You need to be careful,’ my mom pointed out a few years later. ‘You do have the tendency to be bigger.’

It’s worth noting, I have never been clinically overweight in my life. The comments and concerns were unfounded. I wasn’t stick-thin like my brothers or mom, but I certainly wasn’t unhealthy.

By the time I turned 15, my self-esteem had hit rock bottom. I struggled with depression. I exclusively wore black, baggy clothes to hide my body. I secretly tried diets I found online, with little effect. I was a loner, insecure in my body and abilities. To my core, I was convinced I was dumb, ugly, and worthless.

teen girl looking out to the ocean
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

When I turned 16, with boarding academy looming in my future, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror hating myself. I can’t live this way forever, I thought.

‘It doesn’t matter what others think. I have to be happy with me,’ I said to my reflection.

A year later, in the fall of 2014, I traveled to Canada to finish my junior and senior years of high school at a conservative boarding academy.

I made friends. My confidence and self-esteem improved. I was happy.

But the comments about food from our school chef and the ‘health’ principles that were routinely taught during class inevitably got to me.

I skipped one meal here and there. No biggie. I was just trying to be healthy.

A few months before my high school graduation, I was skipping a few dinners a week. I would take an apple to my room instead. It wasn’t even about weight loss. It was about ‘health.’

teen girl greduating
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

I graduated in June of 2016 and left for a university in Tennessee a month later. I was ready to reinvent myself. ‘College will be the best years of my life!’ I decided.

For the first time in my life, I had complete control over my schedule. My meals, exercise, and all other activities were fully within my control.

I started going to the gym every night to run. Running was a stress release for me. At least that’s what I told people when they asked why I ran so much. ‘It relaxes me,’ I would say. I wasn’t lying. The exercise was innocent, for a time.

Before long I noticed I was losing weight. What a pleasant side-effect of being ‘healthy,’ I would think. Maybe now I can finally have the body I’ve always wanted.

I ran more and ate less.

Before long, I was eating 800-1000 calories a day, and I would burn that off and then some during my lengthy gym sessions. I dropped the weight quickly. By the time I went home for fall break in October, I had lost almost 25% of my body weight in a few short months.

‘Oh my word,’ cried my mom when she saw me for the first time since I left for university. ‘You’re anorexic.’

I was floored. Are you kidding me? I thought. The idea that I could have a problem had never crossed my mind.

Time went on and no more was said. Exercise and food became obsessions. I began turning down social activities, as I was terrified to eat with my friends. I turned down any activity that interrupted my designated gym time.

woman smiling
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

Then I started passing out. I would fall on my floor, physically unable to rise for 30 minutes. I struggled to sleep and would lie awake for hours listening to my stomach growl. I had dreams about food.

‘You’re too skinny,’ people would point out.

‘They don’t know what they’re talking about,’ I thought in disgust.

I was never satisfied with my weight. The more I lost, the more I wanted to lose. Just five more pounds, I would think. But I couldn’t stop. Five more became ten, then fifteen.

Then I binged for the first time. Then the second time. Within a few months, binging became a part of my daily life. I would consume thousands of calories in one sitting. Binging was an out-of-body experience. I had no control. I compulsively consumed cakes, cookies, candy, and more. I was terrified. The more I fought it, the worse the binges became.

woman out to eat
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

I watched helplessly as my life slowly fell apart. The body I had worked so hard for began slipping away as I gained back the weight I’d worked so hard to lose. I panicked. I did everything I could to induce vomiting. I stuck toothbrushes down my throat. I even stuck a butter knife down my throat. I took handfuls of laxatives. I chewed my food just to spit it out before swallowing.

For the first time in my life, I started having panic attacks. I got the first two B’s of my schooling career and lost my 4.0 GPA.

‘I’m such a failure,’ I would cry to myself. ‘Why don’t I have more self-control?’

For years I suffered in silence and lived in shame. I lost relationships. I lost my confidence. When I went home for the summers, I would sit for hours alone, watching an empty field behind my parents’ house. I was too depressed to move. I struggled with my job.

When I started binge eating, I tried everything I could think of to break free from the binges. I read books and articles about binging. I listened to every TED Talk, podcast, and documentary I could find about eating disorder recovery. I struggled for years, talking on and off to a handful of therapists.

woman taking a picture
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

‘I can’t help you,’ said one of my therapists after a few sessions. ‘You’re not opening up enough,’ she added as she essentially dismissed me as a client.

I refused to give up.

‘This is not the life I want to live!’ I would scream to myself. ‘I want a business, I want to be successful, I want to be happy. This cannot beat me.’

I didn’t find a ‘magic bullet.’ What I did find was a link between the restricting and the binging. I learned that binge eating was my body’s natural reaction to restricting. To stop the binges, I needed to eat more. To eat more, I needed to accept that my body would change. To accept that my body would change, I needed to trust that my body knew best. I needed to listen to my body.

I graduated from university in the summer of 2020. I moved out of my parents’ house and have committed to recovering on my own. I’m certainly not perfect. I wouldn’t even consider myself fully recovered. I am happy though.

It’s still hard. I still body-check and binge and restrict at times. I still struggle with the occasional purging behavior. But my life is night-and-day different. When I started listening to my body, trusting that it would tell me what it needs, and giving it the nutrition and food it so desperately craved, I became a different person.

I’m not hungry all the time. I don’t dream about food anymore. I’m achieving my goals.

woman posing in front of a mirror
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle

I have a successful business. I recently purchased an investment property, left a toxic relationship, and opened myself up to find love and security with a man who values me for me.

I am learning to reconcile my past and address the hurt that was buried so deep for so long. I’m learning that it is okay to feel my feelings—even the painful ones—and that emotions don’t make me a weak person.

I am learning to tell my story—even the shameful and painful details—because if my story helps even one person, it will be worth telling. I’ve started sharing my journey on YouTube and social media. I’m even writing a book on eating disorder recovery.

Eating disorders often begin innocently. A fad diet here, a few extra miles there. Before long, too many people find themselves trapped in a disease that is trying to kill them. Consumed with food, weight, and numbers, they live in misery. Almost 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. This number is too high. I can’t change the world, but I can tell my story. Perhaps it’s an innocent solution, but innocence is how my story began in the first place.”

woman with a dog
Courtesy of Kristi Michelle
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