I went to college like many of us. Focused on freedom, the opportunity to make new friends, join a sorority, and of course… have a good time.
You may wonder… Where were my priorities exactly?
Like many college freshmen, it was on the curated Instagram pictures, the potential of being featured on my sorority’s highlight reel, and of course, making myself seem super ~chill~ so the fraternities would want to hang out (duh?!).
At first, it was glamorous. The partying, the alcohol, the tailgates that turned into sunrises.
But… then… it slowly turned into something else.
While my friends could seemingly go out, eat the pizza at two in the morning, enjoy the late-night taco trucks, and order the insomnia cookies, I could not.
All I could think about was the calories.
Would I gain weight?
How much cardio would I now need to do tomorrow?
Would people notice my body changing?
With all the internal worry, the fear of food, and the mental calculations, my world suddenly became very small.
At first, I could hide it. I could hide the calorie preoccupation. I could hide the hours I would go to the gym the next day.
I began to opt out of dinners with my friends (too many calories in those fries, right!??).
I began to say no to social outings and chose to “study” on a Friday night (if I had one drink, I knew I wouldn’t be able to say no to the pizza later).
And then… I began to binge eat… in secret.
I could feel the binge episode coming on.
Like a mental switch set off in my mind, it instructed me to be “bad”.
We were going to rebel against our healthy regimen.
We were going to “start the diet tomorrow”. We deserve it c’mon!
It controlled my every thought. Every feeling. Every move.
First, it would tell me to run to the local convenience store and buy all the “off-limit” foods.
I could feel the excitement brewing… the anticipation for what was about to unfold.
My friends were all preoccupied, out drinking the night away. I knew I had hours to myself to do as I pleased.
I would get back to my dorm room, and unbox all the snacks, all the goodies.
I would lay them all out, take a breath, and dig in.
Anything and everything in sight, I would consume.
Cookies, candy, and leftover pizza from a few nights ago.
I would throw away food, just to eat it out of the trash.
I would finish my snacks and immediately look for more.
I would see if my roommate had any leftovers she had forgotten about.
Should I order cookies? A pizza?
Maybe I could run to a different store to get more food. I don’t want to go back to the same one. That’s suspicious.
The eating frenzy would consume my every thought, feeling, and action for hours.
I would forget where I was, who I was, what I was doing.
I felt high in life. The dopamine running through my veins, the adrenaline pumping through my body as I consumed every… last… morsel.
That was until… the realization of what I had done caught up with me.
I would notice the physical discomfort in my stomach first. The pain became too intense to ignore.
I felt like I was going to explode, the bloating making me sick.
And then it would hit me:
What did I just do?
I am going to gain so much weight!!!
Why couldn’t I just stop eating once I had started?
It was as if my brain shut off, and some other part of me took over entirely. Some monstrous part of me that I didn’t even recognize.
I would succumb to my anxiety. Sitting on my dorm room floor, I would begin to cry.
Tears fell down my face as I would think:
How could this be me?
I am so fit. So athletic. So calculated in my diet.
How could I lose control so easily?! I am such a “failure”.
I would slowly crawl my way up to bed, as the downward spiral of anxiety would be slamming into me full force.
I felt paralyzed. In every way.
My roommate would get back at some point during the night. I pretended to be asleep.
Silently crying, I would make a promise to myself.
I would be better the next day. I would come up with a plan to “undo” all I had eaten.
I would restrict myself further that following week.
Intensify the cardio in the gym.
Cut out all the sweets.
Those days post-binge were always followed by what I termed a “food hangover”; my own personal cocktail of depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt from what I had done. I could not socialize, could barely study, and could not stop ruminating on what I had done.
But yet…it made no difference. If anything, it only made my binge episodes worse.
I withdrew from my friends.
I withdrew from my family.
I withdrew from my life.
I felt out of control.
What had begun as happening once a week, turned into a whole weekend affair.
Then, I was suddenly binge-eating almost every other day.
Any public event where I knew I’d be tempted by the food, meant my night was ending in a pile of candy wrappers, cookies, and immense shame.
It didn’t matter how full I was.
It didn’t matter how much I tried to resist the urge.
I would go all or nothing.
Scared. Confused. Angry. Guilty. Ashamed.
None of these feelings even came close to the intensity of what I was experiencing.
I eventually broke. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
I knew I couldn’t keep going on in that vicious cycle.
I knew I needed to change something.
I knew I needed help.
It was that winter break after my first college semester, that I finally mustered up the courage to ask for help.
With my heart pounding, and tears slowly falling, I told my mom the shameful cycle I had found myself in.
I cried into her arms, confessing my biggest secret.
I knew she didn’t understand, as she searched my face for clarification.
And yet, she listened, she believed me, and she told me we would figure it out.
We would figure it out.
I was going to be okay.
I would not be a victim of this feeling forever.
That was the first feeling of hope I had felt in months.
A few days later, I found a therapist in my college town of Madison, WI.
I finally was in a place where I could be heard, seen, and genuinely understood.
It was a long, difficult journey, but the most worthwhile thing I ever decided upon doing.
This was the first step in my healing.
This was the first time I learned what I had been experiencing was an eating disorder.
This was the first time I felt someone could actually help me get out of the hell I had found myself in.
I am here to tell you that whether you resonate with my story, parts of my story, or even understand the feeling from my story, you are not alone.
There is no “one way” an eating disorder looks.
There is no “one way” an eating disorder presents itself.
If you struggle with food and your body in any distressing way, it isn’t fair to you.
This recovery journey inspired me to change my career path and give back to the profession that changed my life.
I now get to be the therapist that I so desperately needed; for that reason, I would not change anything about the journey I endured.
Know that there are professionals that want to help.
Professionals who have walked before you.
We know healing is possible.
And most importantly, we want you to know that you are not alone.
If you or a loved one are struggling, do not hesitate to reach out. Share this story with whomever it may help.