Contributor: Callie C. alumni for New Dawn Treatment Centers
My name is Callie C. and my eating disorder started when I was 12. I grew up in Orange County, feeling constantly surrounded by beautiful, thin women on the beach. My mother was always on a diet and she instilled in me from an early age that fat was the enemy and not something that you should show off.
She was always trying to hide what she called fat, even though I thought she looked great. She refused to take me to the beach on days where she felt bloated due to her embarrassment and shame.
She was always talking about how much she hated her looks which was so confusing because I saw her as the most beautiful person in the world. I felt so ugly in comparison to her because if she thought she looked bad, then I must look that much worse.
Seeing Mom on Diets
I had seen my mom lose weight on various fad diets and through exercise, but she always gained it back when she could no longer keep up with her “plan.” I never consciously wanted to follow in her footsteps, but I inevitably started becoming aware of my own “fat.”
There was a part of me that knew I could be more successful than her at dieting and I guess you could say that I was. I started eating very small portions and only foods that every health magazine in the country would classify as “good” or “safe.”
Losing Weight to Avoid “Fat”
I began losing weight, but eventually I reached a plateau, so I knew I had to step up my game. This led me to skip meals and to restrict calories further at the meals I did eat, which were mostly composed of plain steamed vegetables.
I felt like I got so much attention for my weight loss and it felt really great. It might not have all been positive, but my eating disorder didn’t care. It believed that any attention was good attention, even when people were afraid that I was becoming too thin and they were concerned for my health.
I felt so accomplished that I could finally go to the beach and be thinner than all the others whose bodies I once longed to have. Other girls kept asking me what my “secret” was, and the next thing I knew, my identity was all about being the thinnest girl around.
Competing for “Thin”
Throughout middle school, I found myself gravitating to the thin, pretty, popular girls. The only bad thing is that I was constantly competing with them. I would think, “Who am I if I am not the thinnest? What else do I have going for myself?”
This is when I started running and joined the track team to try to be the best at this in addition to being the thinnest (and burn a ton of calories while I was at it). Unfortunately, I was never able to feel I fully won the competition and I started competing with myself, instead.
Every time I ran, I had to increase my pace or my distance. Something that I once enjoyed became a sick, twisted addiction where it would beat me up, spit me out, and I still kept going back for more. To my horror, the more weight I lost, the worse my running became.
I was weak, tired, hungry, and I felt like it was all slipping out of my control. I started binge eating on occasion because I felt so worthless and defeated. I tried to just allow myself a little bite of the things I used to love so much (e.g., cake, cookies, ice cream), but the next thing I knew, I was beating myself up so much for eating it that I couldn’t stop and I would finish the whole box of cookies or the pint of ice cream.
And then the vicious cycle of binging and over-exercising began. As a punishment, I would run extra long and hard the next day, but I still couldn’t control the urges to binge any longer. I just felt so exhausted and so hungry.
When I was 15 I discovered purging. One of my friends told me about it and I learned that several other girls I knew were doing it, too. I felt like I finally had a free pass to eat whatever I wanted because I could get rid of it right afterward, like it never even happened.
Of course, I would still go on runs, but now this wasn’t the only method I had of getting rid of the food. I also restricted my calories considerably in the meantime, saving up for that big binge where I could just go all out. This seemed to work great for several months but eventually I started gaining weight.
I was so angry at myself, thinking that I failed rather than recognizing that these are not effective ways of controlling my weight.
Talking to a Counselor
When I was 16, my family moved to the Bay Area. The move was stressful and I think it made my ED even worse. My teacher recommended that I go talk to the school counselor after she noticed something going on with me (I would become so angry because I was constantly irritable).
I talked with the counselor about the depression that I had been feeling since we’d moved and after a few meetings, I finally told her about my eating disorder. At this point I was binging and purging at least three times a day and I felt so out of control.
After a few more meetings discussing my ED, it was decided that I needed to get more than just outpatient treatment. This sounded like the most insane thing I’d ever heard. At the time, I believed that I was doing just fine in my life outside of being irritable and worried about food, calories, what I was going to binge on next, and how I was going to get rid of it.
I didn’t understand why I had to get help when my friends were engaging in the very same behaviors. My parents had also suggested that I get treatment back when I was 14, but I refused to go. They didn’t push it and seemed pretty absent from then on regarding my ED, which made me feel like they gave up on me.
In hindsight, I now realize they just didn’t know what to do or say because I was so protective over my ED and I would get very angry when they tried to encourage me to eat or take a break from running.
New Dawn Treatment Center
To my disbelief, I agreed to have an intake at New Dawn Treatment Centers in Sausalito, CA. I felt like my whole life was spinning out of control because I couldn’t control my weight, my eating, my competitiveness, and my comparisons with others.
I felt so helpless and overwhelmed. I didn’t really WANT to give up my ED, but I also knew I couldn’t keep this vicious restricting-bingeing-purging-exercising cycle up forever. There was a part of me that wanted my life back.
I reluctantly agreed to take a semester off of school to enter the partial hospitalization program at New Dawn. After three weeks at this level of care, I was able to step down to their intensive outpatient program, which I was in for two months.
Taking Comfort in Routine
At first, I was mortified by the amount of food I had to eat in the program, but eventually I began to take comfort in the fact that I could count on eating my three meals and three snacks that were planned out by my dietitian and my treatment team.
I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to eat, how I could purge it, or when I was going to run it off. When my weight didn’t do anything crazy, I slowly began to trust that I can eat like a “normal” person, enjoy foods that were once forbidden (and thus more likely to binge on), and not have to work out for several hours a day.
Slow and Steady Progress
Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. There were a lot of struggles in trusting that my treatment team was not trying to just “fatten me up” or brainwash me into thinking that fat was somehow attractive. But over time, the pieces started coming together for me.
I realized that once I stopped beating myself up for eating too much (especially the “bad foods”) or not running hard enough, I actually stopped obsessing about food so much and these so-called bad foods lost their power over me.
The treatment that I received truly changed my life. It has been one year since I left treatment and I am so proud that I can actually say now that I love the way I look, I no longer am controlled by food, and I like myself when I look in the mirror.
I feel like I have my life back and I am able to enjoy time with my friends and family so much more than I have in the past. The treatment team at New Dawn was really great at understanding me, validating my concerns, but also pushing me outside of my comfort zone.
I also made some really great connections with other patients that I continue to stay in contact with. It was so freeing to be with others who were going through the same thing. The bonds created as a result are priceless. I am just so thankful to feel like my self again (it’s been so long!) and to fully experience all the wonderful things that life has to offer.
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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 18th, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com