Mental Health Interview Series Pt. 2: Eating Disorders
There's something you should probably know about me. When I was in high school, I was convinced I was a superstar. Every history class, I would doze off and daydream that I was Britney Spears circa 1999 in my red leather jumpsuit, or Idina Mezel belting out Take Me or Leave Me on the Nederlander stage.
So naturally, I chose to audition for the Sound of Music my senior year of high school.
There's one more thing you should know about me. I sing worse than literally anyone. Anyone. I promise.
But hey, my Catholic high school consisted on 75 kids so what do you know, I got a part! I played Brigitta Von Trapp, age 10; and I NAILED IT. I mean, I lip synced every group song, but I nailed the lip syncing like nobody's business.
Our musical director for this show, Chad Hill, was fantastic. While I'm sure he can describe my shockingly dreadful singing voice better than most, he fulfilled my dream of stardom and he was even able to successfully coach me in the one solo line I had to sing. No one's ears bled, no mirrors broke, no one died. It was a successful show.
Just when you think Chad couldn't get any better (I mean, he taught the most tone deaf individual how to sing a whole line not entirely off key) - he marries the incredible Nicole. Nicole is such an inspiring lady, and was more than happy than to jump on board this mental health awareness series.
She's 26 years young and just graduated with her Doctor of Pharmacy degree earlier this spring. Outside of her daily life, she's very active in the fitness community and is constantly promoting self-love and body positivity on her Instagram page. She has been in recovery from her eating disorder for over five years now and wants to use her struggles to show others that recovery IS possible.
If you've read my blog at all (literally, at all) you probably know that Nicole and I share our history of eating disorders and I look to her positive posts on a weekly basis - she never fails to lift me up and serve as my absolutely necessary reminder that I am making progress every day.
I am so thankful and overjoyed that Nicole has participated in this interview series, and I know that you will find her answers heartwarming and genuine. If you like what you read below and you'd love to hear more, you can check out Nicole on Instagram for your daily dose of self love and affirmation.
What do you think the most common misconception is about eating disorders and the individuals who suffer from them?
I believe the most common misconception is people must "look" like they have an eating disorder (ED) to actually be suffering. When I was in the darkest point of my ED, I was thin, but not thin enough for people to think I was struggling. Instead, people told me how "good" I looked and that fueled by ED even more.
In what way has your eating disorder most affected your life?
Long term it has affected my hormones and menstrual cycle. I have been in recovery for over five years and am still struggling to get my hormones and menstrual cycle regulated again. Overall, it has affected my relationship with food. I believe recovery will be a lifelong process and a journey to realizing every BODY is different and no food is "bad."
What is the biggest daily challenge you face as a result of your eating disorder?
My biggest challenge is accepting my body the way it is now and realizing the weight I have gained is my body's version of "healthy." It is difficult seeing your body as "thin" for so long and watching your body gain weight to reach a point that feels sustainable. I always strive to remind myself that every BODY is different.
Does your eating disorder come in phases, or is it a constant presence?
It has always been a constant presence but some days and weeks are certainly easier than others. For me it is most prevalent when I am stressed or sleep deprived. It is also more prevalent when I know I will be eating out.
Was your eating disorder the result of an event in your past, or is the cause unknown to you?
It started in my childhood. I was overweight in my teens and was bullied in school and received comments about my weight from certain members of my family. Society also played a major factor. We are constantly bombarded with images in the media telling us we need to be thinner to be "pretty and accepted." The pressure from societal standards drove my "desire" to be thin.
What are the symptoms that you think may be representative of an eating disorder, for those who have not been diagnosed but may believe they are at risk?
I was never "diagnosed" with an eating disorder, but looking back there were definite signs I was suffering. These included skipping out on social events to avoid having to be around food, buying the lowest calorie foods I could find, and starving myself throughout the day so I could "eat more" at night. I was also constantly consumed with thoughts of food and what I could or could not eat.
Do you think your eating disorder ever held you back in life, or prevented you from doing something you wanted to?
Me ED held me back during my undergrad. My grades suffered because I experienced extreme mental fog from lack of food. I also missed out on social functions because I did not want to be faced with having to eat "other foods."
When did you first know that you were suffering from an eating disorder?
My sophomore year of college is when my ED truly began. I knew halfway through my sophomore year that I was truly suffering, but in my mind I just didn't "care." It wasn't until my junior year when my family and friends began to reach out to me that I really began to realize I had to make a change. I will never forget that the time my boyfriend (and now husband) told me he feared for my life, as that really struck me hard.
What is your proudest accomplishment that you've achieved despite your eating disorder?
I was able to turn my life around once I began recovery and work towards getting my grades back up. This year I graduated with my Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
How do you think your eating disorder has changed over time?
My ED controlled my life for a period of time and dictated the way I felt about my body. Over time I have learned to recognize those ED thoughts and no longer allow them to rule my decisions with food or dictate how much I am allowed to love my body.
Would you say that you are fully recovered from your eating disorder?
In my eyes, I will never be fully recovered from my ED. Recovery will be a lifelong process and I will only continue to evolve and grow from my weaknesses. Every year I can look back and say I am stronger than the last.
A huge thank you to Nicole for not only discussing her eating disorder in this very personal interview, but for being such an inspiration and advocate for body positivity on social media.
Don't forget - you can learn more about Nicole, listen to her challenges and successes with ED, and get your daily reminder to love every inch of your PERFECT body by visiting her instagram.
Check out the blog next week to read part III of the mental health awareness interview series.