My story, I remember believing not so long ago, was bound to end in tragedy. Another life lost to the death grip of anorexia. Another fatal statistic. Another hopeless cause.
Initially my battle with eating disorders began the summer I turned 13. What started out as an innocent, half-hearted diet quickly spiraled into an out of control obsession with weight, calories, and food. Or more specifically, how to avoid them. A life that should have revolved around middle school crushes, going shopping with friends or worrying about what to wear to a dance was instead consumed by a distorted view of my body and the dangerous behaviors I participated in to change it.
It didn’t take long before I ended up being hospitalized. Overall, I spent a total of five years in both inpatient and intensive residential treatment centers. My entire adolescence was lost—spent fighting a war between mind and body while attempting to regain my health. The sole focus of my treatment programs was weight gain which is undoubtedly important, but there was very little coaching from a nutritional perspective. When I left my last treatment center the day after my 18th birthday, I was at a healthy weight, but rather than feeling like I was on the right path to recovery, I had the feeling that my eating disorder was simply lying dormant for the time being.
I was right.
For the first year and a half out of treatment, I managed my weight. For that time frame, I was able to keep my eating disorder at bay. Looking back now I think it was sheer luck. Finally I lost that feeble grip I had on my health and experienced a relapse that would bring me lower than I’d ever been before—physically and emotionally. Being 20 at this point, no one could legally force me to seek treatment so I didn’t. One day in October, my therapist called on a Saturday morning and asked that I come in, bringing my family with me. I knew it wouldn’t be a pleasant session.
It turns out my support system had arranged an intervention for me, and it was by far the most painful experience I’d endured (and I had endured many painful experiences over the course of battling my eating disorder). First, my grandparents, younger sister and therapist each read letters they’d written for me, explaining their concern and begging me to accept the help I was being offered. Then I was given one of three options: 1) I could admit myself to a residential treatment center that agreed to take me as a patient. My grandparents already had a suitcase packed for me in the trunk of the car (without my prior knowledge), and were ready to drive me to the facility four hours away from home. If I didn’t choose that path, then 2) I would agree to meet with a dietician/eating disorder specialist by the name of Marcia Herrin, or 3) I would be kicked out of my house and my therapist would not continue to work with me. I was devastated. Thankfully I was in a right enough state of mind to know Option #3 needed to be taken off the table. After crying and fighting with the people who just wanted what was best for me, I reluctantly chose to meet Marcia.
I went into my first appointment convinced there wasn’t going to be anything about this woman that was different from all the other professionals I worked with over the years. By the time I left, I remember thinking that just maybe, Marcia had the potential to my life. Not only does Marcia have solid credibility and two books regarding the nutritional treatment of eating disorders, but she herself has a personal history with eating disorders as well. Seeing how successful she is has given me genuine hope that recovery, real recovery, is possible. Many people were giving up on the idea that I could get better but Marcia never saw me in a despondent light. There have even been times when my insurance wouldn’t cover her services, and yet she continued to work with me anyway. Her dedication and confidence in me has instilled a confidence in myself. Without it, I know I wouldn’t be here today. She’s tough on me when I need it—doesn’t put up with any excuses or cop-outs. She holds me accountable when I’m wrong, and provides ovation when it’s earned. Of course the process is never easy, and there are times I’m convinced it’s easier to be sick, but because of Marcia, I’ve been given a taste of what my life can be untainted by eating disorders, and let me tell you—it’s something I’m simply not willing to give up.
Thank you, Marcia, for all you’ve taught me in the last 19 months. I didn’t know this kind of freedom could exist…and the journey isn’t over yet.