HOW I HEALED FROM MY EATING DISORDER. PART 1
And you can too
When I first started my Instagram account two years ago, I had zero intention of EVER sharing "my story" with the world. But the truth is that I, Nicole, the girl who ALWAYS had it together, had a very long battle with food. Specifically, I suffered from compulsive eating disorder (eating copious amounts of food in one sitting, both "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods, more food than most people eat in a DAY consumed in a matter of MINUTES), as well as bouts of bulimia. But there you have it. The raw, uncensored, honest truth. And I certainly never thought I'd live to tell you a story about recovery because I didn't think recovery was possible. I'd break the cycle for weeks or even months at a time, only to revert back to old ways, falling deeper and deeper into a depression.
My obsession with perfectionism started at an early age, and it wasn't limited to food. By nature, I'm driven, I'm a go-getter, and I'm an extremely high achiever. All of those traits served me well when it came to certain things..like my career. I picked up the pieces of my life after an ugly divorce at age 21 and took the LSAT, went to law school at a top-tier law school, passed the California bar exam on the first try, survived practicing law in multiple big firms alongside mostly angry, and very overworked lawyers.
In case you don't know, in the law firm setting, your work performance and job security is measured in terms of billable hours. So the need to perform and crank out work with no reprieve is real. If that's the career path you choose, you need to really LOVE it and feel passionate about it, because if you don't (like me), it's a miserable path and you'll kick and scream every step of the way. Nevertheless, the perfectionist in me was too determined to fail, and somehow, someway, I always proudly made my hours and pretended that I was on top of the world. After all, I was making a LOT of money, so life had to be good, right? Not so much...
Those same traits of perfectionism did not serve me well when it came to my body and my physical appearance. Growing up in Los Angeles, I felt that there was always an extreme emphasis on outward appearance and looking a certain way - THIN. I desperately fought against my body's natural predisposition to be a little "softer"...i.e. rock hard abs were not part of my DNA, in an effort to be THIN, and therefore noticed and valued - by men, by friends, by my family. Boy, how my priorities were F'd up, yeah?
There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel a certain way (I still love to be physically fit, strong, get dressed up, and wear all the nice things), the problem was that I based my self-worth on my physical appearance, and I used food to 1) cope with stress, and 2) to control my physical appearance. Two extremely unhealthy behaviors that essentially CONTROLLED my life.
To give you a general idea, here's how a typical day went while I was in law school: I'd wake up and go straight to the gym to take a spin class or bootcamp. Exercise for me was never excessive, but it was a daily thing. Then I'd go to school, sit in classes all day, and leave feeling extremely overwhelmed by the amount of coursework on the horizon. Not knowing how to channel or cope with that stress, I'd head to the grocery store and buy two gallons of shitty quality ice cream -- I'm talking that Dreyer's, full fat, chemical laden stuff. I'd come back home, hide in my room with the door locked, and eat the entire two gallons until I made myself sick enough to throw it up. Then I'd feel a deep sense of relief, and could sit down, calmly focus on my school work, and get through the night knowing I didn't gain a single ounce. The next day would be somewhat similar, with different trigger foods, etc etc. The point is that I did this pretty regularly and I HID IT FROM EVERYONE.
The truth is, I probably could have hid it from everyone forever. I'm good at shit like that. Just call me "Slick Rick." But I hit rock bottom from repeated bouts of this insane behavior, and somewhere deep down inside of me, I had a burning desire to fight for my FREEDOM. The same way I fought for my freedom and escaped from an unhealthy marriage at a young age, I was ready to fight for my life and for every single person out there suffering from the same thing.
When I made a commitment to recover, I didn’t know where to turn for help. I Googled eating disorder recovery and all I found were therapists who didn't take insurance, in-patient institutions, and yes, some people really need that (maybe even me!), but I wasn't ready to tell my friends or family or my boyfriend at the time. I wanted to do it all alone.
And because I chose to go about it alone, I ended up prolonging my own recovery. Why? Because when you choose to do things by yourself, there's no one to hold you accountable or help you through the difficult times. But I'm a tough mutha, and still, I felt I could do it alone. And to my credit, there were weeks and months that would go by where I did actually succeed, but only to revert back to my old ways. It was a rollercoaster of extreme highs and extreme lows.
BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU THAT YOU CAN FULLY RECOVER. I DID IT. I AM LIVING PROOF THAT IT CAN BE DONE IF YOU ARE WILLING TO WORK.
I am now going to share with you my first two steps for lasting recovery.
STEP 1: ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM
Your issue with food might not look like mine at all. Maybe for you, it's restricting food (anorexia). Maybe it's a few negative thoughts in your head and some mild freak outs when you eat a meal that's not perfectly healthy or higher in calories than you would like. Maybe it's just a preoccupation with food. Or maybe it's a once a month binge that you dismiss because it's just once a month and when it's THAT infrequent, there's no way there's a problem (that's what you are telling yourself, I know). I'm here to tell you that all of the above signals an issue. It doesn't have to be full fledged bulimia, compulsive eating or anorexia to signal a problem. Sit down and take an honest look at your relationship with food. There's a difference between just being a "foodie" and having a love-hate relationship with food. If you are not truly at peace with all of the decisions you make around food, I want you to take out a piece of paper and simply write down, in all caps, I HAVE A PROBLEM. Look at that over and over. Then move on to Step 2.
STEP 2: TELL SOMEONE YOU TRUST
You need to tell someone you trust about what you are going through. Yes, this makes you vulnerable, and yes, it's scary. I'm not trying to scare you off, but I'm telling you that if you truly want to recover, you aren't going to give a rats ass anymore when anyone thinks, because you acknowledge that you need help. Once you muster the courage to tell someone, you are no longer alone. And while you still have a long road to go, you’ll automatically feel a huge weight lifted from your shoulders, and then you and that person can find solutions together. Because you are no longer alone.
I chose to tell my boyfriend (now husband). On the one hand, I was beyond embarrassed to share this part of me, as I was trying to always put my best foot forward and make a good impression. But at the same time, this was also the first real and healthy relationship I had, and felt very safe with him. I also reached a point where I sort of used it as a test -- how he was going to react to what I told him would be the true determination of whether this man was for me. Was he going to embrace the issue with me and help me find a solution? Or was he going to run away because he didn't want my problem to become his? Thankfully it was the former.
Once I told MY person, I felt free. I also felt that because I invested someone else in the problem, I could not let him down. It also started to open the lines of communication to start talking through feelings associated with stress and food. Do not undermine or bypass this simple step of telling someone. Because as much as you'd like to fight this battle alone, you cannot do it alone. Or hey, maybe you can, but the process is going to be a heck of a lot harder than it needs to be.