Wow. I thought for a long time about how I was going to start this post. I am sure you can tell from the title that this is a difficult topic for me to discuss. It had a huge impact on who I am, but I am hoping that by sharing my story I can help others who have suffered or who are suffering from the same problem.
So, here it goes.
I was a very confident teenager throughout middle school and high school. I would go as far as to say I was a little cocky. I had a lot of friends, was athletic, and made solid grades. When I entered my freshman year of college, I felt confident but did not know anyone besides my girlfriend, her brother, and one other kid from my high school.
Since I knew very few people, I became close with my roommate – we hung out a lot. I was not into the fraternity thing. Almost everyone at my college joined so I thought I would be different and not “rush” – I knew I could make friends without joining.
At the time, I was also satisfied with my body and never thought I was fat or out of shape. I also never thought about nutrition and how it affected my health or body comp. I am not sure I even considered that there was a connection.
I grew up on almost entirely processed foods – microwaveable meals, a ton of sugary cereal, fast food restaurants, etc. My mom cooked occasionally, but it was definitely not what I would consider healthy.
When I first started dating my wife, I thought her family was healthy because they had Cheerios and Pop Tarts without icing. No icing, what the hell?!
This is how little I knew about nutrition and its effects on my body.
During my first year of college, my roommate, girlfriend, and I usually ate at the campus center buffet. I stuck to my normal foods of burgers, fries, cereal, and grilled cheese for the first semester.
However, as the year went on I began to take note of how my girlfriend and roommate ate. They ate much more healthy than me so I began trying to make small changes to my food intake. The first step I took was to cut out all fat.
I considered fat to be evil (not sure how I got this in my head) so I limited it as much as possible. After experimenting with this, I began losing weight. As I mentioned above, I never thought I was fat but I was starting to see some abs pop through and that excited me.
So I continued with my “clean eating” experiment. I made it a game to see how little I could eat, or I would put off eating as long as possible. I thought I was being healthy by doing this since I was losing fat and consuming nearly zero fat.
At the end of my first year, I had lost some weight but nothing significant. I felt good, my grades were solid, and I was enjoying Hanover College. I even competed on the tennis team and had a lot of fun with that.
Therefore, I continued my “healthy” eating habits thinking it was beneficial for my body and health. But my habits kept getting worse and worse – less food and more strict rules as to what foods I could and could not eat. It became an unhealthy obsession.
I ended up transferring to a different university after the first semester of my sophomore year. I enjoyed Hanover, but it was very expensive. In addition, my wife (then still girlfriend) was planning to enroll in a second bachelor’s degree program in Indianapolis at the end of the school year (she is two years older than me) so I decided to move there ahead of her and go to school.
This is when things got really ugly. I was living alone in an apartment in Indianapolis and now, for the first time, having to cook and buy food for myself. I began to buy more and more of what I considered clean foods and stayed away from fat.
If I had a sandwich it was bread and meat. If I ate cereal, it was Cheerios. If I ate some yogurt, it was fat free. I also restricted myself to very small portions. And as I stated above, I delayed my meals as long as possible because I was very excited to eat (no wonder, my body was starving), but I knew it would not last long so I would wait and wait.
I began to think more and more about my next meal and what I was going to eat. I wanted as few calories as possible, and I wanted them to be good calories. One of my staple meals was a low-fat yogurt (100 calories) with a few cheerios added in.
If I had to estimate, I would say I was eating around 1,000 calories a day. However, I never counted because I did not even know what was a reasonable amount.
My weight kept decreasing, but I still thought I was being healthy because I was eating no “junk food” and I had little bodyfat.
At this time, my social life was nonexistent. I rarely went anywhere besides to class and to my apartment. I knew no one in Indy and made very little effort to change that. I also had my first knee surgery around this time and because of that was very inactive.
I basically sat in my apartment, studied, and thought about food. On the weekends, Emme would come to see me or I would go to Hanover to be with her, but that was the extent of my activities.
Looking back, I now know that I was severely depressed and unhappy. I have no idea why I could not see this at the time. I think it was because I was so involved in the process of being healthy, and I focused all of my energy around that. If I was not in control of my surroundings and environment, which going out with friends would have forced me to do, then I was afraid I would have to stray from my “healthy path”.
I even had a hard time going to see my parents, which I had always loved doing in the past. I dreaded the trip because I did not have access to all my “clean foods” and always felt I was being judged for eating cleanly. If I did go to their house, I refused what my mom cooked, and I would sneak away to my room and eat my “healthy food”.
Slowly, my parents and my girlfriend began noticing that I was becoming too extreme and my low bodyweight was unhealthy.
One Christmas (I think this was the lowest weight I got to ~125lbs at 6’1″) they sat down and had a long talk with me. They invited Emme to the house to help as well. Together, we decided that I needed help.
It was a very emotional experience. I now knew that I was unhealthy because I was so underweight, but I felt like I had it under control. I had a lot of mind games – I knew that I needed to gain weight, but I wanted to do it slowly and healthily. However, I was not having very good results with this. I was timid that I would gain fat instead of muscle (this is the first time I began having body image issues). So I agreed to go to seek out someone for help.
It was a hard decision, but I could see my mom, dad, and Emme were very upset, and I trusted their guidance, so I entered a clinic that specialized in eating disorders.
I went to the clinic once a week for an hour. I had access to a dietician, doctor, and a psychologist. Each week I reported my food log, checked my bodyweight, and talked with the psychologist about my struggles and successes.
Several months before entering the clinic I had been reading a lot into nutrition and lifting weights because I realized that I was not healthy or happy. I began to realize that I needed to gain some weight to improve my health and to build up my confidence.
Because I was very skinny, I had zero confidence in myself. I dreaded being around others because I was no longer the person I used to be. I lost by sense of humor, my athleticism, and my identity. I no longer knew what I enjoyed besides my very small meals. Therefore, gaining muscle became my goal.
I learned a lot about nutrition during this time, but the problem was that a lot of what I reading was at odds with what the staff was telling me at the center. They wanted me to go back to eating the foods that I used to enjoy (cereal, burgers, whatever). They did not seem to care much about what I ate. They just wanted me to put the weight on.
This did not sit well with me. I knew I needed to gain weight, but I wanted to do it with what I considered healthy foods (and I now had an idea of what this was). Because of this, they still considered me orthorexic – someone obsessed with “clean eating” – even if I was gaining weight.
It was frustrating because if I ate a piece of fruit or some almonds everyone thought I was going to remain skinny and that I would never put on the weight with these foods.
I ended up leaving the clinic because they threatened to make me an inpatient if I did not gain 5lbs in a week. I was able to achieve this the first week, but not the second – I was 2 lbs shy. Therefore, I stopped going.
I am still not happy with the treatment I received there. The staff was very friendly, but I believe you have to understand the mindset of someone with an eating disorder to really help him or her.
For me, I wanted to eat cleanly, and I saw no reason as to why this was bad. Telling me to eat cereal and ice cream was not the right message (In part 2 I will explain to you the message and information that helped me get back to a healthy lifestyle and mindset) to encourage me to gain weight.
This is part of the reason I wanted to write this post. Because I feel like I now have a good understanding of this process and want to help as many people who suffer from this problem as possible. I know how terrible it can be – and the consequences are very large.
For example, I had some major hormonal issues – very low testosterone and a sluggish thyroid were the biggies. Thanks to an awesome doc and a lot of reading on my own I am almost in the norm for all my measures.
And although I am still somewhat on the scrawny side at 6’1″ and 170 lbs, I am healthy and happy. And I like to tell people that if I had two arms I would be closer to 180-185lbs.
So that is my reason for writing this series. I want to let you know that you are not alone and there can be light at the end of the tunnel – I am living proof.
I also want to be of help to anyone that I can who is suffering from this terrible problem – male or female.
If you are dealing with this problem, or feel that you may be headed in that direction, do not be afraid to reach out for help. I am happy to chat with anyone in the comments or via private message.
This is going to be a big aim of my blog – helping YOU develop a healthy body and mind. It is not easy, but I believe my experience has truly made me a better coach and has helped me to have a better understanding of how to come to love yourself.
I am working on part 2 now in which I will detail how I escaped my eating disorder and developed a healthy relationship with food and my body.
Happy New Year’s!!