By Rachel Nelson
We all experience defining moments throughout the course of our lives. Some are bigger than others, but all have a significant impact. When I was 16, I had a coach tell me I needed to watch my weight, and for the next five years those words haunted me.
I was very active at the time, both in volleyball and basketball, but despite all of my workouts I thought I needed to do more to watch my weight, and thus began my struggle with disordered eating.
It was not a lot at first, just purging once or twice a week, but I was soon throwing up at least one meal a day.
What had started as a way to “manage” my weight had also become a way for me to cope with the stress I felt about my future. I saw many of my peers committing to play college volleyball and the pressure to be recruited weighed me down daily.
I felt worthless, and I convinced myself if I was better or thinner then I too would be committed to play somewhere.
In April of my senior year, I committed to play volleyball at McKendree University in Illinois, and I felt as though a weight had been lifted off of my chest. For the first time in months, I could breathe again.
Around this time, my sisters confronted me with suspicions of my bulimia. Embarrassed that I had been caught, I decided I should drop the nasty habit before I left for school.
During my two years at McKendree, I did not binge or purge at all, but my negative body image remained intact. I struggled daily with hating my appearance, and when I put on some weight on my sophomore year it only made things worse.
I transferred to Webster University my junior year, and I was excited for a fresh start with volleyball. However, no one tells you how hard it is to make friends at a new school. Despite the fact I enjoyed my teammates, I found myself extremely lonely.
I came home after practice most nights to an empty apartment and was homesick for anything that felt comfortable, so I started bingeing and purging again as a way to calm my nerves.
This past January, when team workouts started, I convinced myself if I lost weight I would have an easier time meeting people. It quickly became an obsession.
I cut my daily food intake to 900 calories and threw up anything over that, and most days I was doing an extra 30 minutes of cardio on top of our team workouts.
In two months I had lost 15 pounds, and it felt so good when people noticed and complimented me on my weight loss. However I could no longer get through a lifting session without feeling weak, exhausted and nauseous.
I also began experiencing bad chest pains during cardio, and it was then I realized I needed help. I reached out to my trainer who put me in contact with a counselor and a dietician so I could start treatment.
Sometimes I get upset when I think of the time I wasted hating myself, but mostly I am just proud of my mental and physical progress. Every day is a struggle, but on my bad days I try to remind myself of my abilities rather than my weaknesses.
I’m not sharing my story because it is unique. I am sharing it because it is too common and I want more people to feel like they too can discuss their struggles. Vulnerability used to terrify me because I thought that sharing my flaws would mean I was weak, but I have recently learned that it can be very empowering.
I hope that by sharing my own experience I can give others the strength to define their own happiness and self-worth.