I will start this by saying this post is long and long overdue. I had wanted to write my story for some time. I read others who have poured their hearts out with the simple goal of hoping to help someone else along the way. That is my goal. My hope is that someone will happen upon my blog and read my story and heal themselves as I have. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and perhaps a snack and read on as I too pour my heart out.
I’m not quite sure where to start this story. I think I will start it from my last episode which began in 2010. Prior to that, I had a previous bout with anorexia in my mid twenties while I was going through Physiotherapy school. It ended when my husband and I moved away for 18 months to Florida and I think going where no one knew me or could judge me helped me to heal. But I am choosing to write about this latest episode (in my mid 40’s) which for me, caused far greater physical and psychological damage.
In November of 2010, I decided to have bilateral bunion surgery. I knew that this would require a long rest period from fitness and daily mobility. For the first two weeks, the only thing I was allowed to do physically was get up to go to the bathroom. Following that it would be a long couple of months before I could truly be active. In order to avoid gaining weight, I knew I needed to make sure I ate healthfully and in small quantities. I have a sweet tooth and what frightened me most was that I would turn into a “blimp” while sitting on my butt.
In the past, during my late teens and early 20’s my poor eating habits caused me to put on about 30 lbs. After I had lost this weight, I was always frightened to put it back on, but truth be told, I started to eat quite healthfully after my first episode in my late 20’s and never did return to the poor eating patterns. So my fears were likely unwarranted. However, once someone has an eating disorder, I believe that there is always that little voice in your head–it never really goes away.
In order to take control of my weight while I was laid up, I discovered the My Fitness Pal app. What a wonderful thing I thought!! I could record everything I ate, keep track of macros like carbs and proteins and fats and make sure I stayed under my determined “safe” calorie goal of 1300. I don’t know where I came up with that number other than perhaps at the time of surgery I weighed just under 130 lbs. and I knew that 10x your weight= enough calories to sustain your Basal Metabolic Rate. So that was the number I chose. Off I went and recorded everything. I measured everything, I swore off sugar (and actually as most find who do this, I missed it less when I was off it). I started to chew a lot of gum thinking this would keep my appetite at bay. I ate when I needed to, but not a lot.
My desired outcome manifested itself. Instead of gaining weight while I was laid up, my clothes got looser and I was losing weight. I weighed myself daily and felt happy that I was not gaining weight. I did whatever activity I was allowed to during my recovery: lifting weights while sitting, eventually riding a bike, and swimming. All the while, I stuck to my 1300 calories. I tuned into my hunger signals but I think that my hunger readjusted to it’s somewhat starved state. I felt “happy” that I was getting thinner.
Once I was able to get back to running, I was amazed at how much easier it was now that I was lighter. Of course after being off for 4 months it took time to rebuild the cardio, but my body felt lighter and was easier to carry. Again, more reinforcement that what I was doing to myself was a good thing for my running. I returned to racing. My body was adjusting to it’s lower calorie levels and I often fought the hunger feelings, despite still always being a snacker. My portions reduced and my regimented mind kept everything under control.
Getting to race again was fun. I was faster, lighter and winning a lot of age group awards. I got a PB at the 5km distance, coming in at 19:34. My 10Km time went under 40 minutes and my half marathon time was just over 1:30. I won my age group in many triathlons I raced and had a personal best for the half Ironman distance. I also won the female race at a small 5km outright. All this was motivation for me to continue my ways. I became very narcissistic about my training, and if things didn’t go my way I would freak out if I couldn’t complete a workout I was planning or if I missed a workout. No matter how tired I was. I knew I had to get it done to stay fit and avoid gaining weight. Listening to my body did not exist during this time period. My health was beginning to deteriorate. My brain was constantly thinking about my next meal or workout. I sometimes found it hard to focus on anything else. It was all- consuming.
The other thing that happened is that some of my relationships deteriorated. I realize now that I was constantly under stress. Social outings were no longer fun. My relationship with my (young) daughter at the time was stressful. I see now that I blamed many of her behaviours on her when I see that they were due to MY stress and behaviours. I wish I could get that time back, I really do. My daughter eventually started to tell me I was too skinny. I laughed it off and told her “no I’m not I’m healthy”. My greatest fear is that my daughter would develop behaviours similar to mine. So far, she’s ok, she loves junk food and from what I know doesn’t concern herself with what she looks like and doesn’t compare herself to others. She is fully aware of what it means to have a healthy body and a healthy body image, but for now she is choosing to make nutrition choices as she sees fit and usually eats as her body dictates. I pray this continues …..with maybe a few more healthy foods thrown in!
My relationship with my husband became stressful as time went on, although he usually stayed silent. Eventually his concern overtook his silence and he made me go to my doctor with him. He approached me about my disorder in front of her and as most anorexics or others with eating disorders do, they deny it. I denied it. Our intimate life suffered. Obviously my hormone levels decreased to the point where I lost my period. I did not have my period for over 6 yrs. This is called the “Female Athlete Triad”. My bone density also decreased. I felt that as long as I didn’t have my period, I knew I was still thin enough. I also had a vein on my upper thigh that I could see and as long as I could see that, I was thin enough. These things ran through my head daily. I felt that this would make me most happy. I had lost 15 lbs. from before I had my surgery. I was living a lie to so many people around me —although I’m sure they knew. I didn’t see that until I was healthy again.
My turning point came in 2014. I was training to race the Sporting Life 10km as well as a Half Ironman in Syracuse with the hopes of qualifying for the age group 70.3 World Triathlon Championships. I had worn a new pair of shoes and ran a lot on the treadmill. My surgery failed over the 3 years and the ligament structure in my right foot started to collapse. So as my foot widened, it rubbed on my shoe. What started as a blister, then became an open wound. I would tape it up and go for a run.
After a flight to Florida a few weeks later, where I could barely get my shoe on for the flight, the pressure of the air cabin caused it to expand and swell even more. The day after I got to Florida, I taped it up and went for a run. When I got back and took off the bandages, I knew it wasn’t good. My entire skin area of my big toe was open. I called my doctor and she suggested I get it checked. I went to urgent care in Florida and my main concern was how much time I would have to take off running, not that I had done major damage to my foot. Long story to make it short, the doctor at the clinic in Florida severely underestimated the severity of my issue. She said a week off, my surgeon in Toronto said 7 weeks. No shoes as nothing could touch it. He said I was lucky I didn’t wear it down to the bone, but I had lost full thickness layers of skin and tissue.
I still did what I could to stay active, cutting holes in my bike shoes and gym shoes. In 7 weeks I got back to running. To this day, that area of my skin is still thinner than the rest but it is no longer an issue that I need to worry about.
Three months later, the night before the 10Km I felt off. I wasn’t hungry, I was tired, and I felt like something wasn’t right. My cortisol levels felt through the roof. I warmed up for the race the next day and everything felt okay. Fast forward 7km into the race and I felt a deep ache in my pelvis area. Part of me knew this wasn’t right but I was doing well and kept running. I wasn’t limping and I felt like it wasn’t changing much. The last km didn’t feel great, but it was only a Km and I knew I could finish it. When I crossed the line I was limping. I knew I had done something not good.
Somehow I managed to get home via subway and limp to my car. I was so upset. It was also Mother’s Day. I got home grabbed crutches and cried. My daughter had made me dinner that night and it was so hard to be happy. I recall eating what she had made me (pizza, salad and cake) but thinking in my head that it would make me gain weight because now I wouldn’t be training for a while.
The next day I went to the sports clinic where the doc suspected a pelvic stress fracture (inferior pubic ramus). I could see in his face that he thought I was way too skinny. It is a skinny runner’s injury. It’s called an insufficiency stress fracture. Meaning I didn’t have sufficient bone strength to handle the impact of my activity, plus being a downhill race the impact was greater than if it had been flat.
A week or so later an MRI revealed not just one but two stress fractures in my hip joint (acetabulum) as well as the pelvic one. I was devastated. Bone density scans showed a loss of bone health. I could not bear weight for 9 weeks. I went through a deep depression. My worst days were when I would use “Dr. Google”. No info was good. I would only focus on the bad outcomes.
I had a phone conversation with a great long time friend who is a Home Economist and cookbook author and I remember her telling me this was my wake up call to get healthy. To make sure I was eating to support my healing and to improve my health overall. I recall crying during our conversation realizing that I had a problem. She was stern but caring. Following this conversation, I knew I had to and wanted to start to take care of myself. I realized that the skinny version of me had horrible injuries, wasn’t happy and wasn’t the best version of who she could be. I also realized that this part of the role model I was for my daughter, was not what I wanted her to see or emulate.
This was my turning point: to start getting my eating habits back on track and listening to my body when it came to exercise. On the odd chance presently, that I feel unhappy with myself, I just need to remind myself of all of those points above, and I quickly smile at the person I see in the mirror with full acceptance and love. When I look back at photos of me from that time period, I see now how thin and unhealthy I truly was. It hurts to see those but also brings me deep pride to see how far I have come and how much happier I am today.
I took my stress fracture healing seriously and I was unable to do anything for almost 2 months. I felt embarrassed that I had this kind of injury. I didn’t want to be known as the “skinny runner” who had a stress fracture. As much as many runners get them, there is something violating and embarrassing about it. Especially when it is in the pelvis. I went through many tests, bone density, blood tests and endocrine counselling. I was tired of the label I was getting from many of the professionals.
I also saw a Sports Psychologist during this process and for many sessions I denied that I had any issues with my eating. I blamed everyone else for my unhappiness. It was a very painful time in my life. I felt alone in a bubble even though I was surrounded by family, clients and friends.
Following my recovery from my hip stress fractures, I thought short distance running would be better and so I hired a coach to keep me honest. He was great. I was healthy for the first time in a year and a half. I was slower but I was ok with that and I was very honest with him about not pushing too hard as the fear I had of another stress fracture was very real. I relaxed my eating regimens. I still ate and do eat healthy, but made room for treats and meals out without stressing. My first race back was a 5km in March 2014 at Around the Bay. I was so scared. I ran steady and when I ran through the finish I cried. I cried all the way back to my car. I felt healed. I realized everything I had gone through to get to that point.
Fast forward to Fall of 2015 and I had done a bunch of 5km’s consecutively. I felt a little pain in my foot. One run after a race where I got to be in the Canadian Championships as a Master Age group athlete and I had pain the whole run. It didn’t feel right. I went to see three medical people who all said, it’s not a stress fracture. I rested for 3 weeks, even though one had told me rest six weeks. If it wasn’t a stress fracture why shouldn’t I run? I still had some pain to hop but out I went determined to run 4km. I remember now the pain after about 5 minutes was pretty bad. But I was determined to finish it. I got back and said to my husband and daughter: “I have a stress fracture”.
Sure enough, a bone scan later that day and it was confirmed. My GP felt this was more of a biomechanical issue, vs. a low weight issue because I had gained the weight back and worked so hard to heal my body from my eating disorder. I was devastated that all that work I had put in was for nothing. It didn’t protect me from another one.
In the end, it was determined that my foot mechanics just could not handle that intensity. I remember telling my daughter the day I went for the tests, “if this is a stress fracture I’m done racing”. She was disappointed that I wouldn’t race again because she thought she knew it made me happy, but I told her I needed to just be active and not feel the pressure of races and results. I felt not having a schedule to stick to or a goal to accomplish would help me to ultimately heal. And it did.
Eight weeks later and I was back to regular activity again. This time with a new perspective. I was done with injuries so severe I couldn’t do what I loved to do. I was done with the stress of feeling the need to get in a workout. I never thought I would be able to just workout for “fitness”. I could never understand people who just did stuff to be healthy vs. achieving a goal. Now I get it!!!!! I listen to my body, I take a day off when I need one. I fuel to make sure I am getting all I need plus extras for fun. I don’t ever weigh myself and I don’t count calories or macros. I eat intuitively. What I want, when I want. What a difference this had made to my life.
I’ve learned a lot through this process. I used to look at very thin women and feel a kinship, and of course compared myself to them. “Do I look as thin as they do?”. Now I look at them and I feel sorry for them. I wish they could see through their disease and what it can do to their health and relationships and most of all their happiness. I want to go up to them and tell them that they have a way out of it.
Of course everyone who is afflicted with the disease has their own reasons behind it and perhaps this is not as easy for those whose lives are complicated. Mine was purely a need for control, and receiving positive feedback from my racing and some comments from others who thought I looked “fit”. So this is easier to heal from than someone who is dealing with trauma, loss etc.
I am happy that I don’t have a flat stomach. I feel healthy, I know my systems are all in working order and I know that having extra weight on me feels good. My menstrual cycle returned in February 2016 and I am probably the happiest person every month when it reaffirms I have done a good job at getting healthy again.
I was always a healthy eater with a sweet tooth, even before I went down the disordered path. The difference during my disorder was that I avoided a lot of food groups and did not allow myself enough treats or break my routine, especially on social outings. I have my favourite foods and things that make me feel healthiest and energetic, but I also make sure to leave lots of room for anything I want (like almost daily chocolate and other sweet things….one never loses their sweet tooth entirely). The difference now is that I don’t have the guilt that goes along with indulging. For me and anyone with an eating disorder that is the key to healing the negative thought processes and truly enjoying life.
I have always been a sort of “energizer bunny”. I wake up every day and crave movement and fresh air. For me, exercise is like brushing my teeth. However what is different now, is I am less of a cardio junkie. I value the importance of strength training for my body as I enter the menopausal years for bone strength and preserving muscle tissue. I will walk during my runs, especially if /when my form starts to deteriorate or I feel tired. I NEVER used to do that. Fitness for me now is all about having fun, doing what my body feels like doing and cutting back on a lot of the intensity and cardio I used to do.
I hope by writing this blog post that I can help someone else who is dealing with eating disorders. It takes time, it takes work and it takes many people to support you through it. I want to thank my family, my psychologist and my closest friends. For always supporting me, for lending an ear and for telling me often how proud they are of me and how healthy I look and happy I seem. They are right I am !
I am happy, I am healthy, and I am ready to live the rest of my life remembering what is most important. And it has nothing to do with a number on a scale, a calorie in a food or how much exercise I am doing. I want to make sure I live the rest of my life focusing on all the good things about me, my family, my career I have built and my social connections.
I don’t want to be consumed by the negative body image thoughts that so many women are confronted with and feel that a number on a scale can make them a happier person. Because trust me, I’ve been there and it does just the opposite. Throw away the scale, we are more than a number staring back at us.