As a teenage girl, everything can seem like a challenge. Your body is changing and you’re trying to figure out where you fit in with friends, plus school and sometimes college seem to be constantly looming. Now add in the fact that many girls out there are also struggling with an eating disorder and the troubles of teenage years rise exponentially.
In fact, February is Eating Disorder Awareness Month and the stats show that one person dies every 62 minutes from an eating disorder. We wanted to highlight a young woman—18-year-old Kate from Dallas—who beat the odds and recovered. We also talked to her about what parents, family and friends should know when it comes to eating disorders.
At what age did you start feeling like you had an issue with your weight and/or body image? Kate: Around age 13, I started to be self-conscious about my body and weight, and I compared myself to others more often.
How long did it take from feeling as if you had a body image issue to exhibiting behaviors and symptoms of anorexia? From the moment I started to be self-conscious, I tried to ignore the anxious thoughts I was having—until age 14 when I started trying to lose weight. I started with what I thought were “healthy” habits like counting calories and exercising, but around age 15, the obsessive behaviors started.
Did you feel at first like you had it under control? I started my weight loss by following the health and fitness recommendations from my doctor and online, so I thought I was doing what was best for my body and I felt like I had things under control. Even when the obsessive behaviors started to take over, I tried to convince myself I was still in control and that I could stop whenever I wanted. I believed that I was in control until the few months leading up to my admission to the Eating Recovery Center (ERC) in Dallas when I was 16.
Can you tell me what your typical day looked like during the four years you battled anorexia? The issues crept in slowly day-by-day, so there was no typical day. I could have just been engaging in my regular activities and have a few behaviors here and there. Other days, behaviors would have taken over the better part of my day.
During my worst times, all I could think about were my disordered behaviors. I woke up thinking about food and exercise and I went to bed feeling the same way. Even if I were participating in school or other activities, my mind was constantly elsewhere.
Even if I wasn’t giving in to my temptations and seemed OK on the outside, I couldn’t stop thinking about my next meal or the next time I could exercise. I was also constantly body checking and looking in the mirror, which would only make me more self-conscious and anxious.
How did your friends and family respond during this time? While I was struggling, my family was supportive of my weight loss at first because they thought I was engaging in “healthy” habits. Once they recognized there was a deeper issue, my mom especially, began to show a lot of concern.
My friends, however, were consistently supportive of my behaviors regardless of my health, because we were all constantly influenced by societal and peer pressure to look a certain way. Their compliments and support were one of the primary reasons I didn’t think I had a problem.
What was the “light bulb” that made you realize you needed help? Did you have a rock bottom moment? The months before I went to ERC, I constantly felt mentally and physically exhausted. I have always loved theater and performing since [I was] 4, but at rehearsals, I was physically incapable of dancing and singing like I used to. That was when I started to realize that what was happening wasn’t OK, and that I needed help.
I no longer felt at all like myself. Also, during this time, I experienced two minor heart attacks. I didn’t know how dangerous of a place I was in, but that feeling of helplessness is something I’ll never forget.
What did your treatment look like at ERC? I didn’t know what to expect when I was first admitted. I was very anxious, but all of the staff was very kind and supportive and helped me adjust quickly.
I attended daily group therapy sessions, as well as frequent sessions with my therapist and psychologist. [It] allowed me to put the rest of the world on pause and really focus on my recovery and what I needed.
At first, I worried that I would struggle to get to know the other kids in treatment or that I would just be anxious and frustrated, but I actually enjoyed myself. Of course, I had hard days, but there were so many people around me ready and willing to help.
What would you say to other kids your age who are struggling with a similar issue? I would tell them that no matter what’s going on, they deserve recovery. When I was struggling, I constantly tried to convince myself that it wasn’t “bad enough,” that I deserved to feel the way I was feeling, and that I didn’t need recovery. Since I left ERC in 2017, I’ve been able to realize that I’m truly myself and so much happier now that I know how to really do what’s best for my mind and body.
Need more information on eating disorders? Check out our article What Parents Should Know About Eating Disorders.