When I was around 6, my best friend and I would get ready for skating together, changing in the same big stall in the bathroom of the rink. We’d sit together on the bench where we tied our skates and played together on the ice. She moved away but ever since then, I would only use the big stall. I remember at around 8, I would be changing by myself in that big stall at the skating rink and notice how ugly and squishy my body was. I would wrap my small hands around my belly and pinch like I could rip it off. At around age 10 I had grown a significant amount everywhere, before everyone else. Every time I saw someone, I was greeted with the comment “Did you grow again?!” more often than I was greeted with a “Hello” or a “How are you?”. I would stand in that stall and yank up my pants that had become too small, and I would tell myself it was my fault for being “too big”. A couple years later I snuck tampons into that stall, embarrassed that I had my period when my friends were wearing pigtails and getting piggy back rides. I always had to give the piggy back rides with the other big girls, but I was actually younger than the girl riding on my back and giggling. I’d go to competitions and camps, and I would tower over every girl there. My ice dance partner (my older brother who was shorter than me) and I could never get the lifts. I was never chosen to demonstrate a lift or partner up with a guy. At the hotel we’d go to the pool to play chicken and all the girls went on top and the boys went on the bottom. All the girls got to play with the exception of me. I was either ignored or put at the bottom with the boys. At 15, I sat in the big stall, unlaced my skates, slipped my skate off my foot and slid my blade across my wrist. I hated the body I was stuck inside of.
At a skating camp, all of us were weighed. I knew no one was at the same weight as me or even close. I wore DD bras and size 4 or 6 jeans, and the girl behind me had never gone into the women’s section at a store. I had curves and thighs and broad shoulders, but I was supposed to be straight, small and petite. I looked like a freak, and I was well aware of it. After this, I decided to eat healthier. I began to have chicken instead of beef as my burger, only one brownie after dinner instead of the whole box, and I just started to be more aware of my diet. I felt healthier and more confident. It was an incredible feeling and I noticed improvement in my skating and conditioning. At school, the upper class boys hit on me and boys in my grade “called dibs” on parts of my body. This made my friends mad and they wondered why I let them say these things. I shrugged and said “whatever” but inside I was full of a positive feeling that I’d never felt before, people were saying good things about my body. A few months later, I sat in the locker room at a competition and a girl asked me, “What size is your jacket?”. “Small” I said. “Wow, the smalls must be really big” she told me. I had lost about 10 pounds by then and she confirmed my thought that it wasn’t enough, I had to keep going. I had to look like I was expected to, I just had to. I couldn’t be that freak anymore at the camps or in the locker rooms.
Soon after this, I started following fitspo and health boards on pinterest. Here, I learned what calories were and what I needed to do to get the perfect body. Some of the things were insane and seemed hard, but nothing was harder than being the big tall freak your whole life. Nothing was harder than not being accepted. I started learning about measuring my foods, portion sizes and what foods were “good” and what foods were “bad”. I was pleased to find that I liked the foods considered healthy. I was raised in an extremely healthy house. For dinner, my mom cooked fresh produce with rice or potatoes and fresh vegetables, and we always had salads on the side. But the word calories was never used in my home. My mom knew that health is having a balanced diet and ensuring that you get every nutrient possible. But pinterest told me otherwise. I learned about calories and how I needed to eat less than I burned to be able to get to my goals. I was fifteen and had no idea what a calorie was until this. I never knew you could burn them or eat them or drink them. But I just knew the goal was to burn as much as possible and take in as little as possible. I began to do workouts that I chose because I was promised they would “torch calories!”. I marched my butt to the basement before the sun rose and did one-hundred burpees. I ate light and fit yogurts only and supplemented rice cakes for bread. I was miserable. But even this felt better than the looks I got at competitions and the comments people made about my body.
Four or five months later, we competed in our third U.S. Championships. I remember getting there late at night and going to get groceries for the apartment we rented. I screamed at my dad who tried to buy me regular english muffins instead of the whole grain 100 calorie ones. I stood in the grocery store and sobbed over a breakfast food. My dad and brother thought I was insane, but my mom knew I was disordered. This was around the time my family and I found out I had Anorexia Nervosa. My family had never owned a scale because we never believed in them, but this apartment had a scale. My mom had me step on it because she needed to see how bad this was. When she saw the number she began to shake and cry. I wanted to as well, but not because I was worried for me. I had lost another 10 pounds. Now, if you looked at me at this time, you’d see a healthy girl. I was about 120 lbs, so average weight for my height and I didn’t physically fit the world’s definition of “Anorexic”, but I was internally suffering everyday.
After I returned home, my mom purchased a scale to check on me. But I only got worse. I made sure I ate below x amount of calories (I won’t say the number because there are too many restrictive intakes being broadcasted on the media and I refuse to take part in that) every single day and never took a day off from exercising. My performance on the ice was deteriorating, and my coaches began to notice. Other people began to notice as well. I often received the comment, “Claire, you look great! You’ve really lost weight” or “What are you doing to look like that?!”. I actually remember weighing in at my lowest at a skating camp and about an hour after I was weighed, a U.S Figure Skating judge said to me, “Claire, you’ve lost weight. Congratulations!” Little did these people know that if I were to take off my clothes, they would see protruding ribs and hip bones. They did not know that I could think about nothing except food or exercise. They couldn’t see the constant headaches I had and how, every time I stood up, my vision went black. All they saw was skinny; and society teaches us that skinny is the goal, no matter how it’s achieved.
The worst time in my eating disorder was the trip to Spain that I took with my spanish class from school. Some of my friends were aware of my issue before, but everyone on the trip soon became aware as well. We would go out to eat and one of the guys sitting across from me would say “Claire, you should eat that”, pointing at the food I had thought I ate too much of already. I ignored him and began talking to my friend sitting next to me, but that didn’t stop me from overhearing what they were saying. One of the other guys said to him, “Dude, leave her alone” and the one who had confronted me said, “But she hasn’t eaten anything”. My ED was gratified because I was following its rules and people noticed. My heart was breaking because someone who I wasn’t even that close with cared enough to be worried, but I was too far into my disorder and I knew I couldn’t change for them. There was one day on this trip that I ate a few pieces of fruit, one slice of turkey and a few vegetables as my daily intake. This is unimaginable to me now. We walked easily over ten miles every day on this trip, and I was eating close to nothing. Towards the end of this trip, I got off a bus and as soon as my feet hit the stone sidewalk, I passed out. It was quick, but my knee was bloody and my head was shaken up. I told everyone I tripped over my shoelace, but I knew what actually happened. I was so scared and so sick at this point. I couldn’t escape my head or this illness, and I wanted to go home to be safe so badly. I constantly cried in bed; and on the way home, I was devastated to learn all the flights were cancelled and I couldn’t go home for another day. I was so terrified, emaciated, and tired. All I wanted to do was be in my bed with my blankets and never have to get up or live another day with my head.
When I got home, we found out I had lost another ten pounds that week. My mom called every psychologist she could find. Often times, they wouldn’t take me because I was too young or they were overbooked or they did not specialize in eating disorders. Eventually, my mom got an appointment for the next month. Until then, no one could help me despite their efforts. I was losing weight and my life. People see the physical destruction of eating disorders but the amount of mental damage they do is incredibly difficult to imagine. Living with an eating disorder is like having a murderer disguised as your best friend sharing a brain with you. It’s like another person is inside of you. My therapist called him ED. An eating disorder convinces you that it is only helping you. It’s on your side. The longer I struggled, the more ingrained into my brain my ED became and I could not realize it was hurting me. Your disorder tells you if you skip lunch, you’ll be happy. If you run that extra mile, you’ll be nicer to yourself. But with an eating disorder, you will never be nice to yourself. Nothing will be good enough, and you will never ever feel good in your body. Your eating disorder is a liar.
Eating disorders can make you believe crazy things. Once my eating disorder told me that I was so fat, disgusting, and lazy that my boyfriend at the time deserved better. This thought came and stayed for such a long time that I began to believe it and eventually I was convinced it was true, so I broke up with him. I ended a relationship with someone who meant the world to me because of a lie my eating disorder told me. I lost friends because I couldn’t go out with them because I was convinced they would have more fun without me. I wouldn’t go out to eat when I was invited because I was scared. When my family had conversations at the dinner table I couldn’t contribute because my mind was drowning in numbers and calculations of the calories in the food on my plate. I was drowning in this disorder and I was losing everything.So after therapists and nutritionists, I started to improve. I started to realize how my skating career would be over if I continued to spiral deeper into this disorder. I realized if I kept going like this I may never be a mother. I realized how many relationships I was ruining and how isolated I had become. I realized I needed to choose recovery and that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed help. I needed to let people who were trying to help me in. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my mom. She pushed me even when my eating disorder got so angry it lead me to scream and cry at my mom. She told me what I needed to hear and hugged me even when I was awful towards her, because she knew I wasn’t the one saying the things I was saying. She knew her crazy, loud, funny daughter was still in there somewhere.
Around this time I also created my instagram @health.4.happiness (which then was @healthisnotasize). Here, I found tons of girls who had chosen recovery and I cannot express the amount of inspiration and happiness I immediately felt. @braesofsunshine, @amalielee, @balancingkatie were the first recovery accounts I stumbled upon. I was amazed to see that recovery did not mean you turn into a blob who never eats a vegetable and only eats chips all the time. I saw that it meant freedom and acceptance. It meant having chips and vegetables when you want. The impact others had on me was incredible, and I suddenly felt so motivated to reach that point myself. I wanted to one day be able to do for others what they did for me. So I worked my butt off in recovery. Of course, I relapsed millions of times and doubted myself and questioned why I was doing it. But I always could get my mind straight and use my logical brain to see that a recovered life is one that I want. I wanted to be able to go days, weeks and months without seeing foods as numbers. I wanted to eat even when I thought my thighs looked big. I wanted to suggest that we get ice cream as a family. I wanted to be a strong, hard-working, focused athlete again.
Through the instagram community, I met so many amazing people (Imi, Serena, Coco, Sarah D., Katie, Emma and so many others) who made me want to keep fighting and find my strength. I get so many messages from girls telling me how I inspire them and make them want to recover. This is honestly the best feeling I could ever imagine. Once I moved to Michigan, I really realized who I am and where I want to be. I’m in a community of incredible athletes and I am inspired everyday to be the strongest version of myself possible, as well as work as hard in ice dance as possible. I no longer look at food and see numbers. Instead, I see nutrients and fuel and deliciousness. I see conditioning as a way to improve my strength and stamina and get out some stress I have from living without parents. I see ballet as a way to refine my posture and my grace (as well as burn my calves to death!!!). My time on the ice is no longer full of me feeling like I’m not good enough or I don’t belong. On the ice, I feel extreme passion and the desire for improvement. I can wear something that looks weird and realize it’s not me, it’s the clothes. I can look in the mirror and love my body, but I can also look in the mirror and accept my flaws. Maybe I’ll never be 100% normal again, but I am happy. I don’t always love everything about myself, but I no longer feel the need to punish myself for things I don’t love about me. Instead, I can accept them and know they are part of what makes me who I am. Recovery has made me more than okay with who I am, despite those around me.
Thank you to anyone and everyone who has helped me through this journey.
I share this not for attention or pity, but to spread awareness and hopefully be able to help some of you who are struggling or know someone struggling. This is a portion of text I found on the NEDA website (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org):
“In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011). (EDNOS is now recognized as OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorder, per the DSM-5.) For various reasons, many cases are likely not to be reported. In addition, many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating attitudes and behaviors, and the best-known contributor to the development of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is body dissatisfaction (Stice, 2002). By age 6, girls especially, start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life (Smolak, 2011).”
Eating Disorders are incredibly dangerous. They should never be joked about or ignored. If you struggle or know someone struggling, please get help. Recovery is the right choice, and I can not express in words how lucky I am to be where I am now.