Sophie’s Story (An amazing testimonial!) What is your story?
I never imagined that at 19 years old, I would be able to say that I was a rehab drop-out who literally almost withered away.
But, before I get into all of that I want to tell you a bit about what got me to that point.
1. Ok, so I won’t bore you with all the details but fifth grade marks the first time someone ever commented on my size. As a fifth grader, I didn’t think much of it but fast forward one year to middle school and the comments become more frequent and harsher than just “Hey, you kind of have a belly”. This time, the comments stemmed from rumors about me being pregnant (yes, in the sixth grade) and of course, people looked straight at my stomach when they saw me. So, obviously that hurt me a little but I kept pushing on. I began to exercise and run for conditioning because I made the middle school cheer squad. In addition to a small, yet very exciting, growth spurt, I shed some of my “baby fat”. At the same time, my family was transitioning into eating healthy foods. We bought the “Eat This, Not That” books and made simple exchanges in our diet. Now, I am a very visual learner and so these books were plain fun to me. With clear examples and fun pictures, I began to really enjoy eating healthier and even grew a passion for it. I began making these healthy switches at school with my lunches too.
2. Fast forward to the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. That summer changed my life in ways I never thought could happen. My dream of becoming a collegiate cheerleader shattered along with my L5 vertebrae. For four long months, I lived in a plaster back brace. Now, this back brace did not allow much room for stomach expansion (imagine a permanent waist trainer) after a good meal, and so I ate less, a lot less, because I could not physically expand. Once out of the brace, I had lost a total of 15 pounds of muscle and “fat”. I didn’t mean to do this by any means but the initial weight loss in addition to feeling out of control of my future and my body led me to have some ED thoughts.
3. At the same time, I began experiencing symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). I began to cut out foods that I noticed made me feel bloated or that gave me problems in the bathroom. Remember, I was having ED thoughts at the time though so I think I probably eliminated some foods because of that. Anyways, this cutting of so-called “bad foods” and consuming whole foods was amplified even more when one of my dear friends found out she had Crohn’s. I thought that maybe I had that too since my stomach still wasn’t 100% happy. So, I adapted a diet similar to one that patient with Crohn’s. After I got bored of that, I dabbled in Paleo, and that is basically how I went about living the rest of high school, dabbling in and out of different diets but always eating fruits and veggies. Also, I was trying new types of workouts from Pure Barre to Pilates to Zumba and living a seemingly healthy and active lifestyle. I was actually really happy and satisfied at this point because even though I was switching to different fad diets, I was still allowing myself treats and living a somewhat balanced lifestyle.
- Then came summer between high school and college… Graduation is supposed to be a super exciting moment right? It was in some ways but it also meant that I was going to have to break up with my then boyfriend, as he was a year behind me. I wanted to go to college and date him, but due to a few circumstances, that just couldn’t happen. Also, during my senior year I had become friends with more people and deepened my existing friendships. I also had really amazing teachers and an overall love for my high school. In many ways, I felt as if this transition to college was being forced on me and I had zero controlover when it happened. So, I began to control the part of my life that I could: my diet. Essentially I began to eat carrots, sunflower butter, apples, and dark chocolate chips all of the time. I would go through a family sized bag of carrots in two sittings (this bag had 14 servings) and ¼ of sunflower butter without even noticing. I could then proceed to eat 2 apples. Basically, i was emotionally eating. That continued into college and I was surrounded by this stigma of the “freshman 15”. I wanted to make sure I didn’t gain that so I began to what I ate but still would emotionally eat fruits and veggies (at this point I felt zero control and was dealing with slight depression). Then, the stress of all of this just took a toll on me. Living in a dorm and eating campus food is hard, but add on dietary limitations from IBS, and stress and it just got to a point where I was either running to the bathroom or not using it for days on end. Again, I was miserable because I couldn’t control when I had to run to the bathroom. So, I began eliminating even more foods than I had in high school. It wasn’t just processed food, but rather food groups such as dairy and whole wheat and oils. Combine this with having limited food choices because of living in a dorm; my diet eventually dwindled down to me eating fruits and veggies along with the occasional protein bar as a treat.
- Fast forward to the second semester, I decided that I would try IIFYM. I also had been watching YouTube videos and looking at Pinterest, and from all of my “research” (this was not research, just me taking info from the first places I could get it and deciding that everything they said was true and healthy because it worked for them) I gathered that if I wanted to see results from weight lifting, I needed to cut carbs and fats and up protein. So that is exactly what I did. I cut carbs to the point that I was only getting them from the two pieces of fruit I allowed myself, veggies, and my quest bars. I did not consume any fat besides the quest bar. But, in my mind, I finally had control and after adding strength training to my 1-hr cardio session, I finally started seeing results! This was working for me! So, obviously I continued and got to a point where I was eating on average 155 grams of protein a day. Most of the weight fell off in mid-April and to the end of June.
- In mid-May, I actually went and studied abroad in the beautiful Alicante, Spain and stayed here until the end of June. Before I left, I had talked with my GI doctor about wanting (and needing) to gain some weight…but, quite the opposite happened.
When people ask me if I could use a time machine and go back to change things, I usually answer with a polite “no”. But, if I could go back to Spain and do things differently I would. Because I was under the control of my eating disorder, I missed out on a lot of cultural experiences. In Spain, culture is felt during mealtime and through food and conversation. Obviously, mealtime for me meant making any excuse to not eat the olive oil and to skip out on eating the tortilla Española. It meant refusing even a bite of the authentic gelato and chocolates. While in Spain I walked a lot, but not for the purpose of exercising. I had to go to school, come home for lunch, then go the beach, do an afternoon excursion, go shopping, etc. Rather than using a car, everyone walked and enjoyed the city. So, all that walking, in combination with eating only fruits, veggies, and fish, contributed to pushing me to my lowest weight. This weight was the lowest I have ever weighed since probably 4th or 5th grade. I couldn’t see it though. You see, when you restrict food and starve your body of essential nutrients and vitamins, your brain does not synapse the same way and you legitimately ruin the connection your brain makes with perception. You can no longer see the actual size or distance of things (it actually impairs driving skills y’all, it serious stuff). I thought I looked good. No, I didn’t think I was fat. No, I didn’t think I was skinny. I thought I was fit.
Fit shouldn’t mean being cold all the time. Fit shouldn’t mean cutting your legs every time you shave because your bones stick out so much. Fit shouldn’t mean having dry skin because of a lack of nutrients in your body. Fit should not mean having to go to bed at 9 pm because your body is completely depleted of energy. Overall, I probably lost the last 20 pounds of my drastic weight loss those 5 weeks in Spain.
- Fast forward to me getting off the plane. Imagine having your own father not even recognize you because you have withered away. My joy for life was gone. I was a shell of the Sophie I used to be. From the day I got back, I lived in a literal hell on earth. My dad was so upset and anxious and my condition caused so much tension in the house. My parents immediately set up appointments to get help for me. I was first referred to an eating disorder clinic that was not a good fit for me. A lot of these places only have one method of treatment that involves group sessions and mandatory eating of complete meals, etc. They are geared towards people suffering from anorexia and not orthorexia.
- I would wake up, go to rehab kicking and screaming, shut down in group because it just did not apply or help me, ignore the dietitian and doctor, come home, cry, Yell at my parents, and repeat the cycle the next day. The days passed, I was more miserable than ever before, my parents were miserable. My family was in the midst of intense spiritual warfare. At this time, my parents were visiting a counselor and praise the Lord for him because he was the only professional that told my parents to let me try recovery my way. If the rehab center was making things worse, let me try it with the understanding that you had to meet a certain weight to return to college and I had to be cleared by a doctor. So, I officially dropped out of rehab, turned down a second rehab facility we had been looking at, and started my recovery for real. We enlisted the help of my wonderful psychotherapist, Courtney, and my dietician, Reba Sloan, as well as a general doctor to monitor my blood pressure and weight.
I can tell you that recovery was hard, but honestly that word can’t even begin to describe it. Reba put me on a very intense weight gain plan and I finally realized that it wasn’t just a fear of fat and carbs that I needed to work on, I actually needed to work on control as well as managing OCD and anxiety. After a month of intense work, I was able to gain much needed weight and was able to return back to college for my sophomore year. Once back at UT I continued to see a dietician and skype with my therapist until this past December.
- It honestly is an everyday thing and I am really learning about how to take each day and take the ups and downs and know that things happen, it’s ok. Life is messy; it isn’t supposed to be perfect. After living through a literal hell and still dealing with physiological repercussions, I can tell you that last year did not go as planned. But, I can’t change what happened and so now I am CHOOSING to look at what happened, accept it, acknowledge it, but not dwell on it. I want to take all of that and turn it into good, into positive. I want to help other people because I would never ever wish this upon even my worst enemy. Orthorexia is a real thing. It CAN kill you when it gets taken to extremes. Clean eating and exercise ruled my life but now, I choose balance.
- Something I never understood the importance of before recovery was this concept of self-love. I thought it sounded “hippie” and honestly just plain weird. But what drives this hateful relationship with our bodies? I mean who in this day in age takes at least 10 minutes to slow down and really just acknowledge the body that you have, to love it, to appreciate it? When I first started my recovery journey, I can distinctly remember standing in front of the mirror analyzing every part of my body, choosing to hate it and pick out everything that I saw “wrong”. After, when I tried to convince my parents and dietician that Pure Barre was fine for my broken body to do (yeah, bad idea), I would go and try and sculpt those parts I didn’t like. I was no longer that artist or “potter” for my body at this point, my disease was. I couldn’t view my body as a piece of art, as something precious and worthy. At this time I was still going to a treatment center and remember that in one of the therapy sessions, we did yoga. We took one hour and connected with our body, loved our bodies, and controlled our bodies in a way that did not involve restricting food, purging, over-exercise, you name it. This, although I hate to admit it, was the birth of a project called “Sophie 2.0”. This project is dedicated to rebuilding myself after this struggle with orthorexia and heavily focuses on two things: self-love and gratitude. After my first experience with yoga, I decided I wanted to try it at an actual yoga studio. I was allowed to do flow yoga and restorative yoga and each time I went, I left feeling happy (which is saying a lot because I was in a very dark place during all of this).
- When I started my recovery journey, my relationship with God was on the rocks. So, as a part of Sophie 2.0 , I decided it was time for me to fix that relationship because there was no way I would be able to move past the obstacles I knew I was going to have to face without faith and God. Through yoga, prayer, and verses such as Proverbs 31:25 which states “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come”, I begin to rebuild that relationship. Now, how does gratitude tie in? At about this same time, my therapist told me to start keeping a gratitude journal to help stabilize my moods. At this point, my hormones were swinging back into gear and causing me to experience really high moments and really terrible low moments. To center my moods, I began to start writing down one thing I was grateful for that day. Then, as I went through my day I would really focus my thoughts on that one thing. When I made a bad grade, instead of internalizing it and beating myself up, I showed myself love, I stopped being harsh, and I realized just how awesome it was to have (“insert what you are grateful”). So, my bad day went from being absolutely terrible to being a little bit more manageable.
- What causes someone to get an eating disorder? It comes down to a few different roots, the main one being control. From this stems control to get a smaller body, control of our bodies to try and attract attention from the opposite sex, control of our bodies because we can’t cope with the fact that we are not doing as well as we want in school, etc. First of all, why do we think we must be small? The world seems to promote this idea that in order to be feminine, we must be petite. We must look feminine and for some reason, this idea is directly correlated with looking dainty and waif-like. If you are tall, you must be skinny in order to feel beautiful. If you are short, you must do anything in your power to try and look smaller… But for what? The approval of boys? Of society? It slowly takes over and becomes how you approve of yourself. I want to say one thing. Girls, you are truly beautiful. If you are six feet tall, you are beautiful, of you are four feet tall, you are just as beautiful. What makes us beautiful is not how dainty we are. What makes people beautiful is the way they shine. The ways their soul shines through in every aspect of life. The way people take controversy and hardships and handle them. You know what else is beautiful? How someone is able to love their body enough and seeing how their body can, in response, carry them throughout their day. So yes, beauty does come from one’s body, BUT NOT IN THE WAY WE TRADITIONALLY THINK. A beautiful body is one that can make it throughout the day with energy and vigor, one that can dance, jump, run, be a student, walk to class, be a mom, chase after kids. One fueled by food, but also positive attitude.
Secondly, in regards to controlling the way our bodies’ look based on the acceptance of the opposite sex, if a boy or girl does not accept you because they don’t like the way you look, then y’all, THEY ARE NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. You see, I have always used my body as my crutch, as my excuse. If a boy liked me, it was because of my body. If a boy did not reciprocate those feelings, it was because of my body. In a healthy relationship, do you blame your friend if things don’t always go as planned? Do you use them as a scapegoat? No! That would be just plain cruel. Same thing goes for your body. Your body is not the reason people like or do not like you. With that being said, if someone chooses not to like you 1). They are missing out on a great opportunity to get to be with an amazing person 2) remind yourself that it is not because of your body.
In addition, if you control your body due to a lack of control in other areas of your life such as school, you are actually LOSING control. What? How does that make sense? Let’s say you want a cookie. You had a bad day at school though and you want to feel control so you tell yourself no, no because that cookie is bad. The cookie will make you gain weight OR if you eat one cookie you will eat another. You just gave food POWER over you. Tell me that is not a loss of control.
You see, when I was in recovery, my amazing therapist likened my orthorexia to an abusive relationship. This metaphor can go with anything that holds captive over you. You see, because I no longer had a healthy relationship with my body, I had entered into an abusive relationship with myself. I was held captive. In an abusive relationship, the abuser can sweet-talk you into doing something and then shame you for doing the said thing. The abuser speaks sweet nothings that are really just lies disguised. When we have an unhealthy relationship with our body, the same thing happens. We lose touch with our core being and start to listen to words formed by society, formed by external locusts of control. They become our words to ourselves, but they are truly the words of an abuser. If you have a healthy relationship with your body, it is much easier to discern truth from these lies.
- In summary, with all of that being said, pursue a healthy relationship with yourself. I am still working on it and I believe with all that is in me that loving yourself is something I will have to work on consciously my whole life. But y’all, it is possible. That feeling when you find happiness elsewhere besides your body is amazing. When you can look in the mirror and happiness comes from the shine in your eyes or you notice how you are radiant because of being happy, it’s a freeing moment. You start to focus on other things. Life becomes less exhausting. Like other healthy relationships, you start wanting to spend time with yourself. Exercise becomes less of a chore and something you do as a form of self-love. Eating becomes part of a daily routine and you can eat whatever you crave. You can face hardship and your body won’t suffer because of it. I have tasted that before and even though I struggle, I know THAT is the kind of healthy relationship I want. THAT is what I want you all to have.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Don’t you know that your body is a temple that belongs to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit, whom you received from God, lives in you. You don’t belong to yourselves. You were bought for a price. So bring glory to God in the way you use your body.
—Sophie, Rawxies Ambassador @thestrengthenedsophie