Allie s Story

South Bend, IN USA

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"Food is a complicated thing. It’s not just a substance that goes into your body and disappears shortly thereafter. It has capabilities—it can nourish and heal, but it can also hurt. It is closely tied to emotion—it can be used to express love, comfort, and celebration, but also sadness, guilt, loneliness, and anger.

 

During my childhood and well into my teenage years, I was always the carefree girl who could out-eat anyone in pancakes, pizza, pasta, you name it. Food was always synonymous with celebration—baby pictures depict little curly-haired me chowing down on barbecue ribs, birthdays meant my requested meal of homemade gnocchi and Dairy Queen ice-cream cake, and Sundays were spent eating countless chocolate chip pancakes and bacon. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. I was happy. I was free of guilt or anxiety around food, at peace with my mind, and fully accepting of my body.

 

Something changed during my senior year of high school. While I silently struggled with stressors like perfectionism, academic pressure, high expectations, emotional sensitivity, and insecurity for as long as I can remember, I reached a breaking point. All of this stress, on top of senior year—a year full of unknowns and what-ifs—was just too much for me to handle.

 

I didn’t know how to control all of these uncomfortable emotions and feelings, so I turned to something I could control: food. What started with a desire to eat 'healthily' spiraled into an obsession with eating tiny amounts of food and compulsively over-exercising. It was a slippery slope—once I started down the path, I couldn’t turn back.

 

My physical and mental health worsened over the course of the summer, and just mere weeks before I was set to start my freshman year of college, I found myself in an eating disorder treatment facility. Here, I spent full days talking through the emotional and psychological components of eating, learning about healthy coping mechanisms, and sharing personal experiences with the other patients. I was on exercise restriction, which means I couldn't do anything remotely sweat-inducing (not even a long walk) and was following a strict meal plan made by the dietitian.

 

I arrived at the facility in the early morning and returned home in late evening completely and mentally drained. In all honesty, it felt like an out-of-body experience. My mind and body were completely disconnected from one another. Although the full recommended course of treatment lasted longer than the month I was there, I decided to leave prematurely in order to start my freshman year.

 

Long story short, it was a year of many ups-and-downs, a lot of which had to do with my recovery. I had to balance everything college has to offer, all while simultaneously recovering from a mental illness. I ultimately ended up transferring universities in order to attend my dream school and my parents’ alma mater, University of Notre Dame, where I am about to begin my senior year.

 

As I reflect upon the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual progress I’ve made since leaving treatment in August of 2014, I’m so incredibly proud of how far I have come. While my eating disorder has caused the darkest moments of my life, it has also allowed me to more fully appreciate the brightest moments. So many important people have come into my life as a result of my mental illness, and my relationships with friends and family have deepened infinitely.

 

One of the most meaningful and emotional moments happened recently, at my sister’s senior year awards ceremony. Each student’s name and awards were announced, along with the student’s role model. Out of everyone she could have chosen, my sister chose me.

 

Although my eating disorder struggles have been so incredibly difficult and, at times, have seemed unbearable, I’ve never once asked 'Why me?' There’s no point to asking why—we’re all struggling with something. It’s how we emerge from these struggles and dark places points that define us."

 

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