I clearly remember the first moment that I hated my body. I had disliked my body prior to this moment. Wanted a different one, sure. But I had not yet experienced hatred for my body.
But there I was. Standing in the middle of my intensive ballet summer workshop class at the age of 13, warming up at the barre. A guest teacher was in town from an esteemed ballet company to teach a special week of classes. I would always slightly hold my breath when she walked by me. Secretly hoping she’d notice me and give me the praise I was so desperately hungry for. But instead on this particular day she walked up to me, poked me in the stomach, and said, “Christie. Are you a marsupial?” A little confused, I furrowed my brow and answered, “Well. No?” To which she promptly replied, “Well then why do you have a pouch?”
With one final poke and flourish, she walked off.
My face flushed with shame. In that moment I thought to myself, “My body is wrong. And I better do something to change it.” So I did. I started restricting my food intake, but never too drastically, and I added the gym to my existing 30 hour + a week ballet rehearsals. I still struggled with my weight and shape, and I constantly compared myself to the other naturally more thin body types I was side-by-side with in front of full-length mirrors daily.
Four years later I was burnt out and tired, and I quit ballet even though it was the thing I loved the most. I remember clearly feeling this sense of relief when it dawned on me, “I can eat again!” I started ordering dessert. I started having those “forbidden” foods. And then, I of course gained weight. I had thought through the fact that I could finally stop restricting my diet, but I hadn’t grasped the fact that my body would change as a result. I was not prepared for that reality, and I certainly was not ok with it. While I hadn’t realized it I had started to find my identity and my worth in my physical appearance, and gaining weight threatened that identity.
So I did the most seemingly harmless, but in hindsight most detrimental and life-shattering thing I could have chosen to do: I went on a diet. Around 35% of diets turn into disordered eating, and I fit right into that statistic.
I started working at a gym the spring before I went off to college, and I decided to start working with a trainer and go on a strict meal plan before heading off to college in August.
It was surprisingly easy. I restricted my diet, and I lost the weight. I got complimented. I finally received the attention and praise I had been so desperate for. Then I went off to college with a long list of food rules and a smaller pair of jeans, but no support network, healthy coping skills, or solid identity in place.
When I got to college I wasn’t prepared to handle the change, and over the course of the next four years things got progressively worse. I lost and gained weight more times than I could count. I restricted, binged and dieted. I over-exercised and binge-drank. I counted every calorie meticulously and weighed myself incessantly. I took diet pills (that landed me in the hospital once) and started smoking cigarettes to keep my weight and hunger down. This was all a desperate attempt to control my environment and cling to the false truth that my looks were what mattered most, and I had to fight to fit what I thought the world wanted me to look like. I had failed relationships, horrific romantic entanglements, and a gnawing feeling I was missing something.
After graduating college my health declined even further. I lost a friend to cancer and found myself unprepared for entering the workforce. As a result, my eating got more extreme and disordered. I started experiencing anxiety attacks and depression and was binging more than ever. This not only scared me, but as a result I gained weight, which made me feel even more out of control. My relationships suffered, and my well-being was shattered. I would cancel dinner plans with friends because I had already “eaten too much” that day, and I would call in sick to work if I couldn’t get a long enough workout in to “make up” for my eating the day before.
I don’t know how long I could have kept living at this rate. But luckily one day in December I met a random stranger, and it was the catalyst that changed everything.
Stay tuned for the second part of Christie's story later this week!
Christie Dondero is the Director of Development and Community Programs at Rock Recovery, a Washington, D.C. area non-profit organization that supports the journey to freedom from disordered eating. Having gone through recovery herself, Christie understands the depth of emotional, physical and spiritual support needed to recover and is passionate about spreading the message that freedom from disordered eating is possible. Learn more at www.rockrecoveryed.org or www.joyfulandexpectent.