Congrats Hunter on being our December member of the month. We couldn't be more proud of your constant hard work and dedication to your recovery. We are so incredibly thankful to have you a part of our community!
I grew up as a dancer, starting at 4 years old. Around age 10, I started dancing competitively. I stopped dancing when I graduated high school (age 18), and I’m now a freshman in college. I originally thought that my disordered eating behaviors began when I was 15. But when I was asked by both Coach Leah and Coach Jennie to tell my ‘life story,’ we figured out these behaviors started when I was about 7 years old. I was in ballet class, so we were all wearing a leotard and tights. One girl had compared me to my friend that was standing next to me, regarding a specific physical feature. My friend and I were honestly built very similarly, but once this girl had made this comment, I couldn’t take my eyes off of myself in the mirror, absolutely tearing myself apart. The following day I did not have dance after school, so when I got home I began to use disordered eating behaviors– at age 7. Since then, I had an on/off relationship with food in which I would use disordered eating behaviors every so often when I was struggling with body-image.
Fast-forward to the first quarantine of 2020, I was a sophomore in high school. The abrupt switch from dancing Monday-Saturday for hours in the studio each day to dancing in my living room on zoom for a few hours completely messed with my head. I felt like I wasn’t active enough and I became obsessed with exercise. I would wake up early in the morning to go on runs, and I would follow a conditioning routine excessively. On days where I didn’t follow my exercise routines, I would use my disordered eating behaviors.
My physical health was declining, and it was becoming visible to others during my junior year. I was pale nearly every day, my skin would break out uncontrollably, I was told by some friends and some family members that I looked like I was losing weight, and my hair was becoming dull and flat. I drew the line at my hair. My hair is my favorite part about myself; I’ve always embraced my brunette, curly hair. When my hair was a dull brown and it wasn’t curly anymore, I became so upset. I tried to start eating normally again because I was so upset, but I had already created the disordered habits for myself and I couldn’t break out of it. When I couldn’t break out of these habits I began to feel completely worthless. I would tear myself apart, I would cry over almost every meal. I felt so weak, like I couldn’t accomplish anything. I didn’t have the stamina and strength in my dancing that I used to have. I couldn’t concentrate in school and my grades were dropping, which hurt the academic perfectionist in me. I became very distant from my friends because I was so internally conflicted with myself, and they became very upset with me.
At the beginning of my senior year, I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder. I had known it for a while, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. The diagnosis caused me to distance myself socially even more. It got so bad that I was losing my closest friends. My friends thought that I was lying about the whole situation for attention because I didn’t ‘look like I had an eating disorder.’ I regret distancing myself as much as I did. I felt completely worthless, I constantly called myself weak for not being able to eat, and I would tell myself I was a terrible person because I hurt my friends. About halfway through my senior year I joined Empowered, because I decided that my mental and physical health couldn’t handle any more damage.
End of March/beginning of April 2022 was a turning point for recovery. At one of my dance competitions, I didn’t let myself eat for an entire day so I would feel more comfortable in my costumes. After my last dance of the day, I blacked out when I got off stage. I had never felt so weak in my life. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel my whole body below my mouth. I was shaking uncontrollably and I could hardly talk. So, I began seeing a new dietician, and she’s absolutely wonderful. She recommended that I don’t dance at the next competition, and I have to admit I was very angry with her at that moment. But I trusted her, and I listened. I hated watching all of my pieces on stage from the wings, I hated not being able to be out there performing with my best friends. However, it gave me determination.
I needed to dance at my last dance competition of my entire life, there was no way that I wasn’t going to dance. So I genuinely worked, I followed the meal plan that we had set. And I did it, I got to compete for the last time and I felt amazing doing it. Another motivator was college. I had always wanted to go away for school and my parents were afraid to let me go since they were afraid I wouldn’t eat. There was absolutely no way I wasn’t going to college. So I continued to work on myself over the summer. And now, I’m typing this from the library on my college campus, and I’m happy.
I still struggle with disordered eating behaviors and body-image daily. But, I’ve seen what my rock-bottom looks like– and I’m never going back again. I have good days, but I still have days where my ED wins. I just have to continue to persist, and remind myself of my goals for my future. I can’t achieve those goals if I let my ED win. And I hate losing, so I can’t let that happen. So much credit and love toward EmpoweredRx; to the amazing coaches and the other members– they are the strongest and most beautiful people I’ve ever met. I’m endlessly thankful for everything that Empowered has done for me.