Food is fuel, but sometimes it becomes the enemy. Alexa found herself feeling guilty for simply fueling her body and without even realizing it, she became obsessed with food and healthy eating – which was keeping her from living her fullest life.
She was able to discover the fine line between “eating healthy” and actually BEING healthy. You can learn more about her story and follow along her recovery journey here:
Tell me about your story.
When I was in 8th grade, I hit puberty and gained weight as any teenager would. As a competitive triathlete and runner, I began to notice that I didn’t look the same as the other girls on the course. I also went through torment from my brothers about my body and how much I ate. So, I started to “eat healthier” to change myself. It started out harmlessly, I was eating the same, just more mindful. But then I started researching, overtraining, under fueling. I started to eat less and less, and food fears started forming.
My mother tried to help, sending me to doctors, dieticians, and therapists, however, I wouldn’t listen to anyone. Eventually, I found myself at a residential program for all of summer, missing out on the sport that I loved with my whole heart. My sport is what pushed me to recover, and since then, I’ve been in recovery for 3 years with many ups and downs. Now, I am doing better than ever and would consider myself fully recovered, and I pour my soul into helping others who struggle with the same things I did because no one deserves to have this miserable disease.
When did you first start experiencing disordered eating patterns?
I started to experience disordered eating patterns as little as 8th grade. Before then, I was extremely free with food, eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. I started to keep track of what I ate, still eating whatever, but then it spiraled out of control, as my perfectionist personality took over, and led me farther down a hole.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face during your healing journey?
While healing, the hardest challenge I had to face dealt with comparison. I would look around me and wonder why no one else had to eat, but I did. I wondered why I had to eat twice as much as my brothers, or why my mom was allowed to eat salads and I couldn’t. I would look at my friends not eating lunch and wonder why I had to. I would ask them why they didn’t. I was so focused on their food that they started to notice, and distance themselves from me for it because no one likes getting their food or eating criticized, just like we would want ours to be.
I felt like an outcast like I was doing something wrong. In reality, I was the only one doing things right. Not only was I in recovery, but I was an athlete. My energy demands were double if not triple what there were. I was in debt. While everyone else ate normally, I was restricting, therefore I had a lot to catch up on. Not only that, but bodies need insane amounts of fuel to heal, on top of performing day-to-day activities. My body was trying to heal, while keeping me alive, which took tons of energy.
Finally, I had to remember that I never saw the full story. I don’t see the cookies and meals my brothers have before and after dinner, and I don’t see what my friends eat at other points of the day. The comparison was and probably is the hardest thing to overcome, but I had to remember that MY body has MY needs, and their bodies have theirs. We are all different and we shouldn’t judge others’ eating choices, we should focus on ourselves.
When did you decide to seek help?
I remember it so vividly. It was January 1st, 2019. We were on a ski trip in Colorado, and I started the new year by crying due to the guilt I felt eating dinner, which had never happened before. While I was in denial about everything, and wouldn’t admit the problem to myself, I am forever grateful for my mother. She saw something happening to me. She saw the weight loss. She saw life being lost from my eyes. Although I’d never reach out for help, she went with her gut, despite my refute. Catching on early and took me to a doctor as soon as we got home.
Although I was physically fine at that point, she wanted to make sure, saving my life in the long run. I was never strong enough to ask for help, but now, whenever I struggle, I do. Because asking for help is never a bad thing. I ask for a hug before meals. I ask to be held accountable. I ask for words of encouragement. All to keep me from going down the road I went down before because as hard as it gets sometimes, I know there’s no going back.
Did you reach out to anyone to aid you in your healing journey?
Throughout my healing journey, my main supporters were my mom, my coaches, and my “Team” of dieticians, doctors, and therapists. They all worked together to make sure I was eating enough, gave me advice for my needs, and helped me mentally along the way. When I would fall, they would push me to do better and take away exercise and other privileges to make sure I could heal properly. They also helped me overcome anxiety and depression. My mom has put her entire life and soul into helping me, day in and day out, and I could not be more grateful.
She is the reason I am better, and she put me before her to do that. I also attended a residential treatment center where I learned skills, and gained the necessary weight, to take me through recovery. The center helped me overcome many food fears and helped me physically heal. Once out, it was my team and mom that helped keep me on track, and I genuinely don’t think I’d be where I am today without this amazing support system.
What was the main source of your holistic healing?
The main source of my holistic healing was realizing that food is fuel, and if I didn’t fuel myself, I wouldn’t be able to do what I loved. My motivation to do my sport is what pushed me to recover. It’s not about being the smallest, it’s about being the best, and you can’t do that on an empty stomach. I also gave my body the rest it needed and deserved to physically and mentally heal. I lost my love for exercise in my eating disorder, as my vision was blurred by the urge to burn calories. Taking a 3-month break from exercise in treatment, I sat all day, eating 6 meals per day. This rested my body, and while it was during triathlon season, it made me miss the sport, and why it made me happy. It helped me shift my focus from exercising to look a certain way, to exercising to be the best.
Shortly after treatment, after not training for a full summer, I ended up getting top 10 at nationals. Why? Because I was having fun. I was smiling the whole time, I had no expectations for myself, and I was there to enjoy what my body was finally capable of again. That, plus all of the nourishing food I fueled myself with, carried me to do my best, and find my love of triathlons again. This helped me to heal and pushed me to continue to heal. To recover for me, to enjoy time with friends and family, and live life on a full stomach. Recovering made my happy personality come back. No longer was I a lifeless creature who couldn’t go 10 minutes without crying. The old Alexa, the Alexa that everyone missed, was back. And I’m not losing her again.
What is your favorite modality for healing, and why?
My favorite modality for healing has always been focused on my breathing. When I struggle with something, I try to take deep breaths, almost as a way to reel myself back in and collect my thoughts. In residential treatment, we also did a lot of yoga which helped to calm my racing thoughts. Whenever I feel guilty or have intrusive thoughts, I try to take deep breaths in order to bring myself back from the spiraling place and listen to my rational brain rather than my eating disorder brain. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the facts of life, rather than the lies the eating disorder is trying to tell us. We get so wrapped up in the thoughts as they intrude on the correct thoughts, and it’s helpful to do things that will help to block them out.
What would you say to someone who is skeptical of that modality and its effectiveness? How do you approach that?
If someone was skeptical of the modality and its effectiveness, I would tell them to give it a try! At the end of the day, it couldn’t hurt to try something. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and that’s okay! You won’t know if something helps you if you don’t try. For example, I mentioned that I did yoga and, while it helped many people, I didn’t find it very enjoyable! We all have different ways to heal, but we have to try all of the different ones to see what works. It’s trial and error and doing whatever it takes to heal our minds, bodies, and souls. Healing looks and feels different for everyone, and what works for me may not work for others, however, I trust that taking deep breaths and recognizing the ED brain from the rational brain is extremely effective and shutting down the thoughts. Sometimes we don’t realize how outlandish the eating disorder thoughts are until we talk through them and their irrationality.
Do you face any challenges now, and if so, how do you handle them?
Yes, while I have been in recovery for a long time, and I am doing better than ever, there are still harder days. The sad reality is that sometimes the thoughts will always be there, but it’s about how you choose to respond to them and fight them. While there are still food fears and anxiety, I face them head-on and challenge them. I remind myself that “food is fuel” and that no food will hurt me as much as my eating disorder will. If I don’t eat, then I won’t be able to do what I love and be successful. If I don’t eat, I will just get everything taken away again and be miserable.
The only way to get over a fear is to challenge it over and over. Food will not hurt you, so I rewire my brain by eating the food, and recognizing that food is enjoyment and I deserve to enjoy it just as much as anyone else does. I also remember that this food is fueling me to be the best version of myself I can be. If everyone else can eat normally, so can I, and I deserve just as much.
What have you found to be the most beneficial in your healing journey?
Along my journey, I have found it beneficial to surround myself with people who bring me up, rather than down. People who will eat with me and support my journey. I also focus on my goals. For me, I want to be a professional athlete. I can’t do that on an empty stomach. If I don’t fuel, I can’t win, and I don’t want to get injured. I remind myself of the miserable parts of my eating disorder, and how I don’t want to go back. I affirm that all food is recognized equally, and all food is fuel.
Reminders like this, and using my goals as motivation, have helped me through the hardest parts of recovery. I know that the uncomfortable feelings will pass. The hard days are what make you stronger. I don’t want to grow old and think back to the parties I missed out on, the dinners I skipped, or the memories that were blurred by disordered thoughts. Life is too short to be hungry, and so I remember to enjoy every bite. Everyone is worthy of recovery and food freedom, and we should not consider ourselves to be the exception.
How do you advise people on overcoming that challenge?
When overcoming challenges, I remind people of this: if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. The only way to overcome fears is to face them and repeat them. The only way to overcome a food fear is to eat the food, sit with guilt, and repeat. This teaches your brain that there is nothing wrong with the food and rewires it. Take a step back, realize that food won’t hurt you. Find distractions while you eat, like a show or good company. Distract yourself after with fun activities, books, shows, or conversation. Try to stay present and at the moment, and actively fight the intrusive thoughts.
Recovery is worth it. And it is possible. You are not gaining a number on the scale, you are gaining life, happiness, energy, and freedom. Food gives you your light back and makes you a happier and more amazing human. Fighting an eating disorder is hard, but the more you do it—the more you face the fears, the more you challenge yourself, the more you fight—the easier it will get. It may seem impossible at first, but the hard days are what make you stronger, and what makes the good days even better.
When you feel like giving up, ask yourself what 4-year-old you would want. Would they be scared? Would they have a care in the world? Ask yourself if you would deprive your best friend of that food. Would you say no to your best friend, or your mom, if they wanted the cookie? Of course not. So why say no to yourself? Be your own best friend. You deserve food and recovery just as much as they do. you don’t deserve to be 80 years old and worrying about food. Don’t give up. Food won’t kill you, but your eating disorder will. You got this.
What resources would you recommend? (books, podcasts, websites that you’ve found helpful)
I have found a lot of my resources through Instagram. I run a recovery Instagram, called @recoveryfortri, which has just surpassed 10,000 followers. I post helpful advice and resources, as well as encouragement and videos/pictures of me facing my fears, and how I overcome these thoughts. I find that posting how I, personally, fight my way through recovery provides others with comfort, and helps them face their similar fears. I open my DMs to talk to everyone and answer questions.
There are also many other accounts that do the same as well. I also have links and connections to many other resources. There is a whole recovery community out there, there to support and encourage one another, and I found that platform very helpful. I also watch @lindasun on YouTube.
A book I would recommend Is called “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle, which has also really helped my recovery.
Food should never be the cornerstone of your personality. It’s important to eat a well-balanced diet and it’s even more important to make sure you’re eating enough, especially if you’re active. Eating less won’t make you a better athlete, it only develops a poor relationship with food that will leak into other areas of your life.
To check out Alexa’s journey and learn more about her road through recovery, follow her on Instagram:
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