For those of you who are used to my posts, this one will be a bit more serious than my normal ones. I’m not one to promote major things but this post will be about something near and dear to my heart.
Today, February 25th, is the start of the 2019 national eating disorder awareness week. About 6 1/2 years ago, when my little sister was 14 and just starting her freshman year of high school, she was diagnosed with anorexia-nervosa. This was a huge moment in my family’s lives. Our small family of 4 has suffered over the years helping her and watching her go through this incredible trying time. I want to share our story with you so you can maybe see the signs that we missed and to give you a look at how someone so confident can fall into the belief that you need to be a size 0 to be pretty and to fit in.
It all began a little over 7 years ago. My sister and I come from a very fit and active family. Our mom is the cross country and track coach in our town and runs all the time (seriously, ALL the time) and our dad wakes up at 4 in the morning to go lift for a few hours at the local gym. This is something my sister and I thought was the norm. We would spend a few hours everyday after school going to practices with our mom and knew that our dad would be in bed by 7:00 every night so he could get up and work out early. When my sister was going into 1st grade and I was going into 5th grade, we started competing in gymnastics. We never knew anything different than having an active lifestyle so, when we were old enough to officially join high school sports, it was a no brainer.
My sister, Lea, and I are 4 years apart in age but were 5 years apart in school because of our birthdays. When I was a senior in high school, Lea was on the varsity cross country team as an 8th grader. Because of our mom being the coach and an avid runner, we would train with her in the summers before season would start. My sister ran so much that summer that when the season started, she was talented enough to be on the varsity team. I, being the annoying older sister, was jealous that she was that talented (better than me) and did NOT understand her liking for running so much. The season ended and we had a few weeks to rest before gymnastics season began. The only problem was, my sister didn’t rest.
A normal high school athlete who goes season to season, is supposed to spend the little time they have between sports saving their body. They are given those weeks to do nothing because they physically need the rest and a break. When the season ended that year we had about 3 weeks before gymnastics started and my sister continued to run large amounts of mileage every day. By the end of the cross country season, varsity runners on our team could run up to 7 miles a day because they had built up their endurance so much. No matter what time it was or what the weather was like, Lea would go out for 3-7 mile runs every single day. I thought this would end when gymnastics started because she LOVED gymnastics but running slowly began to take over the one thing she truly loved.
Our practices would go from 3:00-5:30 everyday. If the clock said 5:31, and we were still practicing, she would begin to stress because she needed to go for a run (she also had a touch of OCD.) This happened all season long. Slowly but surely her favorite thing in the world (gymnastics) turned into a burden keeping her from running. By the end of that gymnastics season, all she cared about was going for a run.
Her running became so obsessive towards the end of her 8th grade year that she was running a minimum of 10 miles per day, EVERYDAY! This was red flag number 1.
The next red flag came when she started watching the food channel and got interested in healthy cooking. She would meal prep with my mom on Sundays and taught my mom how to exchange normal ingredients to a healthier substitute for every meal we ate. (Needless to say, I HATED eating the food at my house because the “healthy version” of these meals were disgusting!)
This obsession continued as the school year turned into the summer. She would eat as little as possible while also only eating “healthy” foods for her body. It got to the point that she wouldn’t eat anything unless she prepared it herself.
**Side note: I don’t find anything wrong with eating healthy but I also believe that it should be done in a positive way and not as a way to lose weight. My mom always taught me that anything is good in moderation and I’ve always believed that.**
Between the running and the diet, during that summer she dropped significant weight. Being her big sister, I was extremely concerned but I could only say so much without being accused of being “dramatic” or “jealous” of her healthy lifestyle. Towards the end of that summer, right before her freshman year started, her hands began to turn purple. Now when I say purple, I mean PURPLE! Not the purple your hands get when they’re cold but a dark violet that never went away. Obviously, this was pretty concerning. She went to the doctor multiple times to figure out what was wrong. (The part of this story that gets me every time is how did those doctors did not see how underweight and malnourished she was!?) Finally, after 2 months of visits, her pediatrician made the concern verbal about her weight. After that first comment, it was only a matter of weeks before she had her first stint of inpatient treatment at the Minnesota Children’s Hospital.
Throughout the years, my sister has been in 4 different treatment programs. Some effective and some that hurt her more than it helped her. She would have good months and then fall 10 steps behind and would end up in another inpatient facility. We’ve had some scary episodes with her heart and her breathing. She had to wear a telemetry pack around the hospital whenever she was admitted because her heart rate was dangerously low and the abnormalities with her heart were alarming. Her teenage years were lost because of this disease.
As the years have gone by things have dramatically changed because of this. My family is completely different. Our traditions and dynamics have changed because of having to make room for treatments and meal plans. Our sister relationship is also different. We have had so many highs and so many lows. We still go day by day sometimes because, I’ll be honest, I can’t handle the change that has happened. Lea’s personality was lost during those years of treatments. The sister that I knew, is gone. In her place is a new person that I’m still learning to be around and get to know. I love my sister more than anything else in the world but that doesn’t mean it’s easy and that I love every change that has happened.
After 6 1/2 long years of watching her go through this rollercoaster, I have a very hard time with anyone making comments about other people and their weight. I also have a very hard time when people make comments about their own weight and negative body perception. When someone makes a comment about going on a diet it makes me wonder what they may be thinking when they say that. We live in a world where we think that we HAVE to be a size 0 to be pretty. That is the most ridiculous thing in the world to me! Every person and every body is different. We all come from different places and are a combination of many different ethnicities. We’re not meant to be the same!
I shared this story because I hope that you can see how the signs were there. I hope that you can use what Lea went through, to help yourself if you need it. I shared with you the signs of anorexia in case a young student in your class needs someone to talk to and be there for them. I also share this with you because as the years have gone by, I have become much more aware of unhealthy relationships with food and working out. I hear little comments and see little actions that could possibly result in something much more serious. I want to prevent this from happening to anyone else. Look out for yourself and look out for those around you. Stop the stigma of the size 0 model who only eats kale for breakfast and spends 4 hours a day in the gym. That’s not normal or healthy. Be a shoulder for the ones who need you and stop the negative talk you may hear about anyone else. Be happy, love yourself, be proud of who you are and what you look like!