Moments with Molly

I am a 20 year old Duke student from Tampa, FL studying Neuroscience and Psychology.  I love cooking (anything with sweet potatoes) and baking!  I also love running and fun exercise classes like kickboxing. 

I banter because… I was diagnosed with anorexia exactly a year ago (May 2018). 

My previous summer was dictated by therapy appointments and doctors visits (quite the celebration to finishing freshman year am I right?).  I was lucky enough to have a strong support system which allowed me to regain my health and return to school in the Fall. 

Since returning, I’ve become hyper-aware of the frequency of disordered eating habits on campus, from skipping meals to casual discussions around topics like “calories,” “low-carb,” and “skinny”.  As someone who has and continues to struggle with disordered eating, these patterns are upsetting and I feel strongly about promoting healthy attitudes. 

For these reasons, I am excited to have this opportunity to change the attitude surrounding food, exercise, and body positivity on campuses.

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Stepping off the Treadmill.jpg

How can you beat anorexia without any body fat or muscle mass? Seems pretty difficult to me. After reading “Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer (11/10 would recommend), I was determined to kick anorexia to the curb, literally. To do this, however, I couldn’t keep running away from anorexia via endless treadmill miles. I began strength training and kickboxing, both of which were really scary for me at first. The weight room, which always seemed to be full of strong, confident individuals was a sanctuary for comparison, and the kickboxing class filled with muscular, intense women was intimidating. I realized that participating in these new forms of exercise would not only challenge my physical strength, but my mental strength as well. I was up for it.

I committed myself to kickboxing twice a week and started a strength training program to gain some muscle. At first this was weird. I missed running. I missed the mindless state my mind would enter while I watched the minutes tick down on the treadmill. I missed the feeling of comfort knowing I had “earned” a snack or dessert. This longing for the treadmill, however, was exactly why I had to step away.

I began to look forward to kickboxing. I loved the fast paced, ever changing atmosphere of the classes and the fun-loving personas of the instructors. Most of all, I loved the feeling of being a complete bad-ass as I punched and kicked the bag. I felt mentally and physically stronger, and especially healthier! My knees and hips didn’t ache from miles and miles of continuous running, I didn’t dread going to the gym, and I loved my new workouts. By stepping outside of my exercise safety zone, I not only became stronger, but also much happier. I also began to realize that I belonged in the weight room and my kickboxing classes. My ultimate goal was to feel more confident, empowered and comfortable in my own skin, and I knew that these goals had nothing to do with what my body looked like in comparison to others.

Exercise shouldn’t be a chore. If you’re dreading it, take a break! Learn to be in tune with your body. Find a way to love moving your body!

Interestingly, kickboxing also allowed me to enjoy myself on the days that I did decide to run. Once I gained muscle, the quality of my runs improved. Surprise, surprise - you need muscles to run. I no longer finished runs feeling dead, but rather, empowered and strong. With time, I was able to healthily train for my first half marathon. I completed this race in March and ran it faster than I ever thought I’d be able! This race meant much more to me than just a half marathon, however. My ability to run this half marathon represented my recovery, my strength, and my battle to become healthy enough to pound out those miles. So as counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes it is stepping away from the treadmill (or your safe workout) that allows you to “run after” your goals even more effectively.

Molly M 6:23.jpeg
June 23, 2019 

I had to eat HOW much per day??

I was shocked when my recovery team told me how many calories I had to eat to reach my “goal weight”.  Personally, my recovery team didn’t tell me my “goal weight”.  This was probably for the best, honestly.  If I had been told my goal weight, I would’ve become hyper-focused on it.  

Like many individuals diagnosed with anorexia, I am an obsessive, perfectionist, control-freak.  With these admirable (read: sarcasm) characteristics, no doubt I would’ve weighed myself every day.  My obsession over weighing less would’ve transformed into an obsession over reaching this goal weight and getting the HECK out of therapy.  

Yes, shocker, I despised therapy.  I despised my doctor’s appointments.  I despised my nutritionist.  These people didn’t know me, they couldn’t help me, I could do this on my own.  News flash: I could not.  These people pulled me out of the dark embrace of anorexia, and only recently have I been able to realize this.  

Recovery is a tough road.  

No matter how deep anorexia has entwined itself into your mind, recovery will be difficult.  You have to give up complete control to, as I noted, people who don’t even know you.  Your recovery team will be made up of strangers, and you have to trust that they have your best interest at heart. 

I am a very facts focused person.  I‘ve never had a very ~artsy~ or “free-spirited” personality.  My life has always followed a plan to a goal.  Thus, when my therapist told me to “pick out some colored scarves” and wrap them around myself to represent “sick Molly” and “future, healthy Molly”, I had some questionable thoughts.  You can bet she received a HIGH eyebrow raise from me.  

But I did it.  

I wrapped myself in bright yellow, pale pink, and teal scarves and talked to my metaphorical black scarf, sick self.  This felt dumb... until it almost brought me to tears.  Expressing my goals and ambitions to become a happy and healthy version of myself to my “sick self” made me realize how important it was for me to recover.  This exercise turned recovery into something I was familiar with, a path and a goal.  This would be my most important path so far, a path to health and freedom from my eating disorder. 

So yes, the path to recovery sucks.  You will feel stuffed, all the time. Half the bites of food you take will make you want to cry.  It’s impossible to not bloat.  You will likely have a few breakdowns, but keep the end in sight!  

The outcome of recovery is beautiful.  

Recovery brought me back to peanut butter!!! Remember what recovery means to you.  For me, recovery was being truly present in conversations, not nodding my head while mentally calculating calories.  Recovery was eating a snack at 4 pm rather than starving until dinner.  Recovery was going to get ice cream with my brother and sister and actually getting ice cream!  

Recovery doesn’t have to be about weight gain or food, it can be about building better relationships.  

It can be about confidence.  It can be about happiness and freedom.  So create a mental picture of recovery, give up control and perfectionism, wrap yourself in colorful scarves, and show anorexia who’s boss.


Redefining an Eating Disorder

May 29, 2019

“You don’t look anorexic.” 

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you could see my mental health. The idea that eating disorders must be paired with an unhealthy weight leaves many individuals unhealthy and unhappy with their relationship with food.  For instance, I never considered my eating “disordered”.  Since I was a freshman in high school, I remember experiencing feelings of anxiety surrounding food.  I would obsess over staying under a certain calorie value, however, most of my calorie calculations were estimates.  It wasn’t until I entered my junior year of high school that I truly began to calculate calories.  I would download a countless number of nutrition calculators, spend hours calculating the calorie content of my next meal, and stressing over whether I could have a snack or not.  But I wasn’t underweight, so I was fine... right? Wrong.  

I may not have been clinically diagnosed as anorexic, but I was driving myself insane over my obsession with healthy eating and nutritional information.  I couldn’t eat out with my family and friends without slaving over calorie counts.  I’d be hangry and uncomfortable all day because “I didn’t have enough calories for a snack.”  I’d save calories for a dinner out all day, and by the time we entered the restaurant, I was too hungry to enjoy it.  This obsession went completely ignored.  I thought I was fine, so I told no one.  When I first opened up about my food obsession, my confidant told me that I was ridiculous and definitely didn’t have an eating disorder.  I convinced myself they were right.

Once I got to campus as an overeager (and mildly over committed) freshman, the more noticeable symptoms of anorexia began to present themselves.  For a full year, I regimented myself to the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.  Trying new foods was horrifying.  Eating out was a nightmare.  After returning home for the summer, I finally “looked anorexic enough” to get help.  In a blink of an eye I had doctors and dietitians shoved at me every which way.  Luckily, I was able to regain my physical health.  My mental health, however, had been put on the back burner for so long that I still struggle with disordered thoughts.

People shouldn’t need to look sick enough to get help.  We need to change how eating disorders are perceived.  You can’t see someone’s thoughts, brain pathways, or mental health.  So why would you treat someone with clear disordered thoughts about food as if they are completely fine, solely because they aren’t thin enough? 

Individuals with disordered eating are already consumed by not being “thin enough” for society, they shouldn’t be denied help for the same reason.  If eating disorders can be redefined by mental, rather than physical, symptoms, we could free so many people from unhealthy relationships with food.