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.
Want to get in touch with me? Fill out the form below!
** I will refer to anorexia as a female, Ana, in this post. This tactic helps to dissociate anorexia-driven thoughts from my own thoughts. It also helps to personify the disease as something that can be removed, rather than something embedded in my brain. This is a similar tactic as used in Jenni Schaefer’s novel, “Life Without Ed.” **
Abroad is all glamor and perfection on social media.
Most aspects of life, however, are portrayed falsely via social media (shocker!!). I have been lying on social media for months now. I advertise my healthy, happy lifestyle interning in California, sunbathing at home in Florida, and traveling Europe while I study in Denmark. Under this cover of perfectly snapped photos, however, I am still recovering.
I’d like to say my recovery from anorexia (Ana) has been flawless and I am doing better than ever; but the truth is, I relapsed this past summer. After a long battle with Ana throughout the school year, she clawed her way back into my brain as summer approached. I can’t recall exactly when she returned. I’m not sure when my thoughts stopped being my own. And I’m especially not sure when the weight loss sabotaged my body once again. What I am sure of, however, is that she is NOT staying for long. Amidst my travels and happy smiles on Instagram, I am going to therapy (yes, while abroad) and fighting aggressively to get rid of my demonic companion.
Don’t get me wrong, studying abroad has been the most incredible experience of my life, some may even say it’s “changing” me… but it has not been perfect. Surviving a relapse and going through recovery again is HARD. It is especially hard when I know what’s coming. I dread the feeling of unbearable fullness, the nagging voice of Ana in my ear, and confronting new fear foods.
In many ways, however, it’s also easier. I know what it feels like to be healthy. I know what it’s like to hear Ana’s whispers, and then completely ignore her. I know what it’s like to try new foods when going out to dinner, enjoy meals with friends, and not anxiously examine the menu before arriving. These positives are what are getting me through my second recovery. I remember how wonderful recovery feels, and even though the process is rough, the end result is the best.
So, the next time I post a scenic shot from my next adventure, remember that people only post their life highlights on social media, and normally there is much more going on behind the scenes. For me, I am kicking Ana out of my life. I refuse to let her deprive me of new, local cuisines, meals with my friends, or the infamous “hygge” dinners hosted by my abroad program. I will have the best abroad experience I can, and she will not hinder it. And she shouldn’t hinder anyone’s life.
No matter where you are in your journey, how busy you are, or even which country you’re in, recovery is possible!
The caveat is that you can’t give half effort, you have to give it your all. Remember how amazing life is, how free you can be, and how many opportunities from which Ana is hindering you… and then give your 110% effort to get rid of her.
College is an overwhelmingly easy place to develop an eating disorder. Without a full fridge to snack on and cook, it’s easy to make smaller, more convenient meals. Soon, however, this money-saving technique can lead to nutrition deficits and weight loss. For me and many others, this weight loss can become addicting and pleasurable, promoting an eating disorder. Furthermore, no one is looking after you. The college environment (and high school, honestly) is so beyond stressful that no one has time to worry about someone else’s eating habits. And, finally, college is a breeding ground for self-comparison.
Although food was a huge challenge for me throughout my anorexia, the comparison was worse. I couldn’t walk into a room without staring at everyone’s thighs to see who had a thigh gap (weird, I know). I’d spend hours stalking models’ instagrams and comparing my body measurements to theirs. Every time I found an actress or “instagram model” that was almost my height, I’d obsessively try and obtain their body measurements and shape. My search history was full of “_____ body measurements” and “______ diet” searches. Thinking about it now is sickening. I kept myself (moderately) sane during these times by remembering that photo-editing apps exist, and these people are probably using them. But what about my peers? What about all of these thin women I went to school with? What were they doing to keep their bodies SO much better than mine?
These thoughts were so intrusive, unhealthy, and extremely uncomfortable. Even after recovery, I frequently find myself pushing comparison thoughts out of my head. I’m easily triggered by people “not eating breakfast”, never eating snacks, or eating a salad for lunch with literally just vegetables. When I observe these actions I automatically start comparing. This is DANGEROUS and a breeding ground for relapse. In fact, I’ve had to distance myself from many individuals because of their relationships with food. Sometimes it’s hard to tear myself away from these thoughts nagging at my brain, but I’ve found a few thought processes which help.
First, remember that your body KNOWS what it needs.
Before the words “calories”, “nutrition”, or “eating” even existed, people fed themselves adequately. We are built to send hunger and fullness signals to our brains!
Secondly, everyone’s body is different!
Metabolism is incredible! Just because one person doesn’t eat snacks or skips meals doesn’t mean they are unhealthy, it may just mean they are truly not hungry. Maybe their metabolism is slower, maybe they had a big lunch, maybe they snack throughout the day rather than eating lunch. We can NOT monitor other people’s life styles or eating habits. I guarantee you that I have WAY too much going on in your own mind to worry about what someone else is eating. So focus on yourself and your own hunger cues!
And lastly, just love yourself and your body.
Respect that you have a healthy weight that your body wants to obtain. You are beautiful inside and out and when, what, or how much you eat cannot change that. The most valuable people in your life will not care if you weigh 15 pounds more, in fact, they probably will not even notice.
One of my favorite quotes is:
“Don’t waste 95% of your life to weigh 5% less.”
Keep this in mind, listen to your body cues, and love every inch of yourself.
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.
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.