I try my hardest to be open and honest on My Piece of Sunshine, but there is something I don’t feel like I’ve been as honest about as I’d like to be. The true story of why I began My Piece of Sunshine.
The past few weeks I’ve felt like My Piece of Sunshine is in its teenage years aka not really sure of itself or what it’s doing or where it’s going. And so I’ve taken a few weeks to think through this and to reach out to friends for input, and my gut is finally telling me to go back the beginning. I’ve never been completely honest about why I started the blog and I’ve never felt comfortable sharing the true story. Now it’s time to share it.
Sitting down to write this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and certainly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written. The story is long, but it is 100% honest and it feels really good to be in a place where I feel like I can finally be this open.
College – The Beginning of an Issue
Like lots of girls, I had my fair share of wanting to be thinner and attempting to control that with what I ate throughout high school and college. When I went full-on vegetarian my Sophomore year of college, I didn’t really know how to properly eat as a vegetarian, so I lost quite a bit of weight. I began eating more protein and fats though and my weight evened out a bit. My Junior year, however, I had a major emotional and spiritual crisis that led to a struggle with depression. It was during this time that I began using food to mask my racing thoughts and emotions. That holiday season and my 21st birthday is a blur of food and just trying to get through each day. My friends and family were concerned about me, and I knew I didn’t like eating that much food or avoiding my emotions, but it was all I could do to get by at that time.
Study Abroad – A Break with an Underlying Issue
Thankfully, I was able to study abroad second semester of my junior year which gave me a bit of a fresh start to clear my head. While abroad, I had my fair share of binging episodes, especially on rough days, but as a whole, it was manageable. Studying abroad allowed me to be exactly who I wanted to be and I began to heal from my depression. I could write an entire post about how study abroad helped me, but we’ll keep that part short for now. Although my depression cleared, the underlying binging issue stayed around.
Traveling around Europe and falling in love with an amazing guy helped distract me and kept me interested in healthier things. That fell apart, however, when the guy and I broke up a few months later. It’s one of those break ups you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy aka girl flies thousands of miles across an ocean to visit boy in London, boy breaks girl’s heart within the first two days of arriving with ten days left in her trip..and they’re both staying in his tiny bedroom. There was a lot of wandering around the city, a lot of running, a lot of drinking, and a lot of tears.
Senior Year First Semester – The Issue Eruption Begins
When I returned to the US, I moved directly back in to college for my senior year, and the binging started almost immediately. I would eat anything and everything I could get my hands on. M&Ms from the grocery store, candy leftover from sorority recruitment, loaves of bread with peanut butter, cheese and Wheat Thins, anything I could mindlessly shove in my mouth. And the more the better.
I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions. I gained weight. I stopped working out. I felt pretty miserable about myself, but I somehow kept trucking along. I would binge at night, feel sick in the morning, and convince myself that day was the day I would start eating right again, lose the weight, and feel good. But the cycle didn’t break. I continued to binge, and my self confidence reached an all new low while my desperation reached an all new high.
That fall, my best friend and I decided to study for and take the GRE together. I didn’t have plans of going to grad school right away or any solid post-college plans really, so I felt good about giving myself options for the future. The night before my scheduled time to take the GRE though, I binged. The next morning I woke up feeling pretty miserable about my body and life in general, and I knew I needed to reach out for help. It just so happened that the exam was in the same building as the mental health center, so I made an appointment with a therapist for later that day. The only thing that got me through the exam was knowing there was hope in sight for my health and well-being. (*Note: If you are in college and struggling with disordered eating or mental health issues, please look in to mental health services on your campus. I received free care for a while and it was a huge help. Sadly, I don’t think many college students know about the mental health services they have access to. If you think you need help, please reach out. If you are not in college, make sure to check your insurance benefits and reach out for help. Having coverage certainly helps, but please do not let that hold you back from reaching out.)
After my original appointment with a therapist, I joined a group therapy session for girls with eating disorders and attended for the rest of the semester. I loved interacting with the other girls, hearing their stories, and knowing I wasn’t alone. It didn’t really feel like it was helping me like I wanted it to though. I would feel good during group but would binge the evening after almost every group. (*Note: Although group therapy was not extremely successful for me, I am very glad I explored the option and know it works for many people. Again, if you think you need help, please reach out.)
One good thing that came out of group was that the two therapists who led it suggested I begin seeing a nutritionist and begin working out again. Although I didn’t really get much out of seeing the nutritionist, getting back in to the gym was a great step. I will always remember how absolutely horrible those first few days I returned to the gym were. As a former athlete, I couldn’t believe how out of shape I let myself get. I felt clunky like I couldn’t do anything. My body felt heavy and I remember thinking I would never feel in shape again. But I went. I ran a mile. I went again. I ran two miles. I lifted. I kept going, and I started getting back in to the hang of things.
My horrible binge cycle continued though. The mix of residual distress from the breakup with anxiety about what I was going to do post-college was too much for me to handle. I hit a breaking point during finals week of my first semester of senior year, which is where My Piece of Sunshine comes in to the scene. I went to the library to study but not before going to the grocery store and picking up a large bag of M&Ms which I proceeded to binge eat on the walk there and at my study area. I ate them so fast and felt so sick that there was no way I could even study. I was lost, confused, restless, overwhelmed, upset, and still no closer to studying for my final.
And so I logged in to Blogger and began My Piece of Sunshine. In that moment, I needed something, anything to help me feel alive and connected to the world. In my own words from that first post,
“Often times, especially lately, I become too caught up in bad things in my life which just bring me down, and I want to make a change. I want this to be a place where I can post photos or stories or things I find to be beautiful each day. Mostly pictures since I’m a visual person, but I also want to develop my writing skills again, so I will also try my hand at that. Also, if I ever get the courage to make this a more public blog, I hope that my friends and others will share what they have found beautiful in their days as well.
There is something so healing about the warmth of the sun, so this is my piece of sunshine for days when the real sun just won’t shine.”
I didn’t share My Piece of Sunshine with anyone for weeks, but knowing I had a place to turn to in order to appreciate my life in that moment got me through finals week. And it has continued to be a place for me to appreciate the little things through my wellness journey.
Senior Year Second Semester – And So It Continues
Second semester, there was a hip hop class I really wanted to take, but it just so happened to be at the exact same time as my therapy group. I do think a part of me was avoiding therapy, but another part of me really believed that maybe I needed something a bit non-traditional to help me heal. Thankfully my gut was right. I was still in a pretty vicious binging and restricting cycle, but hip hop class definitely helped me open up to my emotions, both good and bad, and helped me begin to heal. Throughout the semester, I learned that sometimes you have to find the ugly in life in order to find beauty.
That semester I was also training for a half marathon with my best friend. It was something I had wanted to do for many years and thought it would be that thing that would allow me to finally break free from the binge cycle. Training, however, ended up being a big struggled. I would often binge at night and then usually run at least 5 miles in the mornings. There were so many mornings when I wasn’t sure I’d make it through my run but fought my way through it. At the time, I thought that was a good thing and that I was being strong. Looking back on it though, I was putting my body through a lot of stress and it was really taxing on me mentally and physically.
In the end, I pushed through my training and completed the half. The race itself was a challenge, but I made it through. I was so proud of myself for finishing and for the work I put in, and yet I still didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I did my best to hide it, but I still didn’t feel right.
I did my best to appreciate the rest of my senior year, but my restless nature left me ready to graduate and move in to my “new life” in adulthood where I was again convinced I would miraculously overcome my binging.
Adult Life in Chicago – Still No Relief
When I moved to Chicago, I was convinced things were going to change. They didn’t. Another life lesson I hold strong to is that you can run from your situation and surroundings, but you cannot out run your problems. My binging continued and whenever I would get overwhelmed or drank a little too much, I would be in the kitchen eating anything and everything I could. The cycle of binging, restricting, and running on crazy spikes and drops in blood sugar continued and honestly seemed never-ending.
It wasn’t a lot, but I had fat hanging heavy and awkward on my body which felt really uncomfortable on my usually athletic, trim build. I had pretty consistent heartburn and stomach issues, my energy levels were all over the place, I was constantly anxious especially around food, I never felt present in the moment, and I just felt horrible.
I had friends who knew about the situation and would try to help, but the cycle continued. The only moment of fresh air over the next year was my cousin’s wedding. I was the maid of honor and I knew I needed to be present and healthy for the big day. In the back of my mind, losing a little of my bloated weight would be nice, but ultimately I just needed to be more mindful and alert on the day of her wedding than my binge/restrict cycle usually allowed me to be.
I made a promise to myself to be in a good place for her wedding and so I did whatever I could to get there. I began a morning ritual of making myself green smoothies and journaling which helped me be more mindful and intentional throughout my day. I would journal about how I would deal with stress and my urges to binge as well as positive affirmations of what the day would look like. (e.g. Today I will have patience with myself and others. Today I will be alert, alive, and free.) My cousin also had purchased Gabrielle Bernstein books for my birthday that year, and so I began reading and following her advice to choose love in all you do. The message is one that I already believed in (one of the few things I wholeheartedly believed in after my previous spiritual crisis), and her books really spoke to me. And so every day, my journal entry would end with, “Today is going to be a beautiful day. Today I choose love.”
I continued my morning ritual and kept track of the number of days I went binge free. Thankfully I made it quite a long time, and felt alert, alive, and present for my cousin’s wedding. I am so glad I put in the work to be in a good place for her wedding, but sadly the feeling didn’t last for too long.
The Turning Point
The binging sadly returned and the cycle continued for another year before I reached out for help again. In January of last year, I did a three day juice cleanse and the deal included a free consultation with a nutritional counselor. At first I wasn’t going to use the free consultation, but after a short-lived relationship, a horrible break up, and a much needed trip to Boston to see my brother, I decided I needed to do something for myself and for my health.
And so I began seeing Danielle at Element Wellness. I have always had an interest in health and nutrition and even dreamed of being a nutritional counselor myself one day to help people like myself (still my dream!), so I was excited to talk to her about her career as well as my own personal health. My friends have heard me talk about Element, but I honestly cannot express how much Danielle and the center has helped me.
From our very first meeting, I have always been able to talk about everything and anything with her. I have been in tears in her office too many times to count, and she worked with me to set up a good eating plan as well as help me through my emotional issues. She let me know she was always there no matter what and that I could call, text, email, or Facebook her any time of day and she would respond. I didn’t take her up on it at first, but even knowing someone was there was what I needed. My friends and family had told me the same thing, but there was something about a stranger caring about me so much that made me believe I could get better. And so I started taking care of myself. Really caring for myself.
It took a lot of work. I mean A LOT of work nutritionally, physically, and emotionally but I slowly started to get better. I noticed myself becoming a lot more aware of the world around me. My energy levels started evening out. I began being able to pay attention to my relationships with my friends and family more, and I began caring about myself a whole lot more. I didn’t want to binge at night because I wanted to feel great the next day. I started to really take care of myself.
Through a mix of eating a whole foods, plant based diet, journaling A LOT, accepting myself as an emotional person, addressing my restlessness, finding a healthy balance of working out and relaxing, embracing my yoga practice, and reaching out for help when I needed it, I truly began to get better. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my healing process is that there is no one miracle activity or food that will “save me.” It takes an intentional mix of many things. And it takes making the choice to choose love and to choose my health each and every day.
When days are really rough, I make lists of things I’m thankful for. Nice things I have done for myself. Nice things I have done for others. Random beautiful things I notice. Anything I’m grateful for from the day even if it’s just that I’m really grateful my nails are painted mint green because it’s my favorite nail polish color. In the past, these things appeared here on My Piece of Sunshine, but now I often just write about them in my personal journal.
A Breath of Fresh Air
I’m not perfect, and I don’t ever expect to be. It still takes a lot of work, and I have to decide each and every day to choose love and to take care of myself, but I do feel like I’m on the other side. The side I never felt like I would be. The side where I can have a healthy relationship with food. I still have my days when all I want to eat for dinner is chocolate, I have an urge to binge, or I eat too much, but those days are fewer and far between now. My anxiety around food has cleared, and I usually decide on a healthier, well-portioned meal because I want to take care of myself and feel good that day as well as the next day.
In terms of this space, my intention is that My Piece of Sunshine returns to its roots as a gratefulness blog. Remembering to slow down to appreciate the little (and big) things in life has played a big role in my wellness journey, and I want that idea of gratitude on My Piece of Sunshine to continue as an inspiration to myself as well as anyone who reads it. I remember finding stories of other women on blogs who struggled with disordered eating that I could relate to, and knowing that others made it through their struggles and ended up living beautiful lives, gave me hope that I could do the same. I now know I’m not alone in my struggles with disordered eating, and if this blog can reach out even to one girl, woman, or person who is struggling then I know it is worth it.
Thank you for listening to my story and for respecting my honesty. I always felt dishonest not sharing the true story of the blog, and I already feel lighter and like I have completed another step of my wellness journey by sharing.
I’d like to leave you with a piece of “art” I created in high school I found a few weeks ago that is probably some of the best advice I’ve ever given to myself and something I try to embody every day.
“Go out in to the big world. Dare to experience, love, cause a commotion, and love it.”