By: Erica Dammon, NASM- CPT
The paths we go down in life are only worth what we learn along the way. Good and bad they make up our life experience and the experience is fueled and directed by what we pick up along the way. My journey has had its fair share of dark roads, but none as encompassing and influential as the battle I have had with my eating disorder. The toll it takes on your body can be brutal but it is nothing compared to the scars it can leave on your self-worth. Crawling out of that hole was ugly and hurtful to so many. Coming through it though and finding out how strong of a person I truly can be has made it seem all the more worthwhile.
I can tell you first hand that this very rapidly growing problem can tear apart a life very easily. Eating disorders carry the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Statistical briefs carried out between the years 1999 and 2000 compared to briefs done between the years 2008-2009 show a 24% rise in hospital diagnosis for eating disorders, 72% rise in the under 12 year olds, 30% rise for ages between 19-30, and a 88% rise in those ages 45-65. According to the National Institute of Health, Anorexia Nervosa carries a higher mortality rate than any other cause of death among females ages 15-24. This is a serious issue and the epidemic is growing.
Psychiatrist’s separate eating disorders into two main diagnoses. My diagnosis was Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa is the other. While both disorders revolve around an unhealthy obsession with food and unrealistic worries about body image and weight, they manifest in different ways. Anorexia is characterized as someone who is 15% underweight; refuses to gain weight, instead seek to lose weight by starvation, excessive exercise, vomiting or laxative abuse. This can weaken the heart muscles and cause cardiac arrhythmias. Patients diagnosed as Bulimia Nervosa are not necessarily underweight and have bouts of binge eating followed by vomiting or abuse of laxatives. These habits will lead to severe dehydration and severe digestive complications. Both diagnoses are devastating to the physical body, but even more crippling to a person’s basic value in themselves.
My crossover into the disorder started off very simply, a typical teenage girl drama. I fell for a boy and got involved in a scene that was quite different than the world I was from. As the situation grew I found myself playing out dual roles, the one I maintained with my new friends, and the one I upheld for my happy caring family. Conflict began to brew inside me. Torn between the very real things happening to my teenage self and the need to not spill the beans and pretend to my family that things were okay. Most eating disorder victims actually suffer from a feeling of lost control in varying degrees. Loss of control due to a horrible situation or action taken upon themselves or just being overwhelmed by difficult moments in life, for me, I was just in way over my head and was unable to ask for help.
My mother had her suspicions. A mother’s bond to her children is absolute, so when one part is hurting the other feels it too. When I blacked out in the shower getting ready for high school one morning, it was pretty much out of the bag. There was the usual start, doctors then counselors and I can’t say that I was cooperative in the least. She must have been so scared, 18 years old 5’4’ weighing in at 90lbs. Eventually hospitalization at an in-patient facility, where I met so many others struggling with this disorder and heard their stories. Stories of abuse, neglect, horrific experiences that manifested into this need for control of something. They all shared this intense self-hatred that this disorder breeds, and it is that self-hatred that is truly the hardest obstacle to overcome. Over the course of my “Girl Interrupted” moment I began to see that places like these were never going to instill the power these girls needed to make them believe in themselves again the way they so desperately needed to.
Those girls and their stories did have a profound effect on me, seeing what others struggle through made my issues seem more mountable. By following the rules I ended my in-patient stay, and life moved on. My struggle with Anorexia continued, more subdued and hidden, but ever present. A couple more ups and downs led me to Mike, my future husband. Falling in love always helps lift you up! Suddenly I had a family on the way; coming from such a wonderful family like mine created the need to start facing this demon paramount. Having a baby changes your life, you have to get stronger. My mom and dad’s endless support and love, along with that from my husband and a desire to be a healthy mom were a huge hand up. However finding true comfort in my own skin was the actual cure. My accidental stumbling into the fitness industry was the final piece of the puzzle I was missing to truly kick this disorder in the butt.
Working out and learning the science that goes with it, not only made me feel strong and confident but gave me a sense of control in a healthful way that I had never had before. Learning what I was capable of doing changed the way I saw myself. Watching the change in others self-belief inspired me more. Positive thinking can be so contagious. Being part of such a rewarding experience can do wonders. I believe that is what fitness is truly for, to make this mind body connection and to strengthen and care for both. True fitness incorporates physical ability and mental wellness and builds them up. Anorexia, like many disorders and addictions, is something I have to be vigilant about. Old habits can return, and stress will always trigger them, but now I have weapons to fight Anorexia off. Coming through the other side I feel stronger for going that way, which allows me to help others find their inner strength. Sometimes in life we can walk down pathways that lead to a dark hole, my belief is that it matters less why you walked down the path and more how you climbed out of the hole.
I was born overseas but hail the great city of New Orleans as my home town. My husband Mike and I have been married for 12 years and we have three amazing boys, Nicholas, Cody, and Benjamin. They have been the biggest adventure yet!
Training is a huge passion for me and I embrace core fitness values in both my training programs and my lifestyle choices. I believe that food should be chosen for what it can do for you, not just for the flavor you crave at the moment. I believe in pushing yourself in all aspects of life because how else will you know what you are capable of accomplishing? Pushups should never be done on your knees and core is where it all begins!
I am a huge football fan and a big part of the Who Dat Nation!! I look forward to meeting and helping you achieve any and all fitness goals you bring in to Ascension Fitness!
Sources: Statistical Briefs based on Data collected by HCUP 1999, 2000, 2008 & 2009
ANAD from their website www.anad.org