When I was 14 years old, I was sent away to a camp in Vermont. It was a five week fitness and weight loss camp for young girls.
I don’t personally use numbers in my writing because I am aware it can trigger those in recovery from eating disorders, but I can confidently say I wasn’t dangerously overweight or obese. Even if I was though, I think there are healthier ways to approach helping someone lose weight.
I was always on the big side as a child and teen. I was a competitive swimmer my whole life up until age 16. I was active.
I don’t hate my mom for deciding to send me to this camp. She had good intentions and was worried about my weight.
Though I can pinpoint this experience as the main event that triggered my eating disorder, I don’t blame anyone. What happened then I can’t change. I can only grow from it and move forward. I personally move forward by writing; it is healing to me.
Growing up, I had picked up on some negative eating habits. My home wasn’t always the safest environment. It was invalidating and unpredictable at times. And I gravitated towards food for comfort.
My eating behaviors weren’t dangerous or out of control back then. At that point, it was manageable and not hindering my life. I’d say more than anything at that time, undiagnosed anxiety was hindering my growth and causing me some difficulties with making friends at school.
I hope the camp I went to has become centered less around weight and more centered around genuine individual health and happiness because when I was a camper, we were taught there are good and bad foods and to stay away from the bad. We were pushed to the limit with constant exercise. We had weekly weigh-ins.
I wholeheartedly believe that diet and exercise is a wonderful thing if used within moderation and/or necessary. The problem with this camp is that it was a bandaid; it was a quick fix.
This camp encouraged rapid weight loss. Despite any good intentions they may have had, it also enabled campers to come back year after year. What happened was that many campers would lose weight and then they’d gain it back during the school year and would have to come right back the next summer.
To be clear, I definitely had some enjoyable moments at this camp. It wasn’t hell on earth. I think that element is also very important here because it wasn’t the worst experience in the world for me while it was happening.
The damage happened the last few days of camp and continued when I got home.
The final week of camp each person’s weight loss was finally revealed. Days before my final weigh-in, I got physically sick and vomited twice from a stomach bug going around.
The final day, I got a paper with my weight loss from each week and comparing the numbers, the final week I lost the most weight. I also realized that the day I was sick, I wasn’t out there exercising with the other girls. I was resting in my bed.
And in that moment, something in my mind clicked. I attributed the vomiting to creating even more weight loss. I realized I could induce vomiting to lose weight even faster.
And at the time, losing weight seemed to be the answer to everything. Me losing weight seemed to be the only thing that made my family happy.
And with those realizations, my disordered thoughts began:
Being thin would make me happy. Being thin would help me make friends better. Being thin would attract cute boys. Being thin would make life easier.
Boy, was I wrong.
Little did I know that less than two years later I would be entering my first treatment center for bulimia.
What happened was that I began purging. And then I began restricting. And then I began a cycle of restricting, bingeing and purging. The behaviors became unmanageable. Though I hid my pain well from everyone, I began isolating myself from friends and family more and more every day. I was just as disconnected with my emotions as I was with everything else.
My eating disorder started out as a diet. It quickly spiraled into complete chaos and a desperate need to find control in my life through numbing out emotions and engaging in those disordered behaviors. It transformed from being a way to lose weight to being a way to cope, and then from being a way to cope to becoming my entire life so quickly.
I see now that at 14, I should not have been awarded the last week of camp with $100 for being ‘The Biggest Loser’ (losing the most weight out of all of the campers). At 14, I should not have been rewarded food if I complied with the rules and finished all of the group exercises for the day. At 14, I should not have been told that I was too fat and needed to lose weight. At 14, I should not have been told that losing weight was the key to happiness and that I would be “so much happier” with my results from the camp. At 14, I shouldn’t have been punished for carrying some extra weight on my body.
At 14, I should have been introduced to exercise in less extreme ways. At 14, I needed guidance and I needed to learn balance. At 14, I should have been told that sometimes losing weight is necessary, but that it also didn’t make me a bad person for struggling with it.
At 14, I should have been told I was beautiful. I should have been told I was enough as I am.
I missed out on others telling me these things, so I am going to take them in for myself today:
I am beautiful. I am enough. I deserved better.
If you relate to my story in any way and struggled with weight or if you were told you could only be beautiful or deserving of good things if you lost weight, please know that you are beautiful and enough just as you are. And if you are on a weight loss journey, please know that are allowed to love and accept yourself as you are now; you do not have to wait for results to love your body.
You only have one body so please treat yourself with love, kindness and respect. You deserve to.