Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT
When people think of eating disorders, they typically think of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. However, many people struggle with compulsive overeating and/or binge eating. Mandy is a beautiful woman who is sharing her story and struggles of how she got help and thrived. I met her on Instagram and feel like we have become friends, even though we never met in person. Mandy identifies in her story when she needed help and appropriate coping skills, and knows what works for her and what does not. She is inspiring for all.
My name is Mandy and what you read below is my story and journey to a healthier me. It started my freshmen year of high school; I was cheerleader and played soccer. I loved it, but after some dramatic events I was no longer allowed to be a cheerleader and I gave up my love for soccer, out of fear that they would not let be on the team. I ate my feelings and by the end of the year gained 15-20 pounds and went from a size 6 to a size 12. Hence, in high school life I was overweight, and was nicknamed “butterface,” as in everything is ugly but-her-face. I was never asked to a dance, or prom, and had to retreat to asking friends from church. On some occasions I had a boyfriend who would take me to their school’s dance or come with me to mine and was lucky enough to have two high-school sweethearts that saw past my image. However, the drama of high school life naturally occurred and we broke up.
Going into college I felt pretty despite all the drama of high school life, but again noticed that it was all my roommates that were getting asked to date parties with fraternity guys, and not being in a sorority at the time I didn’t have the luxury of asking friends to date parties of my own. Into the middle of my freshmen year I met a college love, who again was able to look past my image and see me for who I was. I got comfortable with him and over the three years we were together I gained twenty pounds. Although he was a sweetheart we split our ways and I went off to graduate school.
While pursing my masters I was in a long-distance relationship (I was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and he was in Washington, DC) and stressed I ate my way through the pain of being over a thousand miles apart, a whole twenty pounds worth. Needless to say the distance got to us, and we broke up.
During the summer of my Masters degree I met an amazing man who would change my life for forever, my fiancé. Again I got comfortable, and ate my way through another fifteen pounds and while I would love to tell you all of the details of my fairy tale romance this posting is how I got healthy and so I will leave the rest to just that!
So what lead to my ultimate decision to start a lifestyle change? It was a Monday morning in October and it was the day I tried on wedding dresses for the first time. It was suppose to be one of the best days ever, you know, the Kodak moment that a majority of girls grow up dreaming about. I had asked my two role models, my mom and my grandma, to come with me to be part of the experience. We made an appointment, I met with the bridal consultant, and she began by taking my measurements. She informed me that I was a size 22 and that they only carried a “few” gowns in my size. Not wanting to break down in front of my family, I put on the dresses they had in my size and walked out saddened, as they were the farthest things away from what I had dreamed! I put my clothes back on, we walked out of the store and laughed about the dresses I tried on, while inside I dreaded every going back to a bridal store.
Later that night was the Monday Night football game, and as always they present the statistics of the starting lineup. My mouth dropped as I realized I weighed more than a professional linebacker, but again I hid behind my true feelings. During the halftime show I wanted to work on a paper and when I went to sit on the couch my computer cable broke from my weight. I couldn’t take it anymore and I dropped to my knees crying at how I got so unhealthy.
My fiancé being the Prince he is, wiped away my tears and told me I was beautiful. When I told him I didn’t have money for surgery, or diet pills he said I didn’t need those. So we talked it through and decided that I would sign up for Weight Watchers. I can honestly say that I had no idea that a year from that day I would have lost 63 pounds, 14 dress sizes, 10 jean sizes, 3 shirt sizes, have to get my ring taken in 2.5 sizes, and even lose 1.5 shoe sizes. While the physical successes are amazing what I was not prepared for was the emotional journey that would also take place.
While Weight Watchers and exercise helped manage my weight I had to realize that I put personal love for others, heartbreak, pain and food into the same basket, thus when I was in love and comfortable or in pain due to a heartbreak or high school drama I ate…A LOT! This was by far my biggest challenge.
Being in a relationship it is fun to go out on dates to restaurants and splurge and get appetizers, entrees, and dessert and sometimes it still is fun, but now I do so in moderation. Being in relationship it is also fun to bake, eat ice cream bed, or order pizza and power watch shows on Netflix. Breaking these habits was and still is my biggest challenge. If I had a bad day at school (got a bad grade, received bad feedback, got rejected from a journal or conference) I would change my attitude by comforting myself with eating something delicious, such as candy, a pint of ice cream, and/or a batch of cookies.
Learning to break these habits when they felt so natural was, and has been an incredible challenge. However, it is something I had to cope with as I realized that these things aren’t going to go away. I will always want to go on fancy dates with my future husband, and I will always have bad days at school/work. I needed to learn techniques on how to handle these so I self-taught myself a few tricks. I learned that if I was going to enjoy a night out, that it meant I was going to be splitting a meal with my prince, therefore eating the right size portions, and if I had a bad day there were other methods to decrease my stress/improve my attitude which included working out, watching a show on Netflix, playing the guitar or reading a book for pleasure.
While I still get tempted to order dessert or my own entrée I realize that the small choices add up to mountains of success (scale and non-scale victories), and that working out, watching a show, playing the guitar or reading a book provided several more benefits than a pint of ice-cream ever could! Thus, my suggestion for breaking bad habits is replacing them with better habits. If you are a stress eater, find something that relaxes you, for instance taking a bubble bath, playing a video game, playing dress up with your children, writing poetry, and/or making picture collages. One thing I recently thought of that I plan on doing myself is creating a relax jar, where you write a bunch of activities that relax you, and when you are stressed you go to the jar and randomly select an activity to relax you. Sometimes when you are stressed, you are even too stressed to think of something to do that relaxes you, however, if you have a relax jar with activities already thought out, all you have to do is go and pull one out, and you are off to doing something that is more relaxing!
Another challenge I have had to overcome in this journey to a healthier me is realizing I am no longer fat. For so long (15 years to be exact) I have thought of myself as ugly, fat, overweight, chunky, thick, big-boned, and a “butterface.” Sometimes I look at pictures of me now and have to do a double take to realize that the girl in the picture is actually ME. I went from a dress size 22 to a size 6/8 and in some stores/brands even a size 4. That is a dramatic difference and one that every morning I have to come to terms with. I have to take the time and realize that I am beautiful, healthy, active, unique, and that while I may have been unhealthy all those years, I never was fat or ugly. Those were terms I associated with myself due to low self-esteem. So yes, I have days when I get on the scale, try on clothes, or look in the mirror and look fat, but I slowly notice that the number on the scale doesn’t matter, that my clothes look good on me, and that I am by no means “fat.” I have to tell my “fat brain” to stop talking and let my “healthy brain” take over!
As I began gaining confidence in myself, I wanted to share my success with others. I began posting before and current pictures (I say current as we are constantly a work in progress) on Facebook and I received mixed feedback. I would get lots of “likes” as well as positive comments, but I also received unwelcomed feedback about me posting pictures in my sports bras. So I decided to go another avenue and try Instagram. I already had an account but I rarely used it as I was not quite sure how to. After following a couple of inspirational individuals, and getting the hang of it, I realized that I wanted to inspire other women and men so I decided to use my account as a way to share my journey to a healthier me.
I remember waking up to a comment one morning from my friend Katie that said “Transformation Tuesday” while I was familiar with the hashtag (#) and phrase I never thought of myself as someone who had transformed, it was the biggest compliment I have ever received at the time and tears fell from my eyes. While I have heard praises and compliments from friends and family regarding my weight loss, at the time no one had ever told me that I have completely transformed myself, and looked like a new person. Since then I have received numerous compliments from friends, family members, peers, colleagues and total strangers that it is hard to pinpoint which one was the biggest, or most powerful. However, the one Katie said that morning, is one that will always stick out to me as a moment of my own transformation into the realization that I am a new, healthier, me!
To those of you reading this who share similarities, or have stories that are completely different than my own but still have struggles related to stress and heartbreak that has lead to problems associated to poor eating habits, please know that all we can do is take it one day at a time. Some days and weeks will be great and powerful, while others will be hard and brutal, but remember it is not a bad life, it is only a bad moment, you will get past this, move on, and you too will be a success!
With my greatest love and sentiments,
You can follow Mandy on Instagram.