How I recovered from a severe eating disorder, overcame unbearable suffering, reclaimed my personal power, found my purpose and voice, and got my life back.
In 2011, I moved from New York to California with the intention of reinventing my life and myself. I’d decided I wanted to achieve my optimal fitness and health, which meant making some serious dietary changes. I went about removing certain “bad” foods from my diet and established strict rules about what I “should” and “could” eat. Initially, I did notice health benefits from these changes, but with time this well-intentioned “lifestyle change” turned into a series of vicious eating disorders that took over my physical and mental health and well-being.
For years I battled anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and depression. This was not due solely to the dietary changes I had made, although that certainly was the catalyst. Reflecting back, I now see that there were a number of factors that resulted in my eating disorder:
- I’d experienced a loss of connection and identity from uprooting myself from my family and friends and relocating to a new place where I was completely alone.
- I had a genetic predisposition to eating disorders, which made me more vulnerable to develop one (or in my case many).
- I had a difficult time acknowledging my painful emotions and expressing them in a healthy manner. Rather than releasing these feelings, I covered them up with more and more food.
- I’d rewired my brain, unknowingly over time, so that my problematic eating behaviors eventually became deeply ingrained automatic behaviors that were triggered by any and everything. The belief that I had control over my behaviors was an illusion; rather my brain was controlling me.
- Food had became my friend, my pastime, my punishment and my escape. It was a personal prison of daily torment and hell that I had constructed for myself and could not seem to find a way out of.
The “I’m-not-good-enough” Disease
During this time, I happened to be working as a personal trainer, a job that I loved. What struck me was that the majority of my female clients—women of all ages, races, shapes and sizes—were all dissatisfied to varying degrees with their bodies. They all battled with eating and weight issues in some capacity. Even those who were “skinny” and “attractive” by society’s standards were not immune from this disease of “self-loathing.”
I was equally surprised when my female peers and friends, whose bodies and beauty I would hopelessly compare myself to, would share their insecurities and thoughts of self-dislike. After years of this, I realized that the “I’m-not-good-enough” mentality is a plague infecting the masses. No one seemed to be immune.
My clients were coming to me wanting to lose weight, improve their fitness, develop healthy eating habits and establish a good relationship with food and their bodies (just like I was). The more I trained clients, the more helpless I felt because neither they nor I seemed to be making progress.
Two life-changing epiphanies
Then I had two major epiphanies that ultimately changed my life…
First, I realized that exercise alone was not enough to help women achieve their goals. You can exercise until you’re blue in the face, but if you do not address the internal and external factors that are affecting your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and that are driving your problematic eating behaviors, then no real progress will be made.
Yes, exercise can have an incredibly positive impact on one’s mind and body; but fitness alone is not a magic pill to cure all problems…
- Squats can’t improve your relationship with your husband, children or co-workers.
- Bicep curls won’t improve the negative self-talk in your head or ruminating thoughts you have about life’s worries.
- Crunches won’t cultivate inner peace and acceptance, and they certainly won’t curb cravings when the “I can’t cope!” alarm goes off in your head.
Second, and more importantly, I realized—How could I help my clients if I couldn’t help myself?!
This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but for years my eating disorder had clouded my ability to see this truth. I operated on a “Do-what-I-say, not-what-I-do” mentality. I felt like such a hypocrite, living in denial for years. Finally, I decided that if I was to help my clients transform their lives by transforming their mental and physical health, then I had to start with myself.
And so I did. I committed once and for all to overcome my eating disorder and learn to love myself, so that I could help others do the same.
The Big Career Switch
Working as a personal trainer, my clients would always comment how I was like their therapist. The only problem was that I wasn’t trained as a therapist. I felt inadequate to effectively help them make the changes on a psychological level that were needed for them to truly experience the health and happiness they desired.
Convinced that the key to wellness depended on making improvements to one’s mind and body, and coupled with my determination to help others (and myself) overcome their self-loathing and eating/body issues, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in mental health. I attended graduate school at The University of San Diego where I obtained a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT).
Contrary to what many assume and what the title may imply, this does not mean I work only with couples having marital issues. “Marriage and family therapists are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems” (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists). What separates MFT’s from other mental health professionals is that we focus on working within systems (i.e. family, community, etc.) and looking at how relationships affect a person’s overall mental health. These relationships could be relationships with others, with yourself, with your body and even your relationship with food. These relationships are the crux of our life experience, shaping who we are and how we see the world. From the moment of birth, we are influenced by our interactions with others that shape our core beliefs, self-identity and behaviors.
My Road To Recovery
It wasn’t an easy road to recovery; there were plenty of bumps along the way. I battled for five years to achieve recovery and feel like I was back to being “Sarah” again. Through my healing journey, I realized that the road out of my living hell was one that required making physical, mental, emotional and spiritual changes.
For me, the road to recovery meant…
- Taking a road towards self-love and acceptance.
- Looking at what I was really hungry for—which was connection, purpose and love!
- Learning to observe and change my negative, judgmental and critical thoughts.
- Being able to acknowledge and cope effectively with my feelings. EFT is the best method I have found to “feel and free” them.
- Establishing health eating habits to ensure I met my body’s nutritional requirements to function and feel my best.
- Removing toxic people and situations from my life, and surrounding myself with a positive support network.
- Turning to a higher power for strength, support and courage.
- Starting a daily meditation and gratitude practice.
- Engaging in a number of daily health and self-care practices that made me feel good: i.e.) staying hydrated, getting good sleep, managing stress, staying active, meditating, having fun, socializing, etc.
- Correcting the energy imbalances in my body by uncovering and releasing trapped emotions stemming from repressed feelings— mainly anger and sadness—about numerous childhood, adolescent and adult experiences.
- Learning how to protect my energy so that I wouldn’t absorb other’s energy, especially during therapy sessions.
- Piecing back together my soul, and filling my “soul holes” with love and light.
It was by no means an easy journey. I struggled daily. I had ups and downs and lots of relapses along the way. There were many triumphant moments, followed by what felt like one failure after another. Despite making these profound changes, I still found myself struggling. Sometimes the urges of self-sabotage were just too great to overcome.
But when it came to my health and defeating my eating disorder, quitting wasn’t an option. I knew there must be other healing modalities that I was missing, and I was determined to find the missing keys to recovery.
So I kept fighting and searching…
The Missing Link
Eventually, I discovered one thing that took me on the express lane to recovery—Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or “tapping.”
I vividly recall the first time that I participated in an EFT group. I was feeling very anxious after a day of challenging therapy sessions, and I couldn’t seem to shake it. By the end of the hour, I felt calm, relaxed, lighter and more cheerful. I couldn’t detect the anxiety anymore. It was as if it had been lifted or drained out of my body. I couldn’t believe it. In the past the only way my brain knew how to deal with this all-consuming anxiety was to binge and purge. Yet somehow, by tapping on points of my body while focusing on this uncomfortable feeling, I was able to free it.
I was astounded. I was perplexed. And I knew I had stumbled upon something important. This was the missing link. Energy was the missing link! The more I learn about our energy systems and emotional bodies, the more I believe this to be true.
Turns out that our bodies are made of energy. Everything is made of energy. Thoughts, feelings and urges—all energy! Emotions are simply “Energy in MOTION”
When we repress our emotions, we trap that energy. No amount of talking about your feelings is going to move it. Tapping, on the other hand, opens up our energy channels to allow our trapped emotions to flow out of the body. While awareness of emotions is an important first step, it is an incomplete process to emotionally heal without the energy factor. The beautiful thing I discovered is that when I effectively felt and freed the emotional energies from my body, then the emotions I had been trying to stuff down with food were no longer present. My brain had learned a more effective way to cope. Suddenly, my need for food to self-soothe became less and less.
Energy Work = The Future of Healing
Since discovering EFT and the remarkable affect it has had on my own healing journey of body, mind and spirit, I have dedicated myself to continue discovering, learning and utilizing energy-healing modalities, including the Watkins Method and Emotion Code. I believe that energy work is the future of healing the emotional body and rebalancing of energy within the body. In the future, tapping will be something people do as commonly as brushing their teeth. People will clear their energy imbalances as often as they take vitamins. These will be common practices that will and are becoming an integral part of one’s wellness—physically, mentally and emotionally.
I am now on a quest to turn my pain into purpose by helping as many people as I can to correct their energy imbalances so they can achieve total wellness. As each of us is able to release the emotional baggage keeping us from living the quality of life we desire, from being the person we desire, and from feeling the happiness and health we desire, then we will be able to show up in the world in our full power, capable of accomplishing each of our life’s purpose.
- It’s time to let go of what has been holding you back.
- It’s time to roll up your sleeves, dive inwards into the emotional entanglement residing deep within, and emerge on the other side lighter, brighter and empowered.
- It’s time to make peace with your feelings, your past, your circumstances and yourself.
Just because this is the way it’s been does not mean this is the way the rest of your life has to be, no matter how long you’ve been struggling. You can feel good again. You can get back to yourself again. You can reclaim yourself and your life again. And I’m here to help you do it, because if I can do it, then I know you can to.