If you ask my friends in NYC to describe me, you’ll be painted a picture of a boss lady taking on the city as a full-time professor, writer, and consultant, in addition to being a fitness influencer. They’ll also tell you I’m a people person, excitable, and will always make time to help you move apartments and celebrate your birthday.
If you ask my friends in college or in Phoenix, Arizona (where I lived after college) to describe me, you’ll be painted a picture of an entirely different woman. One my NYC friends couldn’t imagine. They’ll tell you I looked bad and acted even worse: Jittery, nervous, habitually moody, and obsessive compulsive.
It’s because from 2004 to 2010, I suffered from Anorexia Nervosa, a disease that nearly took my life.
It’s not like I want to forget the girl I use to be. If I forgot her, I wouldn’t remember how much I’ve been through. How much I’ve overcome. How thankful I am for the people who kept me focused and strong during that difficult time. I credit every experience for making me the person I am today: Strong, fit, successful, and proud; someone who has the energy and confidence to do everything she wants to do, every day.
That doesn’t mean every day is easy. Honestly, no days are easy. And no one – unless you’ve had an eating disorder – understands what life is like in recovery. It’s full of self-care and transparency; meaning and gratitude. It’s full of energy and vibrancy you didn’t know existed when you were in the thick of the fight.
For me, fitness was motivation to get better. I’d been a competitive dancer from the age of five through high school. I also ran winter and spring track as a teen, as well as cross-country. While I was sick with my eating disorder, I wasn’t allowed to work out, per doctor’s orders (nor, truthfully, did I have the energy). But I missed it, so once I was in recovery, I had to rediscover what fitness meant in this new life stage: One in which eating was both enjoyable and essential; an integral way to achieve my best self.
Merging your love of fitness with your life post eating disorder isn’t seamless. In fact, it’s a constant work in progress. Here is how I work through the balance:
Food = EnergyIf I want to go to the gym or a workout class, I need energy. And most energy comes from food. Food still causes me anxiety, but through the help of medical professionals over the years, I’ve got it under control. I look at food differently than my former self. It’s now something I need for my brain and body to work optimally. I’ve also relearned how food is meant to be enjoyed. I eat things I love that will nourish my body and give it energy, every day. Once I started viewing food as power instead of the enemy, my world became a lot brighter (and me, a lot stronger and healthier).
Endorphins Make You HappySeeing my body work through a dance class, or lift weights, or achieve a new yoga pose is a constant reminder of how far I’ve come. It gives me a sense of euphoric happiness. Each day, I remind myself that if I don’t keep up healthy habits, I won’t be as happy as I am right now – active and accomplished.
Keep Yourself Honest
I don’t do any of this alone. I have a support system who knows my past and will catch me if I fall. This support system includes medical professionals, as well as family and friends. I’ve learned over the years that being in recovery is a permanent thing. If I want to continue down the road of success, I need to understand my triggers and reach out if I feel one coming on. Having a team behind me gives me motivation, as well as inspiration.
Realizing you need help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you are suffering from unhealthy eating patterns or behaviors, contact your doctor, talk to someone who loves you, or reach out to the ANAD’s Helpline at: (888) 375-7767 or the National Alliance of Eating Disorders Helpline at: (866) 662-1235. You are worth it.
If you are thinking about suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. In crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line.
Kerry O’Grady is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU School of Professional Studies – Division of Programs in Business. An award-winning integrated marketing and advertising professional, she is a regularly sought-after media expert, as seen in The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Telegraph, and on ABC News’ digital podcast “Uncomfortable,” to name a few. A passionate fitness enthusiast, she is also the creator and writer for the fitness blog KerryLeeintheCityFit (Instagram @kerryleeinthecityfit).