My name is Mary Kate and this is my story of struggle and recovery.
I am a social worker in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’m originally from Miami , Florida, but moved to New Orleans when I graduated college.
As a social worker, I work with adolescents and young adults struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and trauma.
Since starting my own recovery in 2016, I’ve started writing again.
Writing has helped me heal and has allowed me to explore things about myself I didn’t even know were there.
Writing about my story helps me on my own journey, but also helps to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental conditions.
If I can help normalize some of these issues, I believe it can help others who are struggling realize they aren’t alone.
Like so many women, I’ve struggled with body related issues for most of my life.
One of my first memories was being six years old and having one of my peers ask me why I was “SO fat.”
At the time, I responded to her and said, “Why are you so skinny?” I was witty and sarcastic even at six years old. GO ME.
Looking back at that memory, I realize how pervasive diet culture and body talk was and still is.
I started my first diet at age 13 when I went on Atkins.
Every year, my friends and I would go to the Florida Keys for one of our friend’s birthdays and I wanted to be able to look cute in a bikini.
I tried so hard to lose weight to look somewhat normal next to them.
My friends were beautiful; thin, tan, Hispanic-American girls.
I did not look like them.
I was white, pimple skinned, with braces and tummy rolls.
All I wanted was to “fit in” and “be part of.” I believed that looking “normal” in a bikini would help me feel more comfortable with myself.
I bought the bikini and I hated how I looked in it every second of the trip.
I dieted and binge ate for the rest of my time in junior high, high school and college.
My weight would fluctuate constantly and much of this depended on my internal world.
I didn’t realize until I started eating disorder treatment, but the way I ate and the way I felt about myself and my experiences were interconnected.
My first year of college was difficult.
I didn’t fit in and had trouble making friends. I had a long distance relationship which eventually fell apart. Food became my refuge.
Eating felt comfortable and it was what I relied on when I felt stressed, anxious and depressed.
I binge ate to the point of discomfort at times.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was over eating, it just felt like it was all I had.
When I came home from college for the summer, I realized how much weight I had gained.
I felt so uncomfortable in my skin and immediately started Weight Watchers. I LOVED this diet.
Unlike when I was on Atkins, I loved the idea that I could still eat carbs and lose weight.
Losing weight helped me feel comfortable and confident in myself in a way I never had before.
At some point, my weight loss stopped. My body plateaued and not only did it become almost impossible to lose weight, but it was also difficult to maintain.
I remained on some form of a diet until this past year (2016).
When I graduated college in 2011, I moved to a new city with my boyfriend at the time.
We struggled through this transition. We eventually ended our relationship as I was in the middle of my graduate program in social work. This was the first time I was single in many years.
I was angry, confused, sad, anxious, and I felt lost.
I moved across the country to be with this person and our relationship fell apart.
Many aspects of my life felt out of control and I believed losing weight would help.
By channeling those feelings into weight loss, I thought I might be able to feel in control of something.
I saw this as a perfect opportunity to “lose the last 10 pounds.” I became very strict on Weight Watchers and exercised 5 days a week.
I started to eliminate carbs at night in hopes of losing weight faster. All of this worked really well. I was beginning to lose weight and I was losing weight fast!
Friends and people at work would notice and strangers would comment. The validation I felt was intoxicating. I finally felt as if I had done something right… something well.
I believed I could finally fit in and that I had a chance at succeeding in life through my weight loss.
For the next three years, I maintained a weight that I wanted.
Maintaining it was SO difficult. I barely ate.
There were so many rules: no carbs after noon and if I had carbs, it could only be on the weekend. All I had for dinner was smoothies.
I was hungry, tired, constipated, and I never felt skinny enough.
I tried so hard to maintain a weight that was not meant for my body. In spite of this, I truly never even felt small enough.
I went home to Miami several times over the course of these few years.
Every time I ran into someone from my past, I would receive so much positive validation for my weight loss.
These people weren’t my close friends or family. They were distant acquaintances (peer’s mother’s, hairdresser, nail technician, friends of friends.) Everyone had an opinion about my weight.
Everyone thought I looked better. They told me I did.
The compliments and validation felt good, but it also made me feel like what I looked like before wasn’t good enough.
Through the compliments, there was also sadness. It made me believe that being skinny was “better” and that I wasn’t good enough the way I was before.
These behaviors carried on and finally came to a head around my wedding.
I met a wonderful person in the summer of 2012 and we became engaged in December of 2014.
This kicked my eating (or lack thereof) into high gear.
I wanted to be as skinny as possible for my wedding day.
All I wanted was to weigh a certain number and be a certain size.
I was bombarded with information about wedding diets, ways to lose weight fast, how to have more toned arms, etc.
These messages made me believe that the way I was wasn’t good enough for my wedding day.
They made me believe that weight loss is an instrumental and rite of passage for getting married.
At the time, it was important for me to be as skinny as I could possibly be. I wanted people to notice my weight loss and I wanted people to be envious of the secret to success that I had. Like I said, the validation was intoxicating.
Putting so much pressure on myself to be smaller just didn’t work. My body stopped losing weight.
I would go days without eating dinner and it didn’t change anything. The number on the scale remained the same.
I couldn’t believe it.
I was exhausted, frustrated, angry, and tired.
At this point, I was the smallest weight I had ever been and STILL hated what I saw. I still found things to pick at and still believed I could do better.
“If I just lost a few more pounds then I would be happy.” That was a consistent and pervasive theme at this point in my life.
This just wasn’t true.
It never was true and never became true. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t look as skinny and as small as I wanted to.
My therapist believed I was experiencing Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I thought she was crazy.
I insisted that I wasn’t that skinny. She said that was the BDD talking.
I only stopped criticizing, picking apart, and disparaging my body when I realized my body wasn’t the problem. It was how I felt and viewed myself that was the problem.
Not until I fully understood that my worth didn’t come from a number, a size, or from my physical body at all, was I able to understand this.
About 2 years into my weight loss journey, I stopped being able to go to the bathroom (number two.)
I went to many gastro-doctors and was told I had the constipated type of irritable bowel syndrome.
This meant that I had stomach distress that could be flared up by certain foods, anxiety, depression, or stress. It also meant that I had a really hard time going to the bathroom, obviously.
For someone with control issues, this made me extremely angry.
I took supplements, fiber, drank lots of water, ate the appropriate amount of vegetables, and it was still extremely difficult. It was something I had no control over and this made me feel incredibly helpless.
If I couldn’t go to the bathroom, that meant my weight would be higher than it “should’ve” been. It was miserable… purely and truly miserable. It didn’t stop being miserable until I entered recovery.
Later on, I realized this illness was due to a lack of certain important nutrients in my diet (namely, carbohydrates).
I got married in the fall of 2015.
After my wedding, I told myself that if my eating habits didn’t improve I would seek help. I allowed myself to believe that my eating was just a result of wedding stress.
As one might be able to imagine, my eating habits didn’t improve.
I was restricting, unhappy with my body, and deep down, unhappy with myself entirely. I was so tired of living this way and so tired of being scared to eat.
In the spring of 2016, I began meeting with a nutritionist, attending group therapy, and was consistently seeing my own therapist. This was so incredibly challenging for me.
The idea of gaining weight terrified me and the idea of possibly being as “big” as I once was felt too tough to bear. All during this time, I had been working in the social work field.
In the last four years, I had worked with addiction, eating concerns, anxiety, depression, and a large spectrum of disorders.
As a social worker, I really believe that everyone deserves treatment and no one is perfect, but I should’ve known what I was doing. I believed that I shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly be suffering from an eating disorder. I believed I wasn’t “sick enough” to receive help.
Believing all the irrational and fear based thoughts that I would try to challenge with my own clients, I was in denial.
In order to move through those irrational belief patterns, I had to realize that yes, while I’m a social worker, I’m also human. I’m not immune to human experiences and emotions. While I am more educated and equipped to handle this, it’s different when you’re the client.
I know how to treat eating disorders, but I couldn’t treat myself.
By allowing myself to become the client, I felt humbled. I sat with my nutritionist and therapist and cried and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. Then, I started to heal.
I continued to work on my recovery and help others who were facing the same issues.
This was hard. Sometimes, it even felt impossible.
I was in supervision for this and talking to my therapist about how difficult this felt at times. It also made me more empathetic. It made me more compassionate and it made me able to really “go there” because I was “in it” as well.
Now, looking back, I realize all of this made me a better therapist.
Today, almost a year after starting the recovery journey, I am so much better. I don’t check my weight (but I know I’ve gained about 20 pounds since I started) and I feel like a person again.
Triggers are constantly around me. Body talk, body shaming, and diet culture is constantly inundating us.
We are always around diet, fitness and cleanse ads. We’re told subtly and not so subtly that we’re not okay the way we are.
We’re told to change.
We are told to shrink and this is hard. This is really hard. It’s something that I feel and experience every day.
Not until I was out my active eating disorder did I realize how LOUD all of this is. It affects everyone. Not everyone will have disordered eating tendencies but this message is loud.
I think the media and diet culture has so much to do with the way I felt.
My family and friends were not pressuring me to lose weight. No one in my life had ever done that.
Through articles, diets, exercise routines, and the world’s obsession with “health,” I began to believe that I was part of this special club. I fit in, and my thinness was a result of it.
The media and diet culture leads women to believe that if they’re not a size four and gluten free, than they’re doing something wrong.
If you’re not going to boot camp, drinking kale smoothies, and becoming “paleo,” you’re not “healthy.”
That’s just not the case.
Women and young girls are constantly bombarded with information about how to change, shrink, and modify themselves.
It’s really hard to fight it, but in my world, it’s becoming increasingly important to me to challenge these models and ideas.
We receive messages about our bodies constantly. We’re told to not have cellulite and to cover up our faces with makeup. We’re told to exercise for “that perfect booty,” and not to eat fats, carbs or sugar.
We are living in a world that glamorizes weight loss and demonizes weight gain.
As a social worker and recent body positive activist, I believe it is my duty to fight for these things. It is my duty to help others experience the type of relief that has come with recovery.
Recovery has been hard… really hard.
In fact, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done; however, the difficulty in my recovery lets me know every day how much I really need it.
The way I feel about the process, how emotionally charged it is, tells me I need it.
I can say today that it has been almost a year of no restriction. It hasn’t been easy, but I feel better already. My relationship with food isn’t perfect, but it’s changed.
I don’t buy into diet culture the way I once did. I listen to my body when it’s hungry and I exercise when I feel like it.
All of this may not seem like much, but for me, it’s been everything.