Community Essays: What I’ve Gained

This is a collection of essays from our community in response to our February writing prompt “What I’ve Gained”. We received many submissions this month, so please note that although we were unable to include them all, we’ve read and been touched by every single one. 

By Calesse Smith

Since truly committing to recovery, I have gained back my life.

I hadn’t ever quite realized what had been stolen from me when I was in the throes of my disorder until I was able to take a tiny step outside of it and could view what my life had been reduced to as a result. Everything in my life had become so small. Not just my body, but every piece of my existence.  

I’ve gained back my desire to live, rekindled my appetite not only for delicious and nurturing food of all varieties, but for all of the amazing life experiences my disorder had kept me from. I’ve gained back my sense of adventure, my willingness to take risks, my desire to try new things – even though I run the very real possibility of failing.

I’ve gained back my relationships with my loved ones and my closest friends who’ve known me and loved me throughout this painful process.

I’ve gained knowledge about myself, about my character, and about an inner strength I never knew I possessed.

I’ve gained tools and strategies to not only help myself when I face challenges ahead, but also to share with others who might walk the same road I once did.  

I’ve gained an appreciation for my body, for all that it does for me each and every day, and how I must therefore treat it with the utmost respect, love, and care.

I’ve gained an understanding that harder workouts aren’t always better. Running more miles won’t always make you faster. Refusing rest days doesn’t make you strong. It is in the resting that we rebuild to become stronger than ever. This period of rest and recovery has been as much a rejuvenation of my physical body as it has of my mind and spirit. I once felt the kind of weariness that no amount of sleep or number of rest days could cure, a weariness I thought I might never shake. It was a weariness of my soul. I have gained back the fire in my soul, and it’s sending out sparks of joy, passion, and enthusiasm to everyone I meet.

Although my disorder nearly took my life from me, I’ve now gained everything back and more. I am all the more resilient and alive having fought my way out of its vice like grip. I’ve gained a second chance at life, a life full of wonder, possibility, potential, and opportunity.

But most of all, I’ve gained an immeasurable capacity to love; to deeply accept and treasure both my own broken and imperfect self, and even more so, those around me. With my whole heart, I can now genuinely love and appreciate them not in spite of, but because of the flaws they lay bare to me.   

By Sydney Benator

I pull out my favorite pair of jeans- trying to wiggle past my hips and thighs. As I try to force the button closed, I quickly realize the weight I’ve gained. A pair of jeans that used to loosely fit around my stomach and hips are now being donated to goodwill. While I will miss those jeans, I wouldn’t trade what I have gained from deciding to take better care of myself.

Flashback to September. One month before I completed my first marathon and 10 weeks into the most intense running training I had ever been through. My weight was lower than usual, my period failed to appear every month, my social life was non-existent, my fatigue was so bad I couldn’t function, my relationship was rocky, but in my mind, I was fast and could run far so that’s what mattered. One day when I went out for a planned fifteen mile run I couldn’t move my legs any longer. I stopped dead on the trail. My body and mind were exhausted. I had hit a wall. I broke into tears, finally acknowledging the lifestyle I was living was not sustainable.

This was the point I decided it was time to admit I needed help. I was not fully recovered from disordered eating and impulsive exercise in the way I thought I was. I decided to find a dietitian and a therapist who helped me realign my goals. Why was I actually running the race? What were my actual goals? As a result, I increased my food intake and did lots of work hashing out what my relationship with running was and what it should be.

At first, with my sustained intense levels of exercise, I didn’t gain much weight. However, after the marathon, I stopped running as much for a variety of reasons. With the decrease in miles, I slowly watched as my body transformed, my hips widening, belly growing, and it felt as if I was expanding. My weight gain wasn’t overly significant, but it was what I needed for my body to function properly. Not only did I gain better health, but I gained so much more. I replaced time spent running with time spent on doing things that aligned with my values. I gained better relationships from replacing the hours spent running with hours with friends. I gained an increase in knowledge from the number of books I now have time to read. I gained an ability to relate to others by listening to more music, watching more TV or YouTube videos, and reading the news. Overall, I gained a sense of self back. Sometimes, like when my favorite pair of jeans doesn’t fit, or I hear about my running friends’ goals of qualifying for Boston, or when I can’t pick up my running speed how I used to, I wish I could go back to the person I was before- the slightly skinnier, but incredibly unhappy person I was. Then when I think about all I have gained, how the person I am now resembles the person I want to be, and how I have so much more to offer the world then my knowledge of nutrition and fitness, every ounce of weight was worth it.

By Sara Scinto- Madonich

6 years ago I was experiencing the worst of my disordered eating and exercise behaviors. Since then:

I’ve gained (back) my love for food, no guilt or shame attached. I’ve gained (back) a regular period and with it, bone density. I’ve gained an understanding and acceptance of my body’s limits, lower now than what they used to be. But I’ve also gained self-compassion for when I accidentally push past those limits, taking things in stride and constantly learning.

I’ve painstakingly gained respect for my body, appreciation for my body, and acceptance of my body (most days). For those days when body dissatisfaction is high, I’ve gained the ability to sit with those feelings and work through them until they pass instead of spiraling back into disordered behaviors. This would not have been possible without gaining a community where I was able to share my experiences and relate to the experiences of others. A community where I felt assured I was not alone and that there was value and importance in pursing continued recovery.

I’ve gained a feeling of joy and contentment independent of my body size or running status. I’ve gained so many amazing relationships, personal and professional accomplishments, experiences, and memories that would not have been fully enjoyed or appreciated if I was still obsessed with food, exercise, and my body.

And I’ve gained weight. I needed it. It’s not a bad thing. Because without it, my physical and mental health would have kept suffering. And despite what our society has made us believe, I am happier and more well now than I ever was 6 years ago. I’ve gained so much more than my disordered mind could have ever imagined.

By Kristjana Cook 

Weight. If I’m going to be honest, that is the first word that came to mind in response to the prompt. I have gained weight. And that has been hard. Hard because I know that I am more than numbers. I know that my worth is not measured in pounds and sizes and stats. Hard because I know all the things that I say to myself, that I say to other women, all the empowering, beautiful, empathetic and wise words, all those things are easier said than done.

I recently spoke to a middle school girls’ club about overcoming an eating disorder. And at the end, looking at their faces, seeing their shame and their pain and so much of their fear, I said something I hadn’t planned to say.

“So, I’m going to tell you girls something, and it’s the honest truth. I’ve been sharing my story and speaking to groups like you for several years now. It’s a passion of mine – to tell young women how beautiful they are, just the way God made them. That numbers and diets don’t make them better. All those things I’ve been sharing with you for the last hour, they’re all true. But I also have to confess to you that I’m 44 years old and not a day goes by that I’m not tempted to think about counting calories, or what I’ve eaten, or what I look like or how much I weigh. I STILL find myself running an extra mile on the mornings when I’ve got a dinner date planned that night. I still carefully eyeball the portions I put on my plate, and still sometimes convince myself that I really need a stick of gum instead of a snack, because surely I’ve already eaten enough that day. It’s hard. I can say all day long that I’m recovered but it’s still hard. Disordered eating gets in your head and you have to fight it. Every single day.”

What have a gained? I’ve gained a fervent desire to help other women. To be honest. With them and with myself. To work hard to help others see their beauty – that it’s immeasurable. I’ve gained insight in knowing that I cannot trick myself into thinking I’m “well” if I’m still wondering how many calories were in the brownie I just ate, or whether or not adding an extra hill set to today’s run will make me faster, or just make me “earn” a little bulkier breakfast.

It comes out most deviously when I’m feeling insecure about something: getting passed over for a job, being forgotten from an invite list, finding out that a couple of my running friends went out for coffee and didn’t decide on it until after I’d left. Those are the moments when I scurry back into the safe-feeling of wanting to count, to control, to be the one calling the shots.

I still need help. I know that. Finding this community has been a little bit of a miracle. Knowing that other women – other smart, strong, successful, beautiful and accomplished women are struggling with the ghosts of past eating disorders makes me feel so much less alone. It makes me want to be better, because I want them to be better too.

What I have gained: determination to lock arms and conquer this together.

March Essay Prompt & Partnership

We are partnering with one of our favorite RD’s, Julie Duffy Dillon, host of the “Love, Food” podcast. On the show, she reads letters that people write to food, often expressing frustration about, and reflecting on, their own relationship with food and how it has evolved. Sometimes people are seeking advice, sometimes they are just venting, and sometimes it’s a reflection of progress from ED.

We invite you to write a letter to food (Dear Food, ….) and see what comes up for you. We’ll select one letter from the community to be read (anonymously) on Julie’s show later this month!

Contribute your essay, or share your story, with Lane 9 Project


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