While teaching a fitness class last week, I noticed something disturbing. As I scanned the room checking for proper form, perceived level of exertion, etc. is when I was jolted into a scary realization.

Every girl in the room, including myself, has had or is currently suffering from an eating disorder (I know this personally) whom I have helped in some form. That saddened me to know that not only am I sure of this, but what if there were 7 other girls in the room? Would it be the same statistic? Would I even know about their disordered eating habits? Are they aware they are suffering or do they think they are normal? Are they working out because they hate their bodies? These thoughts came to me and I determined that I must share my full background so you can get a better idea of present-day Brooke vs. the previous chapters where you likely didn’t know me.

Growing up, I never had a thin frame. Come to think of it, I never compared myself or shape to others until late into middle school. As I went through puberty, hormonal changes in this awkward stage had me go from a size 1/3 to the next size or two up, 5/7. I felt fluffy. I was eating like complete shit, like I pretty much always did, but I gained a significant amount of weight from junior high into my freshman year of high school.

As a freshman, I would eat a package of Pop Tarts at lunch and washed it down with a big bottle of Snapple lemon iced tea. I had this every day for lunch for just about the entire freshman year of school. I kept putting on some pounds, but it wasn’t until I went through a dark time of being sexually abused and then getting bullied at school where I turned on myself and let it out on my poor body– unconsciously. I did not have any close friends at the time. The nearly 2,000 kids in my grade didn’t bother with me at all. No boyfriend. No trustworthy girlfriends. No safe space at home. No authority figure to turn to.

By the time sophomore year started, I was still my fluffy-self with no friends. Sounds so sad, really… but I was completely lost and depressed. I was in health class when my teacher was explaining to us the benefits of eating well, a balanced diet (referencing the bullshit food pyramid, haha) and exercise. I remember sitting around the table of kids while intrigued by what I was learning, unlike history class. I figured I could take some of these tips and implement them into my life somehow. But the health-kick turned into a slight obsession, especially once the weight started to come off. But I felt better. Lighter. Thinner. My hair and skin looked great. I had to buy a new wardrobe because nothing fit me any longer. I started making new friends and got better attention from boys.

For once in my teenage life, I felt happy and confident in my new figure. My mother caught wind of what I was doing, which I explained as “healthy” but just put blame on my health coach teacher. She figured I have an issue with food and exercise, so she would take those two things (which are only vehicles for me) away. She banned me from going to the YMCA gym where I would run and then sit in the sauna to get more of a sweat in. I wasn’t allowed to buy whole wheat bread (which now I know isn’t even great) anymore because she thought it was too extreme. Anything I was doing was pretty much taken away from me, leaving me again feeling lost and out of control. Little did she know, she was feeding the devil inside me. What other resource did I have to try to get a handle on my life than control my food?

So the journey of Brooke rebelling was unleashed. Those close to me know that if you tell me to do something, I will likely do the opposite out of pure principal that I’m not trusted to make decisions on my own and/or to gain a sense of control. There was no more Pop Tarts and Snapple at lunch followed by a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger and Frosty after school. I “lived” off about 500-750 calories daily; barely surviving off plain rice cakes, low fat yogurt loaded with aspartame and Special K. I honestly did not mind it. The hunger I had in between the one or two things I would eat a day ended up being comforting in some way.

If my mother forced me to eat dinner she would make (if it wasn’t a dry salad) then I wound up throwing up my food. It just didn’t feel right inside me, and it wasn’t even a thought the first time I did it. I was on diet pills which are now illegal for killing a bunch of people. I’d developed such a resistance to them that I had to sometimes double or triple my dose. Several times, I looked down on my bony ribcage to find my heart pumping so hard that it was protruding out of my chest. I never stopped, through. Did I know at this point this was unhealthy? Probably, but at that age who cares? If I looked good and people liked me, what did it matter the measures I took to achieve it?

Through high school, my weight shifted a few pounds following this routine of mine. I was able to hide the fact my period did not come for about a year because I lost so much weight in a short period of time. There was not enough fat or fuel for my body to support my reproductive health, so it went away and I was fine with it. If that meant I didn’t have the fluff around my hips then so be it. My parents put me into therapy to see if they can get a handle of what was described to me as an “eating disorder”. That didn’t work because I didn’t WANT to work on it. They drove me to an impatient hospital facility for eating disorders where they would weigh you daily, lock you down and pretty much force feed you and monitor your every move, including inside the bathroom. Did I care? Did I stop? Nope. Secretly, I was hoping I would have been left at the hospital so I didn’t have to go home and deal with the nightmare of the house I lived in. But that didn’t happen— it was only a scare tactic.

In junior year, I remember a “friend” of mine recommended I try this drug to make me skinny and not hungry. It sounded appealing to me, so I was all for it. That is the moment my eating disorders morphed into a serious drug problem. I was hooked on cocaine for nearly two years. This is something only a handful or two close people in my life in this present day know, so it’s liberating to look back and see I went through that and came out on the other side. I was suffering and it no longer was a secret I was able to keep. I admitted my drug use to my parents when I was trying to stop on my own and went through terrible withdrawals that felt like death was coming.

I cleaned up my act, willingly, by the time I was 18. But the deep root of my eating disorder was still quite prevalent. Just when I thought I was on the right track, I would turn back to my old patterns with food whenever a shift happened in my life– which was quite often. The mirrors I looked into reflected a person whom I thought was disgusting, both outside and in.

Only a year or two ago is when I got a grip on what was literally eating me alive. Many horrific and traumatic events have played the biggest role contributing to my eating disorders and poor self-image. Things that I went through were placed into this little section of my brain labeled “do not open”. These events, however, were almost hidden subconsciously and replaced with these newly learned fucked up patterns. But my healing was not from sitting in a therapists office speaking of them. Actually, most of the healing happened outside the office. This took support from the right people, knowledge, a ton of failed attempts, and WORK. There was nothing more I wanted than to be free of what was lingering in pit of my stomach. It took a while, and I still go through moments or periods where I may have a bad day or week. This is normal. Living the life I was prior was not. I stopped being so hard on myself for what I went through– since most people thought I wanted to be this way, but fact of the matter is what other choices was I left with? I did the best I could ON MY OWN until I was ready to stop living in misery. There is so much more I have to say in these matters, and eventually you will hear them.

I believe I went through these hardships for more than half my life for no other reason than to help people. I share my story not to claim pity from anyone by any means. I want to be a supportive role for anyone who is suffering or struggling with their relationship with food and body image. From someone who has been through every clinically diagnosed version of eating disorders, its the least I can do. There’s nothing I get more joy out of in life than helping others who appreciate it. If I can make a minor or major impact on someones day or life, this is what feeds my soul.