Coming To Terms With An Eating Disorder And The Journey To Self-Acceptance With Carly Compton
Written by Carly Compton:
I was always bigger than my friends growing up. I remember going through elementary, middle, and high school endlessly comparing myself, wondering why I was so much larger. I grew up with a cousin close to me in age; we would often go shopping together, but I would be humiliated because I couldn’t fit in any of the same clothes as her. All these feelings were nearly constant and incredibly hard to handle. My parents were always extremely supportive of me and never made negative comments about my body, but, for some reason, their validation was not enough.
As I got older, I became exposed to what society portrays as the “perfect” body, one that was always smaller than mine. It was all over television, movies, commercials, billboards, ads, and magazines--basically, everywhere I looked. At the same time, I became aware of what I now see as incredibly toxic, damaging, and ultimately impossible ways of accomplishing this “perfect” body, from weight loss pills to meal replacement shakes and the entire diet industry broadly speaking. The more I was exposed to this “perfect” body, the more I wanted to achieve it. No matter how hard I tried, though, that “perfect” body was never attainable for me, and it took years of incredibly unhealthy behavior for me to realize that perfect doesn’t exist.
The negative feelings toward my body only continued to worsen while growing up, especially after one specific incident in middle school. During my seventh grade English class, someone compared me to Theodore from Alvin and the Chipmunks in front of the whole room. I asked him, “How are we similar?” His response: “You are both fat!” Although I had silently thought it to myself, hearing it out loud was so much more degrading. I started drinking meal replacement shakes in middle school and started counting calories and reading every single ingredient on labels in high school.
Fast forward to my junior year--I was in a healthy relationship and was a successful athlete, but it still was not enough for me. I was so consumed with the idea that I needed to lose weight, that being “skinny” was the only acceptable way to live, and that there was no excuse for being anything else. At this point, I had tried everything: every diet, every workout program, every type of fasting, and every meal replacement shake, but nothing was working to the extent that I wanted it to work. This is when my eating disorder began. When nothing else “worked,” I turned to bulimia, an eating disorder that consumes the thoughts and actions of millions of people around the world on a daily basis. While this eating disorder was seemingly giving me “results” and making me feel “skinny,” I was actually doing much more harm to my body than I ever imagined. My eating disorder continued for five years into my junior year of college.
Throughout those five years, my life changed in many ways. I moved to Hawaiʻi to pursue my undergraduate degree in elementary education and, in the process, also became a health and fitness educator to help women and others develop a healthy lifestyle with eating and movement. However, this was so hypocritical of me, as I was still struggling with bulimia and living an extremely unhealthy life in secret. It was this hypocrisy, combined with my years of battling an eating disorder, that essentially forced me to make a decision: I either needed to give up my love of working with women or start the recovery process. I knew deep down there was only one possible choice, a decision that ultimately kept me alive in more ways than one.
The Journey To Recovery & Self Love
My recovery started with small steps, giving up things that I knew were not good for my relationship with food, movement, and my body generally. I threw away my scale and decided I no longer wanted to weigh myself. This small task was honestly probably one of the single biggest accomplishments of my recovery considering I used to weigh myself multiple times a day, which would dictate my next meal and make me feel guilty about not exercising. I started learning more about intuitive eating, which consisted of eating when I was hungry, removing labels from food, and reminding myself that food is fuel and not my enemy. The process was so hard and contained much more than listed here. I had plenty of slip-ups, too, but I have been fully recovered now for about three years.
It was with this experience and knowledge that I learned through this process that I decided to fully dedicate myself to helping others with eating disorder recovery. In September of 2017, I started Paradise Fitness with Carly with the idea that paradise is a mental space attainable through healing one’s relationship with food, movement, and their body. I knew I wanted to continue helping women develop a different kind of healthy lifestyle than that offered by the diet and fitness industries. While I learned a lot through my own recovery journey, I’m still learning every single day, surrounded by empowering, strong, beautiful, and supportive women. The community that has coalesced through Paradise Fitness with Carly has honestly saved my life, and it is because of everyone I interact with that I wake up feeling inspired and motivated to do what I do.
Through my eating disorder recovery, I discovered the highs of self-love and body acceptance. I learned that moving my body and fueling my body should only be done out of love and respect; it is not about losing weight but celebrating what your body continues to do for you every single day. I learned that looking in the mirror and accepting your body is crucial in order to work toward loving your body in every way possible. I also realized just how many people struggle with these concepts, to absolutely no fault of their own.
For all these reasons and more, I created my Self-Love Workshop, a four-week workshop that focuses on four topics: self-love, self-worth, stepping into your confidence, and breaking up with toxic diet culture. The ultimate goal of the workshop is to educate and bring awareness to unrealistic beauty standards, to help people break up with toxic diet culture, and to help people find a sense of self-love and body acceptance. Throughout each workshop, we meet once a week for one hour via a group video call, where we all share our goals, achievements, struggles, and other feelings and discuss in-depth the primary topic for the week. At the end of each call, we set goals for the upcoming week, and I assign a journal prompt to work on throughout the week as well.
If you are reading this and you struggle with body image, self-love, and/or an eating disorder, I just want to remind you that you are beautiful, strong, and one of a kind. There is no one else in the world like you, and that is your superpower. For all the young girls out there going through something similar to what I experienced, I want you to remember that your weight does not define your worth and, no matter how difficult it is, comparing yourself to others is not worth it. Instead of comparing, let’s work on empowering!