A personal blog on being a triplet…a triplet with an eating disorder!
A blog by Courtney Darsa, Dietetic Intern at the University of Delaware
I am a triplet.
The first reaction most people had when I told them I was a triplet was: “Oh my god, that is so cool!” Yes, being a triplet does have its perks and certainly makes for a unique experience. But for me, being a triplet came with its downfalls as well. I have a brother and a sister. It was particularly hard for me to have a sister the same age as I was. We had the same friends; we were involved in the same activities—and even worse—we shared a room! We were never apart. It felt like a constant competition. This was particularly true when it came to appearance. My “disordered thoughts” relentlessly told me that my sister was thinner and prettier than I was. I assumed everyone liked her better than they liked me. I felt as though I was living in my sister’s shadow and that I had to be exactly like her—“perfect.”Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc
This perfectionism caused me to become obsessed with losing weight because I wanted to be just like her. I started to run track in high school. I even took it to another level by running more than what was required—longer than the other sprinters. I was burning calories and that’s what mattered. I was a sprinter, but not for long. My coaches quickly saw my “love” for running and introduced me to distance running. And so began my career as a cross-country and long-distance runner.
I wanted to be thin and “perfect” like my triplet sister. So I asked my mom to take me to a registered dietitian early in my sophomore year. I wanted to come up with a regimented meal plan that would benefit my training—aka lose weight! Unfortunately, the RD provided me with a meal plan that helped me to lose weight and further my obsession with calories. This caused me to spiral in the wrong direction. Due to my obsession about wanting to be thin and never really feeling good enough, I found myself losing weight at a more drastic pace than ever. But I was accomplishing my goal and becoming more like my sister. To my absolute amazement, I was receiving compliments about my new appearance. I was finally getting the attention I had longed for! However, I was not healthy. I was obsessing and isolating.
This continued until my very close friends and, much to my surprise, my sister stepped up and told me that they were worried about me. They were concerned that I might have an eating disorder. Of course, I felt attacked and totally denied it. I even wondered: “How could they think such a thing?” I’m fine! Well, my friends and my sister didn’t think so! They went directly to my parents and told them how worried they were. They thought I had an eating disorder. Unfortunately, my parents, who in hindsight were obviously in denial, ignored the subject. I too, was in denial!
I soon found myself training very intensely for my upcoming cross country season, sometimes running up to 60 miles a week. My undiagnosed eating disorder became worse. I was severely underweight and always exhausted. I slowly started to see my performance decline, but chose to ignore the signs. My performance was negatively affected and my relationships with family and friends were compromised. I was irritable, moody and depressed. Being perfect and skinny like my sister was not all it was cracked up to be! Unfortunately, I had dug myself too deep a hole to easily get myself out. At the end of the cross-country season, my coach noticed my eating disorder’s effects on my running performance, pulled me aside and told me that I had to stop training until my weight was “stable enough to handle the training intensity.”Photo Credit: Vincent_AF via Compfight cc
Running had become my whole life; I was utterly devastated. Slowly but with much resistance, I gained enough weight to start running again—but my self-esteem continued to unravel. I hated the way I looked and my disordered thoughts continued to tell me that I wasn’t good enough. I had achieved my goal of being thinner; however, I was far from perfect. I was still living in my sister’s shadow. For the remainder of high school, I was able to maintain my weight at a “stable/higher” level, yet I felt like an emotional mess. I restricted and binged. I realized I had no tools to express my emotions and that food had gotten intertwined. I was so obsessed with food that I decided to major in nutrition and dietetics in college. No one could convince me otherwise!
It didn’t take long for my new college friends to notice my unusual eating habits; they approached me in the fall of my sophomore year—and encouraged me to utilize the student-counseling center. With much anticipation and great fear, even though my friends accompanied me, I met with a psychologist where I discussed my personal issues with eating, body image and low self-esteem.
I was diagnosed with EDNOS—Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. This roused so many mixed emotions—anger, relief, shock and fear—which I still had no idea how to express. After attending many sessions however, my thought processes began changing. I was determined to get better and to start developing a healthier relationship with food. I took more steps than ever to move onto my personal road to recovery.
I began journaling everyday and confiding in my close friends. I was learning to express my emotions. To truly commit to recovery, I also had to do the hardest thing—tell my family what I was going through. This was not an easy task, but I readied myself by practicing during my therapy sessions. I told my family about my eating disorder and my feelings. Again, to my surprise, they were extremely supportive and understanding. Knowing that I had their love gave me the strength to continue through the recovery process. Most especially, having my sister at my side gave me even more courage to push through to recovery. During my senior year of college, I continued with weekly therapy and worked on separating my emotions from food. I learned to separate the eating disorder voice and my own real voice.
Being able to differentiate between “the two voices” allowed me to develop a much healthier relationship with food. I started to slowly take on the task of eating “fear foods.” This was a gradual and difficult process, but through much work and determination, my eating habits improved. I began to establish a neutral relationship with food. I learned that food is for nutrition and does not determine who you are as a person. Separating food and feelings was the key for me in my recovery. I was finally able to start to recognize my own voice!
Perhaps the best thing I discovered during my recovery was who I really was. For the first time in my life, I was no longer living in my sister’s shadow. I learned that the way you look has nothing to do with who you are as a person. What you have to offer to the world is far beyond your physical appearance; it’s who you are on the inside that truly matters. By finding out who I truly was, I was able to strengthen my relationships with my friends and my family. Most important, I was able to develop a close relationship with my sister.
I’m now one year out of college and finishing up my dietetic internship. It’s true when people say that so much can change in just a few years. I was lucky that I forced myself to major in something that I ended up loving. Learning how to have a healthy relationship with food was so important and crucial for my own recovery. Due to my own struggles and my eventual recovery from an eating disorder (and as a future registered dietitian), I’m determined to help individuals grappling with eating disorders to develop their own healthy relationships with food. I also know that it’s important for all dietitians to screen their clients for disordered eating and eating disorders. Being healthy is not about being a certain weight. Being healthy is a balance that honors your body.