Extreme Dieting Nearly Killed Julie—Until Fitness Saved Her
After a bout with a severe eating disorder, Julie got her health and relationship with food right back on track!
What made you realize you needed a change?
Despite having a "successful" social and academic life in college, I developed an eating disorder in my senior year. I had gained about 15 pounds during my first three years—mostly due to beer and frequent fast-food trips—and I started the fall of my senior year the heaviest I had ever been.
One day, I woke up and it just hit me: I needed to get healthy and change my lifestyle or else it would continue down that self-destructive path. It started out with good intentions of eating less and exercising more. I started going to the gym every other day, mostly doing cardio for about 30 minutes with a little strength training. Eventually, I was in the gym every day for 2 hours: 1-1/2 hours of cardio and 30 minutes of lifting.
The following summer, I dropped to 90 pounds, eating no more than 500 calories a day. I ate strictly vegetarian, fat-free foods, and ultimately had little knowledge of strength training and a proper diet. I suffered from anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and amenorrhea.
One day, my brother-in-law showed up at the gym while I was on the treadmill and told me that I was killing myself. He refused to leave until I stopped running. I felt so humiliated and defeated. My entire family wanted me to get better; I just needed to convince myself. In danger of losing my friends, my family, my internship, and most importantly, my health, I decided I needed to change.
It's interesting how seemingly healthy pursuits can quickly spiral downward. What was the most difficult part of your change?
It was learning to trust food again and letting go of the idea that training was solely for the purpose of burning calories.
Weight: 90 lbs.
Body Fat: 10%
Weight: 120 lbs.
Body Fat: 10%
Society pressures people—especially women—to feel guilty about eating "bad" foods and teaches them that they must be slaves to cardio machines to burn anything and everything off. I had trained my brain to think, of less food and more cardio as my way to happiness. My mentality was so screwed up; it took a complete overhaul, supported by friends, family, and doctors, to get it straight again.
Eventually, I started to view food as fuel to train, and learned that happiness wasn't about burning 600 calories on the treadmill but more about hitting a deadlift PR and enjoying frozen yogurt after.
The three years between the beginning of my eating disorder and now was a roller coaster, filled with good days and bad days. But I refused to give up.
I set a goal to compete in an NPC bikini show in the spring of 2014 and placed third in my class. I still have good days and bad days, where I feel as though I don't look lean enough. The real challenge is learning to overcome those days. Food is no longer the enemy. Cardio is no longer the solution. Truly, bodybuilding has taught me to love and respect my body for all it's worth.
Great mindset transformation! What steps did you take to make this happen?
I began to actually take my nutrition and therapy sessions seriously. It was never easy. I remember eating a pasta dinner with my family and breaking down in tears because I was terrified of pasta, even whole wheat. Whole eggs were a foreign concept to me.
I decided that if I had to change my life and my outlook on health in order to get better, I wanted to do it the right way. I began to read articles on Bodybuilding.com and started following Jamie Eason's LiveFit trainer. I looked up to women like Jamie for their muscular, strong physiques. I learned about proper nutrition and the importance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. I began to rebuild my trust in foods that had forever been "off-limits."
I learned there is more to the gym than obsessive amounts of cardio to burn calories. I learned that if I wanted to build muscle and look like those women, I needed to eat, and eat a lot. I fell in love with the weight room, setting strength goals, learning techniques, and challenging myself in a whole new way. I created my own workout charts and meal plans designed for a bodybuilding physique.
I felt alive again.
What are your plans now?
I am currently training for my second NPC bikini competition with future plans to compete the rest of 2015 in the bikini division. Depending on how this season goes, I might look at moving up to competing in figure.
How do you suggest newcomers to fitness start their own journey?
From my experience, it is important to find a balance and not go to extremes to achieve a goal. It may take some time, but you need to find what works for you—both diet- and training-wise. Everyone is different, and finding what works will be a lot of trial and error.
And of course, utilize Bodybuilding.com! It's a great resource for nutrition, training, and motivation. When I didn't know how to perform an exercise or was looking for a new movement, I went to muscle-group articles and videos. When I needed motivation, I read articles and forums. It has everything I need.