My name is McKenna. In addition to being a student entering my junior year of high school, I’m an artist, a singer, an aerialist, a jewelry business owner, a yogi, dancer, actor and photographer. My life’s purpose comes from doing all of these things which I love. I have a deeply rooted passion for sharing my experiences with others in the hopes of inspiring and motivating them to live beyond the limitations in life.
Despite all my activities and accomplishments, I’ve been on an insane roller coaster ride regarding my mental health. There have been days of feeling on top of the world, and others where all I wanted to do was hide away. I’ve doubted my worth and criticized my existence on so many occasions because I turned my focus towards my fear and insecurities and comparisons to others.
Today I am opening up about my journey with my eating disorder.
It began back in 2017 when I wanted to join a sport at school and visited my pediatrician for a physical. I remember walking in and being told by the doctor that I was “higher up on the BMI scale” and that I should “try eating healthier” and “try an exercise routine.” I was only twelve and someone I was supposed to hold in high regard was basically telling me that I was flawed and inadequate.
Although those weren’t her specific words, that’s how I translated them. Do you know why? Because I was merely a kid. In my opinion, BMI is so overrated, useless, and to me it feels like a scam. Just like everything else in the diet industry, my BMI told me NOTHING about my health and well-being. It is biased. Stupid. Trust me, I know. I’ve spent about 5 months debunking its importance.
Anyway, as I was saying, who would’ve thought that that one experience at the doctor would change my life forever. Well, to be honest, it isn’t surprising. At all. In my experience the diet and fitness industries were not helpful but toxic. After we left that awful encounter I still followed the doctor’s advice and researched more into fitness and health. I saw all kinds of “tricks” online to change my body in various forms. I truly believed if I followed the tips I was just.. being “healthy!”
But being healthy meant ignoring my genetic blueprint and not listening to my natural body’s cues. Anyone that personally knows me may remember me as the person who always ate “healthily.” Well, I learned the truth the hard way: Healthy is not about always eating fruits and veggies and organic food. It’s about balance. It’s about moderation. Food is energy. And balance and moderation is the key to EVERYTHING. No food is unhealthy; they just have different nutrients and nutrient levels. Regardless, I learned that food is food and I should never feel guilty about eating anything. It is energy. It is nutrients. That’s it! But it took awhile for me to arrive at this conclusion. Instead, I was influenced by false or misleading misinformation and it took its toll.
After about a year and a half I noticed I was going downhill. Well, I was told that. See, I didn’t really see it as going down. When I started to get scared about eating certain foods, I didn’t see it as a negative thing. When I avoided events involving eating, I didn’t see it as damaging. I thought everyone else was wrong. I was convinced I was just really, really healthy at that point. Boy, was I wrong. I began to listen to my body’s cues less and less, and I went on with it all, because by then I was addicted. See, eating disorders are addictions. Just like getting addicted to alcohol or drugs. It is all derived from the same place. It is never about the substance. It is triggered because of a deeper issue. I was being told by society that I was not good enough because of the way I looked and the amount I weighed. Weight, BMI, how many rolls you have; these were not true indicators of true health for me. Society told me the opposite. I was made to feel that automatically I was unhealthy if I didn’t fit into a specific mold.
I began to resort more and more to negative behaviors until there was a breaking point. I was physically injured. So, because of this, I couldn’t exercise and felt the need to alter my eating habits further and I listened to my hunger cues even less. I damaged my mental and physical health. Well, by this point, my life was my eating disorder. My hunger and fullness cues were out of whack, and yet to everyone around me, I was the “health queen” because I looked and ate a certain way. Seeing me during this time on social media was deceptive. No one knew I was struggling with an eating disorder. I did what I think so many of us seem to do– showed the highlights of my life in the hope of receiving praise from others. I am certain I was in search of this type of validation because I was ironically denying it to myself– all because I had been told by the media and others that I wasn’t enough. It became an undeniable cycle. It would take time but I needed to discover my own inner power, strength and self-confidence. But I wasn’t there yet.
By around October 2018 my body was done with my crap but then I began to binge. Now let me first say this, binge eating is NOT just over-eating. Binge eating is eating way past comfort and feeling completely out of control. Binge-eating is a result of restricting. My body did this because I was not listening to it. Binging after restricting is SO natural. Seriously! All my body wanted was fuel and energy, and by depriving it, it went into survival mode. I’ve learned that we are trained to see food as scarce by not listening to our hunger and fullness cues and as a result, my body tried so desperately to have as much food as possible. This is because my body didn’t know when I was going to properly feed it again. The same can be seen when I got super hungry, even when I wasn’t consciously meaning to restrict, such as during a super busy day when I didn’t get the chance to eat until many hours later. When that happened, it was harder for my body to detect fullness when it was past its hunger.
Ultimately, I was diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) between about November 2018-August 2020. Many people might not realize that there is a difference between binging a few times, and actually having Binge Eating Disorder.
This is where things get interesting.
2018-April 2019 I was a mess. An absolute wreck. Every single day was a struggle and I constantly felt guilty, shameful, sad, mad…. all the emotions you DON’T want to feel. And it wasn’t until summer that I finally got a sense of self again. Except here’s the thing: 1. That “sense of self” actually was me going back to restriction without consciously knowing. This is because I still wasn’t being taught how bad it was. I still thought it was healthy. I saw it as the “good” in my life because when I was restricting, I received praise for it. 2. When I was struggling the most, I didn’t get help. Do you know why? Because I didn’t “look like I had an eating disorder” and because my vitals were ok, no one batted a serious eye. Binge eating disorder isn’t as common, or as talked openly about as other eating disorders. This is because I witness how we live in a fat-phobic world. And yeah, I am confident in saying that. There was no escaping how people look down upon fat and weight gain and chub and rolls. When I opened up to a close friend of mine about my eating disorder, their response was “But, McKenna, you look fine.” I obviously knew they were saying that because, although I have binge eating disorder, I didn’t look like it to others. My struggle was again being combated by the idea that I wasn’t sick enough because I didn’t look the part. When school picked back up and I felt more and more stress, the cycle continued. And I was miserable once more.
A big misconception about someone who has an eating disorder world is that they have to look a specific way to be struggling with one. This is why my struggle was fueled by the idea that I wasn’t “sick enough.” Struggle comes in all shapes and sizes and is not limited to any one body type.
November 2019, the binge eating returned. And it got much worse. I tried to get proper support but when I did, it was never enough because just as before, the doctors and higher-facility staff evaluating me refused to recognize the severity of my pain due to basing their decisions solely on my vitals, size, and weight. By January 2020 I was put on antidepressants, trying to solve my underlying issues with prescriptions despite my not feeling like I was actually depressed. Sure, I was miserable and needed actual help. Though what I truly needed was to be seen, accepted and supported for my unique struggle, rather than doubted and ridiculed. For example, I’d hear comments from my peers, doctors, and staff such as, “Oh at least you aren’t doing X, Y, and Z.” or “At least your vitals are fine” or “You look good though.” This was constant invalidation for my struggles.
It wasn’t until March until I’d had it. I was getting no help, I was getting worse day by day. I told myself, “Well, if they don’t think I’m sick enough to get the help I actually need, I am going to make myself sick enough.” So, I forced myself to be worse. Much worse. I took self-harming actions that I regretted. I did this because I felt unheard and alone and when I started doing those other harmful things. Only afterwards were people finally alarmed enough to finally pay attention. Struggle and pain comes in all various forms and what I learned from my eating disorder journey is so valuable to not only those who have had, or are fighting one, but also just general advice. It is all connected. The feelings, the emotions, the thoughts. It’s the human mind and body. It’s not about the diagnosis. Struggle is universal.
And the torture continued for another month. March 2020 was the lowest point of my entire life.
And then, there was April.
By the end of April, I fought so incredibly hard for support, and I finally got it. I began to do PHP (partial hospitalization program) at a different eating disorder recovery facility. PHP consumed my whole day. I was working on myself in therapy from 11:45am-7pm learning and growing, Monday- Friday. By the time it was June, I had stepped down to IOP (intensive out-patient) which was from 11:45-3.
Today marked my very last day of program. It has been five months of this intense work following four years of this entire self-discovery journey. And I am finally, thankfully free. Now of course, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be rainbows and butterflies 24/7 here on out. I am aware there will still be struggle, hardship and frustration. And there will still be sadness. But here’s the beautiful thing: That’s ok. That is human. That is life.
Another amazing thing about life is that no mold is the same. My happiness didn’t come from running from my true self. I have my own unique figure. My happiness and power comes from stepping into my own confidence in my body, not by chasing someone else’s. I have seen the darkest of places, and I’ve also experienced the brightest. I am here to live my life no longer in fear or doubt or worry. I am here to thrive. Sometimes it can seem impossible. Sometimes it feels like I don’t know how to really live. The amazing thing about that, is that it is okay. All I need to focus on is what makes my heart sing. I focus on what brings me the most joy. I’ve learned that is my life’s purpose. I have learned that suffering is inevitable in life but thankfully temporary. Most importantly, I have stepped into my power.