‘My mother committed suicide the summer before I turned fifteen. The pain was too much to face, so I tried burying it.’

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“My weight loss journey began in February of 2015. I had started university the previous fall, and my mental health took a serious turn for the worse. My anxiety had reached an all-time high and I began experiencing crippling panic attacks regularly. By November, I had fallen into a deep depression. I didn’t have any coping skills, and ended up turning to food.

It started out innocently enough. Something would trigger my anxiety at school so I would pick up some sort of ‘treat’ on my way home to try and make myself feel better. It didn’t take long for those ‘treats’ to turn into full blown binges, and it didn’t take long for those binges to become an almost nightly event.

I gained 30 pounds in a span of three months. Somewhere in that time period I stopped looking in the mirror. I hated myself for what I was doing, but felt completely helpless to my own actions.It was a vicious cycle that never seemed to end. I would sink my lips into something delicious and for a moment the endorphins would wash away whatever negative feelings I was harboring. Then the self-criticism would kick in and I would start to feel even worse, which would lead to another binge. Some nights I would literally eat until I got sick, it was awful.

Carly Harstad

I decided to seek help that Spring. My battle with anxiety and depression was nothing new, and although I have always been an emotional eater with a history of binge-eating, this latest manifestation had taken things to an entirely new level. I felt as though I had no control over my life, and had lost myself completely.

I began to see a therapist, and with his help I unpacked a lot of childhood trauma that was causing me to self-sabotage. Binge eating was only the latest form; I’ve always been a binger. My self-destructive tendencies began after my mother committed suicide the summer before I turned fifteen. The pain of my loss was too much to face, so I tried burying it. I started drinking heavily and partying almost every night. My dangerous lifestyle put me in many terrible situations, and rather than dealing with the new trauma, I threw it on the pile and continued to fuel the fire.

Carly Harstad

Much like when I was binge eating, I knew what I was doing was wrong, and even though I hated myself for it, I didn’t know how to stop. Eventually I got my partying under control, but I still hadn’t dealt with any of my trauma. Flash-forward a few years, and the stress of starting university plus an emotional break up was enough to trigger me into binge-eating.

At the same time I was addressing these issues with my therapist, I decided it was time I learned how to take care of myself physically. I hired a personal trainer who taught me all the basics of weight lifting and nutrition, and then made me a custom workout plan. Weight loss was never my main goal. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the way I looked before, my only issue with my weight was the loss of self-control that had gotten me there.

Carly Harstad

It didn’t take long for me to start noticing changes once I had a proper support team. The more I worked out, the better I felt. I learned about discipline and the importance of goal setting by dedicating myself to a plan. Pushing myself through the discomfort of physical exertion showed me that I could be strong, and that staying persistent resulted in positive results. I grew stronger not only physically, but mentally. My confidence sky rocketed every time I reached a new milestone or achieved a new goal, and I guess in a way I replaced my addiction to food with that rush. As I began to take control of my life again, the extra weight melted off and my confidence grew.

Carly Harstad

In the fall of 2016 I began studying the art of mindfulness and meditation. While I’ve never been very good at meditating for long periods of time, I found a lot of benefits in mini-meditations and grounding exercises. In the summer of 2017 I signed myself up for a Mindful Self Compassion class, inspired by the teachings of Kristin Neff. I can’t say enough good things about this course, and I honestly believe it should be a mandatory program in our school system. I’ve always considered myself a compassionate person, but I’ve never turned that compassion on myself. The course was very intense and definitely brought up a lot of emotion, but it’s one of the most beneficial things I have ever done. I highly recommend this program to anyone! There are courses you can take, but for anyone on a budget there is also a lot of free information and exercises available online.

Making the link between binge-eating and anxiety has been a crucial step in my journey. Once I realized the source of my addiction I was able to apply the tools given to me by my counselors. It took a lot of practice, but eventually I was able to stop myself whenever I felt a binge coming on. Now whenever I recognize the warning signs, I take a moment to ground myself. Once I am able to bring my mind back into my body, I ask myself what is making me anxious or upset. Then, once I have pinpointed the problem, I consider all the other ways I can deal with the issue. Sometimes I can do this all in my head, but other times I literally sit down and write it all out. I find that the moment you begin to unpack all of the feelings and thoughts that come from anxiety, it begins to lose its power. Your anxiety may be causing you to feel hopeless, sad, worried, and worthless… but they all stem from anxiety. Anxiety is only one feeling, and it is much easier to work though one feeling than many.

Carly Harstad

Through therapy, physical exercise, and mindful self-compassion I’ve managed to find my balance. I would be lying if I said I have my anxiety totally under control; I still struggle with it from time to time but I’ve gotten a lot better. The biggest thing that has helped me stop binge-eating was realizing that it was linked to my anxiety and depression. Another HUGE factor in my progress has been learning how to forgive myself for making mistakes. I used to binge, then get so mad and upset about it that I would end up bingeing again. Now instead of getting angry with myself I choose to have self-compassion, and I continue to move forward. There are always going to be ups and downs, but the most important thing I’ve learned is you just have to keep going.

Carly Harstad

Thinking about the person I used to be is hard. Most of my younger years were spent thinking I had no control, it took me a very long time to realize I had the power to change my life. Finding that power within myself has been life changing, these days I choose who I want to be and how I want to live my life. I used to dread waking up every morning, and these days I wake up excited to start my day and I go to bed feeling accomplished. Self-care is no longer a chore, it’s something I cherish and look forward to. A lot of people ask me what my weight loss secret is, but the truth is there is no secret! Dedication, discipline, self-love, and the conscious decision to live a healthy life is what works for me. I don’t workout or eat healthy so that I can look good, I do it so I can feel good.

Carly Harstad

My dream is to one day become a personal trainer so I can help others build self esteem and find their own balance through self-care. Exercise can be life-changing, and I hope that one day my story will inspire others to seek out the many benefits of movement.”

Carly Harstad

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Carly Harstad, 26, of Canada. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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