A strange mix of emotions swell up within me: feelings of great delight and relief to finally be disclosing something I struggled with for a long time - but have now overcome; yet also I feel twinges of pain and shame for what I have done. These thoughts fight back and forth in my mind as I begin to share with you - no, more like tear back the curtain - over a dark and silent desperation. Oh, how I wanted so badly to write this post earlier! Oh how I yearned to be well, to be cured, to be fit, normal, healthy, and vigorous again. One of the most painful truths I have ever learned is that:
You Cannot Go From "Before" To "After" Without "During."
Many times I was still in the "During" and couldn't see the light of "After," but I felt so far from "Before!"
|The is a light at the end of a long and difficult journey|
That being said, you likely already know that I started competing in NPC Bikini competitions about two years ago (The full story here: Going For It: My First Competition) The first show was a really more of a way to spice up my fitness routine by testing my physique against the fittest in the Montana countryside than anything else. I wasn't going for the win or the title, I was kinda just curious and thought, "why not?" Not a very compelling backstory to an IFBB Pro card and a Ms. Bikini Olympia International invite to say, 'a college classmate of mine just suggested I do a bikini competition,' but that's all it took! From there I was off to be the best (More on that here: Bikini Babay!).
|My very first show|
|From my first show to winning my Pro card|
After my first show I decided to get serious about being a #1 bikini competitor (My post on that here: IT. IS. ON.). I hired the best coach in the field, I paid for a year in advance, and I signed up for more shows. I was going to get good at this! ... Gosh this is hard to actually voice the problem I started this post to confess to you!... Here goes: Four months later, during the competition prep for my first show under a professional trainer, I developed an eating disorder. What started in the same way that many competitors consider a usual occurance: a week of extreme dieting followed by a weekly cheat meal, a post show binge here, a "refeed" there; ended in full blown Bulimia Nervosa, a disintegrated metabolism, a wrecked body, and a self-deprecating and fragile girl struggling to reassemble all the shattered pieces. Let me warn you my dear fellow fitness competitors: Beware of the binge/diet cycle. It is delirious and organized gluttony. And it is just that: a cycle, that once started may never end, or may take years to escape. It took me almost two years.
|Post-show binging is not harmless and it is not healthy.|
You guys, this is so hard to talk about. It is so difficult to try to explain why I would do such a horrible and destructive thing as eat copious amounts of the foods that I knew would ruin my fitness goals, and then shortly thereafter: drink hot water, lay on the floor rolling my stomach to loosen it back up, and then spend a half hour over the toilet bowl wretching up as much as I could - until my eyes were swollen and tear filled, and my heart was beating in my forehead. I was so caught up in the desire and the pressure to get better and better... to not only preform, but win... to be what the judges wanted. I honestly have no idea what my thoughts were at the time. I defined myself by what I thought others wanted from me, and I would do ANYTHING to maintain and acheive that. Anything. When the pressure got to great? Binge. A flurry of stuffing everything from peanut butter and cheese, to frosting, to straight coconut oil and sugar mixed together. Sometimes it was fast food: 3 orders of curly fries and cheesecake. Sometimes it was bakery goods: donuts, brownies, cookies. Sometimes it was pizza and wine. Sometimes... it was all of that and more. Fast-farward... through the emotion-numbing and pressure releasing binge... to the guilt. A split second after realizing, "Oh SH!T, I just ate X,000 calories" comes the damage control: the purge.... The desperate attempt at preserving my "fit" image and perceived successful happiness. Eventually the fear of failing and being "fat" prevailed (this would be the purge) over just wanting to escape it all, throw my hands up, just have some fun, and not worry about it all anymore (this would be the binge). I blush to say this cycle would repeat itself up to ten times in a given day. Actually, I got too depressed to keep count. I have no idea what my highest number of binges in a day was... It was A LOT. You see, I set massive amounts of pressure on myself to succeed, and massive amounts of pressure can make someone do almost anything to achieve success. I felt like (and was often told this as well) that I had a gift/blessing for this sport, and if I didn't give it 110% of all I had then I was failing myself and the world! Some common thoughts I had included:
"I need to get a 21 inch waist,"
"My glutes aren't tight enough,"
"___ is gonna beat me if I don't push harder,"
"People look up to me, I can't disappoint them!"
"I have to impress the judges, I have to catch their eye!"
"I am expected to do ___ show,"
"I have to do this. I can't quit now,"
"I want this too bad to fail."
"___ said I inspire them, I can't let them down!"
"I have to finish what I started!"
|I got extremely skinny, but I never felt small |
enough. I always pushed farther. I didn't want
to be weak or stop short of maximum effort.
Competing brought out a savage underlying weakness: to sacrifice all happiness and reason for the sake of succeeding. Succeeding at that which I was convinced was my "calling," because as I did well, I was encouraged... and encouragement feels good! At first. But then, all I was accomplishing was what other people wanted to see me do. At the root, it wasn't competing that made me prone to an eating disorder. It was taking that desire for other's approval, for getting that "you are #1." approval from the judges, from my coach, from my teammates, and from those who followed my budding fitness career.
|Tiny waist and tight glutes were the only things|
that mattered in my mind when I was competing
As a necessary step to regain a healthy lifestyle and win my battle with an eating disorder, I have decided it is best for my health - both mentally and physically - to not continue to compete in IFBB Bikini competitions. This is a choice I had to make for me. Some of you already knew I about this, but for those of you who didn't I hope all of my amazing friends, former teammates, and followers understand my decision. I am so much happier and healthier now! And trust me, this is not the last you've seen of Ruthie Harrison ;) I have a great passion for sharing health and fitness with anyone who will listen, and this battle with bulimia will ultimately makes my mission even more effective.
Fitness competitions are NOT, in and of themselves, inherently evil! NO! Fitness competitions can be great catalysts to self-confidence, to personal betterment, to improved self-value, to meeting like-minded and lifelong friends, to finally learning how to workout and eat clean, and to finally believe and prove to yourself that you CAN and WILL reach a goal if you work hard. That is a very positive thing and Lord-knows how many women and men in this world would benefit from finding that out!
Earning my Pro card was one of the most gratifying feelings in the world.
I worked so, so, so hard to get there - so many workouts, so much dieting, so many expenses - literally, emotionally and physically; but it didn't matter because I DID IT! It was all worth it in that moment. My journey from rookie to professional wouldn't have been near as swift without the mentoring of my coach; but my commitment to strict dieting and an intense workout plan brought me the physique I needed to join the top ranks. From there, I even earned a spot in the 2012 Bikini Olympia. NO coach out there wants anyone to develop an eating disorder, and I want to make it clear that I take 100% ownership of MY choices to binge, purge, and not step back from competition's rigorous dieting before binging escalated to bulimia. You should know though, there are certain dietary practices that research shows encourage an eating disorder, and a repetitive dietary plan is one of them. The food plan I followed was VERY repetitive. For the sake of consistency and coach-ability (it's easier to know what to change/vary to gain results if you know exactly what hasn't been varying) my coach had me repeat a single day's worth of meals for 30 consecutive days; subject to change if needed - based on my progress photos. Such repetitiveness is a definite no-no for someone who has had issues with food; the repetition breeds boredom, which potentially breeds the risk of "acting out" against it - aka: Binge.
REAL TALK... * The following statement I mention as an honest disclaimer: Competing makes you at higher risk for taking extreme measures to reach "success," such as an eating disorder. * I must warn you (especially the ladies): Competing is not all glitz, glam, and victory! With competing there is also a heightened risk of developing a new problem, or worsening an existing problem, with body-image and/or an eating disorder.
Getting extremely skinny to the point where my body was actually screaming for nutrients and variety of food was definitely the reason for my first binge. Serious physical need was the start of my eating disorder, and even after reaching a healthier weight - the disorder did not stop. It is true though, that although competing was absolutely the catalyst that drove me to rock bottom, but it wasn't the root problem - I needed to love ME and actually value who I am.
Many incredibly athletic men and women compete in bodybuilding shows like I did, but do so in a normal and health way - with healthy goals, a positive and realistic attitude towards winning or losing. I have witnessed (and partook in) some very extreme and unhealthy practices in the competition world, but these practices are not necessary to achieve and maintain a stage ready physique, and in the end they definitely hurt your placings (and so much more). I know these practices are unnecessary to win because women like Amanda Latona, Erin Stern, Jen Jewell, Nicole Moneer, Nicole Wilkins, Tanji Johnson, among others are placing very well in the WBFF and IFBB Professional Leagues and are not doing them.
|Erin Stern is an amazing athlete, competitor, and |
role model. She IS healthy and portrays a healthy
example for competitiors and non-competitiors alike.
So, if we were to look at this whole ordeal in a positive light - consider this: I wouldn't have learned about and eventually (after 2 years of struggling with bulimia) changed a very flawed and very crutial character trait without competing and without an eating disorder budding it's ugly head. Before I ever set foot on a bodybuilding stage in clear hooker heels and a bedazzled bikini, I put far too much worth into other's opinion of me and far too little worth into my own happiness.
Someone very close to me during my struggle said this of my eating disorder:
"Bulimia was a poor stress response to a self-imposed and magnified feeling of required perfection."
That might seem "cold" but it is an just observation, and it is the cold hard truth. She was absolutely right. Yes, I had pressure to be perfect. No doubt. I had pressure to preform. No doubt. But the key here is how did I see myself?... And sadly, the answer is: not very well. I felt like I was required to be perfect. I self-imposed that requirement instead of just, "Doing my best" I lived and died by: Follow The Plan! I was under the extensive rules of: DO NOT EAT OFF PLAN, DON'T USE CONDIMENTS, ALWAYS WEIGH YOUR FOOD, NO SUBSTITUTIONS, NO SNACKING, NO 'RECIPES,' NO ___, ONLY ___, but I didn't take these as "guidelines"... no, they were absolute necessity! I finally had gotten myself to a point where I absolutely could not be perfect anymore. I was incapable of perfection... Anyone would be. But to me it felt like a failure. I can't pinpoint where this feeling took root, but somewhere in my youth I developed this idea that I had to always be better; "good enough" was for losers and lazy people. I also thought I was getting pretty darn close to the point where if I was to continue to improve the only thing left to obtain was perfection. My appearance... the pursuit of the perfect physical appearance drove me stress and worry, fret and sweat, pinch and pull, binge and purge, cry and cry and cry and cry. My perception of what others expected of me, is the root of why I took such destructive and agonizing lengths to maintain the expected outcomes and successes. Can you see what I'm trying to say here? Clinical research shows that I am not alone in this; in fact, far too many very successful people are incredibly unhappy because they see their existence in terms of their accomplishements and what they can offer, instead of who the are and their intrinsic value in their character and love. So as soon as they can no longer offer that perfection and excellence they are striving for, it's game over. Sadly, the most "perfect" people in appearance are quite often the least happy and whole people. So really, at the end of the story I am a much more healthy and whole person having combated this terrible problem and won.
|Yeah buddy! I persevered and eventually beat my|
eating disorder back, re-learning how to be a happy
and healthy woman. If fact - healthier than ever.
Before I may have seemed like I had it all together, but let me shatter once and for all the "perfection image" I have attempted to uphold over the course of my life. Over the last two years - on the outside you have seen perfect grades, a budding and successful engineering career, an on-fire Christian walk, and a straight-to-the-top athletic pursuit, a pretty face, and a fit body. But, I AM NOT PERFECT. Not even close! And that's OK! In fact, that's awesome! Why?
~ It gives God a chance to shine when I can't, be strong when I am weak, and be perfect when I am imperfect. Something I always said I believed in... but never let Him prove until now.
~ It gives my friends a chance to love me, to support me, to help me, and to be there for me. A chance I never dared to give them before now.
~ It gives my supporters and fans a real idea of success; a healthy way to stay fit; an honest example of moderation in eating clean and a sometimes eating a little dirty; training hard and taking rest days; and winning but sometimes losing.
I am just a girl, but I am strong. I am just a girl, but I have an amazing God, the best friends, and the most supportive fans a girl could ask for. I am just a girl, but I am everything I am suppored to be! Now that I have shattered that fake "perfection image" I used to have, let me tell you about the real me: My name is Ruthie Harrison; I love big salads and weight training; I am a smarty pants and a nerd; I make lots of mistakes but I always try my hardest; I love sprinting my heart out, helping others get started in fitness, making banana bread, sharing God's love with everyone, and lifting heavy.
I am victorious. I went from a "Before" through a "During," to an "After" and I am freaking proud of myself. I am more than a conqueror!
If you are out there, reading this with tear filled eyes because you know all too well the pain and loneliness of an eating disorder, I want you to know it can end. You will be healed. You can overcome this (check out this site: Overcoming Binge Eating). It is not a permanent state. Get help, either support from your family, your pastor, your best friend - whoever you feel comfortable with, but do not stay isolated! I know its scary. I know what you're going through, I have been there myself. Over 7 million Americans have binge eating disorders, but you do NOT have to remain one of them! I thought I'd never be back to normal again, but thank God I was wrong.
Don't give up!! Just think, after stopping binging your life will be so much more full of joy! remember how carelessly happy you were as a child? That can come back! Although I am still on my journey of freedom from emotional eating and using food as a comfort - but I have come so far! I am still learning everyday; and honestly for me it took hiring a professional counselor to learn some healthy and effective tactics to stop seeing myself in the negative way I was, and treating my body so poorly. Yes- I saw a psychologist. If you might need to too, there is no shame in that! There is nothing bad about having a personal trainer, a dietician, a pastor, a language instructor... And this is no different - you want to learn something: how to conquer bulimia in this case, and they know how. Try as I might I couldn't make myself think differently all on my own, My therapist is a Christian Psychologist who specializes in treating eating disorders, Dr Anthony Hwang. Over the past 5 months, I went through - and am currently finishing the last few, post-disorder sessions - of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The therapy is detailed and outlined in "Overcoming Binge Eating" a book by Christopher Fairburn, available on Amazon.com.
I spent a lot of time trying and failing, and trying and failing, and trying and failing less... And learning more, and overcoming and eventually - winning. I don't enter Bikini competitions anymore in pursuit of victory, I win every single day that I no longer fall victim to an eating disorder. It gets harder before it gets better; but by the power of God IT GETS BETTER. You are worth the time it will take to overcome this. You ARE worth it. You're worth more than gold.
I am always here if you need someone to talk to, message me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/bikiniruthie or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org