At 17 years old, I joined the Marine Corps eagerly. It provided an escape from my often chaotic home environment and gave me a sense of belonging and pride that went far beyond anything my family provided. Recruitment went smoothly as well; when still in high school, their recruitment office provided more emotional support than my family ever could.
Once I joined active duty, a whole new world of freedom opened up to me. At home, where my mother placed strict rules about my eating, now I could enjoy whatever foods I wanted without restriction from her imposed diets; yet high-carb and high-calorie food often made it challenging to remain within military weight limits even though I was physically fit.
So I wouldn’t exceed the limits, I indulged in excessive cardio and took laxatives. My female roommates and I formed what is now recognized as disordered eating behaviors: We would starve ourselves for two weeks prior to weigh-ins while doing cardio morning and night, sweating out as much sweat in sauna sessions, and selecting laxatives together.
At first, disordered eating and overexercising weren’t seen as anything extraordinary; rather they seemed like normal ways of managing our anxieties ahead of weigh-ins.
After weigh-ins, my female colleagues and I would celebrate two weeks of strict dieting by indulging in some fast food. We would consume binges like it was an act of joy!
Over time, I began binging privately as well and eventually purging by forcing myself to throw up. Simply put, I would eat large meals before feeling guilty for what had just occurred and being filled with anxiety; thoughts such as I won’t be the leader I need to be or risk losing the reputation I worked so hard to build would come flooding back in.
After binging and purging, I would step on the scale before and after purging, usually losing an ounce or two but feeling relief that my goals had been accomplished and could relax again.
As a Marine, I never heard much talk of eating disorders; therefore I didn’t realize I was suffering from bulimia nervosa. Although there were available services, such as mental health counseling services for example, I never even considered seeking them out because I thought that what was necessary to survive and thrive would suffice.
Bingeing and purging felt not only like an effective means of meeting my weight goals, but also an outlet to gain control during stressful periods. After my now ex-husband and I separated, I became a single mom without family support; food consumption felt like the one aspect of life that allowed me full control without anyone or anything getting in my way.
As I was deeply embarrassed about it, I kept my bulimia secret from everyone. Furthermore, I refused to speak with a therapist because seeking assistance would mean there really was something wrong with me; seeking therapy meant admitting defeat in terms of underperforming performance.
But my belief in my ability to manage and conceal my eating disorder began to falter as my work performance suffered, leading me to realize I needed professional assistance – which luckily came through the Marines.
My therapist diagnosed me with both bulimia nervosa and major depressive disorder. Antidepressants provided great relief, however as this therapist didn’t specialize in treating people with bulimia specifically I was referred to another civilian therapist who did specialize in that area – they did great work with me, however as soon as recovery became clear I required more assistance than just them alone could provide.
My counselor recommended I visit a treatment facility offering partial hospitalization programs for people with eating disorders. With permission from the Marine Corps, I took some time off active duty while remaining active duty to undergo this program and learn what bulimia nervosa is as well as ways to treat it. It truly changed my life!
Now I am receiving outpatient care and learning how to cope with bulimia nervosa so that my body and mind are heal. No longer ashamed about it, the Marine Corps allows me to receive care I require; and I hope other women in military know they won’t be punished or seen as weak for reaching out for help.
Though still active duty, I plan to transition into VA nursing so I can provide support to others living with eating disorders. Though leaving behind one career to start another may be bittersweet, I am excited for this new adventure and looking forward to my transition into VA.
Not only am I striving to assist individuals struggling with eating disorders, I also aim to bring awareness among military women that there is help available – oftentimes we just are unaware of which resources exist or even know we require them.
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