My bulimia story.

Every time I mention my history of eating disorders, I struggle with which posts to link to. There isn’t really a single one that describes it well. I talk about how food is a hyper-emotional subject for most people (twice, actually), and then there’s the infamous “coming out” post I wrote after coming clean to my family after fighting tooth and nail for recovery. But nowhere do I actually tell my story, in its entirety. So, here it goes.

It’s hard to say when it started. Junior high? High school? Sometime in my adolescence, I began manifesting signs of an instability. I did way too much in high school — in retrospect, it’s easy to tell there were some distinctly manic times. And a quick glance over my Xanga (remember those?) shows that I clearly had some lows mixed in with typical teenage angst. My weight yoyo’d quite a bit in that time. I was never a first-string athlete, but I dabbled in sports. While it’s hard to pinpoint my eating trends in high school (and maybe that’s part of the problem), there were definitely times of fluctuation. I had a reputation for being able to “pack it away” like a dude, but also remember periods where I barely ate at all. I was trying to fit 10 gallons of stuff in a 5 gallon bucket. I was working multiple jobs, juggling more extracurricular activities than one could imagine, and I was getting good grades. At times, I felt I was barely hanging onto sanity. Those closest to me would question that I was even able to do that.

High school graduation.

High school graduation. The gold tassel and rope means I was in the National Honor Society…among other honors and extracurricular clubs.

Then, I went to college. Freshman year is hard for just about everyone. It’s especially hard when you have a mental illness pushing forcefully to the surface. What started as a cancer/brain tumor scare turned out to be physical manifestations of anxiety, which prompted questions and uncovered more issues. The composure I thought I’d had through senior year of high school splintered and cracked. What used to be inconsistent comfort eating became something much more. I liked that I could “control” what went in and out of my body. I’d lost control of my own emotions and brain chemicals, I needed to feel like I had control over at least my relationship with food. And in a college dorm where all the girls want to be skinny and accepted, everyone turns a blind eye to that floor-mate whose eating habits are a bit “off.” I don’t remember the first time I purged. It’s probably for the best. I do remember, however, the day I hopped on the scale and realized that I’d gained 12 pounds. Standing at 4’10”, 12 pounds is no small amount. I’d known my pants were tighter, but I was in a state of deep denial. How could I be gaining weight, when I went to extreme measures to rid my body of all those extra calories?

Eating disorders look different for different people. Some people who suffer from bulimia are underweight (often when is coincides with anorexia). Most, however, are of an average weight or even overweight. In my case, the massive amounts of calories I took in to feed my feelings couldn’t be undone. In the worst period of my eating disorder, my sophomore year of college, I gained 20 pounds. This brought my weight gain tally up to 32 pounds — just under 1/3 of the weight I’d been when I began college. Sophomore year was a low point in my life. Some of my best friends entered my life at this time, which is surprising considering how much of a mess I was. These people have often been the ones helping me through my worst times — this was also when I began having issues with medication. Sometime during sophomore year, I entered the “brain fog.” I was shuffled around between different psychiatrists who swapped me on and off different medications. I tried to keep ahold of who I was, even when I couldn’t feel any of my own true personality or feelings.

Early in my junior year, things boiled over. I was addicted to a fast-acting anti-anxiety medication. I was virtually unable to eat without stuffing myself to the point of discomfort — even when “just snacking.” I was heavier than I’d ever been, I liked myself the least I ever had, and my instability was taking a toll on those I loved. My then-boyfriend (my high school sweetheart) couldn’t take it — 10 days after our 6th anniversary, our relationship ended in an explosive, emotional spectacle. We hadn’t been happy together for a long time; our relationship was far from healthy.

Those privy to my struggles say that this was a turning point. I was able to turn my attention inward. Not long after the break-up, I detoxed off of the meds that had stolen my soul from me, including the highly-addictive anti-anxiety med that I was hooked on. While I had been in therapy for most of college, I began investing myself in it. I had realized that no one else was responsible for my well-being but myself. I needed to take accountability. I was not meant to be a victim — I was meant to be my own hero. I worked with doctors, nutritionists, counselors, and my professors. I used the resources at the school. I began focusing on self-care, my own happiness, and a profound sense of self-awareness. If I wanted to lead my best life, without medication, I needed to be the best me I could be.

Losing weight wasn’t a priority. In fact, I needed to not care about how I looked and just love myself regardless. And I did it. I took two out-of-state internships — one over our long Christmas break in Wisconsin, and one over summer vacation in California. I came back and had an incredibly amazing senior year. Despite having failed a few classes during the “brain fog,” I earned my degree…and my GPA was only .05 away from being an Honors graduate.

In July of 2012, just weeks after graduating, my mom and my brother loaded me up and moved me to Kansas City. It was a real, true fresh start. The week I arrived, I began focusing on my fitness. I began wondering if it was time to lose my “emotional baggage weight.” Running, yoga, body modification exercises, and intuitive eating got the ball rolling. I cried happy tears the day I got on the scale and saw that I had done it: I had lost 40 pounds.

Kelly Rivard before after lost 35 pounds

Left: North Central College Senior Bar Crawl in June of 2012. That guy is Joe, who is one of my best friends and favorite people ever. Right: Myself and my boyfriend at a wedding in July of 2013.


August 2012 on the left, June 2013 on the right.

Every single pound I had gained during and after my struggles with bulimia had been shed. Not only was a weight taken off my body, but an even greater one was removed from my heart. I proved I could do it. Life is far from perfect. After almost two years in Kansas City, I am back on medications. This time, they’re doing what they should be — stabilizing my mood, reducing my anxiety levels, and allowing me to keep a grasp of who I am inside. I have an amazing (albeit stressful) job, a wonderful boyfriend, a fantastic support base both here and afar, and a deep-seated sense of inner-peace that I have conquered some of the biggest demons I could imagine.

If you’re reading this today, and you’re feeling hopeless, please don’t. There is always hope. I was about the hottest, messiest hot mess I could have been — and I turned it around to lead an absolutely blessed life. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I had kept just rolling with the flow. Now, though, I’m the best me I’ve ever been, and I intend to keep growing.

And I believe you can, too. I have faith in you. Don’t give up on yourself. You’re too wonderful not to give yourself the best shot you can!


13 thoughts on “My bulimia story.

  1. Very touching, good job. Most people don’t have the grip of self to make the changes you have. It is an example to us how honest you’ve became with yourself. Thank you for sharing

  2. Great post, Kelly! It takes lots of courage to post such personal information, and I’m sure it will inspire many!

  3. Although I (thankfully) don’t have these types struggles myself I know this must have been very hard for you to write, but it was beautifully written! Congrats on getting to where you are and having the courage to share – I’m sure it will help many people!

  4. Kelly, no doubt you’re really encouraged many people who are grappling with this miserable struggle. Your story is a real upper – a tale of creative, persistent resourcefulness and ever-growing self-awareness. Keep up the great work!

  5. Many people find help in Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. Some of us have been diagnosed as morbidly obese while others are undereaters. Among us are those who were severely bulimic, who have harmed themselves with compulsive exercise, or whose quality of life was impaired by constant obsession with food or weight. We tend to be people who, in the long-term, have failed at every solution we tried, including therapy, support groups, diets, fasting, exercise, and in-patient treatment programs.

    FA has over 500 meetings throughout the United States in large and small cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte, Grand Rapids, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Austin, and Washington, D.C. Internationally, FA currently has groups in England, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. If you would like more information about FA, please check out our website at www [dot] foodaddicts [dot] org. If there aren’t any meetings in your area, you can contact the office by emailing FA at foodaddicts [dot] org, where someone will help you.

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