Learning to Love Life Again
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Tara Perrotti (she/her) is a 20-year-old in Western New York, pursuing her bachelor’s degree while working and loving life in recovery! While this blog post has the largest audience Tara has shared her story with thus far, she hopes to have more opportunities to do so in the future, and to continue advocating for finding balance and happiness within life in recovery.
Growing up, I felt different. I knew that I looked different from my friends and family members around my age. At the innocent age of nine years old, I was extremely aware of my own body and every part I considered to be a “flaw.” I was working with a Registered Dietitian to prevent the onset of diabetes—a risk I had been warned about—but I was still not happy in my own skin. I knew I wanted to have more energy and feel better, but I did not know how to do that. Then, my sister’s health began to decline, so the concerns I had for myself took a backseat.
After watching my closest sister’s battle with an eating disorder in college, I believed I could avoid facing the same battle myself. I thought I had the tools, knowledge, and, quite frankly, the fear instilled from seeing how my family was affected by that experience.
To my surprise, there was no warning for what came next. There is no blueprint or handbook for avoiding or navigating an eating disorder.
The Game Within
I joined my school’s modified volleyball team at the beginning of seventh grade. My best friend and I agreed to try something new, unfamiliar, and a little uncomfortable together. I immediately fell in love with the sport! Volleyball practice was my safe place every day after school. I got to spend time with friends, learn new skills, and play an incredibly fun game!
I was finally at a point where I felt like I had the energy I was craving. I was no longer concerned about my physical health. So this means that I was finally happy, right? I wish I could say yes, but the truth is that this was only the beginning of my journey.
Despite having more energy, I constantly compared my appearance to others; all I wanted was to look like my teammates. I adopted the eating habits of the girls on my team, restricting and avoiding some foods I typically enjoyed. I lied to my parents about what I had for lunch every day at school. Little did my parents know that my middle school lunches were anything but nutritious—or even food.
Between the ages of 12 and 18, I not-so-slyly engaged in disordered eating habits. My parents were aware that I was struggling, but I don’t think anyone knew how intense my struggles were or how to help me recover. It wasn’t until my father passed away and I went off to college that everyone began to notice that I was NOT okay. When I was 19, my college roommates held an intervention for me. They expressed willingness to help and support me through my recovery journey, emphasizing that I needed to get healthier.
A Shift in Perspective
In recovery, I began reframing my perspective on food; instead of seeing it as the enemy, it became fuel for my practices and conditioning sessions. My friends would ask me to join them for breakfast and encourage me to eat, yet they never made it feel like they were forcing me to eat. I could enjoy having conversations with them, and food was a part of the experience, but food and my struggles with it were not the main topics of conversation. I found that helpful, as the less I talked about my eating disorder, the less of my life it consumed.
Even though this process may sound seamless, it was anything but that. I still had bad days. I relapsed, cried, and mourned the sick version of myself—while ignoring the fact that the sick version of me was crying inside and begging for help. But all those bad days were a part of my journey and taught me many lessons. They reminded me of how much I struggled before and how far I had come.
I learned that food can be an enjoyable part of my life again and that it was okay to ask for some help. For example, eating alone in eating disorder recovery can be difficult and triggering, so I would ask a friend to grab lunch with me. I learned that my body has stuck by my side through the hardest times in my life, and I should take care of it, not deprive it. Most importantly, I learned that taking care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally allows me to be a better friend, daughter, sister, student, and athlete.
This blog is the first time I have publicly spoken about my eating disorder history and my current recovery, and I hope it is the first of many. I aspire to use my experiences to help others, just like my family and friends and—notably—my sister helped me. I want everyone to know that no matter where they are in their journey, they are not alone and that everyone’s journey is different and beautiful in its own way. Recovery is not easy, but any hard day in recovery is 100 times more worth it than not recovering and missing out on learning to love life again.
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