• Natasha Rowsell

Dying to dance. My story.

Eating Disorders

I had an eating disorder.

And that there was THE hardest sentence I’ve had to say. Because to admit it, I first had to see it. For so many years I denied it and told myself a different story in my head that then convinced my heart I didn’t have a problem.

It all started when I was 16 years old. I had just retired from competitive gymnastics because of an injury, and after two years of physiotherapy and no real progress I decided to hang up my gym suit for a dance leotard because tumbling (gymnastics term) was just too tough on my knee.

On my FIRST day of dance I noticed a BIG difference between my body and the ballerina’s bodies. I was muscular – they were very petit. The girls who were always praised in class were the ones who were the smallest and thinnest. Now, I’ve always been an all in, whatever it takes to be the best kind of person. I thought my body wouldn’t get me to be #1 so I was willing to do whatever it took to get there…even if it meant dieting.

Dieting – that was the word I used. I ate VERY little and exercised WAY too much. After a six hour dance practice I would go home and workout for another two hours and throughout the day only ate about the size of one meal. And that meal would be extremely healthy. So in my mind I didn’t have an eating disorder because I was still eating. It wasn’t bulimia and it wasn’t anorexia. At that time, this type of eating wasn’t labeled. Now they call it Orthorexia.

Here’s the definition:

Orthorexia is a common co-occurring eating disorder. It is characterized by a fixation or desire to eat only “healthy” foods, or to avoid entire food groups. Every person suffering with orthorexia has their own food preferences; foods they will eat and foods that they won’t. 'Orthorexics', feel isolated from or superior to people who may consume a food that they themselves reject. The most common form of orthorexia is an obsession with healthy foods, i.e. never eating foods that contain additives, and planning one’s diet to the extreme to make sure that undesired foods and food groups are not consumed.

Symptoms and Signs of Excessive Exercise:

The common hallmark of excessive exercise is prioritizing exercise foremost in life, rather than including exercise in a balanced lifestyle. Some common indicators of exercise obsession include:

  • Continuing to exercise when injured or sick

  • Avoiding social functions to exercise

  • Firmly adhering to an obsessive and regimented exercise regime.

This definition was seriously my life. This is how I lived for five years.

I had a lot of rules for food. No junk, no sweets, in fact no sugar at all. No bread. Nothing fried. Nothing above a certain amount of calories. Only a tiny bit of fat.

It was once said by Kirsten Hanglund in a “I am Second” video, “My life became about following the rules of my eating disorder.” This described my life perfectly. If I EVER broke a rule, there would be consequences for myself such as an extra 30 minutes on the treadmill, 100 more sit ups or becoming even MORE strict on my food intake.

One day I was watching a movie called “Dying to Dance.” When I first read the title I thought it meant dying as in crazy ridiculously passionate! But, it turned out to be a movie based on a true story about eating disorders within dance schools. It showed the scary reality that many dancers around the globe are starving themselves to death – literally. There have been many cases all over the world where parents are burying their dead child due to an extreme eating disorder that came from the pressure to be thin in the dance world.

Nothing really got to me personally until the very end. The main character was hospitalized and basically being force-fed back to health. After they had forced her to eat, she snuck outside for a walk. The psychiatrist caught up to her and asked what she was doing. She replied “Just getting some air.” The psychiatrist then answered back “No. The second you feel food in your stomach you feel the need to burn it off. You hate feeling full.”

And there it was. That was the moment I realized I had an eating disorder. It felt like the doctor was talking directly to ME! Any ounce of food that went into my body I then felt I had to work it off.

Realizing I had an eating disorder was step one to recovery. Step two was being humble enough to admit to myself and others around me that I HAD AN EATING DISORDER and that it was controlling my life.

Those two steps were good. It was a start. But they alone didn't make it go away. No. That was going to take some serious work. Here’s how I overcame my eating disorder. I am not a doctor or a psychologist and in no way am I saying this a cure for you, but it did work for me!

Here are FIVE things I did to overcome my eating disorder.

1. I found accountability partners – someone to ask me how much I’ve eaten and how much I’ve exercised and to make sure I’m eating properly. For me, that was my Mom and then boyfriend who is now my husband.

2. I had to change how I viewed food. I viewed certain foods as “evil” as “things that make you instantly fat.” Because that’s what I was scared of. I was scared of being fat and bigger than the other ballerinas.

I love exercise. So my Mom started telling me that when you are exercising, your body needs fuel. And fuel is food. That honestly instantly changed how I viewed food. Food became a good thing that helped me to exercise better. And, if I didn’t have enough, my body was going to start “eating” away my muscles. My muscles for me meant a lot – I worked hard for them in dance and gymnastics. So I quickly began eating more so that, that didn’t happen.

Like I said above, I hated feeling FULL. But someone I was randomly talking too (unaware of my eating disorder) said that they LOVE feeling full and cozying up on the couch with that sleepy satisfied feeling. Sounds weird – but now FULL meant cozy and good.

3. I started researching what other dancers/athletes around the world were eating. If you follow any professional Dancing With The Stars dancers on Instagram – they are always posting the foods they eat. They eat chips and burgers and fries and ice cream – and they are incredibly healthy!

They started posting blogs on how they balance food and exercise and feel the greatest they ever have. That radically changed my mindset as well.

4. I forced myself to eat the foods that were “restricted” in my head. I forced myself to eat a cookie once in a while and the whole time I ate it I kept saying “This is fine! It won’t hurt you!” Self talk is HUGE.

5. And lastly, I changed my mindset about what beauty is. Beauty isn't what the world says about it. In fact, the world is missing out on a lot because of their narrow view of the word.

Beauty is every culture, every colour, every SIZE, every shape, every passion, every dream, every talent. It's standing up for what you believe in. It's boldness, strength, humility, gentleness and compassion. It's not what we wear, it's our heart. It's our uniqueness. If we ever only focus on makeup, fitting into a size 2 or curling our hair...we're going to miss out on so much. On great things. I began to focus on being healthy – I stopped listening to the scale.

I did it. I overcame my eating disorder. But to this day, I live with painful stomach problems because of it. When you research eating disorders and underneath the definition is a list of what can happen if you continue to live this way – that stuff is REAL. Almost every time I eat, my stomach hurts. It seriously SUCKS.

We rarely pay attention to the consequences. We don't weigh out the pros and cons when enslaved to addiction. We have to. We have to weight it out. It's not worth it. Please, take it from me.

I am cheering you ALL on!

If this is you, don’t allow your eating disorder to run and control your life. We get one life to live – it matters. Not just to us but to the people who live this life with us. don’t miss out on the dreams and adventures that await you. Get well and get living.



Couple of Disclaimers:

1. Again, this is what worked for ME. YOU may be totally different and have to take it from a different angle.

2. I hugely regret not going to a doctor when I first came to realize I had an eating disorder. I didn’t go until a few years later.

3. I also don’t want anyone thinking ALL dance studios push girls to have eating disorders. Many don’t. Dance is a wonderful sport and there are thousands of amazing studios out there who teach girls a balanced life style!

If you have ANY questions or want more advice on overcoming your eating disorder, just go to the ASK HER page and I’ll write back as soon as I can!

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