Stigma Fighters: Amelia O.

“Fatty Fatty Two by Four….Can’t Get Thru the Bathroom Door”…I was 12 when I first heard those words from a family member. The way we perceive beauty and our own image starts with our own family. Right? The torment I experienced of being called “fatty” by family members and even being “oinked” at will forever be etched in the fabric of my mind. This was my first perception of myself. I don’t think the family members who did this meant anything by it. They weren’t being cruel on purpose. They were only teasing me in what they thought was all fun and games. Little did they know, those words became etched into my being.

I was far from being obese. I carried baby weight as most 12 year olds do. I was a small town girl with big dreams and I desperately wanted to fit in somewhere. I wanted to be apart of something. I tried out for the cheerleading squad and failed to make the team several times. I needed this sense of belonging somewhere but I just didn’t know where I’d find it. I had gone thru a great deal personally and those events would continue to haunt me for years.

We didn’t have a lot of money at this time in my life so we were forced to wash our clothes at a laundry mat as we didn’t have a washer and dryer. It was there that I found magazines and read articles about Tracey Gold, the young actress on Growing Pains. She had battled an eating disorder. It was from her story that I learned about anorexia that would eventually lead me to an 18 year battle. It was easy for her to lose weight so why couldn’t I?

I learned the tricks to make others think I had eaten more than I really had and exercised for hours daily. I don’t like sharing every detail as I’d never want to give another vulnerable young individual any ideas. Basically, the weight started following off and very quickly. Of course, years later, I now know this was baby weight and the frightening number I saw on the scale was unhealthy for me. I went from 110lbs to 80lbs. I was about 15 years old when this really came to light.

At that age, you don’t think about the consequences of your actions. Even after getting down to eighty pounds, I still saw myself as fat. A great amount of time went by before it was “noticed” that I was dealing with an eating disorder. Growing up in a small town, you really didn’t hear about things such as anorexia or bulimia.

After dropping to such a low weight, I felt faint constantly and then I began passing out. I remember the first time very clearly. I was in 9th grade and woke from the middle of the night and knew something was definitely off.

When walking to wake my parents, I collapsed bouncing off a door frame and fell head first onto the tile floor. The bang was loud enough to wake my parents and I believe it was that moment they realized something was terribly wrong. Then began a million tests trying to determine what was wrong. The result? Ok ….sure I had low blood pressure and an erratic heart rate but what caused that? Anorexia was the culprit.

My organs were basically starting to shut down. The doctor said if I didn’t immediately gain weight I would be admitted to the hospital and would have to get a feeding tube. This was something I was terrified of. Food frightened me. I thought being skinny was the answer to all of my problems. I truly thought I would be loved more. I would fit in. It would repair every relationship in my life. It would help my family in the long run. How? I don’t know.

NOW I understand this disease to be about control. I usually refer to the anorexia I battled as ED but this can stand for any eating disorder. You see when someone with ED feels like they can’t control anything…..like they are out of control….this can send them spiraling. ED is often times about control and in reality doesn’t always have to do with physical beauty. Society thinks differently. Many times, society thinks that those with ED are just full of themselves. Just want to be the prettiest and the most accepted. While acceptance may be true, physical beauty isn’t the #1 thing on the mind of someone with ED. This is usually a mask for something deeper.

For me those ‘deeper’ issues were things I had faced. It wasn’t just about ‘fitting in’. My mom wasn’t well and I wanted to be able to help her. I wanted to take her pain away and make her better. When I was in high school, I was raped. This was the first time I had sex. One of my childhood friends was murdered. I lost a child when I was 19. His heart stopped beating early in the pregnancy. My brother passed away in a car accident in 2005. Among many many other things. ED was how I coped with those things. It’s not like I said ‘well, all of these things happened…I guess I will starve myself.’ I blamed myself for these things. ED just happened.

When someone with ED looks in a mirror, they see fat. They see unworthy. They see unaccepted. Their vision is distorted. What you see is not what they see.

I battled ED off and on for 18 years. My last relapse was in 2011. Many didn’t even know there was an issue. At events I received so many compliments on how much weight I had lost after having a baby in 2009. Very few knew of the struggle in my head and the physical toll it was taking on me. In an email to a friend I wrote “carrying my daughter up the stairs makes me tired. I give her a bath….I’m feeling dizzy and the pain in my stomach from attempting to eat is still there. My legs hurt. My ribs hurt so bad I could cry. My hair comes out every time I run my hands through it…like a shedding dog. I’m really exhausted mentally and physically.” Yet, when I’d see people out I heard over and over how beautiful I looked. I can count on one hand the amount of people who saw a problem.

Over the years I’ve heard many times the same sentence. “Why can’t you just eat? It’s not that difficult.” That’s easier to say than to do for someone with ED. Not only is there this deep fear of food and gaining weight but for some…like myself…during this time I could hear those words I heard as a child. I could hear “if you eat the plate full of food…you WILL gain weight.” I could hear “see those people across the room. They are staring and judging.” I could hear “no one will want you because you are gross”. I could hear “You aren’t worthy anyway. No one is going to love you especially if you are a fat”. Food gave me pure anxiety. Heart palpitations even. I literally stopped eating. I would go days with just a meal or two.

It was only when I met my husband that ED seemed to leave me. I’ve read it’s like a divorce. ED had been with me for 18 years. It was time to move on to true love. I credit my husband for teaching me about self acceptance and love. I now have two daughters that rely on me. I want to be a good influence. I don’t want them to turn out like me.

Now, this does not mean some of the ED traits don’t linger. There are a few that I don’t know will ever go away. For example, it’s rare you will see me eat a great deal at a party/event. I’m bad about not cleaning my plate. I still can get that anxiety at times. However, the coolest thing I’ve learned with all of this is that my recovery actually comes from not only having a family but being able to help others. I’ve learned by sharing my story, I can help others.

Last year, not only was I able to speak to many individuals about ED but I also had local media cover my story. In addition to that, I started working with a local eating disorder treatment facility and this year I became their Public Relations Director. At TranscendED, we work with girls 13 and above and treat them thru intensive outpatient (IOP) and partial hospitalization. This year we opened Charlotte’s FIRST residential home for girls 17 and above with ED. Knowing I am apart of a group who is saving girls/women from ED helps me stay focused.I’d also like to say this to the younger generation as I think it’s so important not only when dealing with ED but just with life in general.

When you step into a potential employer’s office, they will not ask what clique you were involved with. Your future colleagues are not going to base your relationship on what type of designer clothes you wore when you were younger. No one is going to care what kind of car you drove when you were sixteen. It’s so important to realize what truly matters and that is the way you see yourself. If you think highly of yourself then everything else will fall into place. No one else can love you, respect you, or admire you until you feel that way about yourself.

Keep in mind that we all came from a different mom and dad. None of us were meant to be the same. We aren’t meant to have the same body type, the same hairstyle or the same talents. We are all here for a purpose. Don’t overlook that and spend your life trying to live out the life of someone else. You only get one chance. We are accountable for our own decisions and you never want to go through life wondering “what if?”

Lastly, please learn the signs of ED. So many are suffering without anyone ever noticing. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you see a problem. You may be saving someone’s life.

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Amelia Old, editor of Pretty in the Queen City, is a former international talent agent. She was named Best Creative Professional in the 2008 American Business Awards, hailed as the “business world’s own Oscars” by the New York Post. In 2010, Amelia closed her agency to focus on the development of Pretty in the Queen City, a national lifestyle blog. She’s an avid product researcher and writer, sharing her reviews and experiences through a variety of outlets including Shespeaks.com, typeF.com, BeautyStat.com, ehow.com and WCNC-Charlotte Today. She enjoys testing new products and sharing her opinions with the brands she works with and with her followers.

In addition to reviewing and writing about the latest products on the market, Amelia also assists non profit organizations with public relations, communication and ideation.She has experience with digital media, brand marketing, product development and product launches both in the U.S. and Internationally.

In 2013, she was named Most Impactful Woman by Women with Know How Magazine.

Amelia is the current President of Social Media Charlotte, who focuses on organizing, providing resources, fostering dialogue for social media marketing and events in Charlotte, NC.

She also serves on the Board of Directors for All We Want is LOVE and Public Relations Director forTranscend ED .

Amelia and her husband Tim are often referred to as TEAM OLD due to their ability to work well together as a team on a variety of projects. They have three children-Sophia, Joshua and Harlow who keep them unbelievably busy with soccer, horse riding and dance lessons.