Proud2Bme | Studying Abroad Sparked My Recovery Journey

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Studying Abroad Sparked My Recovery Journey

By Kaitlin Lederer--Anorexia did not and does not define me. Caring, compassionate, worldly, thoughtful and hardworking are all words that describe me in my truest form.

Trigger warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior.

While anorexia does not define me, the monster of this eating disorder controlled me, consumed me. In its earliest stages, I was aware of what it was doing to me, but until I embarked on my five-month study abroad semester, I hadn’t realized how extreme the control had really become.

During my sophomore year of college, life was a routine—an incredibly strict routine of academics, limited food and exercise. While demanding, routine relaxed me. The control relaxed me. Spontaneous was not a word in my vocabulary and spontaneity overwhelmed me. Yet, surprisingly enough, I opted to study abroad for the fall semester of my junior year. I yearned for something new, but I knew that it would be the ultimate test of my control. So I shipped my scale and myself off to Norway.

I thought that I had mastered how to keep all of my quirks hidden. It was easier back at home, in a place that allowed me to have the control that I wanted and felt that I needed. But being in a new environment, with new people, I realized that it could not be as “simple” as it might have been. At school I typically ate alone, but traveling and living in close quarters challenged that.

My roommate learned soon enough that I was very selective and that my food intake was minimal. She wasn’t the only one who noticed. Going out to eat did not just give me anxiety because of food, but because there was the potential that my secrets would be revealed. When I decided not to eat at all, I was asked why I didn’t order anything. As my stomach grumbled, I would say that I wasn’t hungry or that I didn’t have the money.

The first time, it worked. The second time, I used a new excuse, but by the sixth, seventh and eighth times, the excuses stopped working. The questions stopped coming. No one needed to ask anymore. It was during those moments that it had become clear that—in this extreme control—I had absolutely lost control.

I wish I had not let it consume me the way that it did. Visiting a new city isn’t as enjoyable when you lack the energy to walk around and soak in all that’s around you. I easily became silent and edgy. I wish that while I was in Paris I had tasted a crepe filled with chocolate and goodness, or that I had tried a waffle in Belgium. I wish I had let go, just once, to experience all that surrounded me.

I can say I wish, I wish, I wish, over and over again, about what I would have done differently. I was abroad, not in my comfortable bubble of a home. I was scared of what a little less control would do to me.

Two years later, I’ve lost a little bit of control and I am more than okay. Studying abroad taught me how to do that. It wasn’t just about the food, but about the control that gave me comfort and gave me peace. Those five months marked the beginning of the recovery process. I’m still constantly working on my relationship with control, but I’ve learned that these are moments that you won’t ever get back, and for this reason I have a duty to myself to live life to the fullest. I travel with less panic and worry about what activities we’ll do and what food options are available. I spent two weeks in Kenya, a country I never thought I would have traveled to. The trip snapped my life, worry and struggles into perspective. While I was focused on what I would or would not eat, the people in the village worried about if they had food to eat.

While traveling abroad while coping with an eating disorder presented its own challenges, the healing has trumped all challenges. Initially, it was easier said than done, but letting go was the best and most valuable lesson I learned while abroad. Once you let go, it’s not as scary as it may seem. And sometimes, you come out stronger than you were before.

For recovery resources and treatment options, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237.

About the blogger: Kaitlin Lederer is in her senior year at West Chester University. She's a dual major in secondary special education and history. After graduating in May, Kaitlin aspires to work within special education. She loves to travel, read and spend time with family and friends. Kaitlin has volunteered for the NEDA Walks and has personally struggled with an eating disorder.

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

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