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Published on July 20th, 2011 | by Crustella DeVille

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Derby Fuels My Recovery From Eating Disorder

When I was about 13 years old an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show introduced me to the destructive world of “pro-anorexia” websites. I watched it with my older neighbor who lived up the street. While she gasped in horror at the concept of websites that encouraged deadly eating disorders, I sat in silent awe. Was there really a place that could teach me to be slender and delicate in a way that my Moms weight watcher books never could?

Writing about this subject is a double-edged sword. There is the risk that speaking about it (as Oprah did) will draw more people to a destructive outlet. There is also the inherent risk of leaving the subject totally untouched and having youth stumble upon these sites without any warning of their detrimental nature.

Something that also has to be acknowledged is that like some people have a predisposition to something. Like drug addiction and alcoholism, other people have a predisposition to eating disorders (which are an addiction in and of themselves). While someone like my neighbor could watch a TV program about pro-anorexia sites and be rightly horrified, I, with my predisposition to eating disordered thoughts and behavior, became intrigued.

I visited one of these sites shortly after seeing the TV program. It didn’t make me instantly anorexic or bulimic. In fact, I didn’t develop a full blown eating disorder until years later. What it did was plant a seed of self-doubt and hatred in my young mind. Before hearing about these websites, my knowledge of eating disorders was very limited.

I had seen an episode of Degrassi Junior High (oh yes, the original) about it. As I recall the character that suffered from anorexia fully recovered in one episode. I have yet to meet someone with an eating disorder who is able to recover in the span of a half hour television show.Pro-anorexia and Bulimia didn’t cause my eating disorder, but it did make an already difficult situation much more severe and harder to escape.

By the time I started to engage in eating disorder behavior I had accumulated a great amount of knowledge on calorie counting, different diets, lies to tell my friends, ways to trick scales, etc. In retrospect a lot of these “tips” didn’t make a whole lot of logical sense. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I would have figured out a lot of these things out on my own, because starving yourself, throwing up, and over exercising isn’t rocket science.

The part of pro-ana that ended up causing me a lot of trouble was that it allowed me to rationalize my disease as a lifestyle. It tricked me into thinking that my self- destruction was something that made me holy and admirable. NOTHING could be farther from the truth. My eating disorder made me sick, weak, angry, helpless, unable to engage, selfish, and very difficult to be around.

Another myth that that pro-ana led me to believe was that if I decided to recover I would become FAT. Which just plain wasn’t true. This may be because I was more on the Bulimic end of the spectrum, but there wasn’t that big a difference in my body between when I was purging and severely restricting my intake to when I was eating fairly normally. I have seen the same thing in other people with eating disorders.

All addictions involve a certain amount of denial, and eating disorders are no exception. Pro-ana sites make this problem significantly worse because they normalize and condone anorexia and bulimia as lifestyle choices. By the time I was in my late teens/early twenties it would have taken a nuclear bomb to snap me out of my denial. I had a rationalization for everything, and most of it was drawn from things I read online.

If I passed out I would convince myself that I had low blood pressure. When one of my teeth fell out I told myself that my dental problems must be genetic. When I had an unusually low heart rate I told myself that it was because I was in such ʻgood shapeʼ. When a friend or a partner would tell me that I had a problem, I would tell them that I wasn’t thin enough to have a problem. The thing that finally broke open my wellconstructed fortress of denial and self-deception was, of all things, Roller Derby.

I had been rollerblading a lot that summer, and when I saw an open invitation for the beginning of a roller derby league on a social networking site I thought it might be fun. I figured since I exercised a lot (a lot) anyway it should be pretty easy…. I was so wrong. The first couple practices were pretty low-key and I enjoyed them, but after things started to pick up and bit and get more intense I hit a wall.

I got my first pair of skates, and went to my first ʻrealʼ practice…. I thought I was going to die by the end of it. While other girls who were about the same size as me, and probably didnʼt work out as much as I did, were sailing through the drills I was fighting to stay upright and conscious. Luckily, my teammates seemed to think that I was an exceptionally bad skater rather than someone who was throwing up 10 to 15 times a week.

After several practices of constant shaking, falling down, dizziness, and most disturbingly: numb hands, I decided that if I wanted to do this (and I did) I would have to change to way I was treating my body. I went to treatment.

There was nothing easy about going to treatment. I still didn’t believe that I had a problem, at least not a serious one. The day that I burst into tears over having to eat a sandwich and have a glass orange juice broke down the last bit of denial I had.

I started to get better. At first it was just so I could go to practice without feeling like I was going to pass out, and slowly it became because I started to enjoy eating and feeling healthier. I also enjoyed the amount of time that I saved because I wasn’t surfing the pro-ana vortex for hours looking for ways to explain my behavior to myself.

I’ve made a lot of progress since I first started skating. I no longer look at anything that resembles pro-ana, I don’t keep a scale, there is no food I won’t eat in moderation, and most importantly I like myself a hell of a lot better.

My recovery process is far from perfect. I’ve had lapses but have avoided hitting my previous lows by not allowing myself to skate if I’m not eating properly. Skating if I’m not healthy is a risk to other league members and myself.

My ideal of beauty used to be the girls that I saw on the ʻthinspirationʼ pages of pro-ana sites. Now it is the girls that skate in the league. They are some of the most beautiful, strong, exceptional women I have ever met, and they are amazing athletes.

I am now striving to be a good, healthy player rather than trying to imitate a digitally altered model that I saw online. Many thanks to the Halifax Roller Derby for always letting me come back…. I owe you guys more than you’ll ever know.

-Stella

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Crustella DeVille

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