Sophomore Caroline Judd thrives in new lifestyle after recovering from eating disorder
May 18, 2018
Always a health conscious person, sophomore Caroline Judd enjoys working out and eating healthfully. When she became depressed in the summer of 2017, these healthy habits spiraled into an obsession, turning her lifestyle into one plagued with thoughts of whether or not she was eating the right foods and exercising enough. Although she struggled with depression, anorexia and orthorexia, her recovery made her grow and flourish in her relationship with her art, her friends, her family and her body.
“I think [my eating disorder] was my way of being able to control something in my life besides how I felt because I was having a hard time,” Caroline said. “When I was depressed over the summer, I didn’t have anything to do because I couldn’t drive yet. I could only go one place a day because my parents didn’t want to drive me everywhere, so I would go to the gym like five times a week and literally be dead at the gym; I would work out so hard. That was one thing I looked forward to because [exercise] releases endorphins, but it got to a point where I was so dependent on it that if I couldn’t work out that day, it was the end of the world.”
As school started, Caroline continued to struggle in silence and lose weight.
“It was hard for me during school because I would have to do assignments and things like that, but I was also trying to recover from an eating disorder,” Caroline said. “It’s like, how am I supposed to focus on school when I can’t even go through the day without having a breakdown?”
Her internal turmoil was easy to hide due to her already healthy lifestyle.
“I think on the outside it just looked like ‘oh Caroline likes to go to the gym, and she likes to eat healthily.’ I still like to do those things, but that wasn’t healthy. That was an obsession,” Caroline said. “Some people can hide [their mental illness] really well, and I think I hid it really well, at least from my friends. I just seemed like this person who was healthy and liked to be active.”
Stereotypes surrounding eating disorders further allowed her struggles to continue unnoticed.
“Something that really frustrates me is the stereotype that if you have an eating disorder, you can see your ribs, and you can see your bones. Something that people don’t realize is that you can have an eating disorder and be overweight. You can be average weight. Eating disorders are very easy to hide,” Caroline said. “I think people should know that it’s not a decision. You don’t wake up one day and think ‘I want to have an eating disorder.’ It doesn’t work that way, and it’s not fun. Don’t tell people that they look like a skeleton or that they just need to eat. It’s like, ‘thanks, I’ll take your advice. It’s so easy; let me just eat.’ It’s a lot harder than you realize until you’ve gone through it.”
Along with stereotypes, Caroline struggled with others’ comments on her body, both on social media and in real life. During Homecoming, she faced a particularly eye-opening encounter.
“At an after-party, a few upperclassmen girls were sitting on the bed in front of me, and I was wearing a tighter dress. They told me, ‘oh my gosh you have the body of a supermodel.’ I just didn’t say anything–I didn’t say thank you. It literally made me wanna shut down because some people would be like, ‘oh my gosh thank you–I look like a supermodel,’ but I don’t wanna look like a ‘supermodel.’ I have an eating disorder, and you’re telling me I look amazing,” Caroline said. “People would also comment on my Instagram posts and be like ‘skinny mini,’ but that’s not a compliment. You don’t have the right to comment on my body, let alone anybody else’s body. It just kind of put into perspective what people value and how focused people are on being thin, and that’s really hard. Especially when I was underweight, hearing that I looked like a model hurt more than anything.”
Diet culture fed into the insecurities and worries Caroline faced, making the voice in her head that told her she had to workout and not eat certain foods louder.
“Something that was so difficult and is still difficult for me during recovery was diet culture in general, and its influence on social media. Unfollowing fitness junkies helped, but also just the way people talk was hard to deal with. I don’t think people realize how prevalent it is in society until you’re on the other side of things,” Caroline said. “During my recovery, I knew that I had to do literally the opposite of what my head told me, and to be honest, it was kind of funny being like ‘oh no you don’t’ and doing the opposite of what my eating disorder wanted me to do. During Christmas, there would be cookies, and maybe I had already had one or two, and I kind of wanted more. The voice in my head would be like ‘no, no, no,’ but I was like ‘oh? But yes.’ So you just have to do the opposite of what your mental illness is telling you, which is something that really helped me. Whenever something would come up, and I would be unsure if I should try it, I would just go for it because it’s like what’s gonna happen? I’ll still wake up in the morning, and I’m still here.”
Before her healthy lifestyle turned toxic, Caroline would take progress pictures after working out. When she compared pictures from September 2016 and November 2017, she realized that it was not progress that she was making.
“I had taken a picture of myself in the mirror, and I looked at a picture of me from last September. I literally said out loud, ‘holy shit.’ I don’t talk to myself ever, but it was such a weird thing because it wasn’t overnight that I had lost weight. For a while, I didn’t really see it, and I didn’t understand why people were telling me I was so thin,” Caroline said. “After comparing those pictures, I was like, ‘I look like a skeleton,’ and that was the moment that I was like ‘okay.’ I knew the whole time that I didn’t want to live my life like this, but that was a defining moment that this definitely needed to go somewhere and that was where it really kicked in for me.”
After recognizing that her eating and exercise habits were an issue, Caroline started going to a nutritionist and therapist. She started meal plans and was able to talk her feelings out with her therapist, aiding her in her mental and physical recovery.
“My therapist would help me find the root causes of my emotions, and I could just rant to her. She just helped me feel more in tune with my feelings. I feel like if you’re struggling with mental illness or just life, in general, it’s so important to get help. You don’t have to be diagnosed with mental illness to be struggling,” Caroline said. “I know a lot of times people with eating disorders go to treatment for years. I was in treatment for a month, and my therapist said I was the fastest turnaround she’d ever had. I think the fact that I really wanted to get better just shows that no matter how bad it gets, you are in control of your endgame. I am so proud of myself that I am closer to being the person I want to be.”
Friends and family also helped Caroline in her recovery, especially her sister, alumna Emily Judd, who struggled with eating as well.
“[Emily] is very free-spirited, and we are very, very similar. I remember she came home from college last winter break, and I told her what was going on because even my family didn’t know, and my mom was the only one I talked to about it,” Caroline said. “She just helped me so much, and when I was talking to her, I just realized how much things like what you look like, how much you weigh, how many desserts you have or how many times you work out don’t matter. What matters is the person that you are, and how mentally stable you are because if you’re not mentally there then the rest of you isn’t there. It’s impossible to function, let alone do the things that make you happiest. I think that you have to have that in check, and she really helped me realize that the most important thing in life to be is the best version of yourself. For me, that doesn’t include that voice in my head telling me that I’m not enough.”
Despite her fear of opening up about her struggles, Caroline decided to share her story publicly through a VSCO journal.
“It was the night before New Year’s Eve, and I wrote it at 1 a.m.–I just cranked it out. I remember I was so emotional when I posted that story. I was crying tears of happiness and sweating since I was so nervous, and it was the most emotional thing. I felt so vulnerable,” Caroline said. “That was the peak moment because everybody is trying to lose ten pounds, while I’m trying to gain weight on New Years. It’s just a really weird thing because everyone’s going to the gym and talking about how they want to do these cleanses and these detoxes, which is something I would’ve jumped on board with a few months earlier. Now, I think mentally, that was something that I had to persevere and push through to affirm that I am on my own path, and I am not like anyone else. I am doing my own thing and what’s best for me, and that’s not making a fitness New Year’s goal.”
After sharing her story, Caroline received positive messages from her friends, family and a dozen others who were struggling with eating disorders. With an active presence on Instagram, she feels that sharing her story on social media was an important step in her process of recovery.
“I had some of my best friends reach out to me and say like, ‘I had no idea you were going through that,’ showing how you really have no idea what someone’s going through. I got such amazing feedback from people, and I think it shows how powerful social media can be, not just showing the pretty parts of your life, but that you are human. Not that I changed anyone’s life, but I had some people who told me that I helped them from going down the wrong path,” Caroline said. “By making myself feel vulnerable for a little while, I helped other people who were struggling which made it completely worth it. Obviously, during recovery, I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. I think it just goes to show that you don’t grow when you’re comfortable. Sometimes the choice that scares you is the one that is going to help you grow.”
After confronting the challenges she was faced with, Caroline learned important lessons about life and furthered the progress she has made with her eating habits.
“I just realized there’s so much more to life than having abs and going to the gym. It’s about having good times with your friends and growing old and being in love and just so much more than how many calories you consume and how many times you go to the gym,” Caroline said. “My birthday was recently, and this year was the first time in three years that I had birthday cake on my own birthday. The past years, I was at my own party, and I didn’t want to eat my own birthday cake. Mentally, [eating my cake] was something that stood for so much, kind of like a new beginning because it’s such a simple thing, but it stands for a lot more. Plus, it’s called sweet 16 for reason, right?”
Caroline feels that the people around her build her up every day by being there for her and noticing her achievements.
“Recently, a few of my friends and I went to Uncle Bill’s at like 9 p.m., and I got waffles with ice cream and chocolate on them. I had already had dinner, and it was really cute because my friends were like, ‘you wouldn’t have been able to do this a year ago.’ When you hear it verbalized, and someone else recognizes your achievements, mentally it feels like a big hug,” Caroline said. “I would hear people say now that I’m doing a lot better, like people who don’t even know me, tell me I’m just glowing. That’s such a genuine, sweet compliment; that’s not about how I look physically. To hear people verbally tell me that they’re proud of me and that they’re there for me is such an important thing.”
As an artist and photographer, Caroline learned that being different, in art and in life, is what makes everyone special, helping her find her own path during her recovery.
“I think a lot of being creative is realizing you’re your own person, and you don’t need to be anyone else. If you want to thrive in your passions and in life, you can’t be anybody else. We’re not all carbon copies, and we’re not all made to look the same and feel the same way. You have to embrace your differences, and I think being creative and being able to express myself has really made me come into my own and not care what people think of me,” Caroline said.
Although Caroline now lives a life free of an eating disorder, she still has bad days and emphasizes the importance of everyday self-care, including things like mental reminders and journaling.
“I think it’s important to realize that not every day is gonna be a great body image day, and you’re not gonna feel great every day; that’s normal. I take care of myself by being very in touch with my feelings. Asking for help when you need it is really important, from your friends and from your family. What you tell yourself is so important, so when you’re feeding yourself good thoughts, those thoughts become actions,” Caroline said. “Something that I really prioritize is making sure that at the end of the day I feel okay, and if not, there’s always time to improve that. When I’m eating my food, I pick something that’s nourishing to both my body and soul and also ask myself, ‘is this what I want to be eating?’ If the answer is no, I’m not gonna eat it. It’s simple as that.”
Through her journey, Caroline realized that her struggles were an important part of her life that taught her many lessons.
“I may need to buy a new pair of jeans, but it’s still me–a better me. Going through this has really changed me, and when I look at pictures of myself from a few months ago to a year ago, I just don’t recognize myself. I know I cut my hair and all that, but I’m just not the same person,” Caroline said. “I’m very grateful for [this journey], and I don’t regret what happened. I think every struggle you go through really teaches you something about life, and sometimes it’s confusing to know that at the time, but, whether it lasts a month or years, it’s making you stronger. Now I know what I need in life, and I know that I’ll never have to go through that again.”