In this Episode of Love your Diagnosis, I talk with Kelly Kessler about her (self)diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa
An eating disorder that can have not only mental health symptoms but also long lasting physical pain for many years even after recovery. The physical side of Bulimia can take it’s toll on the body from chronically over exercising , to the effects that daily purging can do to a person’s system.
Kelly leaves no stones unturned in her story about her journey.
Dr. Kelly Kessler is a licensed physical therapist, wellness coach, and the founder of Optimal You Health and Wellness, LLC. Kelly teaches women who have a history of an eating disorder how to regulate their nervous system to achieve relief from chronic pain. Kelly uses an integrative approach to healing including a personalized audit, education, community support, and actionable steps to create long lasting results.
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A little side note:
These shows are meant to create food for thought for people going through similar situations. Planting seeds of information about things that perhaps you never knew could and might assist in treating and managing the symptoms associated with your diagnosis.
Alternative treatments are out there to be used, alongside allopathic medicine, or instead of.
That part is completely up to you, but gaining knowledge is the first part in empowering yourself back to health.
Sure. So looking back on it, I think when I was in the middle of it, I didn't really understand the impact of it. But I would say looking back, it started around age 18. And continued with the majority going to about age 24. So I was always an athlete. So I was always exercising and to extremes, but no, I was looked at it as I've just been an athlete. But what started to happen when I was 18, I had a lot of life changes. And I started bingeing as a way to kind of just cope with that. So I was bingeing and then I would push through exercise, just because I was completely perseverating on the calories I was taking in and what was going out at that time. So I was exercising for three to four times a day. So I would eat in the morning, exercise after that for an hour, eat lunch, go back to the gym, eat dinner, go back to the gym, and even do like 3am runs. And that was day in and day out. So that's how it started. And I didn't really recognise how unhealthy that behaviour was, until it started progressing. So I was taking in more and more calories, and couldn't control it with exercise alone. So I started vomiting to expel the calories. And I think at that point, I realised I had a real problem. I think that was kind of when I realised things were getting a little out of control.
Did you want to vomit Because you read somewhere that that would do it? Or was that just an intuitive thought that you had? Okay, well, this would be one way to get those extra calories outside of me, where did vomiting come into it?
I actually started. So it was with the exercise, and then I started eating excessive amounts of fibre, hoping that I would expel the calories that way. And then again, I just felt like I couldn't, I was taking so many calories because I was just bingeing all day that I'm like, right? How else can I get rid of these, and that's when I'm like, you know, this is probably the easiest way because I was killing my body at that time, like I can't physically do any more exercise. So this is the next logical step would be to vomit. So I don't know if it was from reading other people doing it at the time, I wasn't really big on social media, and there wasn't a whole lot at that time. As far as that I didn't really look it up, I just felt like this is something that I was in my control that I could do to expel the calories a little bit easier than pounding the pavement.
It's called an eating disorder. Is that right? Is it also and I'm just throwing this out from you know, from what I see and hear and read. Is there also a mental health part of it? Like, does it become addictive to do this as well?
Yeah, absolutely. You know, looking back on it, I experienced a lot of anxiety at that time. And obviously, even depression I was, you know, it was a time when I was transitioning into college, I felt very alone, I have really no support system. You know, I felt like my mentality, I'm very much a perfectionist, very type A basically, at the time, I felt like nothing I did was good enough. And I had a very negative mindset about myself. And that was something that I had control of. And it was something that it was almost like my crotch like I could always fall back on that. You know, looking back on it, I even realise I was in my childhood home. And I was going through my desk, and I found a piece of paper that I had written when I was 10. I even had dated it. And it said, I'm fat. So I recognise that this was the story. I was telling myself through my whole childhood, and then it just started to manifest into physical behaviour.
Yeah, and it's it's a pretty crucial time for boys and girls, you know, teenage coming into adulthood, particularly, you know, back when I was that age, we just really had magazines and television, we didn't have any access to computers at all. Really? You're I think in a different generation where it was just starting social media. Yeah, I was already in my 30s when all that was happening. Yeah. So we didn't have that extra pressure that society puts on you through the perfect images. Was that the external world that was pushing you to look perfect? Or was it your own? Because you just actually said that you'd like to be in control was that one way where things were happening for you that where you felt out of control that this was the one thing that you could focus on that you could be in control of?
Yeah, I think it was a combination. I think my in my mindset, I felt like if I could just obtain this like perfect body, then I would finally be happy and I'd finally feel joyful and you know, have all those feelings that I wanted and to feel accepted. And I think that was the driving force. if I could just obtain that, and I'd be happy physically then everything else mentally would kind of follow.
And we all know that that's a load of shit don't we. Now.
It is 100%. Absolutely, I look back and I'm like, Oh my gosh, like you realise how distorted your thoughts are, when you're on the other side of it. You're like, oh, my gosh, I couldn't believe I was thinking that way. But that's exactly what I thought at the time, like, well, if I look a certain way, I feel a certain way and just never panned out, which I never would have.
And so did friends and family know what was happening for you at the time? Because I imagined that that's quite hard to, or it could be easy to hide, you know, is it hard or easy to hide the fact that you when you eat you go and vomit? Yeah,
I honestly my family had no idea. And I only had one friend that I had told that that time with the exercise the way it started, I actually was like, praised by people, you know, like, Wow, you're so committed and determined. And, you know, you never miss a day. So people were just viewing it as like, oh, wow, she's really, you know, enthusiastic about exercise, they didn't understand what the driving force of it was, for me. When the vomiting started, which was like a few years later, I was very secretive. So no one knew, I felt like it was easy enough for me to hide, because I would just kind of slip away and then and then just reappear so and I was not living at home at that time I was, had my own room, my own bathroom. So it was easier to hide from me, because I wasn't living with anyone at that time.
I remember, you know, this is my senior year of college. And I remember I had just eaten like three bags of m&ms throughout the day, like, chocolate was my thing. And I was just like, overwhelmed by the amount of calories I had taken in. So I, you know, threw up multiple times. And, you know, went into my room, and I just sat on the floor crying because I'm like, oh my god, like, I can't keep living like this. You know, I was like shaking, I felt like my heart was pounding out of my chest. I felt like I was just completely, you know, emotionally, mentally, physically out of control. And I actually wrote in my journal, which I have a lot of like entries throughout time, I actually wrote how I was feeling and I just feel like that was like my rock bottom, you know, I recognised I had to make some changes. Because if I don't make a change now, like, I'll never know, first of all, I may be physically ill forever. Because if I don't do this, I was setting myself up for a bad trajectory. But that really was the turning point where I'm like, This can't keep going on. I can't do it, because it's just getting out of control very quickly.
So you chose not to go see your doctor about this?
Yeah, I honestly was just, I felt very ashamed of what I was doing. Like I was embarrassed. You know, I didn't want anyone knowing this. And I only really confided in one friend who I knew would be there for me. And she was kind of like my sounding board. But I was just embarrassed to go talk to any about that anyone about this? And I didn't. I felt like I just didn't even know what resources again, because I didn't want to tell my family about it. And then I'm like, I felt like kind of, I didn't know where to go. And why
did you feel such shame around it? What were the parts of the actions of bulimia that you were embarrassed or ashamed to tell people about
the bingeing and then the vomit, that's that honestly was just like, really embarrassing to me. I think people perceive me as like, this really athletic girl who's got everything together. And I knew I almost felt like it was a facade, you know, like to my true self, like no one really understood my true self other than me. And I'm like, if I told everyone what the truth was, they would question who I've met, you know, so I felt like I just was almost hiding my true identity. So I just didn't want to share that. But really, just the bingeing part was really embarrassing. I felt like I had no control.
Yeah, and for someone that likes to be in control, that that would be difficult. Yeah, I get that. You know, people see illness in so many different ways. Some people really want to reach out and get the help immediately don't want to do it on their own. And, and it sounds like you felt that hiding, it would be one way to keep the mask that you wanted the world to see up. You know, I can completely relate to that. Which is exactly what I did. And it was an ego. Totally an ego decision.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
But you carry that for a long time. Like I think I still, even though I've dealt with it all and I had the catharsis around my my condition of epilepsy. I still carry a little bit of shame, and embarrassment about it all. That's the work that I am doing now at the moment, but are you still carrying shame around it?
Yeah, I can completely relate to that. Yeah. I mean, there's so I would say my mentality is completely different on it. But there is still a part like, I've only still shared it with only a handful of people.Lainie:
Not anymore. Not anymore!Kelly:
I know. And that honestly has been until this past year, you know, I've been very open about that. And I feel like that's been part of like, my healing might like, another piece of my healing journey that I now, you know, I would say in the last year now, like, when I made my first video, like explaining what I've been through, it was like, Oh, my gosh, like, it was overwhelming posts, you know, there still is a little bit of that, like, Who seeing this right now, you know, but I can say that I am in such a better place. So I feel like I'm okay to share that now.Lainie:
That's great. I'm glad. I'm glad that you are here doing it. With me and everyone that's listening. What actually was the turning point for you where you went, Okay, I'm going to do something about this, and what was it that you actually did to try and reprogram your brain about the way you looked,Kelly:
so I just started changing my behaviour. So you know, I was exercising three to four times a day. So I just started decreasing that time. So I'm like, even if I chip off, like five minutes from each one, it stopped doing that. And I just kind of inched my way, it wasn't a linear journey, I'll say that it was, you know, there were days I felt like I was doing well. And there are days that like I would regress significantly, but I had it in my head that I want to be a different person, I want to be a joyful person, I want to be truly happy with who I am. And that was kind of like, the endpoint. And then I felt like I had to change my behaviours to match who that person is. So I kind of just pictured who I want to be. And I knew it wasn't going to be immediate. But then if down the line, like I knew I eventually wanted to have a family and have a life where I can be social and be around people and, and happy. And I kind of started changing my behaviours to match that. But it took many years. I've just that one friend I confided with and I felt like that was more of like my accountability person. So I would share with her how I was doing and she was very, very receptive and open. So I felt like I had that sounding board for like accountability with her. And I'm very, very thankful for her because she kind of not that she's not a professional, but she was just more a support. And that's what I needed andLainie:
amazing. Did she realise what a pivotal person she was in your life? She realise how much was relying on her to be there for you?Kelly:
She's just such a good person. I don't think she realises how tremendous of a person she is, you know, for doing that, you know, we're still very close friends. And you know, I appreciate everything she's done for me. I don't think she realised how much that meant to have someone who listened.Lainie:
Okay, so you chipped off five minutes each time? What was your protocol about the vomiting and the bingeing?Kelly:
I mean, it definitely had bingeing periods, but then I feel like I would try to go longer in between that and just kind of recognise, okay, today, I did not and recognise the good things that I was doing. It did continue. It wasn't like, I had that epiphany and like, everything stopped, like it did continue, but it just became less frequent. And so like, if I did a day that I didn't, I'd be like, Okay, you did that, you know, like that, that is good. And kind of celebrate those wins, and then write it two days. Okay. And then eventually, it just kind of almost like being off where I didn't really have that urge to do that anymore.Lainie:
Marvellous. Did you journal at the timeKelly:
I did. I like express myself through writing a lot. So I wrote a lot during that time and how I was feeling and just kind of that journey. I wish I had written more, but I did throughout that, that I felt like was very healing to me too.Lainie:
So journaling and talking to your friend, were there anything else that kind of helped you get through it and see how you were tracking how good you were tracking for yourself?Kelly:
I read a lot of self help books at that time.Lainie:
Any ones that you remember that you can share?Kelly:
Embracing fear was one that I read, and that I feel like transition to my mindset to where I realised like, it doesn't have to stay like this and that things can get better. So I feel like that was a motivator to to just think differently.Lainie:
Now something that's really interesting, Kelly, when we were talking about it before we got on air and also that you emailed me something about it, what are the side effects of bulimia because you weren't on medication, and you were exercising and vomiting and things like that, but that takes a lot of pressure on your body that vomiting takes a lot of work for your system to cope with. Were there side effects of those choices in your life?Kelly:
Yes, there were so after I got myself kind of into a better place with the eating disorder. I experienced chronic back pain for years. You know, to the point like sometimes it'd be hard to eat than just like put my shoes on or like get out of bed and just like daily function like sitting in the car for a long period of time, like I couldn't do that it would ebb and flow, you know, I'd have weeks where I couldn't do that, and then it would get a little bit better, but then it would go right back to that excruciating pain. And it just really impacted my life in another way that I really had to take a step back, and I couldn't exercise and I couldn't do the things I actually enjoy because of itLainie:
. And what do you think the pain was from?Kelly:
So at the time, I actually went to a practitioner, and they took an x ray, and they're like, well, your disc height L four, L five is a quarter of what it should be. And, you know, I was in my mid 20s. And there was kind of like that doom and gloom, like, it'll never get better, this is pretty much forever, it doesn't heal itself. And that stuck with me in my mid 20s, I'm like, Oh my gosh, like, it's only going to progress from here on out. That was through physical therapy school, going through physical therapy school, and you learn all the things of what you should do for back pain. So I was using myself as like a patient to help myself through the back pain. So I was doing all these mechanical things of, you know, different exercises, and I literally never, never really had improvement from that. So I just kind of transitioned everything. And again, reading a lot and understanding things more. And I recognise that even though I was not doing the behaviours of the eating disorder, I still had a lot of the residual effects from that, I was still experiencing anxiety, I was still, I never really healed mentally from that. So I started doing a lot of nervous system regulation with you know, working on calming myself down and really empowering myself to be more regulated. So working on breathwork, I started doing meditation, I started doing just like intuitive movement. And only until I did that, did I actually achieve any kind of like relief from the pain, it was a journey in itself just to figure out how to heal from that. But I recognise that everything I went through, was very much causing the back pain.Lainie:
amazing insight. There could have been many roads that you could have gone down with that with different practitioners and tests and medications and things like that. So the fact that, yeah, your intuition and your insight recognise that didn't need that journey at all. And that it was all related to the choices that you made as a young adult. Yeah, is remarkable. Well done, Kelly, honestly. Thank you. Thank you very much. Is the chronic pain. Is it completely gone for you now?Kelly:
I would say 90 to 95% gone. I mean, every once in a while, I'll get it a little bit, but I really, it doesn't impede on my life. Like it was like, I have a two year old son and I pick him up, you know, I, I play field hockey. I did a triathlon a few months ago, like it's not affecting me like it was,Lainie:
do you have daughters?Kelly:
I have a son.Lainie:
you have a son? Okay. Would you know what to recognise in your son, if he grows up with this mindset that you had?Kelly:
Yeah, I actually have thought about that. Because, you know, I look back and like my childhood, and like, Why was I experiencing that, to that extent, my parents very supportive, but very much like black and white. If you do it this way, you do it this way. You know, there's really no grey and the high expectations for like, academic and, you know, everything was like high expectations. And I felt like I never wanted to disappoint them. I think parenting my son is going to be much, much more open and kind of allow him to discover what is best for him. But I think how allowing that open communication would let me see maybe some of those warning signs. One thing is behaviour, but it's also just understanding the mentality of things, you know, if he feels like nothing he does is good enough, that would be a red flag for me, for me, just encouraging. A lot of acceptable outcomes, not just such black and white, you know, or that perfectionist attitude, I'm going to be much more open allowing him to kind of discover that himself.Lainie:
Wonderful. You got to live and learn, right?Kelly:
Do you experience any of the bulimia nervosa symptoms at all at this age? Now having done all that work?Kelly:
I would say I can't say I've never thought about it, it still does impact me mentally. Like every once a while we'll have like a thought or like I look in the mirror and just have you know, just poor body image or just not feel good or how my clothes are feeling. But I don't act on it now. You know, I feel like at this like now I I know the tools to kind of redirect myself and change that quicker at the time. I feel like I didn't have tools and I didn't. I didn't know what to do. So now it's like I can't say I'm Hunter, you're 100% cured everything's gone. But you know I do still think like that sometimes but I I feel like now I'm able to focus more on the positives rather than focusing on just the negative negative things.
It has brought me so much insight into myself, and I am very much appreciative of the struggles it put me through because I feel like I have become a better person. I feel like I'm much more understanding of people, I'm much more open and able to communicate with people better because of everything that I went through.Lainie:
Yeah, beautiful, I suppose any, any parting tips or advice that you can give to anyone that's listening, that is experiencing these kinds of things?Kelly:
Sure. Yeah, I would say, you know, the, the connecting part between the eating disorder and the chronic pain is the nervous system. And so I recognise, you know, now, of course, that the nervous system hat was giving me like a heightened response, because I'm basically like a ball of knots all the time, just because I was anxious all the time. And something to empower people is that the nervous system is always adaptable. It is always flexible, no longer no matter how long you have gone through something, you can always change and become a different version and teach your nervous system how to regulate and be better, it's there to protect you. It's not there to harm you, even though some of the symptoms that gives you her it's really there for protection and learning how to regulate it is really just the best way to kind of come out on the other side.Lainie:
Beautiful. Thank you so much. Yeah, it sounds like a great journey. And if you can help people in the process, which through this and even you know posting, do you post stuff about it on socials now,Kelly:
I post a lot about it, tick tock Instagram, and I do YouTube as well. I'm very open about my story and connecting the dots because I've spoken to a lot of women who have chronic pain, and they had any disorder, but never realised that the two were very much connected.Lainie:
Fabulous. I'll put all your details in the podcast notes. Are you actually working as a physical therapist? Did that come from this? Or were you interested in that before?Kelly:
No, I was interested in that before. I've always been interested in the human body and health. Yeah, I would say didn't really direct me in that route. But now taking it I've really been able to mend the two together. So my understanding of the human body and nervous system, but then using that knowledge to help people in the situation I was in.Lainie:
So you're directly working with women or men or or any genders with eating disorders and physical pain,Kelly:
correct? Yeah, yeah. The chronic pain and eating disorder. Fabulous.Lainie:
I'll put all the links up in the podcast notes because that's incredible. Great when you're directed through your own life to your your life's work. It's phenomenal. Thank you. Thank you for joining me and sharing your story. Very powerful story of self intuitive work. Well done. All right. Take care.Kelly:
Thank you very much.Lainie:
Bye bye for now. Bye