Miami mom reflects on lifetime struggle with eating disorder

I was born and raised in Miami, Fl.  I grew up in Miami with my parents, four sisters and one brother.   I attended college at Florida State University and received my bachelors degree in Psychology.  I then went on to receive my Master’s Degree in School Counseling and Mental Health Counseling.   Right after grad school I moved back to Miami and got married.  I began working as a school counselor at Gulliver Schools.  I worked for several years and then decided to stay home and be a full time mom.  I have two children, a girl who is now 16 and a boy who is 11.   I am currently 41 years old and have been married for 18 years.

I was born and raised in Miami, Fl. I grew up in Miami with my parents, four sisters and one brother. I attended college at Florida State University and received my bachelors degree in Psychology. I then went on to receive my Master’s Degree in School Counseling and Mental Health Counseling. Right after grad school I moved back to Miami and got married. I began working as a school counselor at Gulliver Schools. I worked for several years and then decided to stay home and be a full time mom. I have two children, a girl who is now 16 and a boy who is 11. I am currently 41 years old and have been married for 18 years.

Sadly, eating disorders among women are more common than we think. Even the most “confident” women struggle with body issues. It took PJ Ortiz, a mother of two, many years to realize she needed treatment for what most complimented as “strong willpower.”

Ortiz bravely answers some tough questions below. She isn’t reluctant to tell her story at all because she knows as Renaissance Women we need to be honest and talk about our struggles. She hopes her story can help other women going through the same problem.

1. Can you describe your struggle with your eating disorder and when you realized you were suffering?

It’s hard to really pinpoint an exact time when my eating disorder started but I can remember back to the 5th grade as a time when I first remember feeling fat and started being embarrassed/ashamed by certain body parts, my legs especially. I’m not sure when my first diet started but by the time I was in high school I spent most of those years not eating. I would play a game with myself and time how long I could go without eating a single bite of food. I also turned to diet pills to help me lose weight and curb my appetite. Being hungry was the worst feeling in the world to me at that time. Even with regular diet pill use and minimal eating, I never lost weight. This was just maddening to me for two reasons. First, I wanted to be skinny and second, If I had gotten super skinny maybe my parents, friends and others would have realized how much I was suffering and got me the help I so desperately needed.

In college my eating disorder went from not eating (anorexia)  to binging and purging (bulimia) and overuse of laxatives, diet pills and exercise. Still I did not lose weight and no one knew I had a problem. Then after college I felt like I had “gotten rid” of my eating disorder because I no longer engaged in those “eating disorder behaviors”. However, over time my obsession with eating healthy (orthorexia) and working out  had taken over again and I was in a mental prison. It started by me going on weight watchers to try to get healthier. I became obsessed with points and calories and decided to go vegetarian, then clean eating. After years of being constantly hungry, my doctor prescribed me appetite suppression pills and told me to try to to on the paleo diet. I did and then was obsessed with that; he had no idea I was suffering from a life long eating disorder and to be honest at the time either did I. I was consumed with eating only natural, non-packaged ingredients and working out religiously despite my many physical injuries. I was exhausted but continued to receive praise from many friends on my dedication and strong will-power. No one knew how consuming and devastating my behaviors really were, not even me.

2. What made you realize and admit to yourself you needed treatment? Was there one “aha” moment? Were friends/family concerned? Was it hard to admit?

I had an “aha” moment one night when I was at an alcohol abuse program for a friend and everything they were saying about addiction to alcohol applied to me except my addiction was food/body image/losing weight. I set out to find an intensive outpatient program so I could receive the help I knew I needed. My family was very supportive, especially my husband and children. It was not hard for me to admit because I was so ready to get help.

3. What type of treatment did you go through? Tell us about that experience. What did it teach you about yourself? What did it teach you about these types of disorders?

I was so fortunate to have found Oliver Pyatt Centers. I was admitted into their Intensive Outpatient Program. I learned so much from them that it would take me days to type out but the main thing was that I was in an environment that taught me that all the messages that the media sends out about weight and food can be very damaging. I also had to learn to love and accept my body for what it is and take care of it and that meant eating every meal, every day, what I wanted until I was full. There was no more weighing myself, counting calories and working out daily. I was afraid and not really sure I believed all that they said and promoted but I promised myself to do everything they asked of me whether I believed it or not and I did just that. I was in treatment for 3 months. I learned that my disorder tricked me into thinking that every time I had an uncomfortable feeling to turn it on to my body and hate my body. For example: if my hair didn’t look great I wouldn’t notice that, I would just feel fat. If I had hurt feelings I wouldn’t feel those, I would just feel fat. Feeling fat was the only feeling I had. I was obsessed with what I could and couldn’t eat, how much to exercise and how fat or skinny I looked.

No matter how skinny I was all I saw was fat.

4. What are the main factors (in your opinion) that lead up to an eating disorder? What are some thingsabout society that you think could be improved to prevent this?

Many factors can encourage the development of an eating disorder and for each individual, I believe they are different.

The messages I see on tv, magazines, internet and radio are constantly telling us to be dissatisfied with who we are and try to change. There are not many “average” looking people portrayed in our society. There is a lot of pressure to not only be skinny but to be athletic and toned as well. There is a lot of fat shaming and very little acceptance of people of all shapes and sizes. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am on a daily basis when I turn on my tv or computer. When models that are super skinny are on tv and commenting about how dissatisfied they are with their bodies imagine what that does to the “average” person at home. I wish bodies, diet, food and exercise would not be such a main topic of conversations and people began talking about issues that truly matter.

5. What advice would you give to women who think they might be struggling with this issue?

It may be really hard to recognize that you have a problem because diets, weight loss, working out and eating healthy are all so glorified in this society. You can’t turn on the tv, internet or radio without hearing or seeing some advertisement to help you look and feel better. You also can’t escape family and friends constantly talking about what they should or should not eat, the guilt they have for eating or not going to the gym and have they have to lose a few pounds. For a person with an eating disorder, this is so damaging. If you are constantly thinking of food, your body and feel guilty of eating normal food and not missing a day of exercise you may need to seek treatment. Receiving treatment from Oliver Pyatt Centers is the best decision I ever made.