In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I thought it was pertinent of me to share my story, one that I have not spoken openly about. Only a handful of people know my struggles – my closest friends from home, my best friend here in college, my college advisor, and the admissions committees at the colleges I applied to.

Yes, I wrote about my struggle with anorexia for my common application essay. I talked about my fixation with numbers and how I have grown to realize that "they're merely a minute percentage of my composition."

I thought that, after four years of struggling, I was done with my destructive habits. I thought I conquered my eating disorder. I was wrong.

Jeanne Paulino

Let me backtrack. As a child, I was obese; I was never petite, despite standing at five feet tall. I thought it was just my build, how I was supposed to look.

But then, my doctor warned me that I was in threat of developing diabetes, since it runs in my family. Knowing that I was thirty pounds overweight and at-risk terrified me into hyperdrive.

I started dieting healthily, cutting back on junk food, and I successfully lost 10 pounds. But I didn't know where to stop. I didn't know the difference between "reduction" and "restriction." Soon, I spiraled down a dangerous path, one that composed of 1,200 calorie diets with 800 calorie deficits from working out, journals that logged every little thing I put into my body, tears shed over fluctuating weight, because I thought that being skinny would solve all my problems.

Being skinny would mean that I could be my high school's valedictorian. Being skinny would mean that I could be popular. Being skinny would mean that I was successful. My experience with my eating disorder was more than just based on vanity; it was based on my intrinsic need to feel like I was enough.

As a result, I dropped from 143 pounds to 112 in two and a half years.

Initially, the response I received was completely positive; my classmates praised my discipline, asking for tips. I eagerly gave it to them. I was their role model, someone they looked up to as an example of success and determination, and I had to maintain that façade.

On the outside, I seemed to have it all: great grades, a social life and prominent collarbones. But on the inside, I was so empty and so alone. 

What they didn't know was that I lost my period. My hair had begun to fall out due to how stressed and deprived I was. And I hated myself. No matter how tiny my waist got or how large the gap between my thighs grew, I kept looking at myself in the mirror full of self-loathing.

My GPA, the amount of likes I got on my Instagram posts and the number on the scale determined whether or not I was worthy of happiness. This is what happens when your whole self-worth is based upon numbers. This is what happens when you seek external validation through means that do not reflect your capacities as a human being. 

As my clothes became looser and I began to dress skimpier, concern was raised.

My father said I began to look unhealthy. My mother demanded that I eat more and exercise less. My teachers noticed that I was no longer happy or engaged with the class material. They were scared for my well-being, and I couldn't even see that my behavior was dangerous until then.

By sheer will and fear of losing control, I reintegrated carbs and fats back into my diet. I gave myself rest days from the gym. And I stopped weighing myself. The last part was probably the hardest, because seeing the scale always taunted me, as there was a looming threat that I would gain weight and revert to my unhealthy ways. But, I hid it, and now I have not weighed myself since my last check-up.

Although I have stopped my regimented routine, a new demon haunted me.

Since coming to college, I have gained weight; not a significant amount about which I should be concerned, but enough that it was noticeable. My clothes aren't fitting as they used to, and family members have commented. At first, I was disgusted with myself for binging, for stress-eating, for not taking care of myself as I used to. But I realize now that it's because life happens. There are so many other things that are more important than how you look; there's school, there's friends, there's extracurricular activities that feed your soul. Remaining a size 0 shouldn't be my top priority, and it hasn't been.

Now that I'm not weighing myself, now that I'm not fixated on being the best in my class, now that I'm not comparing my life to another person's, now that I'm not basing my worth on such an arbitrary measure such as the number on the scale, rank, or other people's perception of me, gaining weight isn't something to be scared of. It's a natural process, one that I'll have to live with for the rest of my life.

And I'm okay with that.

I'm no expert in this field. I still struggle with eating a balanced diet, with being positive and kind to myself. But, thanks to the resources available on campus and those that do know about my struggles, I have gotten the support that I need.

If anyone is reading this that is going through something similar or has gone through something similar, remember this:

You are more than just what you look like. You're a complex, multi-dimensional person with so much to offer to this world. And you have the support from people that love you and strength within yourself to conquer this.

If you or someone you know has eating concerns, you can seek help here.