The Beginnings

My name is Rachel Priest, born on July 6th in Knoxville, Tennessee. I have one brother, great parents, and wonderful family and friends that have surrounded me throughout my seemingly short little life. I love animals, anything that is furry and fuzzy or wet and slimy (Great White Sharks in particular) are my favorite. I am very adventurous and creative. I may not do things in a conventional sense, but I will always find a way to do something that I want and make a situation work out. I am frugal with my money, never being one to shop or go out and party too hard on the weekend. I find my happiness and peace in nature, surrounded by loving and kind people, not as much in a city and/or bar. I have played all kinds of sports growing up with the addition of classical piano and the stunt in middle-school band with a flute. I am a potter, creating both functional and sculptural ware. I am a climber and a very passionate person. I am a dreamer, but more importantly a Do-er. I don’t just say I want to do something or go somewhere someday, I do it and I go there. Dreaming is pointless if you don’t have the drive to see them become a reality. I like to think of myself as a kind person and loving, and I hope this translates to all interactions and aspects of my life. I love nature, I love the outdoors and feeling at one and peace with the earth. I love learning and listening, and I think you need to listen to people, even if they aren’t saying anything, to learn something new and about yourself. And I love laughing. Living simply and wholesomely is how I try to conduct my life. I also hope to help people, in any way that they may need. I was given a purpose for my time here on this green earth and I want to live it fully and truly. My favorite quote is my Nelson Mandela and is shown below; I hope that the quote shares something about my personality and view of life to you! Now enough background! I hope that you walk with me through my struggles and youth as I grew up and continue to grow today! I always welcome kind words and advice. 

Nelson Mandela

                  “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

So I’ve never really been a lean, mean fat-burning machine. Even as a child I was never really thin. Never obese, but never thin either. And I can say with honesty I never really cared. Growing up in Knoxville/Gatlinburg Tennessee was probably the best place to grow up and it really instilled my love of nature and the outdoors at a young age.  I started out in public school, Blue Grass Elementary to be exact. But in second grade, my mother homeschooled my brother and I for 3 years. This gave my family the freedom to go up to Gatlinburg frequently to go camping, cycling, and hiking, something we all enjoy. And as a kid, I was never aware of body fat or felt the need to worry about it. 

My family has always been rather health conscience, and when I was 10, my parents decided to join the WeightWatchers Program. And for ease of family life, they had my brother and I start on the program as well. My brother has always been the thin one, never worrying about weight or fitness. At 10, I guess I became aware of my weight and the idea of being skinnier and that skinnier is better. 

When I was 12, my family moved to Charlotte, NC and I fell in love with it there. Obviously sad to leave the place that I grew up, I still fit right in at the public school where I entered 6th grade. I was making some great friends and had a new and pretty city around me to discover, I was thriving. But after 13 short months, due to my father’s job, we had to leave beautiful Charlotte and move to Dayton, OH.  That is when I learned, even so young, that it is never good to really plan too hard because life is so unpredictable. Obviously have goals and dreams and MAKE SURE they happen, but there is no point to planning every step of the way! 

Once in Dayton, I was heartbroken and depressed. I truly hated it and moving into the 7th grade with no friends was not an easy task. I eventually made good friends but Ohio was never and still is not where I consider my home to be. Things got better as I made friends, some that I am still in contact with today, which is rare I believe. And then through no one’s pushing but my own, at 15 I decided that I wanted to lose weight and be thin like the other girls and be physically active. 

I started WeightWatchers and began with a 1 mile run every day. I was being healthy and active and then the weight started to slowly come off. I was being active, running more, feeling healthier and starting to settle into life a bit more. I had wonderful friends, and at the time, I was dating my first boyfriend and so as any teenage girl is, I was delighted. He was good for me though even for the short term in showing that it wasn’t about the weight since we starting seeing each other before any of this weight-loss occurred. 

I was progressing well; I weighed about 150 lbs when I started and was then down to about the mid 130s and running about 3-4 miles/day. I was also very busy! I have always been very driven and I will find a way and fight for what I want. I played high school tennis, got good grades, and have had a part time job since I turned 16, so I was a busy kid. Plus, I was looking good. I was becoming much healthier and fitter, but as all athletes understand, I was beginning to plateau and not seeing quick enough progress. This is where so many athletes turn to supplements or crazy weight-loss/strength building techniques, but at 16, these didn’t apply to me. I had so much going for me. Great friends, Cool boyfriend, great family, excelled at sports and in the classroom, plus working 4-5 days a week to save money for college. But it wasn’t enough. I was getting so many compliments and attention about how great I was looking now that I was losing weight and getting fit. Noting that I never received these type of compliments before I started my weight-loss. 

Then, within 10 minutes, my entire life changed. I usually went on evening runs after my dinner. One night, I ate too much and felt uncomfortable and that I wouldn’t be able to run, so I went to the bathroom and made myself get sick. I was amazing at how much lighter and better I felt after and I went for my evening run without a problem. Looking back, it is amazing how such a small/short choice can chance us for forever. It started slowly, maybe getting sick only 4-5 times a week. But then as I saw the weight coming off more rapidly, this increased my desire to get sick to about 2 times a day. I was getting so much attention about how pretty I was. From family, friends, and boys, and I can’t say that I didn’t like it. 

I never got attention from so many people about my looks or appearance until I was so thin. In my mind, I was only desirable this way, so I had to keep things up. I was currently about 16 ½ and weighing around 120 lbs. Now putting the eating disorder aside; I also had development an over-exercise disorder. I HAD to go to the gym. Not exercising and burning at least 600 calories a day was not an option. I was becoming addicted to working out. I had taken running and physical fitness from something that I loved and enjoyed, to making it into a punishment for eating. I had no peace in my life.

I was becoming so consumed that there are large spaces of time that I don’t remember from my sophomore year of high school. My food caloric intake averaged at about 400-600 calories a day. I consumed mostly vegetables, hardly any fruit because of the sugar content in it, and meat was definitely not an option. I would binge eat and then get sick, but anything that I kept down was mostly a vegetable. I would pack my lunch for school every day and every lunch looked about the same: a plastic bag containing half a can of green beans, a bag of celery, and maybe if I was treating myself, a bag of carrots. There was the binging also. When everything first started, I was binging on cakes and ice cream, mostly high fattening foods that I wanted the enjoyment of eating without the cost of calories. But as I got thinner and more increasingly mal-nutritious, my binging products would change. I would eat peanut butter sandwiches, chicken and bulgur, healthy whole foods that my body desperately needed. But I still felt not good enough and too guilty to be able to keep these foods in my system, I always got sick after. At this point, it was about still continuing to get skinner but it was also that I felt so trapped. I only knew this way of living now. I wondered if this would be my relationship with food/exercise for the rest of my light, a daunting idea at the time. 

I stopped seeing friends and hanging out. Between high school, my job, sports, and my excessive working out, I didn’t have time for them anymore. I was looking fit and healthy on the outside, strong and with muscle tone. I still was managing to build muscle and weight lift even though I was drastically losing fat throughout my body. I was still getting compliments for how pretty I was now, and if only people knew they were feeding the fire inside of me that was engulfing my spirit. But I doubt it would have made a difference.

I remember that I used to have dreams of eating food, things like meat, pasta, and god forbid cake. I would wake up in an absolute panic thinking that I had actually eaten this food and not made myself get sick. But once I realized it was just a dream and the previous day I had eaten only butternut squash and carrots plus ran 6.5 miles, I would relax and feel happy with myself. This isn’t exactly a normal way of thinking now is it? 

I was in the spring of sophomore year, weighing between 110-120 lbs. At the time, there were some very stressful and upsetting things going on in my home. I want to take a moment to say that my family and parents are the best in the world and I am so blessed to have them. They have stood by me and supported me in my life and choices that I have made and I couldn’t be more fortunate and love them anymore. That being said, all families have problems and sometime s cannot see past their own beliefs on what is right in a certain situation.  I felt trapped at home and tried to get out as much as possible. I would call work (a local ice cream shop that I worked at for 5 years in total) to see if anyone wanted to go home so that I could come in and work their shift. Normal kids don’t do that! Who really wants to be at work that badly?!

Around this same time, I got stressed induced mono, meaning even less eating while still forcing myself to exercise. I began binging on an entire butternut squash for the day and that was it. At this point, the only foods that I would eat without making myself get sick were carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Also as a side effect of the beta-carotene overdoses, my hands and feet hard turned bright orange. 

People were also starting to notice that something wasn’t right. My family had questions about my behavior, along with my friends. I was so consumed by the disorder that there are blocked periods of time that I can’t even remember. I was getting weaker, my hair was starting to fall out and my face became sallow. I remember a day at work, handing a customer their ice cream cone, noticing just how skinny my arm looked. 

I was tired. Tired of feeling so long. Tired of the relentless exercise. Tired of the barely eating, or eating and binging. I knew that I couldn’t keep this up and that I didn’t want to anymore. My spirit had died. There was no laughter, hope, dreaming, adventure, kindness, curiousity, and drive for life in me anymore. I would cycle to work or high school and just wish to be hit by a car so that I didn’t have to do it anymore. My only peace came from walking in the woods, playing with my very old cat, or doing my pottery. Pottery is one aspect of my life that was healthy. It gave me happiness and peace and a way to express beauty and joy. 

But I knew I needed help and I had to get it fast. I finally went to my mom and told her what I was doing and that I didn’t want to do it anymore and wanted help. I knew I needed to change and that I needed help doing it. After going to the doctor and learning that if I kept it up, I would be killing by body, we made some major changes. I went to several nurtitionships to try and help me and I also started counseling twice a week. The counseling was very helpful and I enjoyed going and just talking to my Dr. Linda. I couldn’t explain why I was doing this to myself, but it was still good to talk and listen. I was about 17 ½ by now and gaining weight back again. But the problem with anorexia and bulimia is that yes, it makes you thin and lose weight. But will it kill you? Yes. But the day you stop and decide to change your life, that is the day that I you begin gaining weight again and enter the hardest mental battle of your life. Especially being so psychologically unhealthy, this isn’t exactly an easy thing to take. I knew I had to gain weight, but I didn’t want to. Within 2 months of eating again I was up to about the mid 150s again. The lesson is when you stop getting sick, the desires to binge eat don’t stop. So you binge eat, but if you aren’t throwing up, that food will then stay in your body and turn directly into fat. After starving my body for so long, any nutrients it received, it turned directly into stored fat since it was trained to by physically hurt and not know when its next meal would come. This is where my exercise disorder picked up as well. As I began eating more, I began running 8+ miles daily or killing myself for 3-4 hours in the gym as a compromise. 

And unfortunately, this up and down game of weight and exercise would continue until I graduated high school. I was eating food and throwing up far less often, which is obviously good. But my mental relationship with food, exercise, and my body were very out of tune. Also interestingly enough, as I gained weight again, the compliments on how “pretty” or “great” I looked, began decreasing greatly. What does that tell you about the idea of beauty? To be liked and loved by people or boys etc., meant that I would have to be thin. So then I must not be worth anything, right? 

I was still very mentally destroyed. I was hanging out with my wonderful and supportive friends again and they were helping me. But what mental battles I was looking to face for years to come could not be fixed by any friend, family, boy, or doctor, but by myself only. God willing, I was given a guardian angel. I know how many people have the same struggles I did and do not get a second chance. As high school graduation approached, I told myself I had to stop throwing up or I would go to college, get sick again, and not get better this time. The night before graduation, I threw up for the last time for about an entire year and a half, exceptions of illnesses. 

Going into college, I was feeling better. I was starting to rebuild my relationship with food, exercise, and my body. I had also just completed my first Olympic length Triathlon with my dear friend Marianne. On a whim and barely knowing each other, we decided to do it and it was one of the best choices of my life. A new passion and sport was introduced and I cannot wait to complete more races throughout my lifetime. I was getting my life back, little piece by piece and living again. Every since I was a kid I have always wanted to run away, travel the world and experience life. These dreams were lost during the intense years of my disorder, but they were slowly creeping out again. The human spirit is much stronger than we give it credit for I believe. I mind gives up before our spirit does, just like in marathons and triathlons; your muscles last longer than your mind. 

To take a step back, in classifying my last year of high school and first two years of college, I was caught by the “quick-fix” mode of dieting, weight-loss propaganda and products. The “lose weight fast” ideas and all the diet products that are filled with harmful toxins that the media has brainwashed the American public into thinking it is healthy. Well I was just like everyone else. I didn’t want to face the deeper problems from where my weight-loss and mental health came from, so I turned to the quick and easy products. All the crash diet ideas, liquid diets, 14 day cayenne/lemonade cleanse, no meat diets, no bread diets, 6 pack in six days workout, etc…. all the mumbo jumbo that so many people fall prey to in the media health and fitness world. I also, funny enough, knew a lot about nutrition and how the body works in digesting, processing, and using nutrients and fat in our bodies. From all the nutritionists that I had gone to when I was younger, provided a good base knowledge of how healthy lifestyles are created. But the thing was is that even though I knew the facts and chemically how your body works to metabolize energy and fat, I couldn’t apply any of these principles to my life.

I had an incredible, sickeningly strong level of discipline in the height of my disorder. To only eat on average 500-600 calories a day, run for miles, go to high school, and have a part time job working 5 days a week, I was incredibly strict. But it was now like I was repelling all these ideas. I was in a much better place mentally, becoming much healthier and I was eating foods again. I wanted to say screw you to working out, I want to live my life and eat what I want since I didn’t for so long. And, this had a negative effect on my body as well. At the most, I believe I had weighted about 181 lbs. during my journey. Granted, I am muscular and muscle is heavier than fat, but let’s not pretend, I was pretty fat too. I didn’t want to do hard work anymore though. I had worked my body to the point of destruction and the idea of running 6 miles again daily was exhausting. I wanted something that was quick and that would end all my pain and struggles in 2 weeks. This is of course the dream world, and I knew it. But, in looking to 3 years prior, I was 50 times healthier than I was. 

I began to find my dreams again. I realized that I wanted to live life and was becoming myself again. I began fighting for my dream to go live in Ireland again, something that I had wanted since I was 13 years old and I knew that now was the time. And also, as fate would have it, I went on my first climbing trip down to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, where I found my biggest passion just waiting for me, Rock Climbing. On a side note, on this trip, I would also share a tent with my soon to be close and long term incredible friend Xandra. Climbing has changed my life, and molded me now into showing me the person who I want to be and will not start fighting for. 

Half way through my sophomore year, I got a job as a Co-Op at Delta Air Lines and moved down to Atlanta Georgia. I learned and traveled so much, details and trips which I describe in my travel section, while I worked at delta. I worked for 6 months at the airline and then on my last day of work, moved out to Ireland, with 2 bags and no place to live. I was studying abroad for the year and just ready to start living. A bit of a scary idea, but not having a full plan doesn’t scare me away in the slightest. As I said earlier, make the dreams and goals, but not the specific plans because you open yourself up to a much greater experience and fuller opportunities. But I did it, at 13 I said I would move to Ireland, and at 21 I was living my dream. 

In terms of the disorder, I did not get sick anymore and I had a much healthier relationship with food, exercise, and my body. Climbing being my main sport, accompanied by running, was and is to this day, as my main focus in fitness. But I still had and have challenges of weight loss. My greatest problem is to find a healthy life style that has balance and control, but that can be maintained throughout my life. 

Rachel Priest