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Published May 05, 2012, 11:30 PM

InDepth | Strength, positivity help Fargo woman in struggle with disordered eating

FARGO – Jessica Grondahl’s high school Spanish class was asked to draw houses and label the rooms. Hers didn’t have a bathroom. She just forgot it. One of her classmates noticed and shouted, “Where’s Jessica gonna throw up?”

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO – Jessica Grondahl’s high school Spanish class was asked to draw houses and label the rooms.

Hers didn’t have a bathroom. She just forgot it. One of her classmates noticed and shouted, “Where’s Jessica gonna throw up?”

The teenage boy didn’t know Grondahl was anorexic and bulimic, he just assumed she was because she was skinny.

The 25-year-old Fargo woman says some people wonder why eating disorders are such a big deal.

“What they don’t realize is that a person with an eating disorder has a brain that has been wired to tell them that food is bad, weight gain is unacceptable, and control over the body and food intake must be maintained at any and all costs,” Grondahl says.

She started restricting her food intake in fifth grade, when she was involved in the competitive world of gymnastics.

“You had to be under 15 percent body fat or you couldn’t train,” she says.

Grondahl quit gymnastics but continued to starve herself, and starting in middle school, she would get up at 5 a.m. to exercise.

She was consuming so few calories at the time that it affected her thought patterns. “It would be hard to hold a conversation,” she says.

Starvation eventually led to bingeing and purging.

“I didn’t even realize that I was doing it,” she says.

Her hidden struggle first came to light when she started fainting and collapsing in a high school weight-training class.

The instructor recognized the signs and alerted her parents.

OLD HABITS

Grondahl says people mistakenly believe someone with an eating disorder is just looking for attention. “Really, I just wanted to disappear,” she says.

The summer after high school, Grondahl spent a month in day treatment and gained some perspective on the extent of the problem.

She was in treatment with a girl whose goal weight was 40 pounds.

“She felt that she couldn’t be happy unless she kept working toward that number,” Grondahl says. “She would be dead long before she ever reached it.”

Instead of a goal weight, Grondahl felt she should be losing a pound every day. “The restricting and exercise allowed me private celebrations with my scale every time I saw the numbers go down,” she says.

Though she made some progress with counseling, the cycle of restricting, bingeing and purging continued on and off through college.

Grondahl fell back into her old patterns whenever something major happened in her life, like starting college, moving, getting married, having a child.

“Each time, I turned to starving myself, exercise, and when I couldn’t physically maintain that lifestyle anymore, bulimia,” she says.

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About a year ago, Grondahl joined Fargo’s CrossFit 701 gym, which has provided the support she needs and helped her learn how to live a healthy lifestyle, physically and mentally.

“I’ve found a community that celebrates the courage to deal with the tough stuff,” she says.

Watching people with different backgrounds and body sizes succeed in that environment has been empowering.

Now, strength training is Grondahl’s primary form of stress relief, and extra pounds on the scale mean personal records at the gym.

“Gymnastics was all image-based. CrossFit is about how much you can lift,” says Grondahl, who recently dead-lifted twice her body weight.

She’s redefined her ideal body type, in part by avoiding fashion and fitness magazines. To her, a strong body or mind is sexy.

“I am now disgusted, rather than obsessed, by the images and articles that try to tell me how I should look or live,” she says.

Instead of her restrictive eating and obsessive exercise, Grondahl finds her self-worth in her ability to face “the suck” – everything that’s difficult in life.

Grondahl’s attitudes toward food have changed, too.

The paleo diet, which is high in fats, protein, tree nuts, fruits and veggies, helped her view food as fuel.

“This diet helped me gain weight – something I am now happy to do,” she says.

Her 2-year-old son’s eating habits have also helped her relax about eating. “If my son and I are having pizza, I’ll have pizza,” she says.

Now she likes the feeling of having a healthy meal in her stomach and doesn’t get as anxious when she indulges in junk food.

Grondahl says eating disorders aren’t about food. They’re about control. “You do it to feel in control, but then you feel like you’ve lost control,” she says.

It’s difficult to talk about eating disorders because of the stigma surrounding them, but Grondahl hopes sharing her story will help others start the conversation.

“Tell someone that you’re struggling with it,” she says. “You can be healthy and competitive without starving yourself.”

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