I was born and raised in the same town that I have lived in my entire life.
I grew up in a very what I thought was ‘normal’ household. Both parents worked, we ate dinner together almost every night, I played every sport under the sun, my parents put a big emphasis on grades and the importance of staying dedicated to our school work, but they also wanted us to be involved in the community.
I did everything from community sports, to volunteering at my church, to babysitting all the neighborhood kids, and I did indeed get good grades.
When I went to high school, I continued to feel the pressure of performing to get good grades and what once was pressure from my parents turned into pressure for myself. I probably spent more than the average time on each class than most kids, and I’m sure many of you can relate to that feeling.
School didn’t always come easy to me, so I knew I had to work really hard if I wanted to do really well. With that being said, I was incredibly hard on myself to make sure that I would consistently see A grades across the board.
I was always so jealous of my brother – he didn’t really care and he just was so naturally smart. He goofed off in high school and danced his way through, being okay with B’s + C’s (which my mom wasn’t thrilled about, by the way) but when it came down to the SAT’s he did zero prep work and ended up with an almost PERFECT score.
I was so jealous. I worked my butt off, studying hours on end to be able to get good grades, I had to take an SAT prep course and I still just ended up with an average grade. It was clear that we were two different learners, but I almost felt like I was letting my parents down because they had invested all this time into my learning and I was still just average.
When it was time to think about my future and where I wanted to go to school, I eagerly applied to schools like University of Pittsburgh, University of Delaware, Temple, and my dream school, Penn State. I wasn’t confident I would get into any of them, really, but I thought I had a good shot because I was actively involved at my high school (I was the student government president my senior year!) and I seriously had almost straight A’s my entire high school years.
But I was as nervous as ever for those months while I waited to hear back from colleges, constantly filling my head with self doubt and limiting beliefs that I wasn’t good enough for those schools. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do it, and then what if I got in and I didn’t do well?
The other major problem I had was that I had absolutely zero idea what I wanted to do with my life. Literally none. I felt like all of my friends already knew what they wanted to do or be when they get older, but I felt so lost
I ended up getting accepted to all of those schools, and made the decision to go to Penn State, where I had wanted to go for the past three years. I went into college with an undecided major and figured that I would take a few classes before trying to nail something down.
I took classes in speech pathology, education, human resources, really everything… but nothing ever just jumped out to me like “Oh my gosh, I want to do this for the rest of my life” and I think that part freaked me out the most. Was there something wrong with me that I literally didn’t have any desire towards a certain career?
I struggled through college. I struggled to find the right group of friends. I had made friends, and I obviously knew a ton of people from high school since I graduated with 1,100 students, but there was something missing.
My roommate had decided she wanted to join a sorority and I remember thinking, wow, I wish I knew earlier about sororities because I totally would have joined one too. The problem with recruitment is that it is so early in the beginning of freshman year and none of my other high school friends were doing it at their schools, so I just kind of didn’t entertain the idea.
But I immediately regretted it after seeing all of the other girls so happy with their new found best friends.
The rest of my freshman and sophomore years were spent finding ways to get involved and trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do with my life. I put so much pressure on myself that summer after sophomore year to try to figure it all out that my pressure started to manifest itself into something else.
I started to channel my anxiety through ‘health’ or being what I thought was “healthy”. I discovered a new love for working out, and let me tell you, I had rarely stepped foot in the Penn State gym so this was totally new to me. I spent that summer going on runs with my dad, making healthier food choices, and genuinely enjoying the way it made me feel to take care of myself.
Naturally, the weight came off pretty quickly and I was shocked at the amount of attention I was getting for the weight loss. It wasn’t anything drastic but it was noticeable, and people definitely let me know. I finally felt like I had control of something in my life.
With each day, I grew stricter with my food choices, would ran another mile farther, or work out another ten minutes longer. We went on vacation the end of that summer before junior year and I made it clear to my parents that I wanted to work out every day and only eat at restaurants with healthy options and they were like, uhhh okay? Who is this and what have you done with our daughter?! But they were accommodating because I don’t think they saw yet what was really driving those behaviors.
I left to go back to school that August, a lot lighter than when I left that May, and I decided to join a sorority with my new-found confidence. I went through the entire process and was ‘dirty rushed’ by one of the top sororities.
This means they basically take you on under their wing and guide you through the process, ensuring you that you will be in their sorority. It’s not allowed by the rules, but some people do it for girls they really want in their sorority. I felt SO incredible.
I was now healthy, looked better than ever (or so I thought), and was about to be accepted into one of the top sororities at my dream school. This was a perfectionist’s dream.
Until the big reveal night came and they didn’t pick me.
I was stunned.
I had done everything they said, or at least I thought, I looked the part, I acted the part, but it wasn’t enough.
That’s when things started to really hit me that I wasn’t good enough and I really felt like I wasn’t cut out to succeed.
I spent the next few months in a tizzy of working out to an extreme, only eating extremely healthy food, and I eventually lost so much weight that my parents had to pull me out of school.
The only way I felt like I could keep control of my life was through micromanaging my food and my exercise. It brought me an anxiety relief, which I know, doesn’t sound all that relaxing at all. It was the one thing that the perfectionist in me knew I could control the outcome too, and I just took it way too far.
The perfectionist in me who was always getting good grades, always working her hardest (and being rewarded), always getting praised for good work, felt like she was failing and didn’t know what to do.
I left Penn State on a Wednesday, was submitted to an outpatient eating disorder unit on a Thursday, and was rushed to the ER on a Friday where I would spend the next 12 days at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with an almost failed heart.
I had bradycardia and wasn’t even allowed to get out of my bed because they were worried that my heart was going to give-out. It was a total mind twist for me, because just days before, I was literally exercising hard, walking around a huge campus, and doing normal daily activities.
My heart didn’t want to work anymore. My mind didn’t want to eat. I was feeling defeated, lost, scared, and hopeless.
It was clear to my parents, my friends, my doctors, and even myself that I needed more help.
For the first time in my life, (well besides when I was a baby), I needed someone else to help control my life decisions, which at age 20 is a very hard thing to let go of.
I spent the next 12 months in recovery, going to an inpatient residential center for eating disorder recovery, along with being in outpatient centers, and months of seeing therapists and nutritionists.
At each of these places, I slowly learned how to appreciate myself and my body, but it was a long process of healing.
I remember being so embarrassed to tell anyone about my journey, because everyone knew me as the successful, smart, funny girl who always was at the top of her class and worked so hard. But I hit my breaking point and knew it was time to turn things around.
I worked really hard that year and the following years after to heal my relationship with food and exercise, so much so that I stopped exercising completely, which I thought was literally going to be impossible for me.
I also let my parents control my every meal.
My parent’s and I, with recommendation from my therapists and nutritionists (who were certified Eating Disorder specialists) recommended that I do the Maudsley Method.
It’s a method where your caretaker literally prepares all of your meals, sits with you to eat, and you have no control over the meal. It was horrifyingly scary for me at first, and I fought tooth and nail to NOT have to do it, but I wasn’t gaining weight at each weigh in and it was clear to everyone that I needed more help with meals.
We did the Maudsley Method for a few months until I started to put on weight and get a clearer mind. I even started to go out more with friends and act more like my old self. Although I didn’t want to admit it, I really think I acted this way because I was finally starting to feel nourished and have more energy.
Later that year, I transferred schools to go to Temple where I would be closer to home and surrounded by some of my closest friends who also went there, and I finally realized I wanted to pursue a career in Public Relations, where I could mix my love of communicating and writing with social media and marketing.
I also got a puppy, and let me tell you, puppies can cure a lot of things!!
It seemed like things were finally starting to come together for me.
I LOVED my time at Temple. I even moved down to live on campus the last year and had so much fun, I had internships in the city, and then I landed an incredible internship at a Fortune 500, working in their corporate communications department.
It was an incredible experience but I always knew there was more for me. I felt this every day as I would walk in to work and have to report to someone else, ultimately fulfilling someone else’s dream, and making someone else’s company run. I just wanted to be able to be my own boss.
Corporate America taught me a lot about structure, work-life balance, and how to properly answer an email, but I was definitely longing for more.
In my recovery, I learned how to balance eating healthy and working out with still living a normal and healthy life. It was an approachable method for people who only think all or nothing. I used my time in the kitchen as a way to heal my relationship with food and to show myself that cooking and baking doesn’t have to be intimidating or restrictive.
I spent my weeknights and weekends crafting new healthy recipes and testing them out repeatedly, sharing with family, friends, neighbors until one day my mom said to me “Why don’t you start a blog?”
I was always a huge blog reader and loved the aspect of getting to know what people were up to, even if I didn’t really know them. I came to follow these bloggers and felt like they were my friends. I made all of their recipes, then started creating so many of my own that my parents joked it was like having a bakery in our house.
I had never really thought about actually starting one because I was always just a reader on the other side of the screen, but as I thought about it more, I figured “what could I lose?”
In April 2017, I decided to just go for it. Google was my best friend in trying to teach myself all of the blog stuff, which is really not easy by the way! I knew I could create the recipes and take the pictures, but the coding and the installation of my website was like another language to me.
It took me two months to actually get the blog up, with lots of tears and frustration in between, but I never wanted to quit because something just felt so right about it. At this time I was still working as a full-time employee at my day job, but each day I couldn’t wait to get home to work on the blog more and more.
So as I shared new recipes on the website, I also shared new recipes on Instagram, and was consistent about posting there every single day. I would find other bloggers who were in the same boat as me, and comment on their posts, try out some of their recipes, and stay engaged with my audience.
Within one year, I had over 30,000 followers on Instagram.
I was approached by brands every day asking me to share their products on my feed, and at first I was like for $50?! Sure! Easy money! But then I realized there was an art to it and no one wants to follow an Instagram feed that is full of advertisements, so I began to become selective and learned to work with brands I really wanted to.
I also made sure that I could find a way to incorporate it into a new recipe I wanted to create and make sure that it would truly benefit my audience.
Instagram became really hot and popular, and I realized I had a dream to chase here.
In May of 2018, I left my job to pursue Erin Lives Whole full time. There was a lot that went into that decision, but the ultimate choice was when I sat down with my family and friends and said hey, I’m 25, this is my most favorite thing in the world and I’m going to work my butt off to make this work, but if I need to go back to corporate America in a few years cause it doesn’t work out, than I can. I will kick myself if I never try.
Since May, I’ve slowly started to increase traffic to the blog, in addition to the Instagram, which is where a large majority of my money is made. I now get to be selective about brands I want to work with because this is MY business, and at the end of the day, if I’m promoting something that doesn’t have a good message, it falls on me.
I am a huge proponent of mental health awareness and eating disorder recovery and I share plenty of my journey on my blog too, so while a lot of people just come for recipes, I’ve had more positive remarks about the sharing I’ve done about my recovery than anything else.
It’s my story and I’m not ashamed. It could happen to anyone. Eating Disorders don’t discriminate.
My platform allows me to bring attention to it, and to show that life is possible after it is over. I’ve really only just begun my journey now, but I’m now an almost 26 year old business owner who never thought she would be here, especially when I have to deal with insurance and legal contracts and all that fun stuff that comes with being a legitimate business, but I truly wouldn’t change it for the world.
I also believe that everything in my life happened for a reason. I’m pretty sure if I was accepted into that sorority or never had to leave school for treatment, Erin Lives Whole wouldn’t exist. So I’m thankful every day for my messy journey.
You really don’t need to have it all figured out. Despite what everyone is telling you about going off to college and asking you about your major or your plans, it’s your journey and you’re the only one who is driving that boat. And I bet that whether you want it to or not, it will change several times before you find what makes you happiest.
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