From the time I was 12, every time I looked in the mirror I hated my body. My reflection in the mirror only exposed garish imperfections: extra skin here, fat cells there . . . I scrutinized my face every morning, certain that I was developing a double chin. I felt isolated and awkward at school and with my family. I directed my uneasiness and distress towards my body, telling myself I only needed to lose another 10 pounds in order to feel good. Ashamed to admit my physical ‘flaws,’ I hid my misery from my friends and family, thoroughly convinced that my weight was the source of my unhappiness.
From middle school and into college, I experimented with anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and compulsive eating. One afternoon, in the spring of my freshman year in college, my therapist mentioned a place called The Option Institute, where people went to change their beliefs. I had never heard of the Institute or even thought of attending a personal growth program but, willing to try anything to overcome my obsession with food and weight, I logged online and found the website. By the next day, I had registered for the Happiness Option Weekend. When I arrived for the introductory weekend, I hadn’t told any of my friends and family that I had signed up for the program, and I had no idea what to expect. After 3 hours of class on Thursday night, I was blown away. For the first time in my life, I found myself in an environment where I felt safe bringing forth all of the ‘shameful’ eating disorder secrets that I so closely guarded. I felt incredibly supported by the teaching staff and the other participants. Whereas I had spent my entire life feeling disconnected from others, for the first time, I felt connected to an amazing group of open and accepting people. With the powerful group dynamics and the awareness I gained by questioning my beliefs, I learned to challenge the idea that there was something awful about my body or me.
I spent 8 weeks last summer at The Option Institute in Grand Summer Sequence program. With each day, I grew more and more amazed by the dedicated teaching staff and the other incredible participants who became my extended family. Finally I began to put my doubts into perspective. I continued to examine my self-defeating beliefs and turn them around, which made a huge difference in enabling me to finally feel comfortable with my body.
As I learned to accept my body and love myself, I also discovered the wonder of loving and accepting others. What began as an attempt to ‘fix’ an eating disorder has developed into a radically different way of thinking and being. I have become confident, enthusiastic and easygoing. Even if I find myself overeating or judging my body, I know that I can choose to change, to be happy and trust that there is always something to learn from and to change any experience. The Option Institute programs have truly revolutionized the way I see myself, leading to new relationships with food, people and everything else. I look forward to each new adventure in my life, certain that no matter what happens, I will laugh a lot, learn a lot and love a lot of people.
Sandra G., Student, Illinois