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Overcoming an Eating Disorder

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Falling in love with horses

Sixteen-year-old, La’el fell in love with her grandparents’ horses before she could even walk. By the age of seven, she was taking riding lessons and working in a local barn to help pay for them. Even at such a young age, La’el had found her first love.

For the next five years, her days were filled with rolling up her sleeves and happily helping out with barn chores like cleaning stalls, filling water buckets, dumping hay, mixing feed, grooming, exercising and training the horses.

Though it was hard work, La’el was consumed by a passion for working with these beautiful beasts that represent strength, grace, beauty, and freedom. “Horses have always been the center of my life, for as long as I can remember. There is nothing more important to me,” said La’el.

Body changes in youth

When she was twelve-years-old, La’el found herself in a situation that many young girls do. When a young woman goes through puberty, her body fat needs to increase in order for her to begin menstruating.

Up until that time, she had never thought anything negative about her physique. She loved her body that allowed her to be strong and follow the demanding life she had chosen with horses. However, now, she found herself extremely sensitive to any comments made by family or friends about her changing figure. Suddenly, she felt her body was working against her, instead of for her.

Instinctively being a strong-willed young woman that can train and keep under control a 1,200 lb. horse, she set out to “bridle” her out-of-control, changing body. At that time, she felt her 5’5 frame was about 5 lbs. overweight and that if she could just get those pounds off, she would be satisfied.

Dieting and calorie counting

She began limiting her calories and portions, as well as exercising more and was surprised by how easily those 5 lbs. came off. She realized the power she had in controlling her body, just like she did the horses. Coming from a family with a predisposition to addictions, this suddenly became her addiction.

She began measuring out her food, and by plugging it into an app called My Fitness Pal, La’el limited her calories to 700 per day and weighed herself sometimes 3 times a day.

Her goal was to have My Fitness Pal tell her she had not eaten enough calories for the day, so she would know more weight was coming off. Soon, her 5’5 frame was hovering at only around 100 lbs. and a BMI of only about 16 (healthy is 18-24).

Struggling with an eating disorder

Daily chores at the barn became a struggle in her weakened physical state. She had very little energy to clean stalls and had to have help carrying hay and feed for the horses.

Her trainer, Linda, began to notice the change and grew concerned. She told La’el that her own daughter struggled with anorexia and that she felt La’el was unhealthy and needed to get some help.

Unknown to Linda or anyone else, La’el had even passed out while riding some of the horses in the heat of summer, and that’s when she began to realize she might be in trouble.

La’el’s parents were becoming increasingly concerned and took her to the doctor, even against her will. After witnessing a defensive, snarky comment from La’el to her mother about refusing to eat, the doctor threatened to send her to a live-in anorexia rehabilitation facility where she would be force-fed with tubes to her stomach.

Forks Over Knives

Around that time, La’el’s family was told about a documentary called Forks Over Knives that advocates healthy, plant-based, whole food eating. They watched the film together and, Tami, La’el’s mother, said it was a turning point for all of them, including La’el.

They began to plan and prepare their plant-centered meals together, and learn how foods affect their bodies on a cellular level. This sparked a healthy enthusiasm in La’el that they had not seen before.

La’el finds her strength

La’el said, “I finally understood that I was not healthy. I couldn’t even take care of myself, much less the horses. This way of eating made sense! The horses needed me. I needed to be strong for them, and taking care of myself was going to allow me to take care of them too.”

Today, my beautiful niece, La’el, is healthy, strong, vibrant, and very happy! She eats a healthy, plant-strong diet full of protein, calcium, vitamins, and calories, and she has the strength to train horses and work in the barn all day long.

She has found that she’s more confident and secure, realizing how strong she truly is, not just with the horses, but in her own skin as well.

For the love of horses and self

La'el with her horse, Dragon.
                                                                             La’el with her horse, and true love, Dragon.
La'el at around 9 years.

La’el at around 9 years.

Baby La'el on one of her first rides on grandparents' horses.
Baby La’el on one of her first rides on her grandparents’ horse.

Resources for eating disorders

If you are concerned about a friend or family member that might have an eating disorder, please find help, as this can be serious and life-threatening. These links might be of help:

Eating Disorder Hope

National Eating Disorder Association NEDA

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Janice G. Peeler

Sunday 8th of March 2015

I love this article Terri. I realize that La'el gave you permission to print this in order to help others and, for that I could not be more proud of both of you. All my love to you, Momma/Nana