From a young age, Sara Dreier thought she had to be thin to fit in. Over time, an obsession with body image led to unhealthy behaviors and multiple eating disorders. Sara recovered with the help of treatment and a strong support network, and she made a career out of raising mental health awareness and fighting stigma.Sara’s problematic eating behaviors started when she was a teen. She always felt a strong need to be part of a group, but she didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin. “High school was just an extreme sense of wanting to belong,” Sara told DrugRehab.com. “Image was definitely heavily pushed.” She went to a small private school in Tampa, Florida, where everyone knew the details of each other’s personal lives. Her graduating class had 35 students, and there was always pressure to keep up appearances and to look or act a certain way. “I remember kind of not really knowing where I fit, where I belonged, so I would mesh with whatever group I was in at the time,” Sara said. She associated with a group known as the good kids, whom the teachers and parents loved. Sara always put pressure on herself to be perfect. Much of that pressure involved looking fit and thin. “I never felt comfortable in my body,” said Sara. “I think that anyone with a struggle like that can relate to not feeling comfortable with yourself.” Around age 15, she began scrutinizing her appearance and diet. She started using exercise and clean eating to improve her looks and cope with stress. Breakups and other normal causes of teen stress often sent Sara into bouts of extreme exercise and healthy eating. “I felt like I couldn’t really show anyone I was hurting,” said Sara. “To cover that up, I just wanted to exercise more and eat more cleanly, and it really just became an obsession and excuse to control and a way to not feel. In my mind I associated it with … being the best at everything.”
“The word skinny, to me, was a motivator. … I was doing something right.”By age 17, Sara had developed an eating disorder. It was especially difficult when the people she loved would reinforce her problematic behaviors. “The worst part is that it was not addressed, and in a lot of places it was actually praised,” said Sara. “It was, ‘Oh, you look so thin.’ The word skinny, to me, was a motivator. … I was doing something right.” Sara said that her need to be called skinny was a cry for help that no one could hear. This only added to the pressure she already put on herself. “I embraced this persona as a health nut, and if I diverted from that persona, that meant I was a failure,” she said. At this time, Sara struggled with orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an unhealthy obsession with clean eating and exercising. In college, her problematic eating behaviors intensified.
“I would say one of the lows is when my dad caught me binging. I felt so exposed. It was horrible.”She found the perfect treatment center nearby in Tampa. The residential center had the atmosphere of a home rather than a hospital. She felt comfortable there. Sara wanted to be completely open about what was happening in her life after hiding it for so long. “I posted on social media, ‘I’ve been dealing with this. I’ll be away for a while getting better,’” Sara said. “The outpouring of support was amazing.” Hundreds of people reached out to Sara. Her inbox was flooded with positive messages from people with eating disorders and people close to someone struggling with the illness. She doesn’t know how she mustered the courage to post about her disorder, but when she did, it felt like a weight was lifted from her shoulders. Sara put all her trust in her professional treatment team. Going into treatment, she was excited at the prospect of working through the eating disorders she had faced in silence for so long. “I was really self-motivated and ready,” she said.
“For me what worked was independence, teaching me to go back out into the real world and live on my own.”Almost all of Sara’s peers felt emptiness and self-loathing about the way they looked. The body image sessions taught the group that the world did not see the flaws they saw in themselves. “I think if it would have just been a clinical team, I wouldn’t have had the same support,” said Sara. She found that group therapy was healing and gave her a more realistic perspective on body image.
“I want to emphasize that when I was struggling, I didn’t look like I was struggling size-wise.”Allison and Sara had a lot in common, and they connected immediately. Allison recognized Sara’s openness and honesty about her struggles and her passion for helping people with an eating disorder. “She saw that I was trying to be authentic,” said Sara. “It was cool because I came to find that when we’re honest, it takes you to places you never could have imagined.” Allison, who is currently the vice president of business development and branding for Advanced Recovery Systems, saw great potential in Sara. She offered Sara a job as the community outreach associate for Blue Horizon Eating Disorder Services, a treatment facility operated by Advanced Recovery Systems in Orlando, Florida. Sara jumped on the opportunity and moved to Orlando for the new position. Sara now spends her workweek in the Central Florida community spreading awareness about eating disorders and the high-quality treatment people can receive at Blue Horizon. She is particularly happy that she has the opportunity to speak with people in the medical community.
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