Skip to content
Join Life Time
Julieta Cruz

See Julieta’s Top 3 Tips for Success

Editor’s Note: This story includes potential triggers and details of coping with an eating disorder. If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, free help is available from the National Eating Disorders Association: 1-800-931-2237.

All I could think about was food. It was the fall of my sophomore year of college, and I could barely move from bed. My heartbeat was erratic. I struggled with fatigue and mood swings. I was lonely.

I’d spent nearly a year in a cycle in which a fear of food led to restricting my diet. I was often hungry and had intense cravings, which led to bingeing and purging, which led to shame.

One night, everything was still, but I felt a shift: I suddenly knew I had to change my relationship with food.

As an athlete, I was familiar with what it takes to strive toward new achievements. I realized I needed to approach recovery as I would a competition. The shift I felt was my body and mind turning toward a new goal.

Raised as an Athlete

I grew up in Guatemala and had been active and healthy my whole life. As a kid, I competed in tae kwon do. My mom was an excellent cook, and our meals included rice, seafood, and lots of vegetables and fruits.

Eventually, I decided that tae kwon do wasn’t for me: I wanted a non-contact activity. I joined a track team when I was 13, and I was a natural.

Early on, I competed in multiple track-and-field events, but I excelled at high jump and long jump, so I dedicated myself to those events. At competitions, I consistently placed in the top three in the Central American and Caribbean regions. I even held the Guatemala national record in 2014.

After high school, I chose to attend college at Florida Tech, a school in Melbourne close to my extended family in Fort Lauderdale. I joined the track team my freshman year.

I had two training sessions per day — one for strength and one for running — and I’d leave practice hungry and ready to eat. Walking into the college dining hall, I’d feel like a kid in a candy store. There were burgers, fries, waffles, and other fast-food options — things I rarely ate as a child.

I’d never given much thought to what was on my plate at home ­because everything had been nutritious. In college, I continued to eat what was in front of me even though the food was vastly different. Not only was I eating more fried and processed foods, but I had no concept of portions.

I’d been lean and fit my whole life, and I was as active as ever. Despite how much my diet changed, I never worried about my weight.

A Revealing Reunion

In December 2017, I traveled to Nicaragua to compete with the ­Guatemalan national team. When I met up with my old teammates, they were shocked. Someone commented, “You have ­chubby cheeks now!” My coach said, “Girl, your legs are twice their size. What have you been eating?”

I weighed myself and I realized I’d gained weight, and people had noticed. Making matters worse, I performed poorly at the track meet. I wasn’t even close to my personal high-jump record.

Now, I understand that weight fluctuation is common during big life changes, like moving or starting college, and that it isn’t bad or a personal failure. But that’s not how I saw it then. After the competition, I became self-conscious about my physique. I felt compelled to lose weight immediately. Food became my enemy.

The Binge-and-Purge Cycle

I tried restricting my diet, but I couldn’t resist temptation. So, I started overexercising. I craved the foods I tried to restrict, especially sugar. That’s when I started bingeing and purging. By March 2018 my weight was back to what it had been before college, but I wasn’t satisfied.

I also began isolating. Friends would invite me out to eat, but I was embarrassed to eat in front of people ­because I felt like I couldn’t control myself around food. A slice of pizza would turn into six.

My lowest point came after researching the consequences of purging, which can include decayed teeth and heart problems. What I read destroyed me, ­because I’d already noticed some of these effects, including arrhythmia.

When I returned to Guatemala for the summer, I was thinner than I’d been in years. My family noticed, but they didn’t realize I had an eating disorder. Despite having access to my mom’s healthy, fresh meals, I continued to see food as bad. Whatever went in, had to come out.

Jumping Into Recovery

After returning to school that fall, I considered seeing a counselor, but I was too embarrassed. Meanwhile, I was also reeling from Florida Tech’s decision that summer to discontinue its track program.

Over the next few months, however, I learned how to employ my athletic mindset to support my recovery. It was just like training for a new personal record: I needed to train my brain to achieve my goal of healing from my eating disorder.

The first step was accepting what I’d done. I’d spent over a year purging and being ungrateful for the food available to me, and I felt guilty. I ­needed to forgive myself in order to heal.

Early in recovery, I purged once a week. Then once every two weeks. I didn’t want to break momentum, but I offered myself compassion when I took a step back. I went three weeks, then a month, then two months. I still weighed myself and fought the impulse to purge, but I focused on forgiveness.

Forgiving myself allowed me to be flexible in a way that bingeing and purging never had. When I was in the midst of disordered eating, I was striving for perfection, so I could never be satisfied. The goal was ­always out of reach.

But when I embraced forgiveness, I accepted that I made (and will continue to make) mistakes. Slipping up didn’t mean I could never succeed. I could accept my mistakes without judging or punishing myself.

That self-compassion led to the next step. I stopped weighing myself and classifying foods as good or bad. I focused on nourishing my body, and I didn’t panic when I gained weight. I understood that my body was restoring itself.

Moving Forward

By the end of 2020, I found equilibrium. Once I stopped depriving myself, I stopped craving. I enjoyed food as nourishment. I chose food I grew up on in Guatemala, which included lots of fruits and vegetables. Most important, I saw who I was beyond the scale’s numbers; I valued myself as a whole person again.

I graduated in 2021 with a degree in biomedical engineering. I still live an active lifestyle and run most mornings before work. I also recently found the courage to start therapy, which helps in all aspects of my life.

Today, rather than being obsessed with food, I’m grateful to say that my mind is occupied with goals and a bright vision for my future.

Julieta’s Top 3 Tips for Success

  1. Forgive yourself. “You can’t move on if you dwell on your downfalls,” says Julieta. Identify whom you want to be, and then act in a way that aligns with that identity.
  2. Get help. Julieta didn’t see a counselor during her recovery, but she wishes she had. “Even though I was self-aware and motivated to take care of my future self, having support would have taken a huge load off.”
  3. Journal. “Keep track of your progress and emotions,” she advises. Doing so can help you evaluate your progress and make adjustments. “I always consider gratitude,” she adds.

 My Turnaround

For more real-life success stories of people who have embraced healthy behaviors and changed their lives, visit our My Turnaround department.

Tell Us Your Story! Have a transformational healthy-living tale of your own? Share it with us!

This article originally appeared as “Food, Freedom, and Forgiveness” in the May 2023 issue of Experience Life.

Julieta Cruz

Thoughts to share?

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


More Like This

Back To Top