When do you learn what you’re really made of?
Usually it’s when you least expect it. When your back is up against the wall and you must rise to the occasion. It’s not always easy to see when you are in the midst of something you need to escape from, that you need to make a change.
When the life you no longer want becomes your fight song, the music of your life changes its tune.
Listen to that music and know you have a virtual symphony inside you waiting to be shared, one which could affect the lives of other people.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (88): Her Fight Song
Tis the season for gratitude, kindness, giving and family, and one holiday defines it all: Thanksgiving.
But what else do we look forward to on this day? If we are so fortunate, it is the feast.
But what happens when that feast becomes a famine inside your own mind. When food becomes an obssession, not because you desire it to support your daily existence, but instead because it becomes an enemy, one you fight at every turn, or turn and run from when in its presence.
For Erin Konheim Mandras this was her life. Food as public enemy #1 – an internal threat to her body, a demon on her shoulders every time she stepped onto a scale to weigh herself and an obsession and painful paralysis of her mind. It’s called anorexia nervosa, one of the most prevalent eating disorders in America today, especially among females.
The National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), defines it this way: Anorexia nervosa is characterized by emaciation, a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight, a lack of menstruation among girls and women, and extremely disturbed eating behavior.
For Erin, always small in terms of height but big in heart and mind, her body and body weight were really never an issue. Like any other teenage girl, she thought about it a lot but was far from obsessed: “I was always very petite”, says Erin. “Small in stature but big in competitive drive. I was social, I was athletic, I got good grades and I was offered a full athletic scholarship to Michigan State University to play soccer. Like any teenage girl I wanted to be pretty, popular, thin. You hear so much of what you are supposed to be like, to look like, to try on jeans that make you look like a model. It’s tough for a girl, you spend a lot of time self-doubting, criticizing yourself.
Once I went off to college I was exposed to other girls who “enlightened” me, who were showing me about dieting and skipping meals and exercising on my days off. And these are my teammates nonetheless. I was challenged by some of them and even my coaches to be as fit as I could and play every minute of every soccer game. I went home after my freshman year and felt leaner and people started noticing I had lost weight – losing even 5-pounds on a 5-foot frame is a lot. I started controlling what I ate. There was the pressure of pre-season 2-a-days for soccer practice and so I turned to food – and started eliminating more and more foods out of my diet and declaring more and more foods as unhealthy. I became obsessed with what I weighed. I didn’t want to gain any weight.”Erin says her coaches started noticing what was happening as well as her best friend Nina (Mastracci) Kolbe. “I became stoic and removed”, says Erin. “For a very vibrant, animated person I became very bland and unphased, just very out there in my own world. I was mandated to see the psychiatrist who specialized in athletes with eating disorders. I put up a fight – I came from a family where that didn’t happen, just fight through it and handle the tough times. But I saw the psychiatrist weekly and at the end of the process he was a hero and I loved him more than life itself.”
Erin says the real turning point to get help was fueled by her soccer experience, when she learned she wouldn’t be playing. “What happened was October 10th, 2003, we were playing Purdue University and my coach announced I wouldn’t be starting. It was because of my illness, but he did not tell me that. He said someone beat me out for my position for that game. It was traumatic for me not to start. I was recruited to play every game of every season.” Because her team fell behind, Erin eventually played and got to keep playing that season, though she says it was tough. As it got colder and colder the anorexia made it so she couldn’t train or play very well. Erin later learned she was on the verge of being medically disqualified that season, but somehow she managed to convince her coaches to let her keep playing… and she went for help.
The psychiatrist she was seeing every week finally convinced Erin she was too thin, but she says she still didn’t know how to stop it.
“An anorexic has the mindset that if they eat something bad they will lose control and blow up”, says Erin. “It’s irrational and it’s sick. This voice is telling you how bad this food is and you don’t need that. The therapy is all about countering that voice, but until you learn to fight, that voice overpowers you. It becomes routine and your regimen makes your formula work. You are convinced that what you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner will affect the number on that scale. Anything that would change your regimen would affect you. When I looked in the mirror I knew I was too thin, but just the fear of getting bigger and losing control and becoming huge trumped my ability to see I was too thin. Someone with an eating disorder like anorexia can’t fathom eating a slice of pizza, they think it will kill them. They can be around it but they won’t touch it.”
Eventually in her junior year, encouraged by her psychiatrist and her parents and the incentive of a Louis Vuitton handbag, she turned things around, she flipped the switch… but in the other direction. Erin says, “I was deprived and I was distant. My whole life was consumed by my weight and food and that bag was my excuse, it drove my recovery and my mind in the other direction. Don’t get me wrong, I hit several obstacles along the way. I started binge eating all the foods which I had deprived myself of, especially pizza, I love pizza, I craved carbohydrates and chips. I became overweight my junior year, but I felt stronger and more confident. With guidance from my psychiatrist I was able to pull out of my binge eating. I had my best year ever as captain of the soccer team. I had been through a mental, physical and psychological roller coaster.”
Erin says talking about it now and launching her own blog she feels like she is coming out of the closet: “Twelve years ago I had an eating disorder, but it was a big secret. Most girls or women don’t want to reveal the truth, especially a scholarship athlete. It was one year of my life and it is a thing of the past, but it identifies who I am. It changed me as a person. It gave me a new perspective on life on my family and the people who stood by me. I will never totally lose it and it will always be a part of me in some shape or form, but it will always be managed properly.”We are only scratching the surface of Erin’s struggles and her story during the time she was immersed in her eating disorder. I urge you to learn more and read some of her fantastic and eye-opening experiences on her blog: (http://konheimmandras.com/)
Erin graduated from Michigan State and an assistant coaching job brought her to Baltimore where she and her family still live. And now Erin is on a mission to share her life-changing message and affect the lives of other people: “We are all women and we strain and desire to have the most perfect body type. But we need to coach and teach these young women so they are not shell-shocked like I was. They need to gain an understanding of what goes on and they can be prepared and continuously reiterate to them not to judge someone based on their appearance but on their inner self. Don’t look in the mirror and judge your body type, but instead what type of person you are and what you’ve been given and that should be your focus. Provide positive awareness and don’t grade yourself based on your size, not the size of your body or your waist but the size of your heart.”
I don’t normally do this but here’s a little inside information about Erin and this week’s post. We did a late night phone interview for this story and when I hung up I sat back and thought, as I do so many times after a Sunday Series interview, here is someone whose courage to share her story is definitely going to inspire, most certainly put a dent in the universe and hopefully save a life, if not many lives. In this case, after talking to Erin I pulled up her favorite song, Rachel Platten’s Fight Song on YouTube and watched the lyric version, (“This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I’m alright song.”). Let me just say this, if ever there was one, here’s a song that was written for Erin Konhein Mandras and her mission.
As the father of two daughters it is my greatest hope Erin’s story stops someone from doing what she did – no girl, no woman should be judged or feel the pressure to become so obsessed with their body shape, or their weight. Life should not be measured by the appearance of your flesh and bones, but instead by the depth of your heart and soul.
Keep your fight song going Erin — I’m definitely in your corner – go get ’em champ.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
You can learn more about the warning signs and consequences of anorexia nervosa at several different websites, including (http://www.anad.org/get-information/get-informationanorexia-nervosa/) and (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/anorexia-nervosa) and once again on Erin’s Blog, (http://konheimmandras.com/)
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Speaker, SpeechWriter, Emmy Winner, USHEALTH Advisors
Author: The #1 Amazon Best Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
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