This is straight from a presentation I did for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards as a RYLA alumni myself back in 2019. I was reminded of it recently when I started to muse about how I will one day right a book about my experiences and eating disorder recovery. I’d be lying if I said I was being completely truthful about being in recovery from BED, as though I was in a period of not engaging in it, I was in denial that it was still affecting me and that I had conquered it alone when I hadn’t at that point.
For those that have been following, I’ve been documenting my journey and have written about it previously in My Battle with Eating Disorders & How to Help Yourself or A Loved One and Broken and Now Mending. I’ve also previously discussed how exercise helps me in How Exercise Can Do Wonders For You Professionally. I’m a huge advocate of NEDIC (National Eating Disorder Information Centre) and Body Brave Canada. If you need help, don’t wait like I did because I was so ashamed of not having been able to deal with this on my own for so many years. And yes, I’m no longer ashamed of myself for asking for help, as doing that takes a lot of strength and courage.
This is an unabridged share of what I wrote all those years ago, and I still stand by these words. Exercise, wellness and being an Adult Staff member within the Cadet program have indeed saved my life. Enjoy.
Who I Am.
My name is Rachael Tracey, and I am a Bay of Quinte born & raised graduate of the Business Accounting Diploma, Human Resource Management Post-Graduate, and Entrepreneurial Studies-Business Launch Post-Graduate Programs at Loyalist College.
- I am a VERY proud member of the Cadet Instructors Cadre Branch of the Canadian Forces, charged with the duty to develop and train members of the Royal Canadian Air, Army and Sea Cadets.
- In 2014, I was one of the youngest to run for a seat on Prince Edward County Council.
- In 2016, I participated in the District 7070 Rotary Youth Leadership Awards and was one of the coordinators for the Rotary Club of Belleville’s Camp Enterprise.
- I have also had the honour of serving as an Expert Judge for Ontario Centre of Excellence’s 2017 & 2018 Make Your Pitch Competition and will be doing so again this year.
- In November 2018, I was a proud Summit Supporter for the inaugural Canadian Rural Innovation Summit in Belleville, ON, which was an opportunity to showcase the Bay of Quinte Region as an innovation destination and leader in rural entrepreneurial growth.
- I have also launched a movement within my own CIC family to get us to live healthier and more physically active lifestyles in order to set the best example for the young people in our charge, the fellow Adult Staff members we work with (civilians and members of the Canadian Forces), and of course, ourselves!
- I am currently posted as an HR Specialist to the Regional Cadet Support Unit Central at CFB Borden.
- While here at CFB Borden, I am making the most of my time here by continuing to work with young people as a volunteer with the Borden Youth Centre and this past summer, I was a Summer Company Mentor for Nottawasaga Futures (the CFDC in Alliston).
- When I’m not working either at my office or my cozy chair, I’m out hitting the trails of CFB Borden and surrounding areas, discovering more of Ontario and supporting local business along the way! Competitive 5Ks are my thing right now, but I have set a goal of completing a 1/2 Marathon by the time I turn 30 (under 3 years!).
How it all started.
I first developed an eating disorder in 2009 during my time in the Regular Force at RMC Saint-Jean. I was extremely out of shape and was not yet ready to face the challenges of being away from home, in the Forces, and in Quebec. The pressure to drop the weight started in my Orientation Period, where I learned that if I drank two glasses of Sprite, it would fill me up the same as eating all of the starches and food that we had only minutes to consume. Less calories and I felt full. Bonus! Little did I know the dangerous journey that would put me on.
Because I wasn’t getting proper nutrition, and was so focused on the weight coming off & the pressure to be absolutely perfect at everything I did, I couldn’t function properly. Even talking about exams that were months away was enough to make me want to breakdown, which I did. I made it through the Obstacle Course and was adapting fine to the military way of life, but not the mix of academic and military. I still remember walking through the Tracy River adjacent to our Campus and feeling the water want to pull me in. I made the decision to leave soon after the Obstacle Course. If I had had more support systems instead of people telling me “it’s my choice”, I probably would have stayed and could have potentially received help before it got too late.
My obsession with counting calories happened for a few years, and even happened during my 2nd attempt at University at Trent. The lowest I got was 86 pounds just after my brother’s wedding. Everyone just thought I had been on a diet for the wedding, because I hid it so well with clothes and being incessantly busy with work and school. I could easily tell others that I had eaten at school/work/home because I kept all of those lives very separate. It was when I worked at Sears that I discovered I have hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. I remember the night I transitioned clearly. I ate entire loaf of white bread and didn’t throw it up surprisingly. My parents also found my calorie journal. Not knowing what to do, they just made sure I ate at least dinner with them and threatened to take the door off my room.
Cue the transition to Bulimia. Because my parents now knew about the fact that I was not eating, I had no choice but to eat when I was around them, and with the stress of College, my friends and I were eating a lot to just have the energy to get through the day. I never did the binge and then immediately purge through vomiting, but I turned to laxatives instead. My childhood home was 900 square feet, you would hear if someone was sick, but you wouldn’t think twice if someone got up in the middle of the night because of laxatives taken after dinner. This went on until March/April 2012, when I, so depleted of vitamins, proper nutrition, and a build up of potassium from the pills, that I passed out on the sidewalk in Picton while walking my dog. Thankfully, I was by a church and a nurse was coming out of Wednesday evening Mass, and that my incredible dog just sat down instead of wandering into the road. I don’t remember driving the 20 minutes to get from my house to Picton, but I do remember waking up in the hospital and will never forget the look on my Mum’s face when I came too. I’ll never forget my Dad’s tirade about my stupidity either. It took being hooked up to a heart monitor for a week to really hit that I needed to stop this.
I tried to have a better relationship with food, but remember, I had really unhealthy coping mechanisms! I did seek assistance from my family doctor and 310-OPEN, which is the local crisis centre to get access to free counselling, which helped a bit until the counsellor made me feel about 3 feet tall. After that, I knew I was on my own to survive this.
Binge Eating Disorder.
Then came the binge eating. Because I had such a dysfunctional relationship with food (note: I still don’t have an easy one), I just couldn’t get enough food. I had learned somewhere that eating multiple times a day was supposed to charge your metabolism. Yes, if you eat the right things, but I was eating everything. I loved fried foods and combos. Because of my history, I thought I had finally conquered my issues, but little did I know that I was still on an incredibly self-destructive path. I got things under control, then my Dad passed away unexpectedly in June 2017 and life came crashing down hard. Throughout this, it was resilience and commitment to not being a disappointment to my parent’s, myself and my Cadets that kept me going, I believe.
Depression and Anxiety.
One thing I’ve dealt with since RMC has been depression and anxiety. When I left RMC, I felt like such a failure, and even more so after my stint at Trent. It felt like I was never going to do anything with my life and was just going to exist. Especially during the transitions with my ED’s and changes in jobs when I felt no control. The amount of times I felt like ending everything or running away are too numerous to count. It really is a black hole from which you think you will not come out of, so anyone who’s felt like that, know that I believe you when.
My anxiety, I am still dealing with to this day. My latest attack was actually a few weeks ago just before my Human Resource Management Exam. Even though I’ve worked in the field for years and have a lot of education in it, because this is a University course, I felt the pressure. The cracking point was when I realised I had missed an entire chapter in my study notes. I was gone after that, tears streaming down my face, I couldn’t breathe. I actually texted my boss the words “I’m hyperventilating right now” as I was struggling for breathe and not being too noisy to attract the attention of my neighbours.
I’ve had those reactions before and thankfully, I have the strength to recognize that this is what it is. I know deep down that I am a rock star of a person, a dynamite CIC Officer, and a great HR professional with goals, and I have the technique to pull myself through an attack, but I know not to beat myself up over it (I no longer apologize for them, just say “thanks for being there for me during this time”) and to fight it from consuming me.
It took seeing pics of myself at different events with my Cadet Units and realising how embarrassed I was to finally pull myself together and get real help and support, courtesy of my fellow CIC friends. I pledged to make lifestyle changes that would get me healthier, and publicly announced on Facebook that I was going to lose 75 lbs in a year, starting in April 2017.
The Canada Army Run.
When my friend found out about my journey to lose weight and get in better shape, she challenged me to do the 5KM race at the 2017 Canada Army Run in Ottawa. I called her crazy because I was so out of shape, I didn’t think I could do it. She barred the door in my office until I signed up and I committed to at least walking it. I began training that day when I told my parents about it. I am grateful I got to tell my Dad of my intentions, as he passed away before he could ever see me race. Training ground to a halt as I dealt with my loss, but I kept going because he never would have wanted me to quit. That September, I walked/ran the event in a respectable 50 minutes. I was officially hooked on racing and running.
Starting to Enter and Enjoy Road Races as a Walker/Runner.
Cue the next year, and I agreed to be the co-Captain of the CIC team that was participating in the Around the Bay Road Race, the oldest road race in North America. I had managed to cut a few minutes off my time from September, so I was happy. Since then, I’ve done a few 5K’s and am currently training to run/walk a ½ marathon in September at the Canada Army Run, as an homage to my CF roots, my love of Ottawa, and because it was my first ever race 2 years ago.
COATS Fitness Motivation Community.
More so, I was so happy to be leading change within the Cadet Instructor Cadre. Traditionally, we’ve been the ridiculed youngest sibling of the CF because we aren’t held to the same fitness standards as the rest of the CF. When I started down my path to change my life, it was proposed that perhaps there should be a group of CIC Officers working together to share resources. Out of that came a group I initially called the CIC Fitness & Motivation Support Group, as it was initially aimed at CIC Officers, but recently I changed the name to COATS Fitness & Motivation Support Group to be more inclusive of our organization, as we are comprised of CIC Officers, former Reg/Reserve Force NCMs, Civilian Instructors and Civilian Volunteers. The aim of the group is to promote physical fitness, mental fitness and healthy lifestyles within the Adult Staff of the Canadian Cadet Organizations. As Officers, NCMs, CI’s and CV’s, we have an obligation to set the example for the cadets and fellow COATS members we work with. This page is meant to keep us all motivated, share resources, sources, concepts and ideas, as well as share our journeys.
How this group has impacted the lives of others, I am not quite sure just yet. I don’t even know to the extent that this has infiltrated through the program, just that there are members from all over Canada. I know it’s kept me more than accountable and has provided me with access to human and non-human resources that I never thought that I would. Knowing that I am not alone in my struggles and in my goal of being a better role model for the Cadets in the program across Canada and my fellow COATS members.
Eventually, I’m not going to lie, I would love to turn working on fitness standards and addressing mental health issues into full-time employment, or at least get paid for some of the work I do, but for today I am content to see the amount of engagement that has happened as a result of a simple Facebook group and the fact that the conversation has started.
Running & exercising has been the penultimate way to prove to myself just what I am capable of and how far I’ve come in my life, even when it feels like I haven’t come that far at all. Every time I feel like giving up (and I do have those days, especially when I feel like a burnout is coming from or an anxiety attack), I remember the quote: “I am proud of who I have become because I fought to become her”.