Rachel Havekost ’07
Writer and Mental Health Advocate
“My eating disorder started in the fall of my sophomore year of high school,” shares alumna Rachel Havekost ’07, writer and mental health advocate.
Rachel attended Seattle Academy (SAAS) for her freshman through senior years and recently opened up about her battle with an eating disorder, one that has deeply impacted her life to this day.
Like in Rachel’s case, eating disorders commonly appear in the middle school, high school, and college years, though many individuals develop eating disorders later in life and often go untreated because of the stereotype that they only affect teens and young adults. “I don’t believe people are born with eating disorders,” explains Rachel. “I believe eating disorders are a way people cope with unimaginable stress, trauma, or the human longing to belong. Our culture puts so much pressure on us (especially women, but all genders) to look a certain way. And if we don’t, we won’t find love or be accepted.”
For some individuals living with eating disorders, life is a daily conversation with themselves about body image, control, self-harm, acceptance and belonging, or family dynamics in the home. For many, it is a combination of stresses, and really it's a greater conversation about mental health.
Rachel did some therapy sessions in high school, but once her eating disorder flipped from weight loss to weight gain, this tapered off. Though her disordered eating did not taper, the concern — as often taught or believed in society — did, because familiarity with mental illness is not where it should be.
“I lost a lot of weight, fast, and my peers did notice this,” recalls Rachel. This is perhaps the most apparent sign that one may be struggling with an eating disorder, and unfortunately, as Rachel notes, “it is problematic because eating disorders affect people of all sizes. Using weight loss or being clinically underweight as our only marker that someone is struggling perpetuates the narrative that bodies should look a certain way — even to be considered sick.”
At SAAS, Rachel took great lengths to disguise her disordered eating, especially during the lunch hour.
Every day at lunch I would pretend to sleep in the commons or escape somewhere no one could find me. Truthfully, to this day, I cannot remember where I went or what I did during lunch hours. By the time I had a car, I would leave campus and park my car somewhere else and smoke a cigarette until it was time to go back to class. Other than that, I would just lie about having eaten if someone asked.
In college, this eating disorder morphed into new symptoms; equally destructive symptoms.
It developed into binge eating and exercise abuse. I was hiding food, sneaking food/snacks late at night, eating my roommate's food, doing “binge-runs” at the dining hall, eating multiple meals in a row, and eating alone. I also started to drink alcohol to cope with my depression and started self-harming for the first time.
Rachel’s eating disorder interrupted her high school experience, her college years, and continues to be an ongoing challenge now.
It ultimately became a stressor in her marriage and was one of many complex reasons her marriage ended. “It’s like there are three people in our marriage. You, me, and your eating disorder. And sometimes I think you love her more than me,” her ex-husband is quoted saying in her memoir “Where the River Flows.”
Rachel’s memoir is an honest telling of an average teenager who started disliking her body. “I had no idea then — nor did I for about 10 years — that my eating disorder was about much more than not liking my body.”
Rachel’s experiences living and actively confronting her mental health — and her eloquence as a writer — allow us to touch on a few important signs, causes, and actions to help someone who may be living with an eating disorder.
“My eating disorder itself was, and is, a traumatizing experience,” says Rachel. She is 32 and lived with her eating disorder for over a decade before she managed healthy ways to cope with it. “For years on end, I starved myself, pushed my body to its physical limit, ignored my bodily cues, and generally put it under a huge amount of stress. The relationship between my mind and body became incredibly severed...”
“I wish there had been more education on eating disorders so I knew I wasn’t the only person with the thoughts I had,” says Rachel. ‘I wish there had been education on emotion regulation, communication, and boundaries, so I could see that what was happening at home, at school, and in society, in general, wasn’t necessarily healthy or normal.”
Rachel is an alum, a millennial, an adult, a writer, a mental health advocate, and a human doing her best to navigate life. Rachel reminds us all that there is no shame in putting wellness first. Through her accounts of life and living with an eating disorder, Rachel is empowering others to approach this no-longer-taboo topic.
Read on for additional resources, healthy ways to help, and advice from Rachel.