Kristine Auble, 26, has a mental health story that she believes many can relate to, even if their symptoms may look different.
Auble, of Egg Harbor Township, created Balance and Body Image, a support group offered by the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County (MHAAC), in July.
The program, currently held via Zoom, provides support for individuals struggling with disordered eating.
“[Disordered eating] is an inclusive term that incorporates a wide array of eating and exercise habits that just make life unmanageable,” Auble explained.
“It’s more than just dieting for a month,” she added. “It’s habits with exercise and food that inhibit your life, and you can’t do things without thinking about it constantly.”
Auble, who works as a flight attendant for United Airlines and lifeguards for Margate in the summers, was part of Egg Harbor Township’s rowing team in high school. Auble said she dealt with the typical stressors of a high school student, but found herself beginning to cope in unhealthy ways, eventually leading to anorexic-like behaviors.
“I’ve looked back a lot, and it started really when I was 17 and in high school,” she recalled. “I was doing rowing, that was my sport. I always considered myself to be athletic, I always did sports. But I started to be more conscious of my weight, because in rowing there’s a lightweight category.”
During workouts, teammates would weigh themselves to see if they were close to being in a different class. True to her competitive nature, Auble decided to try and move down to the lightweight category during her senior year.
“I saw that I could do it, but I was so young, that the way that it would come about was, ‘Oh, if I don’t eat this today, I could weigh less,’” she said. “I was very competitive, I really enjoyed the sport. That was my big motivator, just to be below the lightweight category, but then it became ‘How low can I get it? Let me get a healthy distance between that number and my actual weight so that I don’t have to worry on race day.’”
Auble said the added pressure of lifeguarding on the beach confounded the problem.
“The combination of rowing to try and be a lightweight, and then being that teenager on the beach wearing a bathing suit every day,” she said, “feeling like all eyes were on me and what I looked like in a bathing suit — I think that combination is really what sparked the beginning of it for me.”
But it was during college at University of Maryland that her symptoms intensified. She started working out every day and eating less, and hit her lightest weight.
“...the exercising thing became big for me — it was a lot of over-exercising and undereating,” she said.
Even an invite from college friends to go get pizza would leave her obsessively thinking, “I’d have to go and run five miles the next day,” she recalled.
The “intervention” Auble said she didn’t even know she needed came during her junior year of college.
She decided to study abroad in Spain. Her college friends wanted to go out and explore the area, making it nearly impossible for Auble to follow the extreme exercise and eating regimen that she had created for herself.
The combination of the trip and graduating college, Auble said, made her realize she couldn’t sustain her current relationship with food and exercise. She was physically and emotionally exhausted.
It was during this time that Auble began to see she could perform better at tasks, such as rowing with the lifeguard squad, when she had fuel — food — in her body. She began to understand that balance was crucial, and now shares that knowledge in her support group.
“Everyone thinks in extremes,” Auble explained, adding, “it’s about finding that balance for yourself.”
Auble stressed that eating disorders are about much more than just the outward symptoms of controlling diet and exercise routines — that’s where the mental health side comes into play.
“From my experience and what I’ve learned in recovery, when you have a tough relationship with food, it all kind of boils down to the same issues of self-worth and self-esteem,” she said.
“I wouldn’t say the mental health thing was an obstacle, but a bigger journey than I had anticipated,” Auble said. “But it’s been a really good journey. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been really, really worth it...I sometimes get upset that I went through this, but I think going through this eating disorder experience, it brought me to so many opportunities, and it’s brought me to things that have improved more parts of my life than I ever thought possible.”
In case there’s a reader wondering if they should take the step to join Balance and Body Image, or encourage someone else to do the same, Auble had this to say.
“I want people struggling with this to know that they’re not alone,” she said. “Someone does care. There is a better future for yourself. You’re always worth saving, it’s never too late. You don’t have to go through it alone. You can get help with people. There’s always healing, it’s always possible.”
Balance and Body Image meets 7 p.m. first and third Tuesdays of the month on Zoom. Auble emphasized that what’s shared in the meetings is kept confidential. The Zoom passcode and ID can be found on the MHAAC website at MHAAC.info, or by calling 609-652-3800.
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