By L.R. Zimmerman
“It’s cool that my body is the least interesting thing about me.” — Lydia Rhino, Founder of Restoration Rhino
I really hate admitting this but Lydia Rhino’s body was one of the first things I noticed about her. We met while working together at a spa in Breckenridge, CO. We both worked at the front desk and I remember talking with my roommate at the time (who also worked at the spa) and referring to Lydia as “that super-skinny, blondie babe.” I thought of her as a fashionable, Midwest gal who left me the sweetest notes before the shift change. Little did I know, Lydia was going through a relapse in her recovery.
Shortly after I met Lydia, she went back to treatment in Denver. It was then I learned about her incredible recovery story.
Today, Lydia is using her journey to help others with her blog and Instagram page under the name: Restoration Rhino. And when I think of Lydia now, I picture a strong, empowered woman. And that’s precisely what Lydia Rhino aspires to be – a strong presence and voice of inspiration for eating disorder recovery.
I contacted Lydia about collaborating on an article for the Julie readers because I think her story is one hundred percent relatable, educational and awe-inspiring.
So, without further ado, let’s meet Lydia Rhino, advocate, PomMom, and professional daydreamer. We’ll learn what living with an eating disorder looks like and how to be supportive for those going through recovery.
Lydia developed an eating disorder at the impressionable age of 18.
“I was so empty,” she expressed.
“That is truly the best word to describe how it feels living with obsessive, intrusive thoughts. No matter how much love I had around me, how much enjoyment was going on, I was always fixated on the problems I had with myself. That I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, wealthy enough, etc. In my eyes, I could never be ‘enough.’ No matter how hard I tried.”
The unwarranted thoughts lead to severe anxiety about the future and progressed into thinking no one would ever hire someone who wasn’t “enough”.
Lydia explains, “I would go into these crazy spin outs of depressive states and anxiety attacks, and use restricting and abusing my body with exercise to have control over one part of my otherwise seemingly hectic life. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be enough and just felt empty the whole time.”
During her relapse (after the first round of treatment) when we met, she explained how things were different.
“I wasn’t empty and I don’t think I even knew I was relapsing for a few months. That time, it was more of trying to fit into an identity that just wasn’t aligned with me. And I think that was really scary. I thought I was in a good relationship and was going to be content where I was – but I think my eating disorder pulled me from that false reality and forced me out of it.”
Hearing this devastated me for several reasons. First reason being this sounded all too familiar. I too have had compulsive, negative thoughts that drained my being and inhibited my quality of life. The second reason was anxiety about my daughter’s mental health, societal influences and the uncertainty of her future. And the third reason being my love for Lydia and that these consuming, torturous thoughts were very real.
Now Lydia is trying to soak in the beauty of her life.
“I sometimes get carried away in this fantasy future that I have constructed for myself – so it takes practice for me to be like, ‘Whoa, Lydia, come on, look at this life you’ve built right now!’ I’m working hard trying to finish up my bachelor’s degree. I left my former university after my sophomore year to attend treatment, then moved out to Colorado and took a few years off of school. I’m studying Human Development and Family Relations at CU Denver. I take a lot of pride in my area of study and have found a place in the Student Government Association for me to be able to give back to the university that has changed my perspective for the better on higher education. I think the biggest difference with myself mentally now is that I am medicated and am committed to taking my medication every damn day. I view my body as a vessel to enjoy life with instead of viewing it as the enemy that I am constantly fighting, and that I put in effort everyday to love myself. I show up for myself! I want to cheer myself on and tell myself I’m hot as shit, ya know?! Oh yeah, I eat food everyday, multiple times a day. It’s not a huge part of my day because I know I need it and I enjoy it when I can, but it’s more like I need energy to keep showing up as the woman that I am and want to become!”
Lydia wants her followers to know that recovery is a choice.
“Eating disorders are not choices – but choosing recovery every day is one. To me, that is full recovery. Recovery, again to me, doesn’t mean never having thoughts about food, calories and eating again. Or that I will love my body effortlessly everyday no matter what. Recovery is acknowledging, and then accepting those intrusive thoughts but choosing not to act on destructive behaviors.”
Lydia will be completing undergrad next May (woot woot) and would love to pursue a Masters and eventually a Ph.D.
“I am determined to do research on the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic breakdown of the clients attending the eating disorder treatment centers throughout the United States. While I was in treatment, I noticed that there was a lack of diversity and I want to change that. I want to find a way to get more individuals into treatment centers. I also would love to be able to pay off my mom’s outstanding treatment bill, and pay for her next trip to treatment if she’d be interested in pursuing recovery again. I want to keep breaking down stigmas around “the perfect female body” forever because no woman should ever have to try to live up to an unrealistic standard and see herself as less than. No no no. Fuck that!”
Lydia created a space, Restoration Rhino, to advocate for ED recovery and cultivate authentic confidence for others. The blog started off solely as an eating disorder recovery centered space. But it’s grown from that into something she is super proud of.
“The entities that created that growth are the same that inspire me: the women who have reached out to me! I think I had this super narrow view of the eating disorder diagnosis, but since creating RR, I have had so many women reach out that have never been officially diagnosed but are living with eating disorders! And that hit me like oh, this is not just a small sector of the population – this is a lot of women who didn’t know there was a name for something they’ve been battling for 5, 10, 15 years. I take inspiration from the community, I’m just so grateful that we’re starting this dialogue about something that society has made so difficult to navigate. Like when we talk about it, even if it’s one-on-one and not to the whole internet, we’re taking back power that has been sucked from us by powerful media and big corporations that profit off of us feeling shitty about ourselves. I love talking about this and taking ownership over what it actually means to be a female living in a female body in 2019.”
When people talk about eating disorders (in the media, especially) a lot is left out of the conversation. Filling this media role is very important and our generation is breaking all the stigmas on mental health and treatment because it’s real, it’s valid and we’re talking about it! Lydia explains further, “I think when people talk about eating disorders in the media, they focus on Anorexia Nervosa, specifically restricting type.” One body type – frail and thin – is shown, and that is what people associate with eating disorders. But, there is not a way to physically tell if someone has an eating disorder from an external view. People living in larger bodies with eating disorders are neglected from the media all together. People are so quick to dismiss people’s struggles if they don’t look like the one example that they are shown. This is something that needs more discussion 100%.”
More often times than not, telling signs of an eating disorder go unnoticed because they are very much normalized. Potential signs such as restricting one’s food intake is actually lauded and recommended in our society. I believe this stems from an idea implanted by society that ED only looks like ribs bones showing through your shirt or rushing to the toilet after every meal. This however, is not the case.
“Right – this is why it is so hard.” Lydia says. “So many behaviors have been normalized by our sloppy society! But, I think one of the biggest things to notice, is watching a change in attitude towards activities that the individual enjoyed before. Not just like an “oh they grew out of that interest”, but more of a slow disappearing act from things they fully loved. And a distanced emotional state. Eating disorders aren’t ultimately about the food – it’s about the need for emotional regulation that a lot of children/teens/adults aren’t taught to do in a healthy way.”
Eating disorder looks different for everyone and once the disorder is in full effect, loved ones are left unsure how they can help. So, how can loved ones be supportive?
“I think it is so important to validate the individual’s emotions, struggles, and experience,” Lydia explains. “With the lack of information, even with me growing up, I would devalue my mom’s eating disorder — she has struggled with Anorexia Nervosa for almost all of her life — because I didn’t understand the way eating disorders worked. Validating, actually seeing and hearing the person and telling them that you are doing so – and using I-statements when talking about the disorder. Never blaming the individual struggling!”
I had to play devil’s advocate and ask a toughie because, in reality, recovery is hard. Rewarding, but hard. So I asked her what was the most challenging part.
“The amount of talk about weight loss,” she said. “The obsession with not letting yourself go. The fear of gaining weight. Grocery shopping — stores are so big and overwhelming! Spending money on food. Constant comparison! It’s hard shit! But at the same time, it’s empowering to be on the outside and be like, ‘Huh, that sounds like a bunch of bullshit, I’ll be over here not worrying about my calorie count for the day, thanks.’ There’s a lot of pressure on everyone, ya know?”
Looking back on her life before treatment, Lydia says she has come a really long way and has learned so much.
“If I could say something to the me before treatment, I would say to ‘get your head out of your incredibly bony bum!’ Just kidding … but kind of,” she laughed. “I wish I understood that hating myself and my body was never going to get me anywhere I dreamt of going. And that I could make the choice to experience life instead of life passing me by.”
“I feel like that’s a line from a Vanessa Carlton song,” she added with a final laugh.
Thank you for taking the time to get to know my friend and ED recovery warrior, Lydia Rhino. You can view her blog, www.restorationrhino.com, or follow her on Instagram, @restorationrhino for more inspiration and recovery stories. She genuinely loves her work and is grateful that others see the worth in the work that she is doing.
“I am endlessly grateful for all of the support I have received and cannot wait to continue breaking down these barriers!” she said.