Rini Frey: Recovery From Rock Bottom
By Vanessa Palencia
I stumbled upon Rini’s Instagram handle sometime in November last year and was immediately taken by her positivity, encouragement, and pure love to all of her followers. But what I loved most of all was her vulnerability.
This girl can write. She can write in ways that pull your heartstrings, generate thought-provoking questions, and relate to you and all your previous and/or current insecurities. And unlike most Instagram profiles you come across, Rini shows both sides of the story: her highlight reel and her backstage scene.
For those of you who aren’t entirely familiar with Rini, here’s a little peek of the phenomenal person that she is. Although Greek at heart, Rini was born and raised in Germany and currently lives in Calgary, Alberta with her husband. While she dabbled a little with a fashion and business major after high school, she’s now a certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor and is a strong advocate for positive body image and self love. However, the true exemplification of her character lies in the struggle and triumph in her eating disorder (ED) recovery.
As someone who began my own ED and self-love journey not too long ago and someone who appreciates the amount of devotion and time that Rini gives in supporting and encouraging others to embark and progress in their own journeys, I felt compelled to reach out to Rini. I wanted to find out more about her and stitch her story together with the intention of sharing it with the rest of the world in an effort to expand her mission. So I emailed her about a possible interview and she was so super friendly and supportive of the idea.
During one of our email exchanges, I had asked Rini if there was a particular time in her life that she wanted to focus on. When she said that she wanted to focus on her “rock bottom” after her wedding in 2016, I had assumed that it would be the typical wedding diet stress. But when we finally sat down and chatted via Zoom (a video communication company), I quickly found out that there was more to the story, and that it was more severe than I had presumed.
*Trigger Warning (TW) Below:
“I didn’t really enjoy the time leading up to my wedding because I was just so focused on calories and how I could cut out more foods and how I can fit in more workouts and things like that...and six weeks prior to the wedding, I had, like, a freak out because I still didn’t fit into my dress and so I drilled even harder,” Rini explained, “I was able to fit into my dress in the end, but I didn’t really enjoy any of it because I was just so preoccupied with numbers.”
And while that was extremely unfortunate that she couldn’t enjoy herself and feel beautiful on what’s supposed to be the most magical day, Rini’s descent into severe ED was only beginning. After her wedding, she and her husband had a mini honeymoon in Rome where instead of experiencing the culture and sights of such a classical and romantic city, Rini experienced extreme hunger.
“I always wanted to eat and eat and eat...but my husband was always there, so I didn’t have the “opportunity” to eat as much as I wanted. But then, we got home, and my husband went back to work and all that, and...it just ended in this huge binging month. Like, an entire month of just consuming an endless amount of calories...I would say that I ate an upwards of 10k calories in a day.” These severe binge episodes freaked Rini out so much that she she’d try to restrict the next day by only allowing herself juices or protein, but these restrictions never worked. “By noon, I was just so famished, and the whole binging cycle started all over again!” Because Rini couldn’t bring herself to confide to her husband about her situation, this went on for an entire month until, one day, her husband came home from work early and found Rini in the bathroom in the middle of one of her binging episodes.
“That, I would say, was my rock bottom moment,” she said, “because he saw me there, and I had just been through a binge, and, you know if people have experienced it, then they probably know what it feels like. You’re just so ashamed, you feel sick to your stomach, you just want to get rid of the food. You just feel so lost and helpless.” After that moment, Rini was able to open up to her husband and, with his encouragement, seek help because she knew in her heart that she needed to change.
But everything leading up to this specific moment in her life, in her recovery, wasn’t always a straight and narrow road. When Rini first dieted at 15, she did so with the sole intention of trying to be healthier and lose weight, but she didn’t understand the extent of the damage that it would cause her until she was about 19 or 20 when she had her first binging episode ever.
“I would say now, looking back, that every now and then I would say, like ‘okay, I’m restricting too much,’ but I still also felt kind of proud about it, which is very dangerous...very dangerous,” she confessed, “It’s really important to understand that the restriction is part of this problem, it’s not just the binging.” Rini strongly believes that we all have an inner voice or feeling that tells us when something’s wrong because it’s not normal behavior for an individual to consume an excess amount of calories and then purge or over-exercise.
However, we discussed and agreed that not everyone that goes on a diet has or develops an eating disorder. As Rini stated, it all depends on the person’s personality, and in her case, her personality (Type A: Perfectionist) flung her into the depths of her eating disorder. She explained that when her severe dieting started (at 17), she was at a weird place in her life. So many things were going on, so she turned to the one thing that she felt she could control: food. But when her first binging episode happened, she felt crushed because in that moment, she felt like she lost the control she needed.
And this is where it gets terrifying. Amidst her extreme binge and restrict diet, Rini received so many compliments and praise for her dedication to be ‘healthy.’ And while Rini felt validated in that moment, she said that she was a shell of a person. “My entire day and my entire conversation with people revolved around food...but I was never really present in conversations.” In fact, she recalls attending a mid-summer festival and, instead of enjoying herself, Rini let food dominate her every thought. “In the back of my head, there was always this voice saying, ‘okay, I cannot eat this, I cannot eat that. What can I actually eat? What is this going to do to my body? I’m just not going to eat. I’m just going to wait until I go home and eat my food.”
Because of this, Rini considers it her responsibility to help get the message out there about eating disorders and people’s idealized definition of health. “When I was in my anorexia phase, my body never got to a point where I was just skin and bones. I looked very thin, but people would tell me that I looked amazing” Rini explained. And when she went through her bulimia and orthorexia phase, no one seemed to take notice. “People would keep feeding my eating disorder...they were asking me for tips and secrets and nutrition advice...If the comments would stop, it would just mean ‘oh, I just have to lose more weight,’ because I was dependent on these comments, on that external validation.” While Rini’s parents did show some concern, they passed it off as a phase that she would outgrow, which is why Rini urges anyone who is currently going through an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with exercise to be open about everything and seek help.
If you don’t suffer from an ED but want to help someone who does, Rini advises to first stop referencing their outward appearance, or anything that revolves around body image and diet culture. Secondly, she advises to not be super concerned because sometimes that can be taken the wrong way and potentially perpetuate the ED behavior. “I believe that most of us have to be ready to seek out help... you can approach this person in a very supportive way and just be like, ‘hey, just want to make sure you’re okay,’ but not specifically address the eating disorder.” But if you’re not really close to the person, Rini urges you to stay out of it and possibly consult with someone who is close to them because, in her opinion, “it’s such a private thing and you have to be so vulnerable when you open up, so it really really has to be the right person.”
For Rini, that person was her husband. Ever since she’s opened up and embarked on her recovery journey, she feels like she has more time on her hands and this hunger for life. She now spends her time socializing and taking skating lessons instead of obsessing over food and numbers. “I hang out with my friends, I’m able to be fully present, and I never worry about the food anymore,” she says excitedly, “and most of my energy actually, these days, goes towards helping other people that are still suffering.” In fact, Rini just launched her own online course geared toward helping people who need that extra support and even offers 1:1 coaching because she knows how important it is to have someone who understands exactly what you’re going through. “It’s so rewarding to hear from people about how much it’s helping them on their journey,” she smiles.
She also reiterated that everyone is worthy of seeking help and that it only takes opening up to one person to finally start your recovery journey. But most importantly, you need to take action. “I read so many self-help books in the month that I was binge-eating…but I never actually did anything with the information, so it never actually helped me,” she admitted. In other words, you can reach for help in every direction, but if you don’t actually incorporate what you’ve learned, you’ll never progress. One helpful exercise that Rini recommends is visualization. “Picture your life without your eating disorder,” she says, “Really understand what your life could look like if you don’t spend all this time just counting, measuring, and obsessing...you will have so much space in your brain that will be freed up to put on towards other things that are more important than the shape of your body.”
And now, with more companies popping up supporting body inclusivity and promoting self-love, Rini is hopeful towards the future and believes that one day the world will finally cure itself of its own eating disorder, but just not in our lifetime. “I don’t want to step on anyone’s feet, but just based on what I see on social media, there are a still a lot of recovery accounts that still promote dieting. They don’t say the word ‘diet’ but they talk about recovering from an eating disorder while cutting out things like gluten, sugar, dairy, things like that, and that just gives people who are just recovering the wrong idea of what full recovery and food freedom actually looks like.”
So until there are more social media accounts that portray what full recovery means, Rini plans on continuing to contribute her voice and story to pave the way for future generations in hopes that it will plant a seed in her readers’ minds that they are worthy of recovery. “Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not worthy enough to seek help or that you’re not sick enough. Everybody deserves help.” Yes, you heard that right. You are worthy of recovery. You are worthy period. And if you fell in love with Rini just by reading this interview with her, then be sure to give her a follow! You can find her on Instagram on @ownitbabe and learn more about her on her blog Own it Babe.