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Karina Carstens: My Eating Disorder “Chad” and Our Toxic Relationship

I named my eating disorder “Chad” to personify it. I struggled with anorexia, and there are themes throughout my story of control, guilt, secrecy, loss of libido, and loneliness –all of which are prevalent amongst most people with anorexia. If you are struggling with this disease or any other type of eating disorder, I STRONGLY encourage you to get help! The National Eating Disorder Association is a great resource. Anorexia makes you feel like you are in control, but it is quite the opposite. You are being controlled and lose autonomy over your life. Your brain has become hard-wired to fear food, so all of your fears are valid! Getting help literally saved my life! When I entered eating disorder treatment, I wanted to explain how I was choosing to break-up with “Chad”. Here is the story of us and the toxicity that followed.

Karina Carstens celebrating after a race

I met Chad when I was 14. At the time, I was very insecure, especially about my body. He came in and saved me. He told me that I was stronger than I thought and that I could overcome certain desires. Over time, I became very close with Chad. He became a crutch I could lean on when I was feeling insecure. I knew he would always be there in my most vulnerable moments. We continued our relationship throughout high school, and we fell deeply in love my senior year.

This was the year that brought a lot of stress and change. I was applying to college and taking the SAT. I was my school’s number one runner on the cross country team and was also getting attention for being the anchor of our weekly newscast called E.S.N. (Exeter Student News). Despite all of this life upheaval, Chad was there to keep me grounded and extra focused. I attributed my running success to him, along with all the positive attention I received at meets. I finally felt like the confident runner I saw on Instagram and at meets; I had Chad to thank. He helped me cope with my stress and become the runner I always wanted to be. My mom, however, did not see him as such a great influence in my life.

She thought he was leading me to adopt unhealthy habits, such as not eating after a long and strenuous hard running workout, and that he brought toxicity into my life. Like most teenagers, I couldn’t disagree more. Chad helped me become the person I always wanted to be, and we were closer than ever; why couldn’t mom see that? I ignored her warnings and continued my relationship with him. He helped me feel safe, in control, and confident. Towards the end of senior year, I was excited for the independence that college would bring, especially with Chad.

Karina Carstens

Unlike most high school sweethearts, Chad and I continued our relationship throughout college. I was on my college’s cross country and track teams, and I needed his continued love and support. Freshman year, we were very close. He helped me stay away from the gross dorm food, and was controlling in all the right ways. He still let me go out to eat with my friends on occasion, even letting me stay late for dessert. Sometimes, I would feel guilty for leaving him, but the next day, he would help me feel better after an intense practice and romantic dinner for two. He would show me his love through staying with me, even after a night away from each other. That’s a big reason I loved him so much; he was always there for me, even when I strayed away from him. When I came home for the summers though, I had to keep our relationship a secret.

I knew mom didn’t approve of Chad, and I didn’t want to get reprimanded for staying with him. I wanted to make sure he still got some of my attention, so I would make sure we ate lunch together. Mom usually wouldn’t be home, so it was okay if I ate with him in my room. I loved these moments together because I could be myself with him and nobody was there to judge us. These were our moments, and they helped keep the spark alive.

Now, I am not saying our relationship was perfect. For example, at the end of my sophomore year of college and fall of junior year, we were not that close. Nothing really happened, but the spark felt dull to me. I did start to miss him though; I mean we had dated for six years at that point, so how could I not? We rekindled the fire in November 2017, after cross country season ended and I decided to leave the team.

Karina Carstens

I felt like I lost my running relationship, so I couldn’t bear losing Chad too. We started spending a lot of time together after I left the team. He wasn’t too overbearing, and he would let me eat out with friends. Despite this freedom, I would still feel guilty after spending time away from him. He would help me feel better by spending the whole weekend with me. This helped ease my conscience, and it made our relationship stronger. Our love was so strong that he went with me when I studied abroad in England during the fall of my senior year; this is when our relationship became a bit more toxic.

I was so excited to go abroad, but was also nervous to see how it would affect my relationship with Chad. Luckily, we stayed very close! We always spent our mornings together running. Our favorite run was the one we did along the coastline towards the sheep fields and black windmill. Our morning runs were so sacred that we even did them when it was pouring rain or when we travelled to far away places. They allowed us a moment to ourselves in a foreign country and outside of the cramped Langford’s Hotel. This time together slowly started to become a means of control for Chad.

For example, I tried to join the soccer team at the University of Sussex where I was doing my term abroad. At first, he seemed okay with this. He liked that I was meeting new British friends and joining a sport I used to love. Over time, he felt like I was neglecting him. We already spent our mornings together on our daily runs, so why would I want more? He also did not like me going to the Weekly Wednesday Socials. They kept me up late, and I would drink, which would make me feel less than stellar during our morning runs. He voiced these concerns to me, and I felt bad for neglecting him. I slowly stopped going to practice and the weekly socials. Chad and I were back to our regular routine, but I sometimes felt sad and would occasionally act rebelliously.

Karina Carstens on vacation

My main rebellion was to drink, eat dessert, and skip a morning run with Chad. He did not like this at all. He would still wake me up the next morning, and we would run extra hard to make me feel guilty for neglecting him. My friends did not understand this. Wouldn’t Chad be happy that I was socializing and getting outside of my comfort zone? Little did they know that our time was sacred to him; after all, his love language was quality time. Not running with him was like a slap in the face. I didn’t like to fight, so I usually obliged.

Obviously, this kept me from experiencing social events and from meeting new people. I was still so madly in love with Chad that these sacrifices seemed worth it.

This pattern continued when I got back home. However, it became even more extreme because we started training for our first marathon. We became so engrossed with school and running that socializing fell to the wayside. Plus, the training was so intense and I scarcely refueled properly, so I did not always have the energy to socialize. Chad kept us to a very strict diet because we could not have extra weight during the race. He slowly started to control most aspects of my life. I felt alright about it because it kept me on a tight schedule and kept me very disciplined. Even though we spent a lot of time together, we didn’t have too many intimate moments. I was too tired all of the time and had totally lost my libido. All of this continued past my graduation.

It wasn’t until October of 2019 when I really started to fight against his control.

Karina Carstens running

Now, this wasn’t really my own doing. My mom pushed me to go see a therapist to talk about Chad and our issues. I was hesitant at first, but I finally relented. I did see the toxicity and had a desire to fix us. To be honest, the therapist wasn’t too helpful. She merely brought up our issues, but she did not provide a way to overcome them. I continued to stay with Chad not because I loved him, but because I was scared of what would happen if I left him.

Chad and I continued our relationship, but there was a lot of tension. He could feel me pulling away, and tried so hard to make me stay. The spark was gone but the control was rampant. Gone was our sex life and gone was our open communication. All that was left was our pernicious routine.

Finally, in February 2020, I decided to break up with Chad. I felt so miserable, alone, and out of love. I truly saw no more reason to stay with him. The writing was on the wall for a while, I just refused to read it. Yes, some days are super hard and my gut aches from missing him so much. Some days I just want to run like we used to, to remind myself of all the good times we spent together. Other days, I yearn to eat the meals we used to share. At the end of the day though, my life is so much better without him. I am learning to love myself without Chad’s influence and maybe someday I will fall in love with someone else. For now, I have an eight-year relationship to recover from. The story of Chad and Karina is over, and now, it is time to start my own life worth living!

Karina Carstens YouTube channel

Karina has her own YouTube channel where she actively advocates for mental health and eating disorder awareness. She also works as a counselor at a residential eating disorder facility. 


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