Holly Thomas 

Holly Thomas 

 
 

My relationship with my body and food are archetypical of any young woman who has existed with an eating disorder - self-loathing, sabotage, the constant need to "be better".

I developed these thoughts when I was 16. Fiercely (self) competitive, high achieving and stir crazy in my small Maine town I saw the solution to self-doubt as self-perfection. I was a competitive nordic skier sustaining myself off a few almonds and the occasional bowl of yogurt, blacking out after most races and loathing the way my thighs looked in the tight spandex. My mother demanded I seek professional help and after months of tri-weekly therapist/dietician/doctor appointments I "improved". I left the next year for college in a city known for the beauty of its denizens - Charleston, South Carolina. I was unwittingly stifled by the City's culture of consumption and outer beauty. I convinced myself that this was what it was all about; getting drunk, going to the beach and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. What more could you want, right? Oh, wait. To like yourself. 

Surficial prosperity only carries one so far. Sure enough, the self-doubt and loathing resurfaced, this time taking the form of binge eating disorder. To empty my mind I filled my mouth. I sacrificed relationships, missed classes and spent the time I wasn't in the library compensating for my consumption, running miles through town late at night. By the end of sophomore year, I was entirely burnt out. What sustained me was, surprisingly, the gen-ed science course my international studies degree demanded of me. I began to realize that the only course I actually enjoyed attending was geology. Unraveling the puzzles of the landscapes I had grown up in was intoxicating in a way 3 family size bags of chips were not. I adored my professor, an imperfect woman who was one of the more perfect I had ever met. She lived. She flew planes, loved her family deeply, understood the world we walked on and was a size 10. By the end of the academic year, I had made up my mind to leave the international studies program and the holy city behind. 

I enrolled in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course that fall, true to form selecting the one dubbed "most challenging" - NOLS Patagonia. I forgot who I was out there. I vividly recall the day upon which I finally left my body and entered the world. The sun emerged from the clouds for the first time in months, the seas slipped quietly past the hulls of our kayaks and the unblemished surface reflected perfectly the glacially molded fjord walls. For the first time, I realized how big "it" was and coincidently how small I was. I consider myself unendingly lucky to have parents who realized the course's price tag would include more than just three months in South America and some social media street cred. I would accumulate skills in outdoor living and introspection that would buy my eventual freedom from the voices telling me that my arms were too flabby for my soul to be worth loving. 

Since finishing the NOLS program I've become a few things. As a wilderness educator, I'm able to relive the butterflies & fireworks phase of my relationship with the wilderness through my students. As a climate scientist, I'm able to leave the modern world behind for weeks at a time, getting smelly and thinking deeply about the way the world works - some call this field "work". As I climber I'm able to get battered, bloody and raw, exposing my softer parts to hard rock and the necessity of failure. Finally, I've become a seeker, one still wildly unsure of what exactly it is that we're all seeking, but absolutely certain I've found it whenever I'm outdoors.