Eating Disorder Stories of Hope
“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Read about outstanding women who exemplify substance, character and are shining examples of using their unique gifts and talents to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to a better world. All have battled eating disorders and doing well in their recovery.
Read about outstanding women who exemplify substance, character and are shining examples of using their unique gifts and talents to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to a better world. All have overcome eating disorders.
When I was a child, I thought that thirty was extremely old. When I was a teenager I thought that I would have life sorted by the time I was thirty. When I was in my early twenties I didn’t believe that I would ever live to see thirty. Now that I am thirty, I don’t feel extremely old, I don’t have life sorted, but I can say that I am incredibly happy and fortunate to be alive.
In my thirty years I have had all kinds of life experiences. At thirteen, I spent a summer working in a vet’s office. I mixed bright red worming powder into liquid, I cleaned out the cattery, and I helped out in the doggy grooming parlour. I knew then I was going to work with animals. By fifteen, I was less sure. I spent a summer working on the production line in a factory which made faucets. By the end of that I was certain I was going to get a college education. At eighteen I worked in the newspaper shop at my local hospital and also in McDonald’s. I knew which environment I preferred, so at nineteen I went to medical school.
I wasn’t totally sure that I wanted to be a doctor. I knew that I wanted to work with people. I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day. I had physicians and surgeons in my family and I could see that they were happy and fulfilled. It all made sense, but deep inside me there was a niggling doubt. This seemed to wear off by the end of year one. I enjoyed being with my classmates full time and making friendships as I got to know them. I liked meeting patients and having the privilege of hearing their stories. It was good to learn practical skills like examining various body systems and taking blood samples. I had fun doing extra-curricular activities such as singing in the university choir and going to Pilates classes. Life was busy but life was good.
And it continued in that vein for the next couple of years. Then, in year three of a five year course, a few friends and I set up a charity, ‘STEP’, which stood for Students Tackling Eating Problems. All of us had some experience of disordered eating. When I was seventeen, I had suffered significant weight loss after I had to give up sports due to an arthritic condition. I had been afraid that if I ate like I had during heavy training, I would balloon. I ended up hospitalised for re-feeding, but no eating disorder was ever diagnosed and I had no psychological support; I simply ate more and recovered. My STEP co-founders were all in recovery from diagnosed anorexia or bulimia, and together we made it our mission to ensure other students in similar situations received adequate support.
I became STEP Director and began to supervise a drop-in centre on Wednesday afternoons when there were no classes, an email helpline and resource library, as well as annual awareness campaigns. The project was such a success that after my fourth year at medical school I was offered a stipend from a university chaplaincy to run STEP on a full-time basis for a year. The chaplaincy would also pay for me to do my University Certificate in Counselling. What an opportunity! I grabbed it with both hands.
My STEP ‘gap year’ began well. I started to operate a one-to-one supported self-help program for students with bulimia, I ran a series of training seminars for university staff, I spoke to 500 students at the Christian Union, and I co-wrote and helped produce a short film about a student with an eating disorder which was shown in a local cinema as part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
Then, in January 2006, things started to go wrong. I was told that no funding would be available to continue the project once I returned to medical school, a key trustee resigned, and the detailed site I had designed was removed from the web. I was devastated but I kept working in the hope that the funders would change their minds. They didn’t, and in May I had to tell all sixty of the students on my books that STEP would not exist to help them after the end of the academic year.
I remember one day I went home to my parents’ house and could not stop crying. That was probably the start of my breakdown. I can’t recall much about the next few weeks but I ended up in California staying with my aunt and uncle. One evening, sitting on a rocking chair out on the veranda, I told my aunt I didn’t think I wanted to live any more. She knew I meant it. The next day she contacted a friend who was a psychotherapist. She agreed to meet with me and within an hour she had diagnosed clinical depression. My aunt sent me back to Ireland once she had booked an appointment for me with my family doctor. Her diagnosis was the same. I came home with a packet of Citalopram and a referral to a psychiatrist.
From that point on I went rapidly downhill, and within six months – right in the middle of my final year at medical school – I was detained into a psychiatric ward, depressed and severely underweight. Now the words ‘anorexia nervosa’ were ringing in my ears and the irony did not escape me. Just a year previously I had been supporting students with eating problems and now I had my own. I thought back to my experience at seventeen and for the first time realised that the thoughts and feelings were the same: I was having a crisis of identity and self-esteem, my mood had bottomed out, and I felt as if food was an indulgence I didn’t deserve. Being thin was only a side effect, but it had its benefits. I felt like I could disappear into the background, and I was perceived as being so ill that little was expected of me.
My relapse lasted for two years. I was sent twice to London for inpatient treatment in an eating disorder unit. The first time I was bullied and came home after five weeks; the second time I was so depressed I could not engage with treatment and was not accepted on to the ‘recovery program’. Again, I came home. This was in early 2008, and things in general were much worse. My medication had been changed and I had begun to injure myself. Also, after two failed attempts at specialist treatment, I felt completely hopeless. For the first time, I renounced the faith which had kept me going up until this point and I told my parents that I was suicidal.
All the same, there must have been a part of me that wanted to live because I began to pursue options for treatment beyond the UK and Ireland. At first, I looked in California, thinking that I could be near to my aunt and uncle, but then I remembered coming across a Christian treatment centre online when I was working with STEP. I googled ‘Remuda Ranch’ and began to read through their programs. I thought that there was no possible way that I could afford treatment there but I called in any case to find out what they could do for me. Five days later I was admitted.
Remuda was a transformative experience. It didn’t instantly cure me but it turned the trajectory of my life right around. I felt this awesome sense of love and acceptance there which boosted my self esteem, and within weeks my nihilistic attitude changed as I began to feel tiny seeds of hope germinating inside myself. I realised that, even though I had walked away from God, he hadn’t walked away from me and I chose to turn and run into his arms. I gained weight and I made progress in therapy. It was a slow process, hampered at times by medical complications, but after 100 days at the Ranch I was ready for the transition to residential treatment.
I found residential treatment tough, but I learnt new skills in cookery and intuitive eating, and eventually I came back to Ireland. My struggles with self harm did not end until I stopped taking an SNRI antidepressant a few months later, but I can now say that I have been free of that behaviour for four amazing years!
I graduated medical school whilst I was ill, but after treatment I found myself prohibited from practising as a clinician on mental health grounds. This created a new challenge regarding what career to follow. With my weight healthy and stable, I have been able to try out a wealth of different options which have broadened my horizons and made my résumé rather more interesting than it would have been if I had been a doctor. I have worked as a media spokesperson for a local mental health charity, I have been a Constituency Support Officer for my local Member of Parliament, I have taught anatomy to medical students, and I have published a book about my experience of mental illness. I have also taken classes in Irish language, creative writing, poetry, politics, music, clinical education and art.
Yet what I have come back to again and again is writing. When I was seven years old I told my parents that I was going to be a writer. Now I can’t help but wonder whether I knew myself better then than when I was a teenager and had to choose a career route. I wrote a number of published articles whilst I was a medical student and I have been writing ever since, so now I am excited to be writing for Eating Disorder Hope. Today it is my dream to make writing my career. In 2010 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the ups and downs make it difficult to sustain regular work, whereas writing can fit around my moods.
I asked my boyfriend how he would describe me today. He said that I was sensitive, thoughtful, caring, generous, insightful, humorous, articulate, artistic, intelligent, experienced, complex and moody, and that I had very varied ambitions. A few years ago I would have found it difficult to accept the positive and impossible to accept any hint of negativity. Now I can take his words as amazing affirmations which are testament to how far I have come. Even the fact that I have a sense of humour again is a miracle…and how wonderful to read a list which does not include the term ‘anorexic’!
Yes, today, I walk in recovery. That does not mean that I do not battle with comparison from time to time, or that my weight is always right on the same number. It does mean that I choose to reject negative thoughts about my shape and that I work hard to meet my body’s nutritional needs and to enjoy the food I eat. Because of this I can live life to the full, spending lots of time with friends and family, enjoying the great outdoors, travelling when I can, exercising appropriately, and enjoying being the woman whom I was intended to be. When I was running STEP, my tagline was ‘Recovery is Possible’. Now I’m proving it to be true!
Sharon McConville MB BCh BAO Cert Counselling
It was like a scene out of a medical television show. A smiling, happy, 32 year old woman was driving her young daughter home on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. Suddenly sharp pains start to shoot in her chest and down her arm. She is so weak she has to lie on the steering wheel to hold herself up. Somehow she manages to pull off the road, stumble out of her car and proceeds to pass out on the side of the road. The scene that flashes is all about monitors beeping, doctors shouting and bright lights. The eating disorder she had worked so hard to hide for years had found a way to be the star of the show. It was now a matter of life or death. The eating disorder (ED) had got a taste of fame, attention and was now at a new level of control.
Sadly that glimpse of medical drama is not a television show, it was my reality show. It was my life. It was time to change the channel, fire the director and cancel the program. It was time to get well or die. I had finally hit rock bottom and at the bottom is where I found God to be my solid rock which I built my recovery on.
A few days after this medical crisis I was admitted to Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona for 90 days of inpatient treatment. It was there that my recovery started to unfold. It was there that my healing began, and my hope was restored. It was during my time at Remuda that I began to lay down the unhealthy and unrealistic demands I placed on myself.
After so many years of the demands to be perfect, the strain had left me exhausted. My body, my faith, my joy, and my happiness were gone. The reality is that there is no such thing as “perfect”. I had bought into the lies and demands that our society places on women and girls. I had bought into the pressures to keep up the perfect appearance, the perfect looking house, the perfect family. All of it was just added pressure that slowly took my true identity away until I was left with just a shell of a person. ED has the power and the ability to rob a person from their identity, their family and any type of life. I had allowed ED to have power and control over me.
“No more…I will not give ED one more day.” I remember saying those words after getting a letter from a dear friend that had Ephesians 6:10-18 written in it. The words in that verse spoke to me, and I knew it was my time to fight. It was truly my chance to heal and live in recovery. In Ephesians, scripture instructs me to cover myself in the Armor of God, to take up a shield of faith, put on the helmet of Salvation and take the sword of the Spirit. You see, I had been trying to battle ED on my own and that was not working. I had pushed my loved ones away. I had lost my faith and hope in God. I had been alone up until that point. I was now covered in God’s armor and prepared to fight the ED battle. I was ready to do whatever it took to win.
I started to listen to those around me, and I slowly started to trust my treatment team. I made a commitment to myself that I would follow my meal plan and see my team regularly. Slowly my body started to heal, and I started to feel better. My thoughts started to become more clear, and the constant state of confusion was gone. Even my energy started to return.
Upon returning home from treatment, I felt like I was still wearing the protection and armor of God. But, it was getting heavy, and I was starting to get weak. After awhile, the reality of life started to build up. I felt as if every eye was watching me and every move I made. Even months after being home, I really struggled. The demands of being a mom to three young children, a wife and a friend were almost too much to bear at times. I was physically better, but I was still broken. My mind raced with thoughts such as “My family would be so much better without me” or “How can God or anyone love such a damaged woman”. One afternoon it had become too much, and I tried to end my life. I was sure my family would be better without me. That was a sad and dark day. By the grace of God and quick acting medical teams, my life didn’t end that day, in fact it began that day. I knew I couldn’t keep this up. I could no longer live “partially” recovered. I had to be willing to lay down everything and truly heal all of me not just my physical body. It had got to the point where I had to fully trust and lay down all the fears I still carried. It was time to fully surrender to the healing and recovery process.
My family, friends and church family never gave up on me. Instead, they believed in me and with each day came a new little victory in my recovery. They all celebrated with me. They never gave up hope, and they never stopped loving me. Even during the rough days that came along, there unending support never stopped. I believe this is the reason I am so passionate about sharing and encouraging. I won’t give up on the chance of recovery for someone. I will listen, pray, encourage and sometimes challenge someone if that is what they need. I was the only one who had ever given up on myself, and I will never walk away or give up on recovery.
Each day I have the chance to speak words of encouragement to so many who are going through the same things that I had once gone. I am able to connect and relate with hurting people because I was that hurting person. I am able to look families in the eye and share with them that recovery is real, and I am living proof. I can hold a woman’s hand and tell her that there is life without ED and that she is not alone in this fight. While I am at eating disorder awareness events and have the chance to connect with a fellow alumni, there are always tears of joy, pride and love. By allowing myself to be open and available to those who are struggling, I have a unique, instant bond and understanding. I know the feeling of pain and heartache.
My struggle was not wasted. Instead, it has been turned into opportunities to share hope. I believe that because I am authentic and real, I can relate with other women who are struggling or seeking direction. Both personally and professionally, I have been able to utilize social media as an extra member of the “after care team”. With today’s technology, I have been able to connect with others from all across the globe. As a voice in recovery, I strive to have a positive and safe place for those in need to connect and find encouragement. I have been able to help create a strong connection and community. There is a need for encouragement and hope in the world of social media today.
My life has forever changed. I no longer believe ED’s lies. Instead, it is my personal mission and passion to silence ED. It will be the passion that is deeply burned on my heart until the day that there is no longer anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Until that day comes, I am covered in Gods armor and fighting the battle against ED.
Ms. Kerr-Youngker is currently seeking employment with a treatment center where she can share her experience, strength and hope. She has exceptional social media skills and experience in the field. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Facebook page is Kim Kerr-Youngker A Voice in Recovery; her Twitter is @kimyoungker; and her LinkedIn is under Kim Kerr-Youngker.
Eating disorders are hard work. They take discipline, energy, and willpower. Looking back, I don’t know how, at my lowest weight, I was able to find the energy to maintain the illness. You have a strong constitution,one doctor told me. I guess that’s what has kept me alive for the past 19 years, because I did not think I’d live to see 30.
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of 15. Spread out some pictures from various stages of my life, and you can see the illness evolve right before your eyes. I go from a chubby, happy baby to a smiling, outgoing child to a pale adolescent with a sadness in her eyes that has never left. There are very few pictures from the height of my anorexia. Skipping over those missing years of my adolescence, the pictures resume at my high school graduation party. There I am, smiling, just healthy enough, sticking my finger into the frosting of the party cake. That defines me now: just healthy enough.
This is an eating disorder in recovery. I maintain the low end of a healthy weight. I eat six times per day, like clockwork. I exercise. I rest. I have friends, a job, schoolwork, bills, and responsibilities. But despite my healthy habits, my body reminds me daily of what I put it through for all those years.
I no longer have anorexia to fall back on. The illness has left me. I beat it, I recovered. But that has meant developing the ability to fight off the intrusive thoughts about food that I still have. I will maintain this in-between for the rest of my life. I will have happy times and sad times. I’m great in a crisis; it’s the mundane tasks of daily life that drive me crazy. I will exercise daily because it makes me feel clean and refreshed. I will maintain my strong constitution- it defines me and saved my life.
Since my recovery, I have wanted to find a way to educate people about the importance of developing a strong sense of self. I fully believe that if I had been able to do this as a child, I would not have developed anorexia. Eating disorders are about control. My anorexia came out of a need to feel in control of something. My home life was hell, and I had nowhere to turn but within. Once I did that, I felt that I finally had control. My Dad might drink, my Mom might be depressed, but I could control what I put in my mouth and what my body looked like. The turning point came when I realized that the anorexia had done nothing to change my life. My Dad was still an alcoholic. My Mom was still depressed. The only person I was hurting was myself. So I started to eat. And I started to allow myself to be the person that I had been hiding all that time.
Think of all the energy it took to maintain the anorexia. Think of the energy it takes to maintain any kind of negative behavior. What could we accomplish if we would put that energy into work, or family, or relationships, or helping others? There are no limits to what we could do! In 2009, a college colleague and I founded You Part Two, a website dedicated to helping people with eating disorders through blogs written by individuals who have been there. The site is always in progress, and always trying to grow, but it is a start.
You Part Two is about recovery. It is about creating a strong foundation. When you allow yourself to be who you are, when you can trust yourself and count on yourself, you have developed a strong foundation that will be the starting point for great things. This website is my chance to get this message out there. You can start over from whatever point you are at. You can have that turning point- this isn’t hurting anyone but me.The contributors at You Part Two are real people who have struggled with a variety of issues- depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance abuse. All have a desire to show the world that recovery is possible, and to provide support for those who are seeking a new start. I could have used this kind of support. I hope to be able to provide it for even a few people.
Denise Folcik is in recovery from bulimia, anorexia and OCD. She has done many television, newspaper, blog and magazine interviews, as well as speaking at the Wisconsin state capitol advocating for health insurance changes. She also speaks at libraries, women’s groups and colleges. She started her own publishing company, Metafly Books, LLC, and published her first book, In ED’s Path, her story of recovering from a midlife eating disorder. Today, Denise spends her days in a healthy balance of work, family, friends and metime. This is her story.
My name is Denise. I am 50 years old. I have a supportive husband, four wonderful children and four beautiful grandchildren. I had been struggling with anorexia and bulimia for nearly 20 years. I was in treatment for six years and have been in recovery for four.
My eating disorder began as a way for me to lose weight after I made the decision not to have any more children. I looked in the mirror one day and didn’t like what I was seeing, and found bulimia to be the perfect diet.I believed I would be able to eat anything I wanted, get sick, and lose weight. As expected, I did lose a substantial amount of weight in a very short period of time.
Counting on bulimia
I was the kind of person whose weight fluctuated like a yo-yo, constantly up and down and I was always on a diet. I believe I tried every diet on the market and I counted calories as though there was a calculator in my head, bought no-fat, low-fat, and sugar-free foods, but it was my bulimia that continued to give me the results I needed.
My dependence on my eating disorder grew and I found many more uses for it. It helped me through many hard situations, helped to hide feelings that I feared, numbed me from anything I didn’t care to deal with. It was truly always there, and felt like my best friend.
For many years exercise was a part of my daily routine. I would walk three to four miles every morning and at least that many in the evening, and did aerobics in between. In my mind, this created the rationale that I had permission to eat something fun, since I had exercised so much.
My entire days were filled with thoughts of food, calories, exercise, and bingeing and purging. I enjoyed nothing more than cooking large meals for everyone, but didn’t eat myself, or if I did eat I would binge followed by a purge. I got to a point where I would consider even one cookie as badand I would have to get rid of it. I thought I was in control of my eating disorder, and could stop whenever I wanted, but I was extremely wrong.
In 2004, I was driving with my daughter Jodi, and I lost consciousness behind the wheel. Thank God we did not have an accident. I was taken to the emergency room and after many tests I admitted I had an eating disorder. My purging was up to 20 times a day and I was depleting myself of vital nutrients. I was told that the blackout occurred because my iron level and blood pressure were at dangerous lows.
I promised my family I would never throw up again. In order to keep my promise I decided I would not be able to eat. I did begin outpatient treatment, but continued to lose weight, and was truly enjoying it. I was on an all-time high.
Best friend, worst enemy
I continued to shed pounds and my outpatient therapist told me I would be dead in two years if I kept this up. Even that didn’t scare me. I was not convinced at this point that I even had a problem and was certainly not willing to give up my eating disorder. I was feeling better than ever; I thought. One day I was sent to have lab tests done and there appeared to be an irregularity in my EKG. This did scare me, a little. This was the beginning of six years of treatment programs. For a long time I still depended on my eating disorder, and was having a hard time giving up my best friend, yet my worst enemy.
At first, my outpatient therapist sent me to a nearby hospital that offered an eating disorder program. They offered inpatient, partial hospitalization and group therapy. Patients with eating disorders were mainstreamed with all aspects of mental illness with some separate therapy focusing only on eating disorders. I was admitted to this hospital four separate times.
After the third stay my family gathered at and intervened and I was admitted into Rogers Memorial Hospital, a phenomenal residential treatment facility, which happened to be 20 minutes from my home, so I was close to family.
In the other treatment facility I found it hard to express what I was going through in midlife because I was grouped in with teens and young adults, but in residential treatment we were divided more by age which did help. I did learn a lot from the younger patients about my own parenting and the influence my weight obsessions had on my children.
Being at Rogers was the first time in my life I was able to actually focus on Me and make decisions that would benefit my recovery. During treatment I dealt with many past and present issues that were weighing me down; I was able to let them go and move on. It was very beneficial to have such a caring team and safe environment when working through many difficult issues. I also learned how to have a healthy relationship with food during my treatment process.
Soon after I was discharged I had to make a number of very difficult changes; I got a divorce, changed careers and moved to a nearby city to start the second half of life. I was still close to family, yet felt I could start finding the real me. I always tell people that my birth certificate lists Rogers as my place of birth; I feel it was where I was reborn and where I truly found myself.
I believe the toughest parts of my recovery were making the changes that would help my health, but would hurt others. I was always the kind of person who wanted to insure everyone else’s happiness, but never thought of my own. When I was trying to make the changes needed to become healthy, I felt like I was hurting everyone I loved.
Others would say things that made me feel very guilty and selfish. I was breaking up my family, which was the most difficult. I never wanted my children to be from a broken home. My therapist asked me one day if my children would be better off with me divorced or dead? It was also tough moving out on my own. I would have the independence I was seeking, but I was also very lonely. I began using alcohol as a companion, but eventually came to my senses as my life began to rebuild.
Healthy ways to deal with life’s challenges
Throughout the changes I was making and stages of recovery I occasionally struggled with disordered thoughts and behaviors. What I would do, that I was incapable of doing a few years prior, was to stop and change or reframe the negative thoughts in my head.
Self-talk has been one of the most helpful tools I learned in treatment. I use it daily. I have challenges in life every day, but I have to deal with these issues and put them behind me, instead of trying to ignore and not deal with them. Communication has also played a large part in staying healthy. I found my voice and realize that I must let others know how I feel about things.
Recovery is “discovery
I realize now how important it is to deal with issues as they arise in your life, despite how tough that can be. You must stand up for and take care of yourself, before you can ever take care of others. But, most important you must be yourself and not who you think others want you to be or how society wants you to look. You do not have to conform to the world, but do and be what you believe in. Also, do not let others control you-this life was given to you by God. Recovery is being healthy, happy and feeling free to choose and be myself and to deal with life’s challenges in healthy ways. Recovery is learning more about myself every day. I sometimes refer to recovery as “discovery”. I am in discovery. I think it sounds a little more positive.
Recovery is not easy, but it is so worth all the hard work. I know myself so much better than I ever have. There are days that are tough, but I continue to move forward despite the ease it would take to fall back in to my old unhealthy ways of coping. It is never too late to find out who you are, discover your needs and take care of yourself. Life balance is key in finding good health and happiness.
I have a voice and a story: I want women of all ages to know that recovery is possible!
Jenni Schaefer works internationally as a speaker and writer to educate about eating disorders and to provide hope that recovery is possible. After struggling for more than twenty years with food and body image issues, Jenni is fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia. Her life is now devoted to helping all individuals touched by the illness. Her groundbreaking book, Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill), introduces a therapeutic technique that has changed the way people view eating disorders:
In the introduction of Life Without Ed, Jenni writes:
“I have never been married, but I am happily divorced. Ed and I lived together for more than twenty years. He was abusive, controlling and never hesitated to tell me what he thought, how I was doing it wrong, and what I should be doing instead… Ed is not a high school sweetheart. Ed is not some creep that I started dating in college… Ed’s name comes from the initials E.D.-as in eating disorder. Ed is my eating disorder. “
Based on the approach of psychotherapist, Thom Rutledge, Jenni treated her eating disorder as a relationship rather than an illness. She learned to think of her eating disorder as a distinct being with unique thoughts and a personality separate from her own. This therapeutic technique is now widely used across the globe.
Jenni is invited to speak internationally at conferences, schools, and other events. A singer/songwriter living in Nashville, TN, she uses music in her outreach efforts. She also incorporates humor into her work as a speaker and writer. Even though the topic of eating disorders is very serious, she finds that humor provides a hopeful light and adds a fresh perspective. Her ability to integrate spirituality into the treatment of eating disorders also makes Jenni’s work refreshing, innovative, and lifesaving.
A consultant with Center for Change in Orem, Utah, Jenni is a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul and its companion Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul: Daily Inspirations (HCI Books). She is a regular guest on national radio and television, including Dr. Phil and Entertainment Tonight. Her work has been recognized in the Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, Shape, The Washington Post, Woman’s World, and more. She writes regularly for nationwide publications.
Jenni has inspired countless women and men to respect their bodies, believe in themselves, and join in the battle against eating disorders. Dove’s® Self-Esteem Global Ambassador, Jess Weiner, honored Jenni as a Featured Actionist for her dedication to promoting eating disorder awareness. Jenni serves on the Board of the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee and is a member of the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals and Academy for Eating Disorders. She was recently named to the Ambassador Council of the National Eating Disorders Association.
Jenni’s mission is to raise the divorce rate in this country (from Ed, of course).
For more information: www.lifewithouted.com.
Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt & Vicki Kroviak
Former college roommates Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt and Vicki Kroviak are the cofounders of Oliver-Pyatt Centers, comprehensive programs for the treatment of eating disorders. Wendy, a board certified psychiatrist, founder of Center for Hope of the Sierras, and author of Fed Up! (McGraw-Hill) and Vicki, a television executive, both suffered from bulimia throughout their teen and young adult years.
How did you meet?
Vicki: We met in college. We were both volunteering at a student-run self-help center. Kind of ironic, when you figure that at the time that we were each completely consumed with our eating disorder. Yet, we were immediate soul-mates.
Wendy: Sometimes friends with food issues compete…You know, who can be the thinnest, the sickest, whatever. Fortunately, we were never like that. We tried to help each other get thin because we actually believed that thinness led to happiness. We really thought we were doing the right thing for ourselves and for each other.
Vicki: It’s funny. I don’t think either of us would have said “I have an eating disorder”. We were really just trying to be what we thought of as our best. We had what we were convinced were our “ideal” weights posted on the wall of our apartment as a daily reminder. We thought that we were being healthy, and sadly our society reinforced this idea.
Looking back, when did you start suffering from food and body preoccupation?
Wendy: I was really into ballet, which, combined with going through puberty, was a recipe for body issues. I began with food restriction, as most do, and the vicious cycle began. I didn’t know it was an eating disorder. I wanted a lot out of life, I had a lot of expectations of myself, and I was convinced being thin was a part of that. I remember specific comments that influenced me. I convinced my mother to take me to a weight loss specialist, though I was at my natural body weight.
Vicki: My memories of dieting and food restriction in my home go back as far as I can remember. It was just the culture of our home. I can remember my grandmother, in her 80′s, a wisp of a woman, telling me with pride how little she weighed. And my mother didn’t know any other way. By the time I was in middle school I had full blown bulimia.
What about your recovery? How did that come about?
Vicki: For me, recovery came after I reached a point of total exhaustion. I was so tired of feeling consumed, that I got some help. And I was lucky enough to find a really good therapist when I did reach out. I also moved in with a friend who had a really positive, healthy relationship with food. It was the first time in my life that I lived with someone who was not eating disordered. I can still remember explaining to her, after we arrived back at our apartment late one night without having had dinner, that I couldn’t eat because it was night time. She said, “Really? I just eat whenever I’m hungry. ” I thought she was crazy.
Wendy: I visited Vicki for dinner one night after she had started on this new path. She made linguine and creme Brule. I was, like, what are you thinking?! I literally thought she was nuts… I was influenced by several authors, especially Geneen Roth. I started to see the light. I made the decision that I was unwilling to restrict, and I was willing to accept my body, even if my weight or size increased. I could not stand the idea of continuing to live in the prison of food and body preoccupation, I was exhausted. I slowly started a process of learning mindful eating. A deep realization for me was that I needed to take myself seriously on both an emotional and physical level. I started to grasp that my eating disorder had something to do with not treating myself with respect and honor, and there were reasons for this. I now always try to help my patients see how worthwhile they are, and I convey to them the feeling that I authentically respect them. I think that learning to take yourself seriously is key. Vicki was a big help to me. She used to remind me to stay gentle, something that our patients always need reminding about too.
You must have been kind of a rare breed, with your new way of thinking.
Wendy: It definitely is an internal shift when you learn to eat based on your own inner experience vs rules. This is not something we’re encouraged to do in our society. Eating disorders do not occur in a vacuum. There are societal expectations, genetics, familial risk factors, and situations that hit us when we’re most developmentally and psychologically vulnerable. It can be draining to live in a culture where everyone is talking about weight loss. In my personal life, I benefit from having family and friends who share many of my values, and that is helpful.
Vicki: I think that recovery from an eating disorder is really a journey, in the sense that at different times in my life, I have had to return to the lessons that helped me get well in the first place.
What makes Oliver-Pyatt Centers special to you?
Vicki: We’ve said since the beginning that our top priority is the client. Our guiding principle is we will do anything to help them get better. Also, it was really important to us to have a bilingual team. When I was living and working in Argentina, I surprised at the widespread incidence of eating disorders. This prompted us to make a bilingual treatment team a key part of the Miami Center. It is in a beautiful residential neighborhood in South Miami, a very tranquil place. But the setting allows clients to reintegrate into real life €“ at an appropriate stage in their recovery process, of course-through daily, guided outings into the community.
Wendy: We have made the decision that our treatment philosophy is to do whatever it takes to help an individual recover from an eating disorder. I want to provide an environment where patients immediately recognize that we take them seriously on every level. The environment, the quality, training, and cohesion of our staff, and the availability of clinicians and care providers on an individual level for each individual patient, is very important to a person with an eating disorder. In order to make good decisions in patient care, we must really authentically connect to and know each individual. This takes time and energy with each individual patient. We are willing to make this commitment to each person. We want to be a place where patients feel emotionally safe to share their true selves. We wanted a safe place that would allow our clients to reconnect with their true selves, yet also provide a kind of gateway back into regular life. To fully recover, at some point, you have to let the world back in. But it is important that patients have the chance to let the world in while they are still in treatment, so that we can comprehend their life experience, how it impacts them, and how they can approach and manage complicated situations that are a part of their everyday life. We believe that full recovery from eating disorders is possible when a person is provided with effective treatment.
What would you say to someone suffering from an eating disorder?
Wendy: You deserve the opportunity to recover. Your life and joy are being sapped. You didn’t choose to be sick. You don’t deserve an eating disorder. Recovery takes time, and energy. It is a healing process that sometimes feels mysterious. There will be bumps and setbacks. It is critical that you receive care from professionals that understand the biological and psychological components, with whom you can authentically connect.
Vicki: There’s another way. It’s not an easy way, it’s not the way that everything in our culture will direct you towards, but it’s a way. I look at my three daughters and the bombardment of messages that they receive on a daily basis about how they need to look and “be”, and it’s a miracle that anyone survives adolescence without an eating disorder.
How has your sense of self changed over the years?
Wendy: I’m doing what I really love, not what I “should. ” I’m passionate about women accepting themselves at all sizes and cultivating a strong voice to express themselves. In my adolescence and young adulthood, I felt intimidated about really speaking up and sharing my views and opinions. I now feel it is extremely important to state your opinions and feelings to others, allowing them to know your state, while accepting the outcomes. Sometimes others don’t agree with us, and conflict can occur. That is OK too. Conflict allows us to know each other more fully. This can bring for greater closeness when we are willing to work things out on a deeper level. Sometimes, conflict can mean that we need to make decisions to change our expectations of others, or to move our energy in another direction as well.
Learning how to train and supervise an entire treatment staff, work with complicated family situations, engage with resistant or reluctant patients, all have been opportunities for me to evolve and to experience such incredible meaning in my life. I am sometimes surprised with my own growth. At the same time, it means so much to me when I see a woman learn to take herself seriously and hear about her life in a phone call or email after she goes home. When your patient goes from a state of joylessness, to a place where they feel their life is meaningful, and they respect themselves, it really is an indescribable experience for me.
Vicki: I think I spent years of my life completely defined by the scale. If someone asked me how I was, I might as well have answered with how much I weighed. My sense of well-being was so completely tied to that number. There was a time when I traveled with my scale in my suitcase, because God forbid that I should be forced to weigh myself on a different “less accurate” scale.
What do you admire about each other?
Vicki: I have complete trust in Wendy’s ability to care for these patients, to connect with them, and to do whatever it takes to help them get well. I know that there will be no shortcuts. It makes me proud to be a part of what we’re doing. That was part of our earliest conversations: that these programs would be excellent in every way.
Wendy: Vicki is a passionate person who loves to take on a challenging situation. She is a constantly growing person. I love how she is not afraid of facing problems or complicated situations. Having her as an integral part of my life and now of Oliver-Pyatt Centers, brings me joy, and gives me a feeling of being safe. I know that I can count on her through any potentially tough situation. At the same time, we have so much fun together too! Vicki is an extremely accepting and non-judgmental person. I think that going through an eating disorder does lead to this humility. She’s driven but not at all impressed by titles or outward trappings of success. What she cares about is what is inside of each person.
How would you define success?
Vicki: A generation of girls who don’t define themselves by our current cultural standards. More personally, to raise three girls whose measure of worth and identity is their own.
Wendy: There’s a quotation on our website by Ralph Waldo Emerson that talks about adding a texture and depth to your life through what he calls “an advanced experience”. Success is a by-product of living life according to your values, interests, and convictions. I think that being in a place of gratitude brings with it acceptance. You can apply this to yourself, your body, your relationships, and even to life itself. I think that gratitude brings with it perspective. Sometimes, if things feel scary in life or I am unsure of how things will work out, I have to go to a place of gratitude. In our society, sometimes we come short on gratitude and perspective. Success has something also to do with having a sense of vitality and meaning in your life. To have this, one must take his or herself seriously.
Laurie Glass has a Masters degree in Christian Counseling, runs Freedom from Eating Disorders at www.freedomfromed.com, and is the author of Journey to Freedom from Eating Disorders. Through her book and her website, she offers personal and practical advice to males and females, teens and adults, who have eating disorders. She also offers online Christian counseling services to adult women in eating disorder recovery. Reaching out to those with eating disorders is her heart work.
Laurie is a recovered anorexic, so she understands how difficult the recovery process is. Here are some of the things she learned through her own journey.
I remember wishing I could choose where the weight would and would not go. I had to let go of unrealistic expectations about how I should look. My idea of the perfect body was keeping me bound to anorexia. It helped me a great deal to repeat the Serenity Prayer while I accepted my appearance.
Release Inner Pain
Not only did I need to address what was on the outside, but also what was on the inside. The eating disorder began at a time when I had deep and painful emotions I was afraid to release. I feared I would lose complete control of my feelings. However, I knew I had to allow them to surface. The anorexic behaviors seemed to provide a distraction for me to ignore the deeper issues. Through a long and grueling process, I spent countless hours writing in my journal and praying in order to purge my heart of the hurt, disappointments, confusion, and anger that held me hostage. Over time, I saw things from a different perspective, received God’s healing touch, and gained hope for the future.
Let Go of Guilt and Shame
Some of the pages in my journal and some of the candid conversations with the Lord involved how I felt about myself. My overwhelming sense of remorse and embarrassment over how I treated my body made it difficult for me to approach God about the matter. But I knew I couldn’t recover on my own. When I finally mustered up the courage to speak with Him about it, I found Him waiting with love and assurance as He offered His strength. This enabled me to begin letting go of the guilt and shame and begin to step away from the eating disorder.
After I began to let go of the guilt and shame, I could sense God’s strength even more. I was amazed at how loving the Lord was as I spoke with Him about the self-destructive behaviors I practiced. I knew that I was harming the body He gave me. Yet when I went to Him with a contrite heart and received His strength, I felt overwhelmed that He would bless me with help I didn’t feel I deserved. My recovery is a picture of His grace.
Replace Lies With The Truth
With the lines of communication open, I sought the Lord for His direction, and He led me to Rom. 12:2 to show me I needed to change my thoughts. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.I needed to replace dreadful lies with hope-filled truth. For too long I believed the lies that I was fat, eating more would cause me to lose complete control of my eating and my weight, and that freedom from anorexia wasn’t possible. Therefore, I wrote on note cards various scriptures, encouraging words God had spoken to me regarding the eating disorder, inspirational quotes, and other practical, truthful statements about my appearance. Reviewing these cards of truth was vital in vanquishing the lies.
One of the verses I wrote down on a note card was vital in finding my freedom from anorexia. I clung to Phil. 4:13, I can do everything through him who gives me strength.Knowing this was beyond my capability, I looked to the One who was always there, knew me better than anyone, and who I trusted would see me through this difficult process. When I didn’t feel I could take another step, I turned to the Lord for the nudge I needed to continue moving forward. He was always there.
These are some of the lessons I learned while fighting to break free of a life that was slowly destroying me. Not only that, but I also find these truths help me as I face other situations in my life. I hope they also help you.
My Eating Disorder Story
I started my first diet almost a decade ago after seeing a popular singer lose a lot of weight by following the same diet. The good news was that the diet initially worked, the bad news was that I ended up with two problems; trying to maintain the weight loss as well as dealing with the mental obsession and hell that the diet brought me.
I became obsessed with losing weight, eating close to nothing and isolating myself completely from the world. I did not want anyone to see what was happening and most importantly I didn’t want anyone to interfere with this new relationship that I had developed with the eating disorder.
The years that followed saw me lose the ability to stay on the various strict diets and weight loss techniques that I was attempting. I was also hospitalized several times, lost jobs, a fiance and friendships. The eating disorder consumed my life and my mind became my enemy.
What It Was Like
The diets and restrictive eating plans stopped working and I started to binge more frequently, gaining weight and feeling completely out of control.
I obsessively exercised, purged on a daily basis and kept trying every new fad diet to help me keep the weight down. I also lost a great job that I had always dreamed of because I spent my whole time binge eating and then purging for hours in the bathroom. I could not concentrate on anything other then my next binge or purge.
I also lost my fiance© as I was unable to maintain a relationship while I was having an affair with my eating disorder that consumed my whole being.
I became very isolated, would not leave the house, answer the phone and was terrified and ashamed to face the world.
The Decision to Recover
I lost many things as the result of this disease, but nothing was able to shock me into recovery. I slowly began to realize that perhaps I would never be able to control my food intake and weight. All of my attempts had become futile and the periods of “successful” dieting or restricting were becoming few and far between.
During that time I shifted my focus slowly towards recovery. I started to research the various recovery methods and I tried quite a number of them. Specifically, I entered eating disorder clinics, saw therapists, counselors, nutritionists, support from 12 step groups and fellow eating disorder sufferers.
I cannot say which one made the difference, but each different recovery method helped me gain more insight into myself, the impact of the illness and broke the denial that I had around the eating disorder.
Each one of the therapies gave me a new tool, whether it was meditation, journaling, talking to others about my real feelings, getting out of isolation and connecting with the world.
I learned to get in touch with a higher power, to creatively visualize what recovery looked like for me and to gain confidence that I had a place in the world and that I could express myself, accept myself and let go of the shame that had me locked away as a hostage to the eating disorder.
The Path to Recovery
I am grateful to each and every recovery path that I was introduced to. 12 step programs taught me how to open up, share and give back to the world through service. Prayer and meditation taught me to connect to a greater power and to visualize my ideal recovery. Nutritionist taught me about what a healthy eating plan looked like.
Most of all, I learned slowly that I had to let go of my old thinking. I could no longer diet, restrict calories, exercise compulsively and spend my time reading and researching diets and weight loss techniques.
The same gusto that I used to fuel the eating disorder I now channeled into recovery. I was determined and persistent. I knew that I had to recover no matter what. It became a life or death issue as I had no ability to live my life while possessed by this disorder. I researched every possible recovery method and became particularly interested with being a “normal” or “intuitive” eater. This was my personal goal and ideal. So I embarked on my journey, which meant:
- giving up diets
- eating out with people
- getting rid of the scales
- eating food that I liked
- Not reading online dieting or weight loss sites
- Not counting calories
- Getting rid of laxatives, food scales
- Removing myself from people who were diet obsessed
This was the process that eventually got me to the recovery that I am at now. The process was gradual and terrifying. I used 12 step support groups to connect with other people and discuss the real emotional issues that were going on for me. I journaled every day, meditated and focused on my intention of becoming a “normal” eater in my visualizations.
The greatest challenge was learning to trust my body again. After so many years of dieting, following food plans and calorie counting, I didn’t know how to eat! I could not trust myself to make the “right” decision and I could not accept that there was no right or wrong decision.
I used my recovery friends to check in about what I was eating, to ask questions about what “normal” people ate and I tried to eat out with people as much as possible. Being able to share meal times was new and frightening, but it lessened my anxiety and helped to take the focus off food and onto relationships.
I believe that isolation is where this disease manifests itself and what helped me the most was being completely open and honest with my support network, shedding light on the disease which lessened the shame and guilt. The more light that I shed on the eating disorder, the less power it had over me.
My Life Today
Today I consider myself “recovered”, by my own definition, which to me means that I eat what I want, when I want and once the meal is done I don’t think about it again. I think my body is perfect for me; I only eat when I feel hungry and no food is off limits. The only time that I think about eating disorders is when I am trying to help someone else. When I was in the midst of the illness I always wanted to hear ONE story of someone who had recovered and was a normal eater. I just wanted to know that it is possible. My hope is that by sharing this story I can reach someone and let them know that it IS possible to recover from an eating disorder and live with freedom.
What advice would you give to someone struggling to recover from an eating disorder?
Recovery is an individual path and what works for one person may not work for the next. Find what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try different things, my recovery didn’t happen overnight and in hindsight I can see that recovery started for me long before I actually got to the “other side”. Each challenge teaches us something new and strengthens us. Each struggle and small victory brings us closer to the goal. Most importantly, in the words of Winston Churchill:
“Never, never, never give up.”
BIO: Nina has been recovered from all eating disorders for several years and aims to help people through sharing her story, experience and recovery on www.helpforeatingdisorder.com
My Eating Disorder Story
“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I remember the fascination I felt when food labels started being posted on many different items in grocery stores. It was the precipitating point of interest in a world that was soon to spiral out of control. As an only child who was extremely sheltered from the basic happenings of childhood and adolescence, looking back, it is no wonder that something larger-than-life would eventually consume me. Around age 12, I began limiting sugars and fatty foods. It was easy for me, made me feel like I had accomplished something out of the norm, and I received much attention from these behaviors and changes. At the private school I attended, I was considered odd by my peers’ standards so this newfound interest didn’t change that perception much. I was a late bloomer but by 15 I was starting to really hit puberty. My mom was not supportive of these natural changes. Again, I had no control, but I also had no support or basic understanding of what was going on with me. Very quickly self-loathing became a way of life. I quit wanting to take care of myself. Even basic hygiene was something I felt I could do without. In a matter of a few months, I had shaved off many more food groups and convinced myself and my family that this was the new planet we lived on. For a while, everyone basically buried their heads in the sand and my anorexia really took flight. I wasn’t officially diagnosed til age 15, but I can date the behaviors back to age 12.
Thus began the arduous never ending journey that went on for about 10 years. I lost all common sense during these times. My life was lost in a haze of doctor’s visits, counseling sessions, and lots of begging and pleading. All of this felt like an attack, and I retreated. I was adamant about not giving up the one thing I had mastered. It was a “high” for someone like me, who so obviously had grown to loathe herself and her appearance. I was one of the fortunate ones in that I had a family who was persistent and sought out the best treatment facilities for me. Looking back, I had every chance to take a proactive turn, but I was a master manipulator and a stunning actress and liar.
Before too long, though, I lost so much weight I couldn’t lie anymore. So I wore 2 and 3 layers of clothes to buy me time, started back eating certain foods just to impress people, and played the part for a while. Then the guilt and shame that comes from eating pushed me into my next phase…compulsive exercising. I would sneak out of the house to go run around the neighborhood and did sit-ups and push-ups in my room at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I spent the summer of my 16th birthday in a residential treatment center for eating disorders on life support. This was followed by at least a dozen more hospitalizations and even court-ordered commitments to mental facilities. My disorder cost me the completion of my high school education. I was an excellent student. This was a tremendous blow. When I would get discharged from these places, I inevitably fell right back in to the same patterns. I felt like such a failure, which only compounded things. What I didn’t have was a reason to live, or a desire to live. To live meant I had to change, and I was terrified of what that meant. I feared I would be an awful person if I let go, and worse yet, I feared it would estrange my parents from me. To this day I have a strained relationship with them, and it isn’t because I didn’t finally get better. It’s because they have their own issues, and they tend to project their pain and blame it on me.
Like many stories, mine is not a fairytale ending. It took a composite of many things coming together for me to decide to try to adopt a new way of life. Even when I did gain some weight, be it by tube feeding or on my own, nothing in my life seemed to change like people said it would. One of the things I heard which helped me out initially was “to act as if.” In other words, I learned that if your actions changed your emotions would sometimes follow. Slowly but surely I came out of my shell. I reached out, cried a lot, and opened up. I gained a sense of humor and a sort of liveliness that was apparent to others. I got noticed, for all the ‘good’ reasons. It was still a rocky road, but in 2003 I was discharged from my last facility and slowly but surely re-entered life. I went to college and had some love relationships, with the usual stories of success and disaster. I was able to work and gained confidence over time. I took control of my life in positive ways.
I had knocked at death’s door, fought perfectly good help, and found safety in a way of life I would wish on no one. I grew sick and tired of being sick and tired. Life is good now; not perfect, mind you…but I definitely want to share my story in the hopes it will touch someone. I know I wanted someone to ‘understand’ me when I was going through my private hell, so I want to be that microphone to anyone who might need the same. I have even done a couple of public speaking arrangements on college campuses! Take one day at a time and do the next thing that lies before you. Be kind to yourself. There’s only one of you out there, and chances are good someone else wants to see the light you have inside!!
My story isn’t anything glamorous, sensational, or extreme. I didn’t almost die. My family didn’t have to perform an intervention. I didn’t even have to be hospitalized. In fact, like many people with eating disorders, I don’t think anyone would have known I had an eating disorder just by looking at me. I did well in school; I had a lot of friends; I had a boyfriend and a supportive family. On the surface, I didn’t seem to “have a reason” to have an eating disorder, which actually made me feel more guilty for my secret. I was bulimic. I was empty and fragmented. I was concerned more with what people thought about me than who I really was. I was a charlatan I lied to my friends and family, stole money from my roommates, and lost my “self” to the eating disorder. I was miserable.
Finally, my parents found out, so I began treatment. I thought that beginning treatment would be the “turn around” – that once I came clean, I wouldn’t want to do it anymore. This didn’t happen. So I began pretending to recover. I worked hard to develop the facade of recovery to overlay my charlatan mask. I kept waiting to feel better, waiting for it to be easier to fight the binge or fight the purge. That time never came. I never “felt” like recovering. I told myself every night that “tomorrow will be another day”- a new day where I would feel like recovering. Instead, every day brought with it another spoke in the wheel of the cycle of the disorder.
Finally, I’d had enough- not really “enough of the eating disorder” or even “enough of recovery”- but more like I’d had enough of being fraudulent €“ of living an inauthentic life €“ of betraying my true self. I remember making a conscious decision to begin recovery €“ not a decision to stop my disorder. I realized that trying “not to do something” wasn’t working for me- I had to try TO DO something. I began focusing on the person I wanted to be instead of the person I was trying not to be. I began to get to know myself, which was frightening, because I was afraid I wouldn’t like who she was.
The road of recovery was still rocky and I had slips, but I had direction. I went to graduate school; I got married and had children. I still had difficult experiences. I got divorced. My father developed cancer. But I no longer used my eating disorder to cope. Today, I believe I am a woman of substance, not because I have a PhD or even because I recovered from my eating disorder. I’m a woman of substance because I’m finally full- full of life and full of my “self.”
Nicole Siegfried, PhD is currently the Executive Director of Magnolia Creek Residential Treatment Center for Eating Disorders(www.magnolia-creek.com), where she has incorporated the same strengths-based philosophy that aided in her own recovery. Magnolia Creek Treatment Center believes that all women with eating disorders are capable individuals who can fully recover when provided with the right support, guidance, and a sense of hope.
In addition to running Magnolia Creek, Nicole has exclusively treated eating disorders in her seven-year private practice at Siegfried, Porter & Associates. Nicole believes strongly in treating the entire person and in her practice has worked closely as a team with psychiatrists, physicians, and dietitians to meet her clients’ needs. Nicole is also a tenured Associate Professor of Psychology at Samford University, where she has received several teaching awards and is a favorite among students. She is the co-coordinator for the Alabama Network for Eating Disorder Awareness, which promotes awareness and provides education and treatment resources for eating disorders across the state.
Aimee Liu is the author of Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders (Grand Central Publishing, 2007). This sequel to Liu’s acclaimed memoir Solitaire (Harper & Row, 1979), America’s first personal narrative of anorexia nervosa, draws on her own experience as well as interviews with leading researchers and more than forty other women and men with histories of anorexia and bulimia. Liu picks up her exploration of eating disorders where she left it at age twenty-five. Back then, she thought recovery meant eating well. Gaining proves that healthy nutrition is only a first step. True recovery requires a new understanding of the role that genetics, personality, relationships, and anxiety play in these disorders. Liu uses cutting edge research to dispel the myth that fashion is wholly to blame. She examines the real reasons eating disorders — at all ages — are on the rise, and how they can be prevented in future generations.
Aimee Liu also is a novelist. Flash House (Warner Books, 2003) is a tale of suspense and Cold War intrigue set in Central Asia. Cloud Mountain (Warner Books, 1997) is based on the true story of her American grandmother and Chinese revolutionary grandfather. Liu’s first novel, Face (Warner Books, 1994), deals with mixed-race identity. These books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Aimee Liu, recently spoke with Kelly Jad’on, the OnLine Publisher of BasilAndSpice.com, about Gaining and how life with anorexia influenced this new book.
KJ: Why the title, Gaining
Aimee: That is the word that strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of those with eating disorders. It is associated with gaining fat. It has richer meanings, though. Gaining pleasure, gaining independence, gaining confidence. All of these appetites are connected. To gain freedom from eating disorders, you have to gain in power and maturity. This is central to recovery from eating disorders. In our culture, women are told implicitly to be afraid of gaining weight both in pounds and purpose; a lot of women portrayed as celebrities or in fashion magazines are encouraged to remain in a state of immature adolescence. The unspoken message has long been that an “ideal” woman is a perennial child whose sole value and responsibility is to look cute. But today, with the creation of Size Zero clothing, the message is even worse. Now the “perfect” woman is a zero-in other words, nonexistent.
“Leigh and Lindsey receive the Lori Irving Award for Excellence in Prevention and Awareness at NEDA conference, 2008. “
Lindsey Hall Cohn had bulimia for nine years. This was in the 1970s when no one talked about eating disorders and the word bulimia was practically unknown. Like many other women, she believed she was suffering alone.
“I really had no idea anyone else in the world had the problem. It wasn’t publicized at that time,” she says.
Then, a dream changed her life. In it was a woman named Gurze.
“I felt compelled to make a doll out of that woman from my dream. Don’t ask me why! She was very funny looking, with long legs and bright red lips, and her hands were enormous! But there was something about the creative process that touched something very deep inside me. That something became the foundation of my recovery. ”
Lindsey made more dolls, all life-sized, one-of-a-kind, soft sculptures. She started a business, called Gurze Designs, and began to haunt thrift stores to find just the right outfits to create unique characters. Then, on a trip to New York, as she was waiting for a light with two of the huge dolls hanging out of her backpack, someone standing next to her offered to buy them both.
“For someone whose bulimia had taken control, this was a shock. At the time, I had no job, so all of a sudden I discovered a purpose in life, to create these funny-looking dolls which made people laugh-myself included. Life was getting lighter. ”
What’s more, on this same trip, Lindsey came across the first article written about bulimia in a 1976 issue of the magazine Psychology Today. It was written by a therapist at Cornell University in upstate New York. Unbelievably, this was where Lindsey was living at the time! The coincidence was too much to ignore.
“I felt like the universe was trying to tell me that it was time to get well,” Lindsey says. ” I made an appointment to see her, although I binged and purged on the way there. Even though the dollmaking had given me a glimmer of what life might be like without the eating disorder, I was still afraid she might try to take the bulimia away from me. I didn’t feel ready. ”
But she was. From that point on, Lindsey pointed herself squarely in the direction of recovery. She continued to make dolls, which were now being sold in retail stores throughout the country, but she also worked hard at getting well.
“There were no therapists who knew about bulimia at that time, so my husband, Leigh, and I would brainstorm about what might work. Sure, I meditated and wrote in my journal, but we also did some more unusual things, like fighting with boxing gloves so I could get my anger out. I also sewed up a storm, not just because I had to fill orders for the dolls, but because the joy of creativity filled me up in a way food never did. ”
Two years later, on her birthday in 1980, Lindsey wrote her story of recovery in a booklet called “Eat Without Fear” and took it to Kinko’s to print 100 copies.
“That was supposed to be closure,” Lindsey says. “I thought I would be done with eating disorders for the rest of my life. Guess not!” Instead, so many people related to her story that those first 100 copies sold out quickly. So Lindsey switched from dolls to books, and together with Leigh founded Gurze Books, a publishing company devoted to eating disorders prevention, education, and advocacy.
It has now been 30 years since Lindsey’s recovery. Since that time, Gurze Books has grown into a valuable resource for patients, families and caregivers alike. Indeed, Lindsey and Leigh have reached and inspired millions of people through their catalogs and books. In addition, they have talked to many thousands of people both on the phone and at talks and seminars, and answered every one of the people who have written or emailed over the years.
“In the early days, we were the only 800 number. So people would call us for help…and we would talk to them at great length. This was so fulfilling for me. Again, I was touched by the work, just as I was by the dollmaking, and it became a calling. ”
When asked what has been her mission in life, Lindsey answers, “I have always tried to be a mirror, so that I could reflect the goodness that is in everyone, especially those who are struggling with an eating disorder. ”
If you are wondering, the word Gurze is from the Bavarian, although Lindsey certainly doesn’t speak Bavarian! It was just a name from her dream, complete with the unusual spelling. But it turns out to be an informal greeting, like a “Hi, how are you?” But the literal translation is, “I greet the God in you. ”
Lindsey says, “I based my recovery on this idea-that we all have a spark of the divine within. We just have to go into our hearts and see it there.”
Carolyn Costin, MFT, recovered herself from anorexia, has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders and exercise addiction for thirty years. Carolyn is founder and director of The Eating Disorder Center of California and Monte Nido and Affiliates, which now has three unique residential centers in natural, home-like settings. Carolyn is a sought after speaker at national conferences and is known for engaging her audiences and giving hands-on skills. Carolyn’s books, The Eating Disorder Source Book (2007), 100 Questions and Answers, About Eating Disorders (2007), and Your Dieting Daughter (1997), have helped professionals and the lay public in understanding, treating and preventing eating disorders.
Carolyn’s struggle with an eating disorder started in the summer between her junior and senior years of high-school. A weight loss bet with her friend’s father started her intense dieting process, and then triggered her tendencies toward perfectionism and compulsiveness. She won the bet, but kept on dieting. Carolyn lost about 50 pounds over the course of the following three years. It was 1975 and minimal information about eating disorders was available. In fact, Carolyn herself had never heard the words anorexia or bulimia. Finally, she realized in college that the “dieting” was in control of her and that she was no longer in control of it. Carolyn tried seeking help at her college counseling center, but the therapist had never seen or heard of an eating disorder. The therapist suggested she eat by herself if she felt uncomfortable eating around others! Sadly, Carolyn found this only exacerbated her problem. She had to struggle with her eating disorder alone and figure it out for herself, as so few resources were available at that time. Carolyn credits trying to understand her own battle with anorexia for developing much of her insight and success as a therapist. Carolyn believes people can become fully recovered; where food and weight take a proper perspective in the individual’s life. She does not believe one has to deal with it forever, like the “once an alcoholic always one” addiction model.
After graduating college, she became a school teacher, and gained about 10 pounds. At this point in her recovery, she realized that there were two parts of her, the rational and educated side vs. the irrational, eating disordered side. A defining moment occurred while driving to a Christmas party, where Carolyn had promised herself she wound not eat any cookies at the party. But, the healthier side of her said, “You know, if you really want to show that you have will power, then go in and eat something, eat a cookie. That takes willpower. ” Hence, she began differentiating her healthy self vs. her eating disordered self. She realized she was not going to want to gain weight or like it-as she tells others with anorexia to this day. Carolyn, at times, felt afraid when her weight went up, like she was losing herself. She knew inherently to argue with her eating disordered self when fears of weight gain came up. She also knew to take it slowly, and gave herself permission to adjust to the 10 pound weight gain for some time. She realized then and now that it cam be traumatizing to gain weight too quickly.
Carolyn continued to teach junior high and high school over the next eight years. She found the distraction of being involved in a career she loved and was devoted to, helpful in her recovery. Also, she found that falling in love and a relationship further helped her to recover. She still did not like her body more when she gained weight, but chose to accept this as part of her recovery process.
After her own struggle with an eating disorder, Carolyn decided to also work as a high school counselor. She went back to school and became a licensed therapist while continuing to teach. She left teaching in 1984 and went into private practice. She also ran a few hospital eating disorder treatment centers. Sometimes, she saw as many as 58 clients a week! She did this while also running two eating disorder support groups. She developed a wealth of knowledge and experience in treating eating disorders. Eventually, Carolyn decided she did not want to be in a hospital environment any longer. She wanted to offer treatment in a home-like setting. She had observed that individuals with eating disorders are often disconnected from soul and nature and thought a beautiful environment, in nature, along with cognitive behavior therapy, medication and group therapy would be an ideal treatment center. She then opened Monte Nido, which has been thriving for 12 yrs now, and also ran her private practice for an additional eight years. Recently, she opened Monte Nido Vista, a few miles away from the original Monte Nido, in order to accommodate the ever increasing waiting list to get into a Monte Nido program. Carolyn also opened The Eating Disorder Center of California in Brentwood California, where adolescents and adults, males and females, can get more intensive treatment than out patient therapy but not twenty-four hour care. The EDCC has been open approximately six years. She released two books in 1996 and opened Monte Nido. In 2006, Carolyn opened Rain Rock, a treatment center for eating disorders in Oregon.
Carolyn now spends her time directing her eating disorder treatment centers, speaking and contributing to multiple organization and conferences that support eating disorder treatment and prevention. She is a board member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals, a board member of Dads and Daughter and a fellow of the Academy of Eating Disorders. Her recently updated and rewritten book, The Eating Disorders Source book and her book 100 Questions and Answers about Eating Disorders can both be found in bookstores nationally.
Christine Hartline, MA is a recovering anorexic and bulimic who has been working in the field of eating disorder treatment for over 12 years. She is dedicated to educating others about the consequences, treatment and prevention of eating disorders. She is the founder of the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center at Edreferral.com. She is also an ANAD Resource person who can help assist in locating FREE support groups in your area. Christine is an advocate for mental health parity and increasing research to help understand the etiology of eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex and involved complex interactions of psychological, biological, sociological, and interpersonal factors and do require professional assistance. Further, eating disorders and body hatred impact the lives of millions of men and women. Eating disorders are gripping and life-threatening. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder please seek information and assistance. For more information on the treatment and prevention of eating disorders please fee free to contact Christine at the International Eating Disorder Referral Center.
Christine Hartline, MA has been working in the field of eating disorders for over 10 years. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Eating Disorder Awareness and Prevention and the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association. She has served as the administrator of the Monte Nido Treatment Center in Malibu, CA. She has also been a consultant for several eating disorder programs, a community liaison, a support group leader, a mental health provider and a utilization review coordinator. She is an advocate for the treatment and prevention of eating disorders.
Dying to Fit In- Literally!
By Christine Hartline, MA
Today in America you can be whatever you want to be – any dream can be accomplished as long as you pursue it. We have economic security and we live in a peaceful and prosperous nation! We live in the land of opportunity, rich with culture and diversity, the land of the free! The question I pose is – “is America the land of the free, especially for women?” With all the freedom and prosperity we enjoy women still remain prisoners. “Prisoners”, you ask, what do you mean? Women are enslaved to a beauty myth, chained to the false belief that our value is based on our appearance alone.
In the United States approximately 10% of girls and women (numbering up to 10 million) are suffering from diagnosed eating disorders. Of these at least 50,000 will die as a direct result! Recent data reported by the American Psychiatric Association suggests that of all psychiatric disorders, the greatest excess of patient mortality due to natural and unnatural causes is associated with eating disorders and substance abuse. How did this problem reach such epidemic proportions? Why are we dieting ourselves to death, literally dying to fit in? When did we become so ashamed of our bodies, when did we learn to hate them so much? While eating disorders claim lives and significantly impact the health and well being of sufferers, as we investigate further an even more disturbing picture emerges. An amazing 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance. These numbers are staggering! Surely they cannot be correct! How and why could we have learned such contempt for our bodies and ourselves?
Eating disorders are complex and understanding their etiology requires complex interventions by professionals. In this article I want to examine eating disorders in the context of the questions I posed above. Why are women attacking their bodies? Where did we learn that our self worth is measured by external factors – by numbers on a scale? The answer lies in constant, subtle attacks on our bodies. These attacks wear us down, shake our confidence and esteem. We loose our sense of self, individuality and fall victim to narrow definitions of beauty defined by the media. The media acts as a propaganda machine determined to shake our confidence, remind us we aren’t good enough, we haven’t made it, that we just simply do not measure up. In a recent poll by People magazine 80% of women reported that the images of women of TV and in movies, fashion magazines ad advertising make them feel insecure about their looks. In addition, the poll indicated that women are made to feel so insecure that they are willing to try diets that pose health risks (34%), go “under the knife” (34%) and 93% indicated they had made various and repeated attempts to lose weight to measure up to the images. Why is the media bent on making us feel so down about ourselves? Why do they go to such lengths to make us feel “less than?” The answer is quite simple – pure economics. The media machine is economically driven as billions are spent on items such as cosmetics, new diets and clothes. This “beautifying” empire is dependent on our disempowerment. They count on us buying into their myths and misrepresentations: “we will never fit it, we can never be happy, thus we can never end the pursuit. ” Alas, the pursuit is endless, the products are endless, the damage to our self-esteem is endless, and the body hatred created is devastating. The assault is unrelenting! The images everywhere! How could it all happen, right under our noses? It is a subtle, continuous bombardment of images of beauty, images defined by profiteers, images that are not real, not authentic, and not attainable. The impact that these images have on women is profound. The financial, social and psychological and physical damages of a woman’s lifetime pursuit of thinness are impossible to measure. Depression, despair, depletion of self-esteem, the withering and wasting away of physical, psychological and financial resources are unbelievable. How can we begin to make changes? How can we assess our damage report? We must all take a personal inventory of how our lives have been impacted by these images and how we have fallen victim to these lies and misrepresentations of beauty. By examining how these images have impacted your life you are better equip to avoid falling victim to these myths. You will learn to measure yourself by intrinsic qualities that are of far greater value and are far more beautiful than any image manufactured on a movie screen.
I was a victim of these attacks on esteem, on women’s power, on our self-worth. I was a prisoner and almost a casualty of this war. If I did not wake-up and take a personal inventory and examine my value system I could have easily sunken into the prison of repeat diets, repeat failure and lifelong contempt for my body. As a prisoner I had to ask myself some tough questions: when did I start to hate my body so much? When did I begin to measure my self-worth by numbers on a scale? When did I fall prey to the idea that beauty is external and success is measured by factors that have little to do with personal strength and spirit? We must be aware of the images presented to us and unmask these images for what they truly are – destructive, superficial and unattainable images. These images do not value our uniqueness, they do not honor our wisdom and our spirit, and they do not measure us. We must reclaim and redefine our bodies as ours. They are miraculous, we all know this! Our bodies perform wonderful feats every day. We are physiological and biological masterpieces. Our bodies are not our enemies – they put us in motion, they create and sustain life. The functions our bodies perform for us are too numerous and varied to list. Vow that you will not longer fall victim to these images and help those around you to the road of self-love and acceptance. Advocate for freedom from body hatred and fight the billion dollar advertising, cosmetic, diet, entertainment and fashion industries – let’s stand up for ourselves, our values, our bodies, our lives. We must challenge ourselves, our culture and our children. The stakes are too high to back down. Lives are lost each year as beautiful, healthy young women starve themselves to death. Millions of us are suffering from depression and anxiety as we are bombarded with images of our “faults. ” It is time to change, change begins from within and radiates out- let’s begin.
The consequences of body hatred and the serious issue of eating disorders are far to significant and far reaching to be addressed simply by pointing the finger at the media machine. Eating disorders are complex and involved complex interactions of psychological, biological, sociological, and interpersonal factors and do require professional assistance. Further, eating disorders and body hatred impact the lives of millions of men and women. It is not only women that buy into these myths and it is not only women that suffer with these illnesses. Eating disorders are gripping and life-threatening. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder please seek information and assistance.
My name is Melanie Aldis, and I am one of the Regional Directors of Business Development at Center for Change. Are you wondering why someone who works in Marketing is writing an article? Am I qualified?
Well, I am also recovered from an eating disorder. I had an eating disorder for ten years, from the age of thirteen to twenty-three. I am now twenty nine years old. Unfortunately, I don’t have much memory of those ten years, only bits and pieces. What I do remember is that I felt inadequate at a very young age. I never felt like I was the skinniest, prettiest, smartest or most popular, I thought I was just plain old average or less than and that wasn’t good enough for me. I don’t remember how or when my eating disorder started, but I know that underneath it all I had pure self hatred. Eventually my eating disorder became my entire identity and that is when my process of self discovery came to a halt. I thought, as author of Life Without Ed, Jenni Schaefer, would put it, that “Ed” would help me find the answer to true happiness and success in life. As you all know, the excitement and glamour of the eating disorder does not last forever. My life was consumed with food, insecurities and my outward appearance. While other kids were learning what their favorite sports or colors were, I had my head in a toilet.
After ten years of slow suicide, my esophagus was eroding; I had heart burn all the time and my heart would randomly beat irregularly throughout the day. What kind of existence is that? I discovered that I wasn’t invincible and that if I didn’t do something, I was going to die. I wasn’t ready to leave this world. I didn’t know what my purpose in life was, but for some reason I knew I had to keep holding on. I was finally ready to fully commit to recovering from my eating disorder.
After ten years, my relationships with my boyfriend, friends and family had deteriorated. At this point, I could not stop on my own, but I knew that didn’t make me a failure. What I needed was to be in an environment that could save me from myself. I needed to be surrounded by people who cared about my life because I didn’t. I checked myself into an inpatient facility. During that time, I was the “perfect” patient. I was an inspiration to all and the one who would reach out and become a role model for the other patients. At the same time, I was screaming and yelling at my mother in the middle of the night telling her that they were the enemy and that I was just trying to survive their evil plan to make me “fat”. Not surprisingly, I ended up signing myself out after 30 days. At the time, I thought that I was the expert in what I should weigh, and that they were just out to turn me into a hideous beast. When I got out, I thought that those 30 days had reversed the 10 torturous years with an eating disorder. It hadn’t. I thought that my little time of freedom from “Ed” gave me another identity, which I defined as “perfect recovery. ” The thing is perfection never lasts. I have now learned I am imperfectly perfect and that is what makes me Melanie Aldis.
Does this story sound devastating or what? Guess what. It isn’t. I am a smart, funny, beautiful successful woman who has fully recovered from an eating disorder. I am now a representative of one of the most incredible programs I have ever seen. I work for them not because I need this job but because I chose a passion in life instead of choosing to die.
When I was really sick, I was inspired to keep hanging on because I knew that I never wanted another girl to go through what I had been through. I didn’t want anyone to experience the feeling of loneliness and helplessness because it is terrifying. Knowing this is what kept me going through my very long and challenging recovery process. My ultimate dream was to help others who were living through what I had lived. After really, really, really, really hard work on myself (and I mean every really), I now have the opportunity to work in this healing profession.
I thank God everyday for letting me be a part of something so pure and sincere. I hope that people struggling with eating disorders have a reliable and caring person or people in their lives to hold on to their desire to live until they can do it themselves. I was lucky enough to have that, but I don’t believe that is the only way out. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, look within your heart to find out why you haven’t let “Ed” completely take over. There is a reason. Want to know what it is…you do want to live and you DESERVE to live, so hold on to those little daily miracles that keep you alive and use it as inspiration to reach out for help. I know you feel alone and scared, but I promise the moment you ask for help something beautiful will happen.
With love from my heart and my soul,
Melanie Aldis is a clinical outreach representative with Center for Change in Orem, Utah. For more information, please visit www.centerforchange.com.
Ask Shannon Cutts what helped her recover from her fifteen-year battle with anorexia and bulimia, and you won’t have to wait long for her answer: Relationships replace eating disorders.
When Shannon first developed anorexia at age eleven, little was known about recognizing and treating eating disorders. Her few early attempts to ask for help were misunderstood and rebuffed, and because of this, she struggled in secrecy and silence for seven years against an illness she could not name. But she refused to give up.
When Shannon was nineteen she met her mentor. Together, they joined forces against the eating disorder. Slowly but surely, the loving, supportive bond she formed with her mentor began to edge out her dependence on her “relationship” with her eating disorder. She began to take her life back.
Today, Shannon has been in strong recovery for over a decade. In 2004, she founded Key to Life: unlocking the door to hope, an outreach and advocacy organization that offers programs, workshops, concerts, products, and services to facilitate recovery from eating and related disorders. Through Key to Life, she began sharing what she had learned about eating disorders recovery through speaking and performing original recovery songs at colleges, treatment centers, schools, and conferences across the U.S.A. and in Canada.
It was around this time that she also began serving as a mentor to others who were struggling to recover. It soon became clear to Shannon that the need for eating disorders mentors far exceeded what her time could accommodate. As she continued to answer her mentees’ questions and respond to their requests for support, she began taking notes, noticing common themes and writing down everything she could remember about how she healed. Those notes became her first book, Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back (Health Communications, Inc.)
With the release of Beating Ana, Shannon & Key to Life launched a worldwide mission to share the power of mentoring with others. In 2008, with the wise counsel and support of her Leadership Team, Shannon founded MentorCONNECT, the first global eating disorders mentoring community. Today, MentorCONNECT is a thriving pro-recovery support community where members receive the unique opportunity to be matched with a caring volunteer mentor or to serve as a mentor to someone who needs to know that recovery is possible. In addition, the private, moderated, password-protected community offers members the chance to create recovery blogs, upload photos, songs, and videos, participate in a live weekly e-support group meeting and online chat with other members, and join dozens of themed support group forums.
To learn more about Shannon, her speaking and songwriting, Beating Ana, Key to Life, and MentorCONNECT, visit her at www.key-to-life.com.
Finding My True Self and Inner Beauty…. By Andrea Roe
My name is Andrea. I am twenty-seven years old and a recovered anorexic and bulimic. I am Austrian, married to a wonderful Canadian and currently living in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. I struggled with eating disorders for six long years and have finally overcome these deadly diseases-and this is my story…
While I was growing up, food and weight were not a problem for me. I came from a very active and health-oriented family and never had to worry about my weight. Almost every weekend my parents would take my siblings and me walking, hiking, biking, or skiing or on a sightseeing trip to a gorgeous place somewhere in Austria. I like thinking about my childhood; it was a wonderful time, and thinking about it creates a warm feeling inside of me. Even now, while I am writing this, I have a smile on my face and a tear of joy in my eyes.
When I was about thirteen-years old, someone said to me that my face looked weird when I smiled, and then she started to laugh. She said this in front of other people. I was very confused; I did not know what to say, and I blushed. I had never paid much attention to my smile until that day. When I came home from school, I looked at myself in the mirror. I smiled. I used two mirrors and looked at my smile from different angles. I stared at myself for hours, and, came to the conclusion that the girl was right: my smile was ugly! And I looked ugly when I smiled. I decided not to smile anymore.
It took almost ten years before I learned to love my smile again. In photographs taken during those years, I hardly ever smiled. (By the way, this comment did not cause my eating disorder; it is an example of the power of words, and how one simple innocent comment can spiral out of control). That happened about two or three years before my eating disorder developed. It was the first step towards disliking and hating my face, and eventually my body.
Around that time, I also developed acne. I already did not like my face because of my “ugly” smile, and having blemished skin made me hate my face even more. I tried everything that was on the market to get rid of my skin problems, but nothing helped. I became depressed and cried a lot. I started wearing makeup to cover the red spots. I would not leave the house without putting it on, so ashamed was I of my face. There were times I did not go to school because of my skin; I did not want anyone to look at it. I did not like people looking at me, at my skin. I did not want them to look at what was “wrong” with me.
My parents did everything in their power to help, support, and comfort me. They were always there for me. I had times when I cried almost every day and locked myself in my room. I just wanted to be alone. I would lie on my bed, look at my face in a mirror and cry. Not many people knew about those struggles, or how big a problem my skin really was for me. I was a very sad teenage girl on the inside, but did not show this to other people. I pretended to be strong.
When I was fifteen, I had the thought that I had to lose some weight. There was no reason for me to go on a diet, but I felt so badly about myself and I thought maybe losing some weight would make me feel better about myself. I wanted to feel pretty and was desperate to do anything to feel that way, and I thought losing weight might be a way to get there. I felt like I had nothing to lose; I already hated myself and what I looked liked so much… things just could not get any worse for me, but they did…
My dieting got out of control, and I slipped into having an eating disorder€”I had developed anorexia. I do not know exactly when my eating disorder started and my dieting ended, I just slipped into it.
I read a lot of women’s magazines and adored the female models in those magazines: their beautiful smiles, their clear skin, and their flawless bodies. Back then I did not know that what I looked at, what I admired and wanted to look like, was not real but digitally airbrushed and drastically altered by computers. At that point, I did not know that I had a problem. I was in denial, and I thought that what I was doing was normal. Now, when I look back, I can see how much I was already into my eating disorder world. I just did not notice it back then.
Sometimes when lying in bed at night, I imagined how life would be if I liked my face, smile, and body. How “easy” life would be because I would not have to hide anymore. I would not have to be afraid of people looking at me anymore. I could be free of all my worries! I would be happy.
After graduating at eighteen, I went to university. The idea of me not being beautiful was still stuck in my head. It was at this point that my eating disorder started to take complete control of my life.
I started binging in order to try to fill the emptiness inside of me, although I never threw up. I wanted to so much, but for some reason I was not able to make myself vomit. Instead, I would use other methods to get rid of the food and the calories quickly, like over-exercising and diet pill and laxative abuse. I would eat until my stomach started to ache. I felt disgusted with myself and what I was doing. I was very ashamed and embarrassed about my behaviour. For the longest time I did not tell anyone about my problem and struggled on my own, secretly and in silence.
Unfortunately, my eating disorder did not stop there. It not only changed my relationship with food and weight, it started taking control over my social life as well. I did not go out for a coffee, lunch, or dinner with my friends anymore. I felt uncomfortable eating in front of other people. I did not want anyone to force me to eat. I was terrified by the thought of gaining weight. I also feared that they would notice what was going on with me. I was afraid of them asking questions. I did not want anyone to find out what I was doing, and lied a lot to my friends in order to keep my eating disorder a secret. I did not like lying to them but I felt I had no other choice. I thought that if they knew they would not like me anymore and would not want to be friends with me.
During the first couple of years of my struggles, I was not very educated about eating disorders, mainly because I was in denial for so long. I knew only a bit of basic information and had no idea about where to get useful information about eating disorders, where to turn for help€”I was too shy to ask. I thought that one had to be either extremely skinny or extremely heavy in order to be taken seriously, but I was neither. My weight was always somewhere in the normal healthy weight range. And people with eating disorders have to be one of those extremes, do they not?
I eventually hit a point where I could not deny my problem any longer and was finally able to admit to myself that what I was doing was not healthy and that I needed to stop this behaviour. But I did not know what to do or where to start. I felt lost and confused, and thought I was the only one who had this problem.
I did not know how to get out of my eating disorder cycle. I was ruining not only my mind and health, but also my life. I was hurting not only myself but also the people around me. Many nights I would cry myself to sleep, wondering if I was ever going to recover€“or if there even was such a thing as “recovery.”
I had always had a very close relationship with my parents, but my eating disorder forced me to move away from them. I became very reserved and quiet. They knew what was going on and hoped I would talk to them so they could support and help me. Sometimes I wanted to tell them about my struggles, I wanted to be taken in their arms; I wanted to feel that I was loved no matter what. I thought about talking to them for months but was never sure what to say. I was afraid of disappointing them. I wanted them to be proud of me. But how could they be proud of me when I had an eating disorder?
I eventually opened up to my mum. I gave her a book about how to deal with someone who struggles with an eating disorder, and wrote a letter to her as well. I could see how relieved she was that I finally opened up to her, and she took me in her arms and comforted me. I was crying a lot on that day but I was glad I told her.
My eating disorder did not get better after my conversation with my mum, but at least I knew now that I had someone to talk to when I needed help, comfort, and support.
So I continued my self-destructive path of bulimia. But no matter how much food I ate, I was not able to fill the emptiness inside me. I wasted so much money on food; I do not even want to think about the amount I spent on my binges. I withdrew socially, even more than I had before; I had spent most of my time alone, either eating, over-exercising, or starving myself. I led a lonely and sad life and had little hope about ever getting better. I spent so much time in my room alone, escaping into the virtual world of my computer. Here I was safe; nobody was able to see me, to judge me or hurt me. I know my parents were very worried about me, but they had no idea how to get close to me. When they tried, they were not successful. I did not let anyone get close. I completely shut them out. I cried almost every day, sometimes even a couple of times a day.
What had happened to me? How could I have let it come that far? I felt completely hopeless. I wanted to get better and be happy and healthy again…but I did not even know where to start my journey towards recovery. Besides, I was not even sure if there was such a thing as “recovery.”
Just looking at myself in the mirror made me cry. I hated my face, my body, everything. There was nothing pretty about me. Even though my skin had improved and became really nice over time, and I had stopped wearing makeup to cover up my face, I did not recognize that nor was I grateful for it. Even though my acne was gone, it still did not change the fact that I hated my face€”and my smile.
My turning point came when I met a wonderful man from Canada who is now my husband. We met in London, England, and it was love at first sight. We immediately felt a special bond, and it seemed as if we had known one another for a long time already. It almost felt like “coming home.” It felt wonderful to be close to him. I felt safe. He was also my first boyfriend. I finally had what I had desired for so long-a loving, caring, and understanding man by my side who truly and deeply loved me.
In the beginning, I did not tell him about my eating disorder. I was afraid that if he found out he would leave me, and I did not want him to. I was afraid of being alone again. When I was around him, I would eat normally, and it felt good. For the first time in years I felt “normal.” I decided to move to Canada with him, and we moved together, very quickly, which, in the long run, really helped me with my eating disorder.
I still binged, but I was not able to do it as often because I only binged when I was alone, and, since Brandon and I lived together, we spent a lot of time together. He never noticed my binges, but he did notice that I had stomachaches on a regular basis, and he worried about me. I always told him I had problems adjusting to the food in Canada and that was where my stomachaches came from. He never doubted what I said and never acted suspicious. He saw no reason to; why would I lie to him? But I did lie to him, and I lied a lot. I felt like I had to, as if I had no other choice. I did not want him to find out what was really going on with me. I was afraid of losing him, of being left alone.
It took me a couple of months until I was ready to tell him about what was going on with me. He had not even noticed and seemed quite surprised. Brandon took me in his arms, gave me a kiss and said that we would get through this together, and that he would always be there for me and do whatever it took to get me healthy again. I started crying. It felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. He believed in me, in us, and he believed that together we would be able to beat this disorder. For the first time in years, I felt, just maybe, recovery was possible for me.
Today, I am healthy. I am grateful for my body, and I love myself and my life. I am thankful that my body has not given up on me after many years of abuse. My journey to recovery was difficult at times. I had to take it one day after the other. I had setbacks; I had a lot of them. Every time I fell, I got up again and continued on my journey. I did my best not to look back, but forward.
Brandon was always there for me and with me, every step of the way. We talked a lot and I told him everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. There were a lot of things I told him that were not pretty, but, no matter what I said, his feelings for me did not get any less. He never judged me or my behaviour, no matter what I did. The only thing he did not want me to do was to lie to him and cover up things. It was important for him that I always told him the truth, no matter how “bad” it was. That was one of the hardest patterns for me to break: to stop lying. I had been lying about my eating behaviour for so many years that I did not even notice it anymore when I did… lying just happened automatically.
My husband also taught me to smile again. He always told me that I looked pretty when I smiled and that I was a beautiful girl. I did not believe him at first, but over time I was able to see that I really was beautiful girl, inside and out, with a beautiful smile. Now, I actually love my smile. I did not smile for pictures in almost ten years, and these days, whenever pictures are taken, I am the first one to smile!
I am so thankful for having Brandon in my life. He has always been there for me; he has always believed in me and never gave up on me. His love and support are what I needed to find the strength in me to beat this disorder.
I have reached the point where I am able to openly and honestly talk about my eating disorder struggles and everything connected with it. I am not ashamed anymore of my past and no longer feel the need to hide it. I always saw my eating disorder as something negative, as “lost years.” Now, I can see it in a positive way. If not for my past, I know I would not be who I am today and would not be where I am today€”and I like the person I am, and I love my life.
I believe that everything happens for a reason, even though often we are unable to see the reason right away. While I was struggling, I often asked myself what good reason all this pain, all these tears, could possibly have, and I never found an answer. Now, things have started to fall into place and make sense. All of it was a big learning experience for me, one that was necessary to make me the person I am now. It was a painful and difficult experience, that is for sure, but it was necessary. I have learned so much over the past few years, about life and about myself, that I would not have otherwise. I now know who I am. I have found my place in life. I have found personal meaning in my life.
My life is not about me anymore. For years I was a lonely and depressed girl who lived a small, sad life. Now I have the desire to make a difference in other people’s lives and want to give back to society. It is my passion to show others who are struggling with eating disorders that there is a way out, and that these disorders can be beaten.
I want you to know that it IS possible to recover. Please do not give up on yourself. You CAN get through this! I know-I did it, and so can you! Your eating disorder did not just happen overnight, it started a long time ago, before you first binged, purged or starved yourself. It will take time to get better, one step at a time.
Eating disorders are not simply about food and weight. They are an attempt to use food and weight to deal with emotional problems. An eating disorder is just a symptom of something deeper going on inside of you. Food and your body are not the enemy, even though it sometimes feels like it. You can learn to enjoy your life again. Please keep on believing in yourself and continue to be strong.
You are a beautiful human being; one day, I know, you will be able to see it!
My name is Kathy Roberts and I’m a lifetime drugfree world champion powerlifter/motivational speaker/personal trainer. I hold several different World, National, Regional and State records in various different weight classes. I’ve ranked in the top 20 in the world in Powerlifting. My heaviest lifts are as follows: 400 pound squat, 270 pound benchpress, and a 450 pound deadlift–all lifetime drugfree.
I earned my degree in Administration of Justice, cum laude and I’m certified in various different areas. I am an Academic and Presidential Scholar and I received an Outstanding Achievement Honors Award for Academic Work in Sociology, a Division of Liberal Arts.
Throughout the years I’ve spent most of my time reaching out to others, sharing my life experience and how to overcome obstacles with those I speak to. I come from a family of 10 and I lost my father at an early age. My mother raised 10 kids by herself. There are many things that we had to do without and there were many struggles throughout my life but one thing that I never did was to make excuses for the things that I didn’t have in life. I believe that where there is a will, there is a way and each and every individual goes through different situations in life. Hopefully for each and every situation it will make one stronger, wiser and give them the substance that they need to get through different situations in their lives, most importantly, being able to reach out to one another with a genuine interest and concern.
At an early age I participated in various different sports such as long distance running, tennis, bodybuilding and I’ve been involved in powerlifting for over 12 years. In the sport of powerlifting, I never really worried about my weight class. I’ve competed in five different weight divisions to include the 132′s, 148′s, 165′s, 181′s and 198′s. I’ve always been comfortable with the body weight that I carry. Many others in the sport went to extremes to lose weight to meet a specific weight class. I’ve seen where people would literally pass out while competing because they were dehydrated and totally weakened. To me, this is not worth it.
Being comfortable with who you are is more important than anything else. I believe that society puts a lot of pressure on young female athletes as far as their weight and over all body build is concerned. Everyone has a different genetic makeup and we must remember that. Everyone was not meant to be the same build, size, shape, weight, etc. Accepting who you are and not being concerned about what the world thinks is far more important to one’s well being than anything else.
As I progressed in the sport of powerlifting and began to lift heavier weight my body began to develop more muscularity. Sure, I had people saying that I may have been too massive, but for the most part, people have learned how to appreciate me. Why? Because of the way that I carry myself, confidently. I am comfortable in my own body and through my actions and body language people have learned to appreciate me and accept me for who I am.
My goal as a world champion female athlete is to let other female athletes learn how to appreciate themselves, to love themselves, and strive to make themselves stronger, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
I’ve worked with female athletes around the world in various areas to include self image and how that affected their everyday lives. Unfortunately, many times others around us have their own goals and dreams and they often go to any extreme to try to live those goals and dreams through others. We have to dream our own dreams and live our own lives, making our own dreams a reality. We have to come to the realization that we cannot please everyone all of the time. There is a lot of pressure from the people who are closest to us to “act” a certain way or “look” a certain way. This is not normal. What is normal is being who you are, taking care of yourself and finding happiness from within. Once you find happiness from within, everything else will fall into place.
My website is: http://www.GIFTOFSTRENGTH.com
i walked the beach everyday, praying for help- i knew something was wrong when my own mom approached me and gently asked me, “when are you going to do something? “My mom never says much to me about changing myself as that is what made me strong up til this point and now would make me that much stronger! my mom was my angel finding me a great counselor and nutritionist. She quietly read everything she could about anorexia and prayed for me .she still let me find my ‘new’ self and grow wings again. as a poetess i found writing helped heal me . it was like therapy writing out my feelings… always has been !
i had hidden it well, or so i thought… my ‘illness. ‘ i didn’t want to believe i , perfect paula’ could be sick. that was a big part of my problem , trying so hard to be ‘perfect . ‘
Feeling out of control of my own life after a traumatic breakup with my first boyfriend and wanting so badly to be at one with my family and everyone, life was overwhelming. Yes, i was too thin. Once i admitted this, i was free. i was living in hell- smiling on the outside ,crying within-
i wanted to be in heaven. i was very close to God, but my head kept going back to food, to planning , to scheming. . . i wasn’t ‘me. ‘ i was lost… although i was VERY good at making myself sick. i became the PERFECT anorexic… it was making me , not ‘me. ‘ i had to lose myself to find myself again and that was hard. i didn’t want to give up the life i had created for myself. i was in control, or so i thought… it was easy to ‘disappear’ -Until i began seeking help, i was not free or happy… i looked at myself in the mirror , and i knew i was not ‘right. ‘ it was super hard going to my first support group. i could see the pain in the others faces and hearts. i was not alone- i read about so many who had eating disorders, many who others would not suspect; even susan dey from the Partridge Family had orange fingers from simply eating carrots and nothing else! * What was it that made people suffer so? why this mysterious disorder with food? i was learning and realizing it was a world- wide problem for so many and that no one is ever ‘perfect… ‘ and that it is OK – So many try to be ‘in control of their own lives or those of others since they cannot control their own life! this is a lesson i learned and never will need to again. ONLY God is in real control and that is PURE FREEDOM_
my ten yr old sense of joy and spirit was not alive anymore- i missed my true self- i was a skeleton holding a soul that was broken. my butterfly wings longed to ‘fly’ once again. mentally my head kept going back to a rhythm i did not understand but was comfortable to play – i found meditation and prayer sustained me to find a new life- one that helped me gain my freedom back and grow wings and truly fly! swimming ,walking , yoga ,dance these helped me love my body again and re-connect as in healing and in pregnancy… the body can do so much and we can love ourselves as little or as much as we want .which ever we choose we will either live in heaven or hell. the choice is ours. i have practiced yoga with so many who are not thin, but are* happily round and truly beautiful ‘teachers’ i have watched many ‘ beautiful’ people die to joy, to take on a plastic smile- thank you mom and thank you Jesus… . my true strength and joy lives forever in letting God take control ,rather than me .as much as i want to live in a ‘Perfect ‘world it isn’t real ,heaven is and that awaits my soul so happy and healthy now, surrendering each day to jesus christ first thing in the morning, last thing at night. While pregnant, i was happy to be round. Now, with son to care for i learn over and over how to take care of ‘me’ so i can give him what he needs -i am put’ right in the *BEAUTIFUL moment’ where i LOVE to be, like a child again… .
to want to be thin or in control is a WEAKNESS because if we desire anything, then we are suffering… my dream is for no one to have to succumb to the ways of the world , or to food – & to see food as a beautiful ‘helper’ in our lives rather than ‘restricter’ May everyone let God take control, as *He Frees us forever!… He is our true Father and He really does know what is Best for us ! The foods of the Bible are so wonderful and here for us to enjoy!
‘i am ME’
free, with wings white ,glowing
i am ten, a child in wonder
open to a world that can be better-
i am me,
letting my Father in heaven control my life. . .
Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 1, 2013
Page last updated: May 1, 2013
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Help Resources for Eating Disorders