To My Hero on Father's Day,
I remember when my struggle with my eating issues first came out, you couldn’t understand it, and I don’t blame you - no one gives you a book when your child is born about what to do if your child is starving themselves. You didn’t understand why treatment was a thing, can’t you just eat? Last year you told me if you win the lottery, you’ll help me open an eating disorder treatment center to help those struggling find freedom like I have found. You also now know all the acronyms and terms in the recovery world, including my personal favorite, HAES (Health at Every Size). Look how far we’ve come.
I remember you wondering why I had an eating disorder and why I was depressed. I had the perfect life. I came from the perfect family. Why was I struggling? Eating disorders didn't happen to people like me, right? We have since had so many wonderfully open and honest conversations about how eating disorders are often a combination of environmental and genetic factors, but they affect anyone and everyone. Look how far we’ve come.
I remember our fights. I remember avoiding coming home from college for holidays because of the strain my eating disorder put on our relationship. I remember how all of our conversations were surface level. You are now my favorite travel partner, my biggest encourager and the first person I go to when I need advice. I love our coffee dates and how we talk about anything and everything. Look how far we’ve come.
I remember you being frustrated that I was struggling again, and going back to treatment, again. Didn’t we already play this game? Will things ever get better? Well, they did. Now you’re able to watch me live the life we both dreamed of – three years recovered, sharing my story and on the path to become a counselor. Look how far we’ve come.
To all of the individuals struggling who think that their dad, or any father figure in their life, doesn’t understand their eating disorder, it’s okay, they may come around and become your biggest supporter like mine did. To all of the dads out there who don’t think that recovery is possible for their child, it is, hold onto hope.
Love you forever my Papsi,
Amy Sullivan is the Program Director for Southern Smash, but more importantly is proudly recovered from an eating disorder. She is currently in grad school to become a counselor. Amy is a dog mom to the worst behaved dog in the world, and an Auntie Amy to the most adorable little girl and baby boy.
By: Layn Tallent
If I’m being totally honest, I’ve written and rewritten this blog at least ten times. If I’m being really honest with you, I promised Amy I would send this blog to her email two months ago… and then again another month ago. And to drop yet another truth bomb into your lap, I have only admittedly said “I had or have an eating disorder” to three people in my lifetime prior to releasing this blog: my fiancé (who is a nursing professional in eating disorders), my therapist, and my dietitian. To be quite frank, I refused to implement the term “eating disorder” into my vocabulary until I was sweetly called out by my therapist during a session. I always seemed to dance around the term, and I often convinced myself that my disorder was best kept untold secret.
The past ten years of my life have been plagued with chronic dieting and an eating disorder that manifested in countless ways. Through numerous God winks, a desperate season of life, and an incredibly compassionate fiancé (boyfriend at the time), I was introduced to McCall Dempsey and Southern Smash. As a result, my life has been forever changed.
While my blog post doesn’t really tell you my story, I have come to acknowledge its importance. However, as I wrote and rewrote my very first Southern Smash blog, I simply didn’t feel the urgency to share the depths of my relationship with food, weight, and body image. Rather, I felt compelled to discuss the lonely void of fearfulness that can often follow recovery and fight the lies that you are not “sick enough” to receive help.
Fear is what has prohibited my submission of this blog for two months.
Fear #1:My eating disorder has always been my best kept secret. Even through recovery, it became my hidden shame.
Fear #2: Readers would not resonate with my words.
For so long, I honestly didn’t think my story was worthy of being published. I felt sheepish about it; I convinced myself that it was better left unwritten. I simply wasn’t “sick enough.” My story didn’t feel unique; in fact, it felt like my story was tiresome and shared by many. Then, I recognized the beauty in that.
I’ve never stepped foot inside an eating disorder clinic; that being said, maybe I should have. After years of fighting a battle that seemed to never end, I decided to seek help on my own accord. With the assistance of an amazing therapist and dietitian, I began recovery. Honestly, recovery felt tougher than my disorder some days; and it definitely felt more lonely. I’m still unsure whether the stark loneliness I felt was due to allowing a barrier of shame to hush the season I was going through or the fact that my mentality felt so detached from those in my inner circle; what I do know, however, is that loneliness is not a rarity amongst warriors in recovery.
Just as my eating disorder felt alienating as I would restrict certain foods, recovery felt just as isolating as I fought the anxiety to reintroduce foods back into my diet. I realized that I walked into my season of recovery believing that I would confront “A, B, and C.” All the while, I was forced to address “D through Z.” Some days, I felt a surge of pride; other days, anxiety and depression took its toll. What I’m most grateful for during recovery, however, are the voices in my life (my fiancé therapist, and dietitian) who reminded me that “not sick enough” was a silly lie whispered by my disorder. The wisdom and truth they dispatched led me to make choices that healed me from the inside - out.
The goal of my blog post is not to sugarcoat, exaggerate, or place recovery in a box; it’s to reduce the feelings of loneliness that hug so tightly to your journey into a life of freedom and bagels.
To all of you who are currently struggling through recovery, I see you! To anyone who does not feel like they are “sick enough” to receive help, I hear you! (However, no matter where you are in your relationship with food -- whether it is slightly disordered or you have an eating disorder, I will always encourage you to seek help.) To my recovery warriors who feel like this journey never ends, you’re doing incredible!! And to anyone who feels lonesomeness, disparity, or mourns their old life some days, it’s okay. I do too, but hold tight to the progress you have made! No matter what your story writes, recovery is worth it!
Layn Tallent is a lover of bagels (with cream cheese) and all things pink! She is engaged to a compassionate nurse whose profession is within eating disorder recovery. Her personal experience and his professional experience have ignited a passion in their relationship to work together in fighting the stigma against mental health! Layn's favorite reminder is that "you can have Jesus AND a therapist."
Southern Smash is thrilled and honored to partner with the National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (NCEED). NCEED is changing the conversation around eating disorders by providing training and education for clinicians, loved ones and even those struggling - Check out their guest blog post below for more information!
As many readers of this blog are aware, one of the real challenges people with eating disorders face is finding a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable and trained in treating these conditions. There are countless stories of people unable to find a trained provider in their area and/or having negative experiences in their doctor’s offices. Unfortunately, these stories are not uncommon and can contribute to people feeling frustrated or, even worse, unwilling to seek eating disorders care. Fortunately, there have been some recent developments to help overcome this challenge within the field!
In September 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (a division of the Department of Health and Human Services) awarded a first-of-its-kind grant to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to establish the first center of excellence focused on eating disorders. Led by Dr. Christine Peat, the National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (NCEED) is designed to serve as the centralized hub dedicated to education and training on eating disorders for both healthcare providers AND the general public. We’ll be offering a full suite of resources including: webinars, online self-paced trainings, a comprehensive resource library, and toolkits. Even better: all of these resources will be audience-specific (so we’ll have stuff specifically for parents, or specifically for primary care docs etc.). In doing so, the long-term goal is to prevent people with eating disorders from “slipping through the cracks,” and ensure that they are identified and referred to evidence-based treatment as early as possible. Although NCEED will not be directly providing treatment or clinical services, we will be training and educating the people that do!
So how will NCEED go about achieving this goal? First and foremost, NCEED relies on the expertise of clinicians, researchers, and advocates who specialize in eating disorders. This highly-qualified group will help NCEED develop online trainings, curate a rich resource library, and craft materials that are timely and applicable. We also recognize that eating disorders do not discriminate, so we’re collaborating with folks who have expertise in eating disorders as they present in various racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minorities as well as in folks who live in larger bodies. We’re also working with committees and task forces that specifically focus on these groups to make sure we’re meeting needs appropriately and being as inclusive as possible.
Secondly, NCEED is taking advantage of leading-edge web technology to make the entire center available online. That means that whether you’re in New York City or a rural town in Idaho, everyone will have access to the various educational and training opportunities without having to a) fly to a major metro city for training and/or b) spend hours hunting down information online without knowing its accuracy.
We’ve also tried to ensure that the NCEED website is easy to navigate and understand whether you’re a seasoned professional or if you’re just now learning about eating disorders. If you visit our site (www.nceedus.org), you’ll see that there are several different “doors” through which you can access information. These “doors” will help tailor your experience based on your role (e.g., if you’re a healthcare provider versus a patient or parent).
Eventually, NCEED will be a dynamic and interactive platform that will serve everyone in the eating disorders community, but be patient with us as we’re still rolling out the various forms of content! Right now, visiting NCEED will give you access to a limited number of resources in the Resource Library, but know that there’s a lot more coming down the pipeline. While we’re busy at work developing the content, you can stay informed by signing up for our newsletter online or by following our social media accounts.
NCEED also wants to hear from YOU! Are there resources or educational trainings that you thought were really great (or maybe not so great)? What types of information do you think would be important to include at NCEED? Send us your thoughts and feedback, whether you have personal experience with an eating disorder, have cared for a loved one, or are a treatment provider.
So come and check us out online or via social media, and sign up for updates so you can stay on top of all our upcoming developments. We’re thrilled to be developing this important center and can’t wait to show you what’s in store!
NCEED can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (919)695-3860.
By: Vanna Winters
A rudimentary understanding of what characterizes many eating disorders can be rattled off with ease by most people: restricting intake, bingeing, purging, overexercise, etc. Fielding questions throughout my time with an eating disorder, I have often felt the importance of my responsibility to clear up the muddiness of what an eating disorder actually is vs. the abridged description that is taught in school or read about in magazines. The stereotypes that still linger from decades of headlines that either glorify or vilify the disorder seem to only move us in the wrong direction. For every salacious made-for-TV movie, the accuracy about onset and manifestation seems to become more blurred. You’re picturing Tracy Gold in a Lifetime movie now, aren’t you? Take a moment to clear your mind. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
As I step into an advocacy role and continue to publicly share my own story, one of my missions is to help others understand the complexities that anorexia and other eating disorders present. A transition is needed from the typecast depiction painted for us by the media to a more accurate scope that can bring real education and awareness to the public.
My eating disorder is many things: an isolating mental illness, a serious threat to my health, an outward sign of the pain stored deeply in my mind, and many more. But I’d like to bring the focus to some of the misconceptions about what this disorder is not…
1. It’s not about attention.
Before I decided to share my story publicly, few people in my life even knew I had an eating disorder. I spent an inordinate amount of time in my illness protecting its existence with secrecy. I went to great pains to conceal my behaviors and symptoms from the view of others. There was immense shame involved for me. I did as much as I could to appear fine on the outside, no matter how not fine I was on the inside. The insinuation that my eating disorder is merely a way for me to receive attention couldn’t have been further from reality.
2. “Just eat” isn’t a cure.
Seeing me eat does not mean I’m “all better.” My anorexia cannot simply be cured by eating and gaining weight. It’s progress and a huge step in recovery, but it is not the solitary solution to this illness. Being able to sit in front of a plate of food and eat it doesn’t mean my battle is over. In fact, for me, that’s when I was struggling the most. Those early moments in recovery where every meal eaten is met with overwhelming anxiety and a pull backwards into the perceived safety of my eating disorder.
Eating halts the deterioration of the body, but does not address the mind. The origin of the thoughts that led me to engage in eating disordered behavior do not disappear with re-feeding. What brought me to the point of needing an eating disorder to cope with my life is at the core of where recovery takes place, not to disregard the importance of re-nourishing your body because this must happen in support of treating the dysfunction of the behaviors themselves.
3. It isn’t about vanity.
For me, it was never about a specific magic number that I felt this immense pressure to reach in order for everything to be OK again. I never looked in the mirror and degraded myself for not looking like a model. For me, it had little to do with vanity or hunting down bodily perfection. Anorexia, for me, had everything to do with refusing myself the most basic needs to sustain life. Anorexia was the highest level of punishment I could enact on myself. This self-punishment became the false sense of control from the chaos in my life that had stripped it away from me. My eating disorder felt like my only avenue to shout to my parents, who were orchestrating the chaos. They had to watch me disappear as my body screamed out in pain before their eyes, fading away more and more each day.
If I was starving, then I was numb. If I was numb, then no one could penetrate my exterior. The flashbacks of the abuse that happened couldn’t resurface through the hunger and I was too lifeless to feel any further damage. Every pound shed was one more layer to protect me from a world that had become too scary to exist in unarmed.
I was desperate to withhold the very thing required to hold on. Starving was my white flag, not an overzealous attempt to get a “beach body.” I had to wave that flag for help because I could not scream for it on my own. I could not ask for help from the very people I needed help from. So my body said it for me. My malnourished frame became the billboard for my pain. I realize now that my body became an advertisement for my own inner turmoil bubbling over.
It might be difficult to decipher the difference for those watching from the outside, but please don’t confuse over-doing a diet with anorexia. The latter is a mental illness and it goes much deeper and needs to be treated as such to recover.
My eating disorder doesn’t fit the lurid story lines passed around by the media because no one’s does. The gossiping and the whispers have only perpetuated an inaccurate picture of what an eating disorder is. Continuing to take any opportunity to spread legitimate education is so important to dispel these myths that hold back those trying to seek treatment and their loved ones trying to support them.
Vanna Winters: Writer. Advocate. Survivor. My profound desire to bring awareness to the public and a sense of unwavering support to those forging their way through recovery from mental illness continues to push me through recovery. I've spent twenty years living both in the dark corners of mental illness and in recovery, as a child and as an adult and mother. These experiences have cultivated a strong insight into eating disorders and their manifestation that propels me forward to be a voice in the mental health community.
We were honored when our friends at Eating Recovery Center asked us to be a partner for their Eating Recovery Day again this year. This year's theme was #MyRecoveryLetter, and we decided to write our letter to "The Person Who Stepped On The Scale This Morning".
To the person who stepped on the scale this morning,
You probably think we are going to tell you that you need to SMASH your scale, but we aren’t. We know what it’s like to live and die by the number on the scale, how your whole day can be determined by one number. We know how that number can determine what you eat or how much you have to workout. Our wish for you is that for today, one day, you can allow yourself to see past this number. We hope that you realize that you are worthy of love, and if you’re struggling, worthy of help, regardless of what the number says. This number cannot tell you how brave you are or how strong you are. It cannot tell you how you are going to change the world. You inspire us everyday to keep SMASHing stigma and raising awareness. If there ever comes a day where you do want to SMASH your scale, we will be right here cheering you on.
The Southern Smash Team
By: Errin Withersppon
Those who know me and have valiantly supported me as I undergo treatment for binge eating disorder might tell you that learning to journal has had a very big impact on my journey.
When I decided to pursue recovery, almost a year ago, I expected that my therapist would give me a list of tasks that I would need to complete. I thought once I’d checked off all the things on this imaginary list, I’d be “cured” and I would be able to move forward through my life without all of the negative thoughts that came with my disorder.
That’s not how it went. At All.
Recovery from an eating disorder is hard work. It’s painful work. As I meandered through the first few weeks of treatment, I remember thinking that it just wasn’t working. I had no “proof” that I had achieved anything at all that would lead me to better mental health and free me from the clutches of my disordered mind. The thoughts weren’t going away.
Somehow, as I began to understand what was happening in my mind, and how my eating disorder manipulated my thoughts, the frequency and severity of the disordered thoughts seemed to heighten. The fact that I now knew what was happening made it more frustrating that I couldn’t stop it. There were many, many days that I wished I could go back in time and un-learn what I had come to understand about my illness. In those moments, going back to my life the way it had been when the eating disorder was in complete control seemed safe and familiar. It was as if by choosing recovery, I was being made to live in a strange, unknown place because my home had been condemned or erased.
Everyone’s recovery from an eating disorder is unique. Some of us find ourselves face to face with some very frightening ideas in the darkest times. And somehow, I was able to convince myself that so long as those thoughts were kept in my mind – never spoken or expressed in the real world – they didn’t count, or weren’t “real”.
Among my struggles, though, there emerged a new realization. The act of reflecting on events in my life shed a light on how my life plays out in every moment. In the midst of my panic over the uncertainty of recovery and therapy I began to see things more clearly, little by little. Even though I mostly felt like my life was completely out of my control, when I was able to get the scariest of my thoughts out of my mind and allow them to be “real”, I could take small steps to change them.
Naturally, when I was unable to verbalize some of my most troubling thoughts, my therapist suggested I try journaling to help me get these stubborn ideas out in the open. I didn’t actually think it would help at all. I had tried journaling many times over the years and it was something that I had never been able to keep up with on a regular basis.
But the stars seemed to align for me, and at that same point in my recovery journey, I was introduced to a group of women in recovery just like me. We had all enrolled in the same recovery focused program through True Warriors. One component of the program was getting in touch with creativity, and this proved to be huge for me.
As I worked through the exercises in the program, I began to recognize a passion for drawing. When I felt sad but couldn’t face the thoughts that were making me sad, I could draw. When I felt angry but didn’t feel I could express that anger to anyone, I could draw. When I felt frightened but it didn’t feel safe to verbalize my fears, I could draw.
Before long, I had started drawing in my journal and was able to sit down with it nearly every day. It felt freeing to approach my journaling habit with a more open mind. Once I opened up my mind and realized that a journal isn’t something that I had to write in, I began to look forward to spending time with it.
My therapist gave me a few exercises to do daily in my journal, and over time those activities revealed great value to me. They helped me to understand the importance of being mindful and of cultivating self-compassion.
The habit had begun to form and I started searching for a journal geared specifically towards people like me who practice gratitude, intention setting and accomplishment recognition every day. I wanted one that also had some journaling lines in it and some blank space to draw too.
It didn’t exist. Anywhere.
So now I’m proud to say that my recovery journey has led me not only to a new love for creativity, but also to a new passion for helping other people use creative journaling to help them heal. I believe there is a reason that the journal I searched for didn’t exist. I believe that I was always supposed to be the one to create it.
And now I want to share what I’ve created with you. The Reflections Journal is in the process of being published right now! But I want you to be able to benefit from it the way that I have, so I’ve put together a free one month creative journaling support program that is available right now. The Field Guide to Creative Journaling can be downloaded from my website.
The download contains a workbook with some of the original illustrations from my book The Reflections Journal, along with one month of journaling support to your inbox. You’ll get daily journaling and creativity prompts, and weekly encouragement and tips from me to help you develop your journaling practice into a habit.
I’d love for you to give it a try and let me know what you think of it.
I’m living proof that if you are willing to try, you can open up doors where there was never even a window before.
Start the Field Guide to Creative Journaling Program for free here!
Errin Witherspoon refers to herself as an artist by accident. She fell into her love of art when she embarked on her journey of recovery from Binge Eating Disorder in 2018. She has been described as driven, passionate, creative and thoughtful and has learned in treatment, with the help of her recovery team, how to use those attributes to begin to heal. She has always been the kind of person who figures out how to get things done, even when it appears that her lack of experience may impede her. She enjoys the company of others like herself, with a passion for learning new skills. With her newly re-sparked passion for art and all things healing/self-love, she is focused on using her experiences to help others like herself who suffer from mental illness.
By: Elizabeth Friedman
Image by Texture Photo
“So how does sizing work since I plan on losing weight before the wedding?”
As a bridesmaids’ stylist, I get asked this question at least once a day. The question slowly kills me; not because it is asked so frequently, but because so many of the kind, generous bridesmaids I work with are affected by the dangerous and unnecessary pressure to lose weight for a wedding.
Through various media platforms, we have been taught that part of preparing for a wedding is changing the way our bodies look. How many articles do we see about starting an exercise or diet plan to prepare for your wedding, or tips on how to look your best on your big day? There are hashtags like #sheddingforthewedding or #sweatingforthewedding and the ever present reminder that, “you will look at these wedding photos for the rest of your life”. It’s. Everywhere.
We learn that we should lose weight or alter our body in some way before participating in a wedding because the way we look now is not good enough.
As a body positive and eating disorder awareness advocate, this part of my job as a stylist in the wedding industry scares me and hurts my heart. A wedding is a celebration of love, yet everyone involved is still getting hit with the message that if they are a smaller size, they will be more worthy of love! The connection between losing weight/thinness and being more worthy of love isn’t exactly spelled out, but I can spell it out for you. Think of a time where you or someone you know lost weight. They were probably met with a lot of praise, compliments, and positive attention. Praise, compliments, and positive attention directly correlate with the feelings of being loved and accepted. Lose weight, gain love.
I mean, it’s not true! Your friends don’t actually value you more if you are thinner. Your fiancé doesn’t love you more because you lost weight. But the subconscious association is there.
It explains why I am always asked about sizing and weight loss. It explains why people are not happy when the size chart puts them in a larger size than they are used to wearing (typical of formal wear). It explains why there have been too many bridesmaids crying in the dressing rooms because they don’t fit in the sample sizes.
It explains why a distraught, teary-eyed bridesmaid felt like she needed to thank me for being so nice to her. What she meant was, “Thank you for being so nice to me even though I’m fat.”
Enough is enough. The pressure to lose weight for a wedding (and just in general) is damaging and simply not needed.
Trying on dresses, having measurements taken, and talking directly about size is a sure way to bring up some uncomfortable feelings. I know I can’t throw out a few words of encouragement and change what we have been taught for years about how we should look, but here are some reminders I give bridesmaids during the process:
Elizabeth is an eating disorder survivor and body positive advocate. Her greatest passion is speaking out against diet culture and encouraging men and women to love the bodies they call home. She first participated as a SMASH Ambassador at UNC in 2017. Since then, she has attended multiple Southern Smash events, spoke on the SmashTALK panel at Meredith College, and took on the role of Program Coordinator for Southern Smash. She hopes to make advocacy her full time job so she can devote all her time and energy into smashing the stigma around eating disorders and weight bias.
By: Eliza Gray
I used to be ashamed of myself. Living with an unpleasant secret that felt like poison in my mouth. I’m sick, I would think judgingly to myself, but not flu-like sickness or anything a trip to the doctor would fix. There was no bandage to place over my wounds or medicine from the drug store that would make me feel whole again. I had a mental illness and a crippling eating disorder… and it felt like time stopped the first time I heard my diagnosis. I became suddenly aware of the fact that an eating disorder was serious, maybe even life-threatening, and I was overwhelmingly afraid of how little control I had over any of it.
The first time I ever heard “anorexia” and “disordered eating” was in my therapist’s office. My mother had found her practice and she was gentle and caring upon inviting me into her warmly lit office. If the disorder was the devil on my left shoulder, the weekly hour-long sessions were held in place by the angel on my right shoulder. At this time I was 16 and experiencing a year of so many “firsts”—first time driving by myself, first time scoring a goal in lacrosse, first high school boyfriend—and the first time hearing about a mental-meets-physical struggle that was wreaking havoc on my quality of life.
A lot of individuals battling with eating disorders will refer to their illness as if it’s another person entirely—the separation of self from struggle was key—and I was no different. My disorder was named Ed, sometimes The Monster, and untangling the life I had built for us proved the most challenging endeavor of my young-adult life. I had this notion that restriction and counting my calories gave me an unfathomable amount of control; however, the outcome was quite the opposite. The Monster controlled me and made me submissive to its malicious intentions. I know that reading those words may sound a bit silly but truly I was a different person when I let Ed drive: I was angry, defiant, and starving for support.
One day I called my grandmother after months of subsisting on a measly caloric intake and deceitful feelings of being in control. My mind won’t let my body eat, I told her, and I heard her struggle to stay composed. This was foreign to us, this invader who had taken over part of my livelihood and stolen every ounce of confidence from me. Our family had always been centered on food and coming together meant eating together. Every birthday, graduation, death of a loved one, and holiday you could find us standing around a grill or kitchen table. Our Southern roots meant food was at the center of all our traditions, trials, and triumphs.
In the clutches of my eating disorder I was reclusive and moody; pulling away from anyone who tried to get close like an animal that had been kicked one too many times. I lost friendships, I lost the ability to play sports, I lost countless hours of sleep and moments of laughter. I was slow to grasp that losing an unhealthy amount of weight—for all the wrong reasons—was not worth the countless losses that came along with the weight loss. During my first few months at Carolina House in Raleigh, I came to the realization that my eating disorder was a personal prison. Without the motivation or support from a group of extraordinary women, a team that had my best intentions at heart, and my incredible therapist who encouraged me to fully finish recovery and continues to keep me accountable, I would still be behind those bars.
Five years into my recovery, there are moments where I stumble and find myself craving old habits out of discomfort or lack of willingness. But my life is no longer about falling down and allowing negative thoughts to completely deteriorate me. Each day I choose to pick myself up and pursue a life that is more than just “control” or counting; this life worth living is one that has continuously taught me to be more flexible, more vulnerable, and more understanding of others. My family and friends who have grown closest to me know my triggers and are often ready to offer their hand before I even realize I’m slipping... an incredibly important part of recovery: allowing others in and accepting their support.
Tell your story, talk about your fears, re-tell your story, and celebrate your triumphs. Your life belongs to YOU, not Ed or The Monster, or anyone else! Life is way more than just a number on a scale, I promise.
Eliza Gray is a twenty-something living in Raleigh with her boyfriend and their two fur babies. She enjoys hiking in Umstead, curling up with a good book—currently A Game of Thrones—and time spent laughing with sweet friends. Eliza is a firm believer that your disorder does not define who you are or what you are capable of accomplishing. In spring of 2015, Eliza smashed her first scale on the Brickyard of North Carolina State University, now her alma mater.
By: Ari Snaevarsson
Men: When was the last time you asked a friend if he’s okay?
Why did it take me over four years to even admit what I was going through was an eating disorder? Why, when I confided in others about my dieting practices and intense binge-eating sessions, did I get only a concerned look with an empty platitude to the effect of “you’ll be fine”? Why do my male clients pick up their talking speed when we address how they view their body?
Unfortunately, the male eating disorder experience, which is only a microcosm of the broken male experience in general, has remained a mystifying concept accepted by many but believed by few. It’s apparent where the problem lies, but the trouble is that it’s such an ugly and uncomfortable topic to deal with, so the end result is total neglect.
Lets change that by starting a much-needed conversation. And what is that conversation? No matter how much I try to package it nicely and make it fun and interesting, it comes down to one undeniable facet of the male experience.
Men, when was the last time you asked a friend if he’s okay? When was the last time you pushed through that initial bout of discomfort when an emotional dialogue is coming, so that you could really reach your friend (or family member, peer, coworker, client, etc.)?
This isn’t fun to think about, but it’s imperative. Within most “masculine” male circles, there’s a constant underlying fear that your insecurity will slip out. There’s a fear that you’ll say something about your girlfriend that sounds too “mushy,” or you’ll admit to an interest of yours that isn’t traditionally seen as masculine. Or, god forbid, you’ll talk about how you’re actually feeling.
I’ve lived with six different roommates in my life, and I can tell you firsthand this is not just a “me thing.” Masculinity is a confusing concept that, thanks to a plethora of complex social factors, is much more often feigned and forced than explored and embraced.
Sadly, eating disorders are just as widely misunderstood. We see the caricature representations of eating disorder victims in movies, shows, and nutrition textbooks, and we take this as fact. So it’s no wonder, when these two perplexing issues are combined, that we feel so lost and helpless.
But rather than purport to have a silver bullet solution in here for you, I will only leave you with the courageous and all-important task of carrying on this conversation. How? Here are five of the most important roles you can play:
Having suffered through years of ED-induced self-loathing and isolation, I can tell you firsthand the degree to which you can save lives by being an agent of change in this realm. Empowering men to open up about and seek help for their eating disorders benefits everyone. The atrocious acts of senseless violence and soaring male suicide rates are an extreme depiction of what can happen when the idea of opening up about our emotions becomes scarier than the idea of ceasing to exist.
Ari Snaevarsson is a nutrition coach who works primarily with clients who suffer from disordered eating patterns. He also works as a counselor, dietetic technician, and on-call facilities manager at a residential eating disorder treatment center. In both capacities, he helps clients develop positive relationships with food and their bodies. His book, 100 Days of Food Freedom: A Day-by-Day Journey to Self-Discover, Freedom from Dieting, and Recovery From Your Eating Disorder, outlines a simple, day-by-day process to recovery from one’s eating disorder.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is something I have struggled with for years. Before my eating disorder I was a social butterfly, fearless, loved being around new people and seeking adventure. Once ED took over, I stayed away from the social scene. I made up excuses constantly. I avoided my close friends and family. I missed out on memories I will never get back. My mother was the only person I would vent to. She took me to different doctors and they would hand me papers with the definition of anorexia on them and tell me to eat more. Like it was that easy. Just this past year I was thinking of every excuse I could think of to not go out to eat with my family. Something as simple as going to my parent's house for dinner would give me anxiety. People close to me assumed something was wrong but no one brought it up to me. I didn’t talk to anyone about what I was dealing with. Not because I thought they wouldn’t listen, but because I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself, let alone anyone else; that I did in fact have an eating disorder.
I wanted out. I wanted to stop living that way. My family needed me, and I needed them. A few months back I decided to start talking more. I moved to a new state, found new groups and organizations and realized I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. So I started talking. I told my husband more, and he thanked me for it. He was finally able to talk to me about it without the fear of me getting upset. I told my close friends, and they said they knew. They just didn’t know how to bring it up to me. I then wrote my first blog. Which is something I never thought I would do, especially about my eating disorder.
Writing that blog was taking a step out of my comfort zone. Talking to people was taking a step out of my comfort zone.
One day as I was scrolling through Facebook and read information on a fundraiser being held close to me. I learned that the money being raised would help fund clinician led free group therapy for people struggling with an eating disorder. I wanted to go. I bought tickets. Then I talked myself out of going, then talked myself into going again. On the way there I even thought of an excuse not to go and tried asking my husband to turn around. I am so thankful he didn’t. As soon as I walked into the room I felt at ease. I felt comfortable. I went up and introduced myself to people, I listened to amazing, inspirational stories, and I talked. I watched other people talk. I realize how important it is to talk.
Recently my mom told me how much relief she felt when I told her I was ok with her talking about it as well. I was no longer afraid, I needed to talk to people and I wanted them to talk back.
If you take anything away from this blog, I hope you know that someone is waiting for you to talk to them. Tell them the good, the bad, and they ugly. Allow them to listen to you. No one should struggle alone. We are in this together.
Brittany wants to live in a world where people help to inspire and lift each other up. She’s been married for 7 years to her best friend, and together they have two amazing, wild, and loving kids. Her mom, dad, brothers, and grandparents are some of her biggest supporters. When she’s not working as a skill coach to young adults with autism, she enjoys running 5ks, reading, and hanging out at home with her family. She also love strolling the aisles of Target with a Starbucks drink in hand. She has spent the last 11 years enduring, recovering, and relapsing from her eating disorder. She now wants to help raise awareness, and advocate for those who may need it.