I’m so grateful that Danielle was willing to talk about and answer questions about disordered eating. This is not something I hear lots about so I hope it helps you guys to hear first hand. So grateful for you Danielle!!
I am so thankful to Natalie for giving me the opportunity to talk a bit about my eating disorder recovery experience! If you want to read more about my background and journey, please go here: http://www.thehansentribe.com/p/eating-disorder-recovery.html?m=1
You asked, and I answered! If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email:Danielle.firstname.lastname@example.org!
How can I help someone who I suspect may have an eating disorder? How can I know for sure?
People with eating disorders guard their disorder quite literally with their life. It’s like a safety blanket- we (falsely) feel that it is one thing that we can control and that can’t be altered by anyone else’s agenda. It’s so scary and overwhelming and confusing that at least for me, letting anyone know was my worst nightmare. The best thing for me was knowing I had people in my corner if/when I was ready to talk. Enough times of hearing honest concern was enough for me to eventually open up to a very small number of extremely close people and get the support I needed.
To that I would add: don’t push. It’s easy to be curious about the most personal details of even a very close friend or family member. Be there unconditionally, regardless of what they do or do not tell you.
How can I help and support someone when I know they struggle with disordered eating?
Do: react with love
Do: understand that although you may not “get it”, you can still help and be there for them.
Do: let them talk to you without judgement
Do: let them come to you
Do: ask them how you can help them succeed in social situations
Don’t: make threats or ultimatums
Don’t: push for details they aren’t ready to discuss
Don’t: be suspicious every time you’re with them for the rest of forever
Once someone is openly willing to discuss their struggles with you, let them! When I finally had some shoulders to lean on, it meant the world to have people who were willing, without judgement, to talk me through all the thoughts and feelings I was having. Keep suspicion aside and just talk. You may have some memories come to mind that make more sense once you know that person was dealing with an eating disorder at a certain time. Trust me- they feel guilty for any lies they’ve had and any events they’ve missed because they were afraid of the food.
How can I help teach my children (especially daughters) to have positive body image?
My parents never said a negative word about my body to me. Neither has my husband or anyone close to me, really. This has been a huge saving grace. With my children, I certainly plan to never speak negatively of myself around them. Additionally, I’m trying (and sometimes failing, but trying nonetheless) to teach them healthy habits from the get go. Not obsessive, but healthy. This is something I think and pray about regularly, and I think some positive reinforcement can go a very long way!
How do you cope when you don’t feel good about your body and what you look like?
I constantly have 2 voices fighting inside of me. The one I like tells me to let go and enjoy life without stressing about every calorie. It reminds me that nobody cares what my thighs look like in a swimsuit and screams at me that my husband and 2 boys think I’m the most beautiful girl in the world, even if I feel a mess. The other voice tells me that even though I’m able to cut everyone in the world miles of slack, I’m not allowed to give myself the same break and that anything less than a perfect day of eating and exercise is unacceptable weakness. So exhausting, right!?
The days I am able to feel positive and put body image out of my mind are filled with light and joy. The days I fight negativity all day long are tiring and frustrating. I haven’t found the answer to quieting those negative voices just yet, but here are a few things hat help me:
– Focus your attention outward. When I get caught up in myself, it’s really easy to get down. When I’m busy serving my family and focusing on others, there’s less time for such nonsense.
– PUT DOWN THE PHONE. I regularly have to kick myself off social media when I notice that it’s bringing me down more than lifting me up. Comparison is the thief of joy and I haven’t mastered that one yet, but goodness knows I’m trying. In the meantime, I always have the option to back away!
– Journal. Writing is one of my favorite pastimes, and I have a specific section of a specific notebook where I sort through the innermost thoughts of my mind. It’s incredibly therapeutic!
– Exercise! A few endorphins go a long way when it comes to confidence. Plus, it’s a great distraction!
– Have a go-to person to vent to on the rough days. Talk it out.
– Don’t allow yourself the luxury of a fat day. It sounds backwards but for me, sometimes it’s a lot easier to focus on my imperfections than on what I like about myself. I regularly have to slap myself in the face (figuratively) and say, “get over yourself and move on”!
What did you do for treatment at your very worst point?
My first- and scariest- step was accepting that my life was out of control and telling someone. Having a confidant who can react with love and help create an action plan is so important. In addition, I attended a 12 step addiction recovery program (https://addictionrecovery.lds.org/?lang=eng) through my church (very similar to AA but with more scripture and Jesus). The mindset of an eating disorder is very addictive and these group meetings and the reading material and homework made a huge difference. And at the center of this was and still is daily handing my life over to God, allowing Christ to carry the burden of perfection I’ve placed on myself, and letting go.
How was recovery for you personally? Was it more difficult mentally or physically?
First of all, my recovery is ongoing. I wish I could say that it doesn’t bother me anymore, but my relationship with food ebbs and flows. However, I’ve worked really hard to learn my triggers and how to face them. I also (through much trial and error) have a cannon of strategies that work for me personally when my mind wants to let me start thinking negatively. Physically, it’s hard to see your body put on weight. There’s no way around that one, but when I look back at photos of my lowest points, there’s no denying that I look and feel indescribably better when I’m healthy. The mental aspect is definitely harder for me. I constantly have to fight back the demons in my head that want to throw off my priorities. I have to remember what truly matters in life, and it’s definitely not the extra 50 calories of Raisinets or the way my jeans feel that day.
How has being a mom changed your body image?
This is the question that makes me tear up. I never feel more beautiful than I do with my babies in my arms. I know they see me as the prettiest girl in the world, and I love the person I am for them when I’m taking care of myself in the right way. They don’t care what size my jeans are as long as I’m healthy and happy and able to run and play with them. And motherhood is physically demanding! Without proper nutrition and enough healthy calories, I am exhausted! Additionally, I can guarantee that at least part of my infertility issues have been caused by not eating right and overexercising. I know in my heart that the better I care for myself, the more likely I am to be able to fulfill my dream of having and caring for a big family. When I look back on my life, these years will be my favorite; motherhood is my identity. I don’t want something so beautiful to be tainted by something as ugly as an eating disorder. Additionally, as a mother, you give everything to your children. There just isn’t time to obsess over things that don’t matter (health matters. Perfection doesn’t) and I would miss out on far too much by wasting time trying to fight for an unrealistic (for me) body.
Is recovery a permanent thing or do you have to make a conscious effort everyday not to slip into your old habits?
Certainly ongoing, and I think it’s something I will need to remain focused on all through my life. I’ve learned to let go of control of my body shape and let my weight be determined by moderate exercise and healthy, nutritious eating habits. I’ve had to learn a LOT about nutrition because being too full, too hungry, or not eating healthy foods are all huge triggers for me. I regularly pray to hand the burden of having to be a certain size or weight to my Savior because I can’t carry it on my own and logically I know that I don’t have to put that pressure on myself. I’ve also realized that nobody cares what I look like nearly as much as myself- and as fun as it was to be super skinny, it came at a price that was literally killing me and in no way was it worth living in that dark fog. Again, I could write a novel of nuggets of wisdom that have shifted my thinking about body image. The older I get, the more sensitive my body has become to not eating right. Daily, I keep count of my calories so I can make sure I’m eating enough but not too much. It helps me both mentally and physically to be able to track what’s going in. Social situations and vacations (anything out of my ordinary routine) are always tricky and I have to plan ahead quite a bit to help keep my food anxiety at bay. The better I can build and maintain healthy habits now, the more I’ll be able to enjoy a healthy life in the years to come! I also think that social media can be extremely damaging. The average girl isn’t a fashion blogger, and yet we all compare ourselves to them. One thing I’m working hard on is stepping away when it’s leaving me with empty or negative feelings, and also posting to my social media only things that are uplifting to myself and others and will be great memories for my family. Social media is so fun and a great way to connect, but when it’s not used correctly, it can quickly turn into one big, sad dog fight for validation. It’s easy to get caught up in fun things like fashion and beauty, and I love clothes just as much (if not more!) than the next girl. But when it becomes vain and narcissistic (and I say this from someone who has fallen victim to both qualities!), it’s time to reprioritize and make some changes! I remind myself regularly that I cannot and will not allow myself to obsess over my body beyond taking care of it in a healthy, moderate way. I can’t feel good when I don’t eat right in any extreme, be it allowing myself too much junk or trying to completely cut out a food group or any number of unhealthy food behaviors.
What could have helped you earlier on in your struggles?
Long story short: education. I could write a book on experiences I’ve had that have lead me to develop an eating disorder. I was chubby when I was young, and I’m a very verbal person. Any comment that even remotely had to do with weight or food was paramount even in my own mind. I never really figured out the right way to be a healthy weight. When puberty hit I slimmed down, but a few years later the pounds found their way to my thighs and it put me into a tailspin. I went from being able to eat whatever I wanted for a couple of years in high school to having absolutely no idea how to control my weight. If I had known better how to nourish myself properly and exercise less obsessively, I may have felt less overwhelmed.
I went on to somewhat ironically major in health in college and have read countless health and wellness related articles- it’s a huge passion of mine! However, I’ve learned that it’s a little to easy to take it too far and that balance is the key to true wellness. I’m still striving to find that perfect balance for me, but health and wellness are ever evolving as our lives change and I love the peace and vibrancy that come with finding moderation.
Love yourself. You’re doing wonderfully. Life is hard and we are all doing the best we can. Keep on keeping on friends! You’re beautiful!