21 Questions is a series of interviews with people who currently have an eating disorder or have recovered from one. The same 21 questions are asked of each person. Each interview sketches a picture of someone who has been in the depths of the reality of an eating disorder and is either still working on blazing a path out of it or has gone on to recover. Some of the names used have been changed at the request of the interviewee. If you would like to be interviewed for this series, please contact us.
Interview with Kathy:
Q: How old are you?
Q: Male or female?
Q: How long have you had/did you have an eating disorder?
A: I developed it when I was a kid. Food became a comfort to me when my family life was in turmoil. I have since recovered.
Q: Which one do/did you have, or has it been more than one (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, EDNOS, compulsive exercising)?
A: Primarily binge eating disorder. In my teens and part of my twenties, I used anorexic behaviors to compensate, but the primary diagnosis would be BED.
Q: Who in your life knows about your eating disorder?
A: When I was sick, no one had heard of binge eating disorder. I didn’t even know I had an eating disorder until I was in my 30’s. When I first realized what was really going on, I primarily talked about it with people on an online recovery forum. Since I became more comfortable with it, I have talked to some people in real time about it.
Q: What person in your life was the most helpful and supportive during both sickness and recovery?
A: My best friend at the time. She also was in recovery, and since we had known each other since we were little kids, it made it so easy to talk to her. Also the small circle of friends I made in the online community were quite helpful. We emailed, chatted and talked on the phone. It helped me lose the shame of what I was going through, and talk openly about my struggles and progress.
Q: What person that you might have wanted or expected more from was the least helpful and supportive?
A: There really wasn’t anyone that I could point to that disappointed me, but I also was careful with whom I shared what was going on.
Q: Do you or have you ever sought professional help, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, nutritionist, doctor, support group or inpatient treatment? Specify which kind of help you had.
A: I saw a few different therapists at different times over several years. The first two were 20-something years ago, and they both thought I just struggled with weight (times were quite different then), but they helped with the underlying issues. The next therapist was the first one I saw when I knew that I had an eating disorder (I was in recovery by then), and it validated me greatly when she accepted what was going on and helped me with it. I saw a nutritionist when I was in recovery, but she just gave me a no-carb diet plan and was no help. I have never had inpatient treatment.
Q: What was most helpful to you about the help you got?
A: I could start putting pieces of the puzzle together. I realized I had abandonment issues, for example. That was huge; especially when I made the connection between how I had learned the sick lesson that food would never abandon me. Seeing how one problem stemming from childhood had made it easier to develop an eating disorder behavior was mind-blowing to me. Each therapist I saw helped me put more pieces of the puzzle together. When I could see my past more clearly, and the payoff to why I had an eating disorder, I was able to really change up my mindset.
Q: What issue(s) do you feel affected or influenced developing an eating disorder?
A: My really early childhood was pretty normal, but eventually my parents’ marriage imploded, which made for a very difficult home life. As well, my brother had a ton of issues and acted out in ways that deeply hurt me. He was a bully under my own roof, and the help available for what all was wrong with him was limited at the time. My parents split up, which was very hard, and then got back together, which was hard, too, because they had solved nothing in terms of their marriage. All of this made it tempting to indulge in food as comfort, and then extreme dieting to try to control something and feel better about myself and my life.
Q: Besides yourself, who in your life do you think is/was most affected by how your eating disorder hurt you?
A: Probably my mom. She never understood what was going on, but she tried to be helpful when I finally realized I had an eating disorder. I know she worried about me knowing something was wrong.
Q: What was the first major breakthrough you had in recovery?
A: That when I was binge eating, I was doing so mindlessly. It was eating with my brain in the ‘off position’. I began to challenge myself to be fully aware and in the moment, so my eating wasn’t so robotic. I also had to work on learning when I had true stomach hunger and when I was eating out of boredom or for emotional reasons. Those two lessons formed the foundation of my recovery.
Q: What is/was the hardest truth to accept about what you have to do in order to recover?
A: That ultimately I was the only one who could pull myself out of it. No matter how much therapy and introspection I learned to have, no one was going to rescue me from myself. I had to do things I did not want to do. I had to feel emotions I did not want to feel. I had to retrain my thought patterns, even when it was the last damn thing I wanted to do at any given time.
Q: If you could be eating disorder-free for a day, what things would you do?/If you are recovered, what things do you do now that were very difficult when you were still sick?
A: As a recovered person, two things come to mind. The first is physical: I can buy something like a bag of cookies or a cake and not feel like I have to/will just inhale it. I can eat healthier portions and be satisfied. Food isn’t a ‘friend’ any more, and I not only can trust myself around former trigger foods, but several times I have forgotten I bought them. There’s that moment of “Hey, I have brownies!”, when before I would’ve obsessed over when I could be alone to binge on them. There was no way I would forget what was basically a binge supply.
The other thing is emotional. I have learned to set boundaries and be comfortable with them. I can assess a lot of situations much more quickly now, and be able to say something like “I’m not getting involved in that” or “I don’t owe that person an explanation” or “They can go be crazy over there, but I will make sure they stay out of my yard”. Learning to set boundaries is not only healthy but it’s a time saver! I can look at certain situations and think about how if I didn’t know better now, I would’ve wasted days or weeks or years with a person or a situation, and it still would not have worked out or it would’ve blown up in my face. Boundaries free you up in many ways.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to someone new to admitting they have an eating disorder?
A: That it’s hard as hell to start recovery, but it gets easier. The more time you spend learning to take care of yourself and face your demons, the easier the journey gets.
Q: What one suggestion would you give to a loved one trying to support someone with an eating disorder?
A: Throw out what you think you know about eating disorders. Educate yourself. Buy books, research online, join a support group. Don’t assume that what feels right and like the obvious thing to say is actually helpful.
Q: Do/did you seek support online? If so, what kind of support and did it help you?
A: I belonged to a forum that helped me tremendously. Interacting with others who knew exactly what I felt was eye-opening. I also learned that when I was writing compassionate, encouraging replies to members, not only could I apply that same compassion to myself, but I deserved it. That was huge.
Q: If you are sure you will not go back to your eating disorder, what gives you that confidence?/If you are scared you will relapse, what is your biggest trigger?
A: It’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt it, but there just comes a point where you *know* you are done with the eating disorder. The idea of trying to solve a problem or comfort myself by buying a box of diet pills or starving myself or doing a shameful drive for a box of donuts that won’t make it past the next morning is completely foreign to me. I know too much to ever go back. I could go bang my head against a wall for hours and get the same result that going back to an eating disorder would give me: I just put myself through unnecessary pain and the problem doesn’t change one bit.
Q: If you have children or plan to in the future, are you concerned about how your eating disorder may affect them? If you recovered before you had kids, do you think your experience will help you to better guide your child away from developing one?
A: I do not have kids, but I did think about what I might pass on to children if I had them while I was still sick. I watch my friends who are in recovery or recovered and how they raise their kids, and I see a wide range of approaches. I also see friends who don’t have an eating disorder but have unhealthy body images and no idea of how their talk affects their kids, and it makes me sad.
Q: Did you read books or workbooks to help with your recovery? If so, are there any specific ones you recommend?
A: I recommend Geneen Roth books. Some people think they are mostly geared towards people who are not anorexic, but I found the message translates to all eating disorders. I also am a big fan of “When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies” (Hirschmann & Munter) and “Eating by the Light of the Moon” (Anita Johnston)
Q: What song, album or musical artist comes to mind when you think of good music to listen to while trying to make positive changes in your life?
A: There isn’t a particular artist I relied on, but I found it was important to be aware of my mood and play music that suited it. If I needed something more uplifting for a tough time I was going through, I might pick Sarah McLachlan, for example. If I needed something life-affirming, I was careful not to put on something that just kept my mood down. Sometimes sad songs are great, but sometimes they just compound the down mood. That’s not to say it’s not helpful to crank up a Disturbed c.d. (it is!), but it was helpful to me to become aware of what to listen to when I was in a funk or going through something challenging.
Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery: http://www.graceonthemoon.com
Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account of ro_buk