Jenni Schaefer is an Eating Disorder and Trauma Advocate, Author, Speaker and Coach. Her blog topics ranges from eating disorders and body image, trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to social media and technology.
“You don’t look like you have an eating disorder,” a well-respected (supposed) expert once said to me.
He was the first doctor I sought help from — at 22 — when I realized I really did have a problem with food.
Since the age of 4, I had battled eating-disordered thoughts. You can imagine how difficult it was for me to push past the denial, stigma and shame I felt at the time — to walk into his office and say those five distressing, difficult words:
“I have an eating disorder.”
Getting to this point — having the insight that I needed professional help — had taken nearly 20 years to develop. Finding the courage to walk into his office had taken even longer.
Since I didn’t look sick enough to have an eating disorder (to him), I was dismissed. I felt confused. I started to wonder, “Do I really even have a problem? Do I deserve to get help?” I felt more ashamed than ever.
Today, I know there is no shame in having an eating disorder and that anyone who struggles deserves help. I also know this key point:
To continue reading, click here to read the full post on The Mighty.
I don’t have any kids yet, but I am certainly a proud mom of many! Tara DeAngelis is one. Tara wrote the article below last summer, as part of her internship with me. Today, even further along in her recovery from an eating disorder, PTSD, and anxiety, she has had more insights regarding her future. She has actually realized that she can combine her childhood passion of being an attorney with helping those who struggle with eating disorders. Watch out health insurance companies; here comes Tara. It is my belief that she will make huge strides in advancing the mental health field via her recent decision to pursue law school.
Don’t be surprised if, like Tara, you change your mind about “what you want to be when you grow up” (no matter how old you are now). As we get healthier and stronger in life, our passions can change. Often, through our pain, a beautiful, enriching purpose can emerge. Thanks, Tara, for sharing your story with us.
If you live near Elon University in Elon, NC, please come out and see us on Wednesday evening for a free, community event! Tara will be sharing her inspirational story before I speak. Find Recovery, Find Your Purpose
by Tara DeAngelis
When I was fourteen, I had a dream to be a lawyer. No, not just any lawyer—I was determined to be the best, to be hugely successful and famous and be a leader for women to look up to. That same year, however, I hit my lowest weight in my battle with anorexia and was forced to go to a residential eating disorder facility. My anorexia actually started when I was 10, but by the time I was 14 I was at risk of dying from the disease. I continued to battle anorexia for many more years after my first hospitalization, but I never let go of my dream. As the fight went on, my dream changed a bit, and by the time I entered recovery at the age of 19, I knew for sure that I was destined for greatness, but no longer as a lawyer.
Mission Recovery: On the Road in Austin!
I committed the rest of my life to raising awareness about eating disorders, to educating children and teenagers about the dangers of these disorders, and to writing books that would reach people of all ages. I vowed to become a therapist to help other girls overcome their battles with Ed (Eating disorder) just like my therapist, Sarah Gibbs, did for me. I’ve been seeing Sarah since I was 14 years old, and she never once gave up on me. Sarah helped me to find myself again, and more importantly, to realize that I always had everything inside of me that I needed in order to recover— nothing could ever stop me once I put my mind to recovery or any goal. When I was at my worst, Sarah reminded me of my strength and resilience, and she believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Now, at almost twenty-two, I am in a solid recovery and happier than I’ve been in a very long time—all thanks to Sarah. I want to be somebody’s “Sarah” someday.
The thought of using my struggles to help other girls like me still gives me chills. I have big plans for my future private practice, and this dream is what keeps me going even when the fight gets really hard. My dream is to open a private practice that provides services normally offered exclusively in inpatient or residential settings at an outpatient location, and at an outpatient cost. I want to partner with a horse farm and offer equine therapy; provide a massage room to help clients learn what safe touch looks and feels like and relax from the stress of recovery; create a “shopping” closet with donated clothes and labels with positive adjectives on them rather than sizes so my clients can get clothes for their recovery bodies with minimal distress; I want to make recovery a hugely positive experience for my clients, with a focus on what they are gaining rather than what they are losing.
Currently, I am running my very own recovery blog, called Honestly Free[ed] where I blog about my recovery from anorexia, PTSD, and anxiety. Nothing is sugar-coated, nor is anything triggering. My blog is a safe place for people to come and find comfort in knowing that someone else feels the same way they do. It is a place for loved ones of someone struggling with an eating disorder to understand what her thoughts may be, a place for the mother of a child with PTSD to empathize with the intensity of the disorder, a place for someone with anxiety to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that she is still in control of her life. Most of all, my blog is a beacon of hope for anyone who visits the site. My blog is the start of my future dreams coming true.
Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I stuck with my initial plan of becoming a lawyer. But then, I take a look at what my life has become, and I am so thankful. In reality, my original dream is not so far from where I am today—my childhood dreams are coming true! I am the best version of myself I could ever hope to be, I am very successful, and while I’m not famous, I am respected and appreciated, and I know that I have already begun touching the hearts of many who are suffering from the same disease I am now beating. Most importantly, I am a leader for women of all ages to look up to. I never gave up the fight, and now, I’m reaping the rewards. Recently, I was told by an old friend that I am her recovery role model. And now, I’m participating in an unofficial internship with one of my own recovery role models, Jenni Schaefer! Thanks to recovery, my dreams are coming true much sooner than I ever thought possible.
I am blessed to work with many brilliant clinicians and authors at Eating Recovery Center. Dr. Catherine Ruscitti is one. Below, please find an excerpt from her newly released book, The Anorexia Recovery Skills Workbook. I only wish she’d have written this book about 20 years ago. I needed it then! But, here it is now, for you. Thanks, Dr. Ruscitti, for sharing your wisdom and inspiration with us. (I look forward to seeing you and your incredible co-author, Dr. Rebecca Wagner, in Houston at ERC next week!)
For a chance to win a signed book, please see the information at the bottom of this post, following the book excerpt. Building Motivation to Get Better
Win this book! See details below.
There are two types of motivation that influence how we behave: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources outside of yourself (like attending psychotherapy appointments to avoid late-fee charges), while intrinsic motivation comes from internal resources within yourself (attending psychotherapy appointments because you want to get better).
Because anorexia tends to be egosyntonic, fostering intrinsic motivation is often extremely difficult.
Hence, it is typically easier to be successful in recovery in intensive treatment settings than in outpatient settings or with no treatment. Intensive treatment settings establish various types of external motivators that help you take positive steps toward recovery (for example, gaining privileges if you complete meals, or adding nutritional supplements to your meal plan if you do not complete meals). However, once you step down to less structured levels of treatment, the amount of extrinsic motivation tends to decrease and the consequences and rewards of your behaviors are not as immediate.
Having both external and internal motivators is important in recovery and in life. The more sources of motivation you have, the more likely you are to continue in a healthy, recovery-oriented direction. Because intrinsic motivation is not always stable— as there will inevitably be days when you want to give up— it is important to create and identify external sources of motivation for yourself. However, relying solely on external motivators can be detrimental to your recovery in the long term, as the value you place on them is likely to dissipate gradually over time. Intrinsic motivation is long lasting and will foster a stronger and more stable recovery journey. Therefore, rather than relying on extrinsic motivation as a crutch, use it to help foster intrinsic motivation. Sometimes you will need to go through the motions in recovery (for example, by following your treatment team’s recommendations regardless of your feelings toward its members). At those times, external motivators (such as not wanting to disappoint others, avoiding a higher level of care, or getting or remaining medically stable) will serve you well. They will help you to avoid a lapse or relapse and prevent you from falling so far backward physically that your mental health and well-being are compromised.
But eventually you will need to make choices that move you toward recovery for you, because you want it and because you are ready to live in accordance with your values. Having intrinsic motivation does not mean you are ready or able to do recovery alone; it means quite the opposite: that you are ready to do whatever it takes, including using the help offered to you and the level of support that will best assist you at this time, to make steps toward recovery without the need of external rewards or consequences to motivate you. Some examples of intrinsic motivators for recovery include your values that you identified in the previous chapter, a desire to live a more vital life than you live when you are engaged in your eating disorder, and goals you have for yourself that may be possible to achieve only with recovery (such as to finish school, pursue your dream job, have a stable relationship, go on an adventure.)
Now that we have discussed the differences between and importance of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, take some time to write yourself a letter on your motivation and reasons to recover.
Why do you want recovery? What keeps you motivated to recover?
Be sure to include a list of both your external and internal motivators. This list may need to be reviewed time to time both as a reminder and in order to keep it updated and relevant to you. While you can complete this exercise at any time in your recovery, it would be best to write your letter when you are feeling particularly motivated. Keep this letter handy and read it when you are struggling with motivation or having urges to act on eating disordered behaviors. Feel free to add to it or rewrite it at any time, as your life may change and provide you with more or different reasons to stay motivated.
Win a Signed Book! To enter to win a signed copy, please post a comment below, sharing one reason you are motivated to recover. Why do you want recovery? What keeps you motivated to recover? One winner will be selected from all who comment.
I met Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross years ago when I lived in Nashville, Tennessee. She never ceases to amaze me! Her new book, The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook, is another example. Backed by the latest science and filled with compassion, I highly recommend this book to anyone struggling with eating and body image. Thanks, Dr. Ross, for sharing a beautiful and helpful excerpt with us here. Also, thank you for donating a signed book to one lucky winner.
For a chance to win a signed book, see information at the bottom of this post. Except, The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook
You may think that by calling yourself “fat” or “lazy” or “disgusting,” you can motivate yourself to change your eating behaviors and lose weight. Perhaps you’ve tried to whip yourself into shape by using negative feedback and negative self-talk. However, as one of my clients eventually realized, “You can’t hate yourself thin!”
If this strategy were an effective one, the increase in weight-based stigmatization in our culture would have led to a decrease in obesity, rather than the significant increase we’ve seen over the past forty years. Studies have shown that obese people who believe in weight-based stereotypes are in fact less likely to change their behaviors and more likely to binge eat.
If self-hatred won’t help you overcome your struggles with your eating and your weight, what will? The key is to understand the importance of your thoughts.
You may be thinking, “But if my thighs weren’t so big (or whatever), I wouldn’t hate my body.” Yet body hatred is not always associated with body weight, shape, or size. It is your perception of your body that causes suffering. If your perception is that your body doesn’t live up to whatever you would like your body to look like or what you feel is expected by society, then your perception is what needs to change, not your body.
Your body just is the way it is, and nothing will change by your berating, judging, and calling your body names. If you could “hate yourself thin,” it would already have happened, don’t you think?
Win a signed copy! See details below.
Harsh words can provoke shame, fear, anger, or sadness. This is true whether we hear those words from other people or inflict them on ourselves. So the next step is to change how you talk to yourself about your body.
You may doubt that your words and thoughts about your body have any effect on your body or on your behaviors. But if you have a pet or young children, you know that your words affect them very strongly. Shout at your kids, and you can bring them to tears. Saying something mean to your partner in anger can scar your relationship for a long time. If words matter in your relationships with other people, surely they matter in your relationship with your own body, too.
So, what have your words and your thoughts been telling your body? Is this the message you want to give? What emotions do your own words provoke in you? Is this the way you want to feel?
I pose these questions not as another way to shame you, but as an invitation to wake up to the reality that your body is listening to what you say and responding, just as it listens to what others have said about you.
Do you want to continue to send your body negative messages, or would you like to experience a different way of relating? Can you imagine what it would be like if you stopped struggling against your body and started working with it? How different might things be?
Consider the concept of unconditional positive regard. Psychologist Carl Rogers wrote that all people have within themselves vast resources for self-understanding and for changing their self-concept, attitudes, and behaviors, if the right climate can be provided.
You can apply the same approach to changing your relationship to your body. No matter how you feel your body has failed you, no matter what your thoughts tell you about your body, you can declare unconditional positive regard toward your body, thereby nurturing a new, more mature relationship with your body.
Try making unconditional positive statements that begin “My body is…” For instance, you might say “My body is wise.” Then ask yourself, “How is my body wise? If I were to act as if my body was wise, how would I think about my body differently? How would I treat it differently?”
Try putting these statements of unconditional positive regard on sticky notes and posting them around your house. It may sound silly, but it truly can help you begin to internalize these new messages.
After so many years of seeing your body as flawed, it may be challenging to regard yourself with love and compassion. But every living organism thrives better in a climate that nurtures its growth. Your body is no different. With patience and commitment, it is entirely possible to learn to treat yourself more kindly. And when you relate to your body in a new way, you will finally be free to live the life of your dreams.
Win a Signed Book! To enter to win a copy signed by Dr. Ross, please post a comment below, sharing one unconditional positive statement about your body. As Dr. Ross suggests above, an example is, “My body is wise.” One winner will be selected from all who comment.
You know how it goes: you are logged onto Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media site and then all of a sudden, “ding!” you get a notification that you have been tagged in a photo. You brace yourself. And then, a (what you consider bad) photo of yourself pops up — one you didn’t even know existed. Cringe.
This used to annoy me.
As someone who didn’t grow up with social media, it felt weird that other people, had the power to broadcast an image of me — and, secondly, why would they choose such a bad photo of me to share with the world?
I felt like my privacy had been violated. If I had wanted everyone to know about the double pimple on my chin, I would have posted about it myself.
After my irritation subsided, I inevitably faced a choice:
(If we are being honest here, it wasn’t just a choice; this was going to be an extended period of wasted energy, anxiety, and questions).
Do I de-tag myself?
Will removing the tag hurt the tagger’s feelings? Will they even notice? Does it matter if they notice?
Shouldn’t I be in charge of what photos of myself appear online?
I realized that, for me, the actual answers to these questions didn’t make much of a difference. I also learned that trying to answer these questions became exhausting and a time-drainer.
What to do with tagged photos
To continue reading, click here to read the full post on Eating Recovery Center’s blog.
Frantic and afraid, eating food out of a trash can, I promised myself, I will never do this again. I will stop bingeing.
And then, the next day, or maybe even later that same hour, I would get triggered, and guess what I would do next? Eat uncontrollably. To say that I felt like a complete loser is a total understatement.
I felt like a failure.
I’d been in recovery for an eating disorder for years, and I knew what I should have been doing: I could have called someone for help or gone to a therapy group — but I wasn’t doing those things. Why? This was one of the most frustrating parts of my recovery. Even though I knew what I should be doing, I wasn’t doing it.
Why am I not getting better, I’d ask myself. Or am I slowly getting better, and I just don’t know it?
Recovery is, weirdly enough, like Chinese bamboo.
I know, who thinks about recovery and bamboo? But before you give up on me, please hear me out.
To continue reading, click here to read the full post on Eating Recovery Center’s blog.
This summer has been such a blessing in so many ways! One big way is the work I have been able to do with my two incredible summer interns. Here, Hannah Durbin has offered to share some of her passion, enthusiasm, and inspiration with you. Thank you, Hannah, for all that you do. You are a gift in my life. From teaching me about the Instagram story feature to visiting me in Austin for the Mission Recovery event (see picture of us to the left), you are a recovery rockstar!
From Barely Living to Thriving by Hannah Durbin
From barely living to truly thriving, I am now confident in saying that I was put on this earth for a reason – to bring light, hope, and faith to those who can no longer see through the lurking, omnipresent darkness of their eating disorders. My journey has been long and exhausting, but I am here today stronger than I ever imagined possible. I am a warrior, and I am forever proud of who I have become.
My journey has its roots deeply planted in my high school years when my mind and body turned against each other in hopes of satisfying the demon living in my head. This demon’s name is ED – a term I’ve used for years to identify my eating disorder and recognize its presence in my thoughts. When I was 16, the roots had spread so deeply that I lost sight of myself and the life I always knew. I became a slave to the monster within. This was only the beginning of what would soon become a life-threatening battle, unaware that this illness would swallow me alive for the next five years of my life.
My battle was grueling, but that goes without saying. ED continually tightened his grip on me into my freshman year of college, when my addiction to him hit a breaking point. I had become completely and totally reliant on this demon, and couldn’t imagine my life without him. I felt as if he would keep me safe and sheltered from the world when in actuality, he was the direct source of my demise. He lied to me, abused me and nearly took my life away from me. I could no longer do this on my own and finally surrendered my resistance to receiving the professional help I so desperately needed. I spent the following semester battling to rebuild my body in an intensive inpatient treatment center, away from my friends, family and any sense of familiarity. And that’s when I decided I had enough. I picked up my sword and started fighting for my life back.
In my darkest days, I found hope in the smallest of things – my mom’s smile when she would watch me stare my demon in the face and come out victorious, my old athletic medals hanging on my bedroom walls reminding me of the strong body I once possessed, and my childhood photos of a girl who lived every single day with a full heart and optimistic eyes. I found promise in the endless support I had in my nearest and dearest friends. I found strength in the glimpses I would see of my old, ED-free self on a happy day. I found these things to hold onto and relied on them to shine light through the darkness I couldn’t seem to escape from. I fought for my family, friends, and future. And eventually, I started to fight for myself.
This marked only the beginning of my recovery, and will forever be something I must work for throughout my life. I have fought like hell to be where I am today – a place of contentment, happiness, love, and acceptance. The behind-the-scenes view of my recovery is full of tears and agonizing discomfort, but also full of ear piercing laughter and radiant smiles. It encompasses my lowest points and my highest peaks. My recovery is not linear in any sense of the word, but rather a dance of taking two steps forward and one step back. It is ongoing and forever changing, but that’s what makes recovery so beautiful.
I have come to not only find myself through recovery but also my purpose. I have learned what my heart and soul are capable of, and where my true passions lie. I have finally come to experience the true meaning of spontaneity and the beauty of independence. My freedom from ED has come along with strength, love, and resilience, amongst millions of other blessings I will never be able to accurately express my gratitude for. A few years ago, I found myself, lost and scared, standing alone on one of life’s most dangerous battlefields – that being the battle between myself and my demons. I looked into her heart, picked her up, and dragged her away from the fire. I brushed her off and let her light radiate into the world. And ever since that day, her light has only grown brighter.
Check out Hannah’s article, Why It’s More than OK to Take Time Off from School for Eating Disorder Treatment, on The Mighty.
I guess I should rephrase that. It wasn’t actually my marriage that got me admitted. It was the letters PTSD, or rather the fact that that’s what happens when you tell enough people, in one day, that you want to die.
I wish I had known the truth about posttraumatic stress disorder long before they took my shampoo, spiral notebook, shoelaces, and anything else the hospital staff deemed dangerous. They even took my pen. As a writer, this was a “face down” moment; I couldn’t be trusted with a ballpoint pen.
It should never have gotten that bad. The thing is: I did reach out for help. A lot.
I described posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms to nearly ten different therapists over a period of about twelve years. I was told that my difficulty in intimate relationships was a result of my being “avoidant attachment” or “just really anxious.” One therapist (that’s what he listed on his business card anyway) told me to drink more alcohol to deal with the anxiety. Excuse me, what?
Why did so many people, including me, miss the signs of a real, life-threatening mental illness? Not to mention, why did I get such bad guidance from helping professionals?
My friends and family could tell that I was exhausted, depleted, that I was far, far from myself, but they couldn’t see what I was fighting against.
Really, do you? I wondered, a bit agitated. I must admit, my PTSD and irritability can go hand in hand. Yes, I was annoyed, but I also felt invalidated.
Did they truly know what it was like to feel like your brain has been hijacked, stuck in the past, living in constant fear and to be oh-so-exhausted — and depressed?
No, they probably didn’t —and for that, I am grateful.
While I wish no one would ever have to endure the effects of PTSD, for those of us who have struggled with it, one of the most difficult things can be this: people can have a tendency to downplay or deny that we even have PTSD.
“You don’t have PTSD. You are just having marital problems,” they might say.
I know our friends and family members mean well, but since it’s PTSD Awareness Month, I’d like to open up a dialog between those who struggle with PTSD and those who don’t.
Too often, when it comes to mental illness, we are afraid to say anything at all — we certainly don’t want to say the wrong thing.1
I polled my Facebook community recently, asking those with PTSD what they wish they could hear from loved ones.