Movies, Myths, and Truth Seeking

As an eating disorder therapist, I am constantly inundated with a number of questions and statements surrounding the mysterious nature of eating disorders. Whether it is a way to gain more knowledge and understanding, or otherwise, I am constantly amazed by the myths floating around our public sphere. I find myself curious as to where some outlandish ideas originate.

Recently, I was watching a trailer for a new film and as though my question was being answered, a scene spoke strongly to me as to where some myths surrounding eating disorders may be born.

In the film, two young women are sitting at a table for a meal. The anorexic girl looks at her plate of food and rattles off the calorie content of her plate like she is playing a fun, new viral game. The other woman looks enthralled by the ability of her friend and praises her for speed and accuracy. They both laugh and smile at each other. I was not laughing.

Just like the friend, I was also baffled. Not, however, that someone knew the exact calorie count of a plate of food. Rather, I was astonished that a film was portraying an eating disordered symptom as a humorous activity.

Eating disorders are not funny. Eating disorders are not a game.

Presently, film and social media have erupted as a platform to share and discuss current events and hot topics. Nonetheless, eating disorders have become a popular subject to display in movies, TV series, and trending hashtags. I have mixed feelings about this as I am a cheerleader for eating disorder awareness, and at the same time, I cringe to see my disease so poorly portrayed and stigmas and stereotypes reinforced.

What I have taken from recent films and the growing conversation about eating disorders is that people are desperately seeking the truth. I love the idea that people are brave and sharing their stories and I also understand that everyone experiences an eating disorder differently.

Off the top of my head I have listed several myths taken from recent films and press about eating disorders that have hit me as incorrect from my own personal narrative. This is my own personal take and challenge to these myths:

1. Eating disorders are about food, thinness, and beauty.

My eating disorder was about so much more than any of the above. My eating disorder was a complex, serious disease that stemmed from a need for control in my chaotic surroundings. My eating disorder behaviors were aimed at making the world a better place and striving to be a good citizen through obedience to outward messages of the thin ideal. To be honest, I can’t put my finger one exactly what my eating disorder was about and why it happened. I personally believe it would be a great injustice to my suffering and growth to say my eating disorder was about one thing and that’s that. I want to leave it open so I can continually grow and learn from the recovery process.

2. Eating disorders are a choice.

Why would I choose to give up my childhood and adolescence to live in a tiny hospital room where I was poked with needles twice a day and forced to go to the bathroom with the door open? My simple challenge to this myth should be self-explanatory.

3. To have a legitimate eating disorder you have to be admitted to an inpatient facility.

Yes, I spent several years in inpatient facilities. However, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent outside of a treatment center. There are several people struggling with severe eating disorders that do not have insurance coverage, childcare, or means to an inpatient facility. This is not an indication of severity or presence of an eating disorder.

4. You have to be underweight to have an eating disorder.

Similar to my answer to question #3, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent at a healthy weight. Again, eating disorders are much more complex than food and weight.

5. To recover from and eating disorder you simply have to eat.

Hopefully this has been explained enough in the answers above. I can’t stress enough that there is so much more than “just eating” and the process of recovery is a challenging transformation of self-exploration and behavior change.

As much as I have disagreed with aspects of recent films about eating disorders, I appreciate that there can be multiple truths and multiple lived experiences. What may be offensive or outraging to me may hit home for someone else. As I have read comment sections out of interest on other’s views, I have certainly noticed this to be true with many varying opinions. The beauty in advocacy is that there are many stories to be told and I believe the world is ready to hear them.

This is only my take and my own story. At Rooted Recovery, we hear different stories every day and understand that eating disorders do not discriminate. We want to give you a chance to share your experience and story; we want to debunk myths and share the truth about eating disorders.

If you would like to share your story on our website and blog please email your story to caley@rootedrecovery.com. Please note that submitting your story via email may result in your story being published on our website or other partnering sites, such as The Mighty or Huffington Post.

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Passion vs. Professionalism: The Middle Path

The other day, I was at a doctor’s appointment for an upcoming shoulder surgery. He did the routine “deep breath-in, deep breath-out” six times and handed me a slip of paper to sign to consent for my body to accumulate some fancy new hardware. As I was signing, he asked me quickly, “Oh, and by the way, you seem really healthy. But is there any serious medical diagnosis you haven’t shared with me?” I casually put my pen down and said, “Oh yeah, that one thing! I had an eating disorder for a decade.” The look on my medical doctor’s face was priceless. He looked at me as if I had just transfigured into a ghost.

Eating disorder. Yes. An eating disorder.

His knee-jerk response was, “But you’re all good with that now…it’s not a problem or anything, right? You can eat and stuff?” Mildly amused, I decided to take a minute to educate my doctor on the topic of eating disorders and share a little bit of my story with him where I believe we both walked away with a greater understanding for each other.

I’m not sharing this story, in any way, to highlight the faults of my doctor, or to make light of the situation. I hand-picked this doctor to do my shoulder surgery because he is one of the best in the region and is a wonderful man with a kind heart. The reason why I have decided to bring this story up is because I have been wrestling with the idea between hiding my personal life behind a professional lens and moving forward in my career as a professional rather than a survivor with a story. However, in the midst of everything, I have realized the importance for me, personally, to be honest and real about my struggle with an eating disorder because that’s why I care so much about the field and it’s the reason why I’m here. My story motivates me and gives me passion for what I do.

I absolutely adore Marsha Linehan (for many reasons) and her Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, because it highlights the idea of a middle path. Moving into the professional world, I have been stuck in a black and white situation, with great arguments to stay on either side. One side tells me I can teach others and offer hope in sharing my recovery story. The opponent argues the fear of entanglement and enmeshment between professionalism and self-serving work.

With the middle path in mind, how freeing is it that I do not have to choose and can simply be myself? The middle path can look different for everyone, but the middle path here means I can be both: a passionate survivor and a professional. I chose to work at Rooted Recovery because it offered freedom to do what I want and create what I want. With freedom also comes responsibility, and that is another beauty of the concept.

I value transparency and understand that recovery is challenging.

I see the need for connection and realize it’s hard to connect with a computer.

I respect professionalism and see it can be protective.

I understand an eating disorder and I understand recovery.

So let me be an ally, in whatever form that may be. Let me share my story and earnestly listen to yours. Let me be transparent and hold boundaries.

How many times in life do we find ourselves in a “but” situation that can truly be an “and” situation. We can struggle with an eating disorder and still feel happiness. We can have a stressful job and still love it. These absolutes placed by society and ourselves are concepts that do not have to be absolute. When we judge the percentage missing from our perceived goal, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

How often do we give up on something because we aren’t where we want to be? How often are we in the black or the white when we can walk the middle path? How many people do we shut out because of fear of vulnerability and opening up?

The beauty of entrepreneurship, in my opinion, is that it can be whatever I make it to be. I want this business to align with my values and to be a reflection of who I am. What ultimately led me to Rooted Recovery is the idea that it is different and holds opportunity for growth and diversity. I am non conventional and crave freedom- the opposite of what my eating disorder gave me for so many years. So, I am going to keep walking this middle path and see where it takes me.

Because the unknown is scary and beautiful. And I welcome it.

http://www.rootedrecovery.com

 

Reflection Journal: Connecting with Your Body

For those in recovery from an eating disorder, our bodies can feel foreign, uncomfortable, and may bear the pain of the negative thoughts and feelings we’re experiencing. This journal entry can help you grow more in touch with your body; hopefully, in a more loving and compassionate way.  For this entry, reflect upon an experience you’ve had. It can be big or small, short or long…whatever works best for you.  Once you have your experience in mind, write about it from the perspective of your body. Note how your senses were engaged in the experience. What did you see, smell, touch, and hear? Let your body guide you into the memory and take note of what it’s like to experience something connected to your body.  When you’re finished, you might notice how rich and wonderful it is to experience things in this way.  With any luck, you can take this newfound wisdom into your everyday life and recovery as well.

Reflection Journal: Letters to Myself

When I was preparing to leave graduate school, my supervisor gave me a wonderful gift. She had all of the students in my supervision class group write a letter to me dated 2020 where each one talked about my future self, work, hopes and dreams.  I can’t wait to see which of their predictions comes true.

In recovery, we often focus on the present moment. The past can’t be changed, nor can the future be predicted. However, there are lessons we can learn from the past and hopes we can have for the future.  For this journal entry, write a letter to your past self, letting them know of all the lesson’s you’ve learned and wisdom you’ve gathered throughout your recovery. Let them know that you know they have been hurting, but ensure them that you will find your way to recovery.  When you’ve written the letter to your past self, feel free to “ship it” to the past in whatever kind of ritual works for you (burning it, burying it, sealing the envelope, etc.).  You can also keep it, of course!

Once you’re done, write a letter from your future self to your present self celebrating your recovery, the changes in your life you’d like to see, and the challenges that may still be present (or are new).  Feel free to date the letter one year, five years, or ten years from now. If you remember, go ahead and open them on the date you’ve written. See what changes have come to pass or are in the works. What unanticipated changes will you find?

Finally, write a letter to your present self. Tap into some self-compassion and hope for the future. Whenever you need to, refer back to the letters to the past and the letter in the present moment to help you continue on your recovery journey.