Category Archives: eating disorders

raising kids after having an eating disorder

Raising Kids After Having an Eating Disorder
How to help children develop a healthy relationship to food
by Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

(reprinted with permission from Seleni Institute, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that provides care, information and research support central to women’s reproductive and maternal mental health and well-being.)

Many women (and men) who have struggled with an eating disorder worry their children may be more prone to developing the condition. Research shows that heredity does play a role in anorexia nervosa and that genetic factors may influence the likelihood of developing other eating disorders. But there is no single cause, and elements from psychology to family environment and society at large are all factors.

The good news is that because you have personally gone through this struggle, you are more likely to notice the early signs and symptoms that others might overlook. In fact, if you’re recovered, you’re also more likely to have a healthy relationship with your body and a more balanced relationship with food. This will help buffer your child from external messages and cultivate healthy self-esteem.

We know that kids – especially girls – face great pressure from an early age to watch what they eat, no matter what their family history with eating disorders.

  • More than 40 percent of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner.
  • More than half of 9- to 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves when they are dieting.
  • An estimated 11 percent of high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • Almost one-third of teenage boys engage in unhealthy and dangerous behaviors to control their weight and the size of their body. This includes skipping meals, refusing to eat, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

What parents can do

Be a role model.
Send your children healthy messages about food and bodies. Children pay attention to everything you do. If you are critical of yourself and your body, they will believe that is appropriate. But if you are loving and accepting of yourself and your body, they will learn that this is appropriate. Avoid judging or talking negatively about your body (or anyone else’s). Mention the things you like about yourself and your body. Work toward creating an atmosphere of acceptance.

Ditch food rules.
Avoid diets and try not to categorize foods as “good” or “bad.” Don’t teach children to compensate for having dessert by saying you will just have a salad so you can order dessert, for example. Instead, focus on balance and moderation when eating all kinds of foods – including treats.

Raise critical thinkers.
The average American is exposed to more than 3,000 advertising messages every day. Talk to your child about what she sees. Look at advertisements together and ask her what she thinks the advertisers’ message is. Ask your child how these messages make her feel and if she agrees with them. Explain that most photographs are airbrushed, and it’s ok to enjoy these photos as long as she realizes they aren’t accurate representations of real people.

Be a buffer.
Provide alternatives to the negative messages that your child will inevitably receive out in the world. Help her focus on other ways to feel good about herself, such as taking pride in being a caring person and a good friend. Praising your child for who she is as a person reinforces these values and helps to build a strong internal sense of self – one that won’t be measured by the size and shape of her body.

Common signs and symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Extreme shifts in weight
  • Using bathroom frequently after meals (to purge)
  • No longer menstruating
  • Distorted body image
  • Significant body dissatisfaction
  • Obsession with food, weight, and body image
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Preoccupation with food and exercise
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable
  • Increased isolation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression, anger, or anxiety
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • All-or-nothing thinking (believing nothing is good enough unless it’s perfect)

If you are concerned about your child’s relationship to food or her body:

Trust your instincts. You know your child. If you think something feels “off,” you’re probably right. She may not have crossed the line into disordered eating, but you are more acutely aware of the early signs because you’ve been there.

Talk to your child. Open the conversation by sharing what you notice and what concerns you. Approaching this issue sensitively, compassionately, and without judgment shows your child that you can be there for her in a safe way.

Get support. Reach out to a professional for support and guidance. The National Eating Disorder Association and the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center are two trusted resources that can help you find support in your area.

Finally, if you feel you need to address some of these issues for yourself, or if you find yourself becoming overly concerned with what your child eats or how her body looks, it might be useful for you to consult with a professional as well.

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Destructively Fit: exciting news!

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The response to Destructively Fit has been incredible. I am beyond grateful for the support I have received and extraordinarily excited to continue bringing my Destructively Fit training to fitness facilities and individual trainers across the nation!

Here’s a recent piece published by Well + Good NYC. For more goodies, check out Destructively Fit In The News!

In other exciting news, Destructively Fit® will be offered at the March 2014 ECA World Fitness Conference, so mark your calendars!

Keep up to date on trainings and informed about fitness and eating disorders (or just show a little love + support!) by connecting with Destructively Fit® on Twitter and Facebook! Hope to see you there!


can pregnancy trigger an old eating disorder?

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Ask the expert: I recovered from an eating disorder but worry pregnancy could trigger it. How can I prevent that?
by Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

(reprinted with permission from Seleni Institute, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that provides care, information and research support central to women’s reproductive and maternal mental health and well-being.)

Pregnancy can be a time of excitement and joy, but it can also be a time of uncertainty and anxiety about your changing body – especially if you’ve battled eating disorders in the past. Recovering from an eating disorder is a long, hard process, and it’s normal for women who have been through it to worry about having renewed struggles with food or body image.

Even if you are at a happy and healthy place in your life, the changes of pregnancy – weight gain, morning sickness, diet and exercise adjustments, not to mention the responsibility of caring for another human being – are bound to be at least a little stressful.

You may also face pressure from friends, family, physicians, and yourself to look and feel a certain way, to gain enough (but not too much) weight, to have the perfect pregnancy, and to get your pre-pregnancy body back as soon as possible after giving birth. You can’t ignore or eliminate this pressure, so the best thing you can do is to be ready for it.

Shore up your support system and surround yourself with healthy, positive resources. This could include finding an ob-gyn who has experience with eating disorders and will take a more sensitive approach when discussing things like your weight and body image. It may mean avoiding magazines or television shows that promote unrealistic expectations about pregnancy and weight loss. And it’s important to educate yourself about what’s healthy and “normal” during pregnancy, so you don’t get too caught up in all the unsolicited advice or criticism you’re sure to receive.

It might also be helpful to see a therapist at least once (and possibly on a regular basis) to check in about how you’re feeling. Even if your anxiety is totally normal, it can still help to talk with someone about what you’re going through. Include your partner or spouse in conversations about how you’re feeling, even if you’ve never discussed your eating disorder before. It’s important for you to articulate your concerns – whether you have specific requests (“Can you not make jokes about how huge big my belly is getting?”) or you just want reassurance and an open line of communication.

As you know, an eating disorder is a symptom of underlying issues. If you’ve already dealt with the underlying issues, food won’t have the same control over you that it used to. But you may notice that in times of high stress (and pregnancy is a big one) your focus on food starts to heighten, and you may begin thinking about it more than usual. Maybe you start skipping breakfast, restricting certain foods, or weighing yourself three times a week instead of once.

Be aware of those red flags, so you can understand what’s happening, get help, and make a conscious decision not to go down that road again.

How you deal with pregnancy has a lot to deal with how much work you’ve already done on accepting your body. When you’re at a healthy weight and pregnancy is something you’ve thought about long and hard, you should be able to enjoy this very beautiful time, knowing that your body is going to take care of itself – and your baby.


fitness professionals can help those struggling with eating disorders

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Eating disorders have always been my passion. They have been my specialty since I began my LCSW private practice more than a decade ago. Over the years, I’ve directed a program for eating disorders, created the eating disorder curriculum for NYU’s Graduate School of Social Work, and have done a few other things. Yet, I have not found a way to connect my love of healthy fitness and honoring one’s body with my passion for helping those struggling with eating disorders.

The issue of eating disorders within fitness centers is a ubiquitous one. I’ve seen people spending hours on the treadmill, heard countless patients recounting their obsessiveness with the gym, and others seeming as though their self-esteem became immediately deflated if they couldn’t work out hard enough, fast enough or long enough. The research I have done has revealed that the presence of eating disorders within fitness centers is “sticky” and “complicated” and gets very little attention. Through no fault of anyone in particular, if people aren’t given the education and tools, then how can anyone feel knowledgable and confident enough to address this sensitive issue?

I went directly to fitness professionals to see what they thought about eating disorders within the fitness industry. As I suspected, it was clear that there was not a lack of interest in this issue. Quite the contrary. Most, if not all, of those with whom I spoke were eager and excited to finally have a forum in which they could learn about eating disorders and how to approach the issue. That’s when DESTRUCTIVELY FIT®: demystifying eating disorders for fitness professionals® was born. I created this 3-hour training with the goal of educating those within the fitness industry about what eating disorders are and what to do if they notice that someone may be struggling. It has since been endorsed for continuing education by both the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and The American Council on Exercise (ACE) and has sparked the interest of variety of fitness clubs. Destructively Fit™ was also recently featured on RateYourBurn. Check out their blog for the interview!

Some stats for you…
• 25 million American women are struggling with eating disorders
• 7 million American men are struggling with eating disorders
• 81% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat
• 51% of 9-10 year old girls feel better about themselves when they are dieting
• 45% of boys are unhappy with their bodies
• 67% of women 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities, like giving an opinion and going to the doctor, because they feel badly about their looks
• An estimated 90-95% of college students diagnosed with eating disorders are members of fitness centers

Read more about Destructively Fit® on destructivelyfit.com. You can also follow Destructively Fit® on Facebook and Twitter. Help spread the word and be a part of affecting change!


Israel bans underweight models

Passed in March 2012, on January 1, 2013, Israel’s ban on models with a BMI of less than 18.5 went into effect. This is the first government enforced weight-influenced regulation on the fashion industry. Models will also be required to produce a medical report no more than three months old (thus, requiring a quarterly medical evaluation). Additionally, advertisers are required to clearly identify any images that have been digitally altered. I say, “Bravo, Israel, taking this courageous step in the fight against eating disorders!”

At this point in time, the United States has no intention of following suit. The United States’ fashion industry is self-regulated. Steven Kolb, chief executive of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), is quoted to have said that the CFDA has, “never had an approach of mandate or enforce. We create awareness and education.”

To my recollection, the modeling industry began to take sharp notice of these industry dangers back in 2006. To refresh your memory:
Luisel Ramos, the 22y/o Uruguayan model, suffered a fatal heart attack in August 2006. She was 5’9″ tall and weighed 98lbs at the time of her death. She had a BMI of 14.5.
Ana Carolina Reston, the 21y/o Brazilian model, died in November 2006. She was 5’8″ tall and weighed 88lbs at the time of her death. She had a BMI of 13.5.
Eliana Ramos, the 18y/o Uruguayan model, died of malnutrition in February 2007. She was 5’9″ tall and a size 0. Her weight was not disclosed at the time of her death. She was the sister of Luisel Ramos (above), who had passed away the previous August.

In response, in September 2007, the Madrid city council, sponsor of Madrid fashion week, imposed mandates upon runway models. Ultimately, these more stringent mandates would have kept 40% of the models who participated in the 2006 fashion week from participating.

In 2007, the CFDA instituted the following guidelines:

  • Educate the industry to identify the early warning signs in an individual at risk of developing an eating disorder.
  • Models who are identified as having an eating disorder should be required to seek professional help in order to continue modeling. And models who are receiving professional help for an eating disorder should not continue modeling without that professional’s approval.
  • Develop workshops for the industry (including models and their families) on the nature of eating disorders, how they arise, how we identify and treat them, and complications if they are untreated.
  • Support the well-being of younger individuals by not hiring models under the age of sixteen for runway shows; not allowing models under the age of eighteen to work past midnight at fittings or shoots; and providing regular breaks and rest.
  • Supply healthy meals, snacks, and water backstage and at shoots and provide nutrition and fitness education.
  • Promote a healthy backstage environment by raising the awareness of the impact of smoking and tobacco-related disease among women, ensuring a smoke-free environment, and address underage drinking by prohibiting alcohol.
    • Diane von Furstenberg, president of the CFDA, explained that the CFDA has no intention of policing or regulating a model’s weight or her body-mass index (BMI).
    • Diane von Furstenberg: “We create inspirational images and it’s important that we don’t encourage unhealthy behavior. We can promote health and encourage it, empower women and give them role models not by how much you weigh but by de-glamorizing models. Few women can become models and it lasts for a short time. Yes there is a problem and because we are in the business of fashion and image we can help.“ Ultimately, von Furstenberg explained that the responsibility lies with the agencies, not the designers.

What do you think about all of this? What do you feel is the appropriate way to address the dangers of the modeling industry? Should there be mandates? Who is responsible for making them?


boy toys + girl toys

The fact that eating disorders cross all gender, race, age, culture and socioeconomic lines has been clear for decades. Somehow, the fact that there is increased pressure on boys has escaped much of the spotlight.

A recent study published in Pediatrics yielded statists that show both boys and girls engaged in muscle-enhancing behaviors (e.g.: changing eating habits, increased exercise, used protein powders/shakes, used steroids, used another muscle-building substance), the large majority of which were boys.

Beginning in childhood, heroes like G.I. Joe and The Incredible Hulk model bulging muscles. If G.I. Joe Extreme were life-size, he would have a 55-inch chest and a 27-inch bicep. In other words, his bicep would be almost as big as his waist and bigger than most competitive body builders’. Seems like in this, and many other ways, buff is the new skinny!

We continue to creatively perpetuate new and unrealistic ideals and expectations for our little boys and girls, who grow up into our men and women (and us!), and in some ways shaped by these confusing paradigms. You may have heard about 13y/o McKenna Pope’s petition to Hasbro asking them to make gender-neutral toy ovens. Ultimately, McKenna was saddened by a pushback by Hasbro explaining that boys do play with their products but never addressed the fact that these toy ovens are marketed towards girls.

And what is Barbie doing these days? Saying nothing about her unrealistic shape (in real life she would stand six feet tall with a 39″ bust, 18″ waist, and 33″ hips), she’s still hanging out in her Dreamhouse, tho, she has upgraded to 3-stories, has a beach house and a castle (in the country?). She goes camping now but sports high heals and a denim mini while doing so. The “Barbie I Can Be…™” series is impressive however, again it seems that Barbie can be anything she wants so long as she wears her high heals and a mini skirt! It would be great if they made a “Barbie I Can Be…™” ME doll.

I can go on and on about gender specific toys and the impact of them on the psyches of boys, girls, men and women but you get the idea. I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts/experiences (in “comments” below). Since the holiday season has already begun, I encourage you to be a little more mindful and aware of the toys that stock the isles (and your shopping cart) and form an opinion about it! What do you think and feel about what you see? About what your kids (or children in your lives) see? You can empower yourself, like McKenna Pope and many others, to take a stand and push back. If not by creating a petition or writing to these toy makers, by choosing where you spend your money and on which toys fill up your playroom!


WARNING: this is my body, not yours!

Stella Boonshoft’s blog, The Body Love Blog, has gotten a lot of well deserved attention over the past few days. If you haven’t heard, she posted a scantily clad photo of herself showing off her body. Stella explained, “I found that after years of struggling with my body image that really there was no way to justify the bullying and the torment I endured as a child and as a teen.” She went on to say that, “we don’t have the authority to make assumptions about other people’s health based on the way they look. And I finally came to a place where I was really happy with the way I looked… I wanted to give a message to the bullies who had tormented me that it didn’t work.”

Stella’s blog post:
WARNING: Picture might be considered obscene because subject is not thin. And we all know that only skinny people can show their stomachs and celebrate themselves. Well I’m not going to stand for that. This is my body. Not yours. MINE. Meaning the choices I make about it, are none of your f****** business. Meaning my size, IS NONE OF YOUR F****** BUSINESS.

If my big belly and fat arms and stretch marks and thick thighs offend you, then that’s okay. I’m not going to hide my body and my being to benefit your delicate sensitivities.

This picture is for the strange man at my nanny’s church who told me my belly was too big when I was five.

This picture is for my horseback riding trainer telling me I was too fat when I was nine.

This picture is for the girl from summer camp who told me I’d be really pretty if I just lost a few pounds

This picture is for all the f****** stupid advertising agents who are selling us cream to get rid of our stretch marks, a perfectly normal thing most people have (I got mine during puberty)

This picture is for the boy at the party who told me I looked like a beached whale.

This picture is for Emily from middle school, who bullied me incessantly, made mocking videos about me, sent me nasty emails, and called me “lard”. She made me feel like I didn’t deserve to exist. Just because I happened to be bigger than her. I was 12. And she continued to bully me via social media into high school.

MOST OF ALL, this picture is for me. For the girl who hated her body so much she took extreme measures to try to change it. Who cried for hours over the fact she would never be thin. Who was teased and tormented and hurt just for being who she was.

I’m so over that.

THIS IS MY BODY, DEAL WITH IT

Stella, you are right! Your body is her own, your body is beautiful and you are stunning! Thank you for your courage!

And for everyone else… let’s be inspired!


Dancing at the Shame Prom

Shame is an internal, insidious experience that lives in the body. It can be one of the most devastating emotions because it often leads to isolation, which can then increase the entrenchment. Shame and bodily shame have been strongly associated with eating disorders and, in my experience, oftentimes prevents those suffering from seeking the help they so desperately need. Unknowingly, the dust of shame can sprinkle for generations to come.

Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter compiled stories of shame in their new book, Dancing at the Shame Prom (available now through Amazon.com). This honest, vulnerable and beautiful collection recognizes the impact of shame on self-esteem, self-worth and the way we move through the world. Twenty-six courageous women shared their stories of letting go and breaking through the shame that has blanked them for too long. I can’t recommend this book enough and believe that everyone can relate to the suffocating grip of shame. I encourage you all to bump this book up to the top of your list and when you’re done, consider writing your own shame story.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a mother, Kristine, and daughter, Kate, who shared their individual stories of going through Kate’s battle with anorexia. Below are their interviews.

Kristine Van Raden stumbled upon a bit of a miracle 15 years ago with her best friend Molly Davis. A shared idea led to an interesting project, which led to a dinner party with a slightly inebriated and highly enthusiastic publisher. Soon Kristine and Molly were interviewing strangers on street corners, produce sections of grocery stores -even on an elevator trip up the Eiffel tower- compiling a collection of letters from women around the world which became Letters to Our Daughters (Hyperion,1999). Since then, they formed Matters That Matter (LLC), offering workshops around the country, building upon the honesty and transparency of the women they have met throughout this experience. They have come to understand that we are all more alike than we are different, and that if we can get past the differences, there are common threads that connect us as human beings (taken from Dancing at the Shame Prom). Here is Kristine’s interview:

What made you decide to share your story?
It was a bit of a miracle, the way I met Amy Ferris and in the past few years, when life overwhelmed me, Amy seemed to intuitively know to reach out, call or email. She listened, empathized and was able to make me laugh at times I thought impossible. I shared with her, our family’s ordeal regarding Kate’s eating disorder. Amy never judged. Instead she shared her own pain and vulnerability. Through exposing our shameful stories with one another, we developed a safe and trusted friendship.

We had spoken of a potential project (Shame Prom) that she and Hollye Dexter had dreamed about. I wanted to do what I could to support them, initially thinking I could introduce them to women I thought might have something incredible to contribute. That’s about the time Amy asked if Kate and I might consider writing a co-op piece about life with an eating disorder.

For the first 2 years of dealing with Kate’s anorexia, we as a family made a pact to honor her request that we didn’t tell people about her struggle. She was ashamed, embarrassed and lost as how to navigate her life with this all consuming disorder. There were so many secrets, so much avoidance. In time and with great caution she started speaking about therapy, what she was learning, how she was relating to food and how anorexia effected her life.

I considered what I might have to say about Shame. I have never known the-likes-of such darkness; the shame of failing my child…the shame of not being able to make things right for her, the shame of being such an inadequate mother. I asked Kate how she would feel about me submitting a piece for consideration in an anthology about shame, exploring, from a mother’s perspective, what life with an eating disorder is like.

As we talked about it Kate started to consider her own shame…what it had been, and how it had evolved. We realized how closed we all were for so long, and how we had started to open as we all continued to heal. Kate was strong and confident enough to agree. It felt right; the time, the opportunity, the women involved. Kate and I agreed that sharing our perspectives had merit, not just for ourselves, but for those who might be struggling with similar issues. We both knew it was time to come out of the darkness and offer a little light for others.

What was the most challenging part of writing your essay?
All I did for weeks, every time I tried to write, was sob…sob and sob some more. I had worked so hard for so long, in secrecy and shame. My only priority being to protect and encourage my daughter. That often meant being strong, showing little to no emotion…doing anything it took to move her forward.

Once I got passed the avalanche of emotions, I started to get in touch with my experiences. Remembering was hard on so many levels, but remembering also helped me to realize how far we have come.

I thought I had reconciled that Kate’s anorexia was not my fault. But as I started to write, all those feelings came right back and suffocated me for a day or two. It was Kate, again, that assured me, that I was not to blame.

Exploring and expressing my shame, my failure, and my shortcomings as they relate to Kate’s suffering was both unbearable and freeing.

Did you learn anything about yourself by going through this writing process?
Oh, where do I begin? Because I loved my children with every ounce of my being, I assumed that their lives would take a certain shape, look like a particular “thing” that I had in mind. Love doesn’t create a specific outcome. Love does provide constance through life’s challenges. I have learned to let go of my expectations and I have learned to do so with so much less fear.

I think most parents live under the assumption, that at least on some levels, they are in control of their children’s lives and therefore their destinies. Trying to hold onto that premise represents constant heartache. Of course it is a parents job to love, protect, educate and nurture, but that has to all come under the umbrella of letting go…of recognizing that their lives are just that: Their lives. Just as our parents couldn’t prevent the heartache, suffering and times of agony for any of us, so it is with parents today.

I have worn out the expression, “Life is hard, gear up”, with my children. I knew it would be hard. I just never expected it to be this hard.

How has sharing your story helped you?
Kate, and therefore our family, has struggled and worked so very hard to understand and tame the eating disorder that haunts her. While we have celebrated every victory, no matter how small; pizza in a restaurant, the end of diet pills, a first date with an interesting young man, ice cream, when we finished our Shame Prom contributions, we literally screamed for joy, danced like crazy and felt more free than we had in a long time.

What did you find most helpful throughout Kate’s recovery process?
What I found most helpful was Kate’s attitude and willingness to try, fail, try, fail and try again. While she was getting educated, so were we. We read everything we could get our hands on. We sought out professionals on all levels who had experience and were willing to share information. We worked with Kate to create safe food, safe meals. She was courageous enough to teach us what she needed. We were eager to learn. Kate started individual therapy right away, as well as family therapy. With guidance and education we learned that this was no one’s fault. When we all stopped blaming ourselves treatment became much more effective.

We had the privilege and opportunity of walking along side Kate every step of the way. Were there times I wanted to run for the hills? Hell yes! But I know that our family, united in her wellness and recovery was our strongest asset.

The book that I recommend to anyone who asks is Brave Girl Eating, by Harriet Brown. Harriet tells her story in such a way that I felt like I had found my path, my voice for the first time in this agonizing process.

What did you learn about yourself through Kate’s recovery and being a loving and concerned parent?
As I mentioned, the hardest thing for me to come to grips with was that all of the love, devotion, time, investment in my child could not spare her from such devastating heartache…at that when under full attack, I couldn’t protect her from it. Raising children, we learn to solve so many crises; big ones, small ones. I think we fool ourselves into thinking that we have power over what causes them harm. I have learned that I have the extraordinary power to love my children, come what may.

Having gone through this experience, what message and/or advice would you give to parents of those struggling with eating disorders?
Trust your instincts. At the earliest sign of concern, seek help. If the help you have isn’t right, seek a different solution. This often means coming up against an angry, unwilling child. So be it! If they don’t agree to help, start the process for yourself. Get educated. Get informed.

Do you have anything else that you would like to say to your readers?
I continue to remind Kate of her progress…where she started and where she is today. A person who lives with an eating disorder loses sight of their accomplishments, because in the world we live in they may seem trivial. But like Harriet Brown so appropriately titled her book, Brave Girl Eating, everyday having to face the “enemy” and make peace with it..understand that the thing you hate is also the thing that will keep you alive, will insure your future…so so brave.

I tell people that drug and alcohol addicts can live without their vices and dependencies, but people with eating disorders cannot live without food.

Kate Van Raden is a self-taught photographer who pens both a fashion blog and poetry blog: katevanraden.wordpress.com She is also a twenty-seven year old woman who has struggled with the trials and tribulations of anorexia for the better part of five years; throughout college and modeling in New York. She is currently juggling a zoology degree, a full time job and her continued pursuit of wellness. Kate continues to attend treatment and therapy for her mental illness; making great strides towards increasing personal capabilities for love, growth and self-acceptance; all the while, passionately and vigorously committing herself to her work with endangered species. Kate lives with her three-year old hedgehog Rosebud in an apartment in Portland, Oregon (taken from Dancing at the Shame Prom). Here is Kate’s interview:

How did shame contribute to your eating disorder and/or seeking help?
We all live with shame. Some of us try to make up for the things we are ashamed of, some of try to change; and some of us try to hide these things. As a beloved partner faded from my life, I reverted to the feeling I knew best and felt most comfortable with: shame. I punished myself for failing the relationship. I loathed the things about myself that I perceived as the flaws that were unlovable. I threw myself into ‘improving.’ I thought if people couldn’t see my imperfections, that they would accept me, like me, not be disgusted by me…not leave me. The harder I worked to perfect my appearance, the more ashamed of myself I became. The harder I worked to seem perfect, the more magnified my flaws became to me. As I spiraled into Anorexia, I became increasingly engulfed in a shame that was so overpowering, I pulled further and further away from anyone who could get too close; eventually moving to the other side of the country from my entire community of family and friends. As if slinking away to a cave, in NY no one knew me and no one noticed me. The more shame I felt about WHO I was, the more I starved my body, and the more I starved my body, the more I starved my life. I won’t go into the extremes that my disorder reached (that is fairly well detailed in the book, if interested), but I began to deteriorate so quickly that it wasn’t long before I couldn’t work and felt convinced I couldn’t leave my apartment; as ashamed as I was of myself. I guess I would say that the shame of failing to achieve this perceived perfection through my resolve to be “thin,” and failing to manage my illness, made me feel ashamed. When I realized I couldn’t manage it myself, I had to come clean with my physical and mental struggles and accept help. That meant surrendering; accepting and putting on all the self-loathing and disgust I had been running from for years. I would often feeling dependent and weak, humiliated, worthless…leaving me convinced I had failed myself and the people I love. The only way I could salvage respect for myself, was to make a commitment to fight. I decided one late morning in fall, sitting in the car with my parents in our drive way…to fight.

From the time I was young I wanted my family to be proud of me…on so many levels. I’ve been blessed with a loving family and have always wanted to feel like I measured up, contributed. I have always worked hard at the challenges before me; school, college, scholarships, foreign exchange, relationships, etc. I guess you could say I am a pleaser. I wanted to please those who loved me and I wanted to feel successful in my own right.

What did you find most helpful in your recovery?
Honesty. When you are living with an eating disorder, your life becomes a lie; the lies you tell others about your health and weight, the lies your eating disorder tells you about your self-worth, your body, your perceptions, the lies you tell yourself about listening to the influence of the eating disorder…at least in my experience, giving myself the gift of honesty was the moment I saw hope. To this day, being completely honest and candid with myself and those I love is one of the most important tools I use to maintain my health. In my family, we don’t lie. We don’t let things hide in the dark anymore…we stand up and bare the horrible, terrible, unacceptable truths about ourselves, and give one another the chance to love us anyway. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. Without question, the unconditional love and support of my family kept me afloat many times when I couldn’t see my way clear to the next step. We have done it all together: family therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, nutritionists, psychiatrists, psychologists and hypnotists…read all the books, talked with experts, traveled to clinics, sought help and support where ever possible. I had committed to recovery, and I would NOT fail at that.

Early in my recovery, I was encouraged to attend a week-long intensive program led by Geneen Roth, author of When Food is Love. While I was the only participant suffering with anorexia, I came to understand that food is a struggle for so many. It represents how we value ourselves, how we love and care for ourselves as well as our perceived self-worth. I left with more tools, and a gentler perception of myself and my struggle. I had begun to feel less shame around my personal struggle by sharing it with others and allowing them to share theirs with me.

What made you decide to share your story?
For the first three years of my recovery, I asked my family to keep my illness secret. In earnest, for the first year that I was back in Oregon and going to day treatment 8 hours a day, I insisted that they keep even my presence in Portland a secret from all but grandmothers and siblings. I didn’t want to be “that girl.” The girl everyone pitied and watched for signs of mental illness. As I have gotten stronger and more confident about my recovery and about my self-worth in general, I have opened up a bit at a time. After almost 5 years battling my illness, I began feeling that I wanted to reach out and help someone else. I could finally understand that I really had accomplished significant progress in recovery; more than had ever been promised to me, or expected. I was ready for a next step. The next step for me meant that I would no longer live with the “shame” of hiding my eating disorder. There are still shockingly few resources for people struggling with eating disorders. As hungry as my family and I have been for knowledge and research, it has always been an ordeal to seek out new materials. For all these reasons, when The Shame Prom landed in our laps, my mother and I felt compelled to participate. I don’t mean to say that I felt no apprehension about publishing my most shameful moments alone, but I felt deep in my heart that I was being called to do so.

What was the most challenging part of writing your essay?
The most difficult part of writing my essay was being willing to look back. I have worked so hard to move past the constant sense of self-loathing; it was scary to conjure those thoughts and feelings again, relive the darkness that threatened to swallow me up. I hesitated weeks in starting my piece, purely because I felt an excitement in my body; my Anorexia, sensing an opportunity, and clambering to push me back under the tyranny of hateful self-talk. When I sat down to write, I told myself ‘Remember everything you have learned. You have earned the right to expose this ruthless disease…don’t spare one drop of blood’.

How has sharing your story helped you?
My mom and I spent months writing, reading and editing together. We laughed and sobbed over the trials and tribulations we have experienced together through this process. We sent our pieces together. When we pushed the “send” button I had an overwhelming sense of freedom. “The truth shall set you free” rang true for me in that moment. I genuinely embraced the spirit of the project and decided, “You know what; this is who I am, YES I struggle like everyone else, and I am done pretending that I don’t. I will live an authentic life and embrace the consequences.” Realizing how far I have come, from secrets kept in the dark, to truth shared in the light…I much prefer the light.

Did you learn anything about yourself by going through this writing process?
Life with an eating disorder is a devastating experience. Day after day the battle to eat, or not eat consumes every waking moment. Even today with all the skills and knowledge I have ascertained, each day there is a spirit of deprivation inside me that would like me to believe I don’t deserve to want, need, or eat food. I know this about my brain and body, and there is a constant energy management happening in order for me to resist that feeling. Stresses of life and the occasional moments of insecurity can still be all it takes to unravel my ability to resist the self-flagellation. I felt for so long that I was an eating disorder…that it defined me and left me void of those parts of myself I once recognized as good and capable. Writing my story allowed me to see the difference between the eating disorder and ‘me.’ I am not my eating disorder. Anorexia and Kate Van Raden have different values, different perceptions, different experiences and different desires. I am so much more than some illness; and now that I am aware and informed, I can be more compassionate to other people’s struggles. I value the place I have chosen in the world, and can now accept the love that has always been available to me. I have a future that resonates with hope.

Are you still modeling? If so, how is that experience for you today?
Hell NO! I only began modeling because I was already ill and thin enough to make some money doing it. There was not one thing about that career that made me feel validated or beautiful. People are always surprised to hear that, but then I explain to them:
Imagine, if you go to a casting, you know they are looking for a model of your ‘type’. So you walk into a room of 200 girls who look eerily like you, but slightly taller, or thinner, or with fuller lips and better skin. A casting director looks at you once and says ‘Turn. Oh god no, her thighs are too thick for the pants. And her eyebrows are terrible. That mole splits her lip line…no no no, we can’t use this. NEXT!”

Living to please an industry that not only demands perfection, but seeks to annihilate diversity (in order to sell us all their image of what every person is supposed to be) was never something I could resolve with my personal values. I believe that beauty, real beauty, includes the entire range of shapes, colors and sizes…that is the spice of life!

How do you keep yourself healthy today?
I am still in regular therapy with someone I have a great deal of respect for. I look for opportunities to get more insight and more education whenever possible; be that a course in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), mindful meditation or a new book about neuroplasticity. I try to be transparent with my family when I am struggling and welcome their support and guidance. But mostly, I now thoughtfully greet myself each morning with love. I take opportunities throughout my day to feel appreciation for my body; all I have put it through and how faithfully it continues to let me play, learn, feel pleasure, love, and yes, eat. When you are constantly making the choice to offer yourself this kind of compassion, the things about eating that can be hard, get easier.

Having gone through this experience, what message and/or advice would you give to anyone struggling with food, weight and body image?
First, you are not alone. You may think the things you have felt and done throughout your experience are more awful, more disgusting, more shameful than anyone can imagine…so pick one person you love and trust most in the world and test that theory out on them. You must give someone the opportunity to know (and yes, I understand, possibly reject) the real authentic you, in order to feel that ‘authentic you’ authentically accepted, warts and all. I would venture to guess that those who love you will pleasantly surprise you with the depth of their compassion and understanding. Of course, there will be people on the path who don’t understand and cannot offer that compassion…but in my personal experience, those are the people who are probably not meant to walk your path with you. I have come to understand that the longer an eating disorder is in place, the harder it is to move beyond it. The sooner one can release the shame about this particular struggle, the shorter the climb is out of the darkness. I know now that just like anyone else, I am worthy of a life filled with peace, self-acceptance, love and kindness. So I encourage anyone who lives under the presumption that they are unworthy of these things, to make it their business to defy that thinking. Start by testing it. Allow some space in the iron clad will of your eating disorder, for some doubt. That cruel voice, she could be wrong (mine is a ‘she’).

Do you have anything else that you would like to say to your readers?
You are beautiful. There is no one on this planet who can replace YOU. You have as much right to have flaws as anyone else on this planet. You have the right to accept those flaws and not feel shame because of that. While it is wonderful to choose a path towards being the best human being possible, it should be a choice made out of self-love and not self-loathing; so be aware of how you talk to yourself and what is motivating your choices.

I am living with an eating disorder. I am not an eating disorder. I am an individual with strengths and weaknesses and I am going to spend the rest of my life celebrating those strengths, learning about those weaknesses and giving myself the gift of peace.

I want to express my deep gratitude to both Kristine and Kate for continuing their courageous contributions to the issues of shame and eating disorders. Without a doubt, your stories have already helped many. Thank you both!

And to Amy and Hollye, for embarking on such an important project, for giving these 26 women voices to express what has felt inexpressible and for inspiring countless others to begin their own journey.


Barneys, leave Minnie Mouse alone!

Change.org has begun a petition against the Barneys’ “Electric Holiday” display for this upcoming holiday season. See here for the details about this outrageous display and then go here to sign the petition.

Please pass this along to everyone who you feel might be a potential supporter. Thank you!


skinny minnie

Women’s Wear Daily reported yesterday that Barneys teamed up with The Walt Disney Co. to create “Electric Holiday,” an exciting film for the upcoming holiday season. Merging the concept of Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade with high fashion, the film will feature Disney’s most famed characters on a Paris catwalk.

When interviewed about the project, Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman detailed the immense time spent reviewing, “The world of the Paris fashion shows, of fashion, of people in fashion, of the rituals, all of the idiosyncrasies. The important thing to me was always that it had to be authentic. It really had to hit the nail on the head in every detail… When we got to the moment when all Disney characters walk on the runway, there was a discussion,” Freedman recalled. “The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. There was a real moment of silence, because these characters don’t change. I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,’ and they agreed. When you see Goofy, Minnie and Mickey, they are runway models.”

It seems that the bodies of the original Disney characters have been deemed unacceptable for the runway. These iconic characters needed to be turned into supermodels. In order to fit the mold, they were severely slimmed down (read: made gaunt and anorexic).

Needless to say, Electric Holiday has sparked generous amounts of controversy. What do you think about it? High fashion or highly disturbing?