Every now and then, I feature an inspiring person who has struggled with anorexia at one point in his or her life and has recovered.
I am all about spreading the message of hope because this is something we so often lack.When we’re in such a deep relationship with our eating disorder and these sick thoughts and behaviors take up most of our time and shape our days, it is hard to remember that there is a way out.
I am hoping to inspire and motivate you with these interviews and that you too will see that you can get your life back.
Today, I am honored to share an interview with Jenni Schaefer, who wrote two excellent books on recovery:
Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life and Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too, both of which are essential in recovery in my humble opinion!
1. Tell us about how your relationship with Ed.
In dance class at four-years-old, I distinctly remember feeling like I was bigger than the other little girls. What I didn’t know then (but I do now) is that the voice telling me that I wasn’t good enough was actually Ed (“eating disorder” as first described in my first book, Life Without Ed).
I didn’t question Ed as a child, so “his” voice became louder and stronger as I grew older. I eventually struggled with various types of eating disordered behaviors. I now know that the restricting, bingeing, and purging was really a coping mechanism to deal with low self-esteem, high anxiety, and painful, unrelenting perfectionism.
An eating disorder is emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting. The illness affects every aspect of your life. I lost connections with my friends and family. I lost interest in my dreams. My relationship with food and my body was taking everything from me, but the denial associated with my illness was so strong that I did not reach out for help until after college graduation at 22-years-old. One reason I love speaking so much in schools today is to inspire young people to get help now, rather than later. Early intervention can be key.
2. What was the a-ha moment, the moment you knew you had to do something against your eating disorder?
I first realized that I had an eating disorder my senior year in college. I distinctly remember trying to make myself throw up for the first time, and I knew that was a problem. At that point, I started trying to fix myself without telling anyone. But I didn’t getting any better with this do-it-yourself approach to treatment. We all need support along recovery road, so I finally broke the silence and reached out for professional help.
3. What kept you going even in the hardest phases of your recovery?
Hope. I held onto hope that there just might be joy and peace in a life without Ed. (With Ed, there was only pain and chaos.) When I lost hope for myself—and I often did— my family, friends, and treatment team held onto it for me.
4. How did you come up with the idea of your first book “Life without Ed”?
In treatment, I was taught to call my anorexia/bulimia “Ed” (an acronym for “eating disorder”). Treating my eating disorder like a relationship truly helped me, so I wanted to share that idea with others. Life Without Ed was born, in part, from numerous journals and notes that I kept during my recovery process.
5. What do you think are the benefits of giving your eating disorder a name?
The approach of personifying my eating disorder helped me for several reasons. First, I learned that if my eating disorder were a separate entity, then I had my own personality and my own thoughts—I was not an eating disorder. Secondly, the metaphor of Ed gave me hope. I could talk back to Ed and find my own voice. That felt good. Finally, by using the metaphor, my friends and family began to see my eating disorder separately from me. We could all fight against Ed and fight for me!
6. Being a singer, the pressure of having a certain body shape must be extremely high. How do you deal with that today?
Today, I keep my focus on health. I want my body to be strong and resilient. When my body is healthy like this, I actually sing much better! When I was underweight, my voice lacked strength and depth.
7. What is one thing you’d like to tell those who want to get out but are stuck or fear of making the first step?
My advice is to do whatever it takes to tell someone and to get professional help. When I first told my boyfriend, I was so ashamed and embarrassed about my problem that I couldn’t tell him face to face. I actually hid an eating disorder brochure under my couch pillow while I hid under the covers in my bed. Then, I asked him to look under the couch pillow—I wanted to tell him something. This is as close to direct communication as I could get! My boyfriend was extremely supportive. I have since realized that there was nothing to be ashamed about.
Eating disorders are real, life-threatening illnesses that do not discriminate by age, weight, gender, ethnicity, culture, or anything else. If your life is unmanageable or miserable due to your relationship with food and weight, get help. Don’t worry about whether or not you think you fit within a certain eating disorder diagnosis.
8. Any other additional advice you’d like to give my readers?
Never, never, never give up! Full recovery from eating disorders really is possible. In fact, that is actually why I wrote my latest book, Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life. We recover from our eating disorders in order to recover our lives.
I hope you enjoyed the interview. What are your thoughts on it? Did it help you see that there is hope?