A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY Film – Part 1


Bailey Webber is a student investigative journalist, writer, and co-director of The Student Body. Her story of courage and activism has been featured in numerous newspaper and online articles.  She has been honored by the National Association of University Women for her advocacy work, is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association as well as Proud to Be Me with which she has written several articles, blogs, and has participated in panel discussions. Bailey is the daughter of Michael Webber, a motion picture producer and renowned documentary filmmaker.  As such, she has grown up around movie making and has storytelling in her blood. The Student Body is her directorial debut.

 

In advance of the upcoming Baltimore Premiere of her film, we had the pleasure of asking Bailey about the film and her experience co-directing it alongside her father. Part 1 of here responses are shared here.


Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 1

 

In your own words, can you tell us what The Student Body is about and why you feel people should see the film?

BW: For me, The Student Body is a story of empowerment and finding your voice.  Learning to stand against something that you feel is wrong, even when nobody else seems to be standing with you.  That’s the example we see in the beginning of the film with my friend, Maddy, which then empowered me to find my own voice, to step outside of my comfort zone, and to combat something that I felt was unjust.  Little did I know the giants I would face along the journey!

I hope people will watch the film for a couple reasons.  For one, I want young people to realize that their opinion does matter, their voice can be powerful, and they can help to bring about change in their world.  But it starts with being willing to learn, to work hard, and to be persistent.  And for adults, I hope they will see the film and learn as I did, that obesity is so much more complicated than we are led to believe, and shaming and blaming kids for this epidemic of obesity is wrong on so many levels. 

I also want people to know that this is a very positive film and it’s even filled with a lot of humor!  People are surprised at how funny and entertaining the film is and they come away from with a sense of hope and encouragement, as well as being better informed and energized about the progress that can be made.  I’ve had both students and adults tell me seeing the film has changed their life!

 

Can you share a little bit about the evolution of The Student Body? What drew you to the topic of BMI report cards and body shaming in the schools?

BW: Believe it or not, this film actually started off as a small, summer project when I was a sophomore in high school.  I wanted to make a documentary about the “fat letters” that were being handed out to students at my school and my dad, who is a filmmaker, agreed to mentor me through the process. 

Early on in my investigation, it became clear that this was more than just a local story, this was happening all over our state.  And by the end of the summer, I found myself in the middle of a heated national debate!  This was much bigger than I could have imagined and I wanted to take my investigation all the way.  So, my dad agreed to drop his other films and help me see this through to the end.  The father/daughter filmmaking duo was born!  I then spent the next two years in production, traveling the country and taking my story to its conclusion. 

I am so thankful to have been able to learn and work alongside my dad.  I had my own obstacles to overcome and I really needed someone like him to give me the confidence and encouragement to keep going all the way.  It was an amazing journey and I learned so much about myself through the experience.   

 

Was there one interview you did for the film that really moved you or was particularly powerful? If so, with whom was it and what made it stand out to you?

BW: As I began investigating this issue I read that these “fat letters” are being sent to students of all ages, even as young as kindergartners. I didn’t know how awful and detrimental this really was to young kids until I talked to them myself.  One of the most powerful interviews I did was with a group of 4th graders in New York who were brave enough to speak on camera.  These sweet little kids each received “fitness grams” from their school, telling them that they were overweight and were devastated by it.  They cried when they got home.  They saw themselves differently than before.  And they were not alone; kids and parents all over the country have had similar experiences but just would not agree to talk about it on camera because it was humiliating.

The short time I spent with these kids changed me forever.  It gave me the energy I needed to keep pressing forward and to be a voice for them and also caused me want to focus my future on working more with youth.

 

What was your personal knowledge/perception of BMI testing in schools before the film and how did it evolve throughout your filming of The Student Body?

BW: One of my favorite things about documentary filmmaking is how much I learn through the journey.  When I started this film I didn’t know much about BMI or obesity.  I simply wanted to tell a personal story about a girl at my school and shed light on what seemed like government profiling and bullying.  But this led me to connect with top experts around the country who were willing to talk to me about BMI and obesity.  I learned so much through this process and the neat thing is the audience gets to come along with me as we take this journey together.

 

Can you share the most surprising thing you learned in the process of creating this film?

BW: The most surprising, and maybe most controversial thing I learned, is that all of the experts that I spoke to said pretty much the same thing – obesity is a disease and the cause in many people may not be as simple as we once believed.  Research is showing that it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories burned and that obesity is not only caused by poor diet and exercise.  The research is finding all of these other factors that play a big role in the obesity epidemic and yet we still are pointing our finger at kids and telling them they have done something wrong.  The experts talked with me about the disconnect between what their research is showing and what the general public believes.


Read Part 2 of our interview with Bailey Webber HERE.

Watch the trailer and reserve a seat at The Baltimore Screening of The Student Body on February 26, 2017 in Towson, MD.

 

 

Adventures in Self-Care with Melissa Fabello, Part II

 

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In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 (Feb. 21-27), we asked body acceptance activist and eating disorder recovery advocate, Melissa Fabello to share her thoughts on some essential eating disorder awareness topics.  If you missed it, you can find her thoughts on self-care, perfectionism and dieting in Part I.

Below, in part II she opens the door to important conversations about body neutrality and intersectionality, and she also shares the one thing she wants people struggling with eating disorders to know about recovery.

 


Q & A with MELISSA FABELLO: Part II

 

Q: You recently wrote an awesome list of 50 body acceptance resolutions for 2016. In that list you introduce body neutrality as an alternative goal when body positivity feels like too much pressure. What did you mean by that?

MF: There are so many aims of the body acceptance or body positivity movement that I love. I have found so much comfort, joy, and support within those communities, and I am forever grateful to them for that. I’ve also found some missteps that I think need correcting, one of which being the push for everyone to feel beautiful and to love their bodies. I think that’s a lovely goal, and I also think it’s too lofty for reality.

Because the truth is that no one loves their body every single day – no one. Part of how body image works is that it can shift and that we all have good days, and we all have bad days. Mostly, when we have healthy body image, we simply see our body for what it is without ascribing any meaning to it whatsoever, and we exist, full of acceptance, in that body. To me, that’s what body neutrality is about. It’s about acknowledging and accepting our body as is, rather than pushing ourselves to have extreme feelings about it either way.

And I like to think of it as an option – not an alternative to the mainstream body acceptance movement. I like to think of it as something that someone can choose to work toward, if that goal feels more realistic than one of unconditional love. Perhaps, even, I like to think of it as a stop on the train toward a more loving relationship with our bodies. I just think that pushing people to love their bodies can backfire if it creates another standard to live up to.

 

Q: In all of your writing and in advocating for individuals with eating disorders, you take great care to acknowledge the true diversity of those who are impacted. From gender to age to race and socioeconomic status, why is it so important to you to highlight these marginalized voices in your work?

MF: Intersectionality – the understanding that intersecting social identities exist, a term that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw – is an absolute must in any and all work, I believe, but especially in work that stems from feminism. The ways in which we’re impacted by society differ, based on our identities. As a queer woman, for example, I experience life differently than a straight woman or a queer man. As a white woman, I experience life differently than a woman of color or a white man. Our positionality within the complicated web of identity matters because it affects how we move through this world. This is true in regards to body image and eating disorders, too.

We talk a lot about the thin ideal in our work – and that’s a very real, valid concern. We talk less, though, about how our beauty ideals are also centered on whiteness, on a heteronormative idea of gender roles, on access to money, on youth, and many other intersections. The further that we get away from the ideal, the more suffering we may experience as a result, and the more pressure we may feel to approximate those ideals. And I think that when we center the most marginalized – the people furthest from that ideal – in our work, then we help more people. When our work focuses on white, middle class, cis women, for example, then those are the only people that we help.

The eating disorder field has long focused its efforts on a very specific population, and I think it’s far past time to admit that and to work actively to eradicate the ways that that focus perpetuates systems of oppression like white supremacy and classism, among others. Different voices need to be centered because different 670_06_NEDAW_TWITTER_01_2016_P12experiences exist and have been ignored.

 

Q: Who do you think could benefit from attending your presentation, Adventures in Self-Care: Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world?

MF: I think that anyone could, honestly! It’s been my experience that conversations around self-care can be difficult to have because so few people practice it. I’m going to talk a lot about what self-care means and why it’s important, but I’m also going to give ideas on how to start cultivating more self-care practices in your life – in ways that are easy and practical. I think that anyone who feels like sometimes life is overwhelming and they need some “me” time could benefit from this conversation – and isn’t that everyone?

 

Q: Lastly, what is the one thing you would want to tell someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and may be feeling ambivalent, hopeless, overwhelmed by or resistant to the prospect of recovery?

MF: I want them to know that those are very real and valid feelings to have. I want them to know that we’ve all come up against that at some point or another. And I want them to know that one of the biggest obstacles to recovery is believing that it’s one huge accomplishment that looks a certain way. It’s not. Recovery is about a whole bunch of tiny successes that lead you to a healthier, happier place – defined by you. Recovery is in your reach because you get to decide what it looks like and how to get there. But first, you need to take the first step of believing (even skeptically!) that it’s a possibility. And it is. I promise you that it is.

 

Continue the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #bmoreselfcare. 


Many thanks to Melissa Fabello for taking the time to share her passionate and thoughtful responses. If you’d like to hear more from Melissa, join us in Baltimore on February 21 to help kick-off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Don’t forget to RSVP. Space is limited. 

Download an Event Flyer to share or post:
Adventures in Self-Care…Everyday strategies for nurturing an imperfect recovery in the real world (PDF)

You can find Part I of our Q&A with Melissa here.

 



 

Adventures in Self-Care with Melissa Fabello: Part 1

 

If you’ve ever seen one of her YouTube videos than you probably already know Melissa Fabello is a talented and passionate activist.  She also writes boldly and beautifully about eating disorder recovery, body image, diet culture and a host of other important issues. In advance of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and her presentation in Baltimore on February 21, we asked Melissa to share her thoughts on why self-care is not self-ish, the intersection of eating disorders and perfectionism, and her experience with recovery in a society obsessed with dieting.  We are honored to share her responses with you below.

 

 


Q&A with MelissA Fabello – Part I

 

Q: A lot of people assume self-care to be synonymous with personal hygiene or the daily chores of living. This can sound like a pretty boring topic. Given that you will be in Baltimore on February 21 to discuss the Adventures in Self-Care as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, can you explain more about what self-care really is and why it’s something we should be talking about?

MF: To start, I would actually argue that self-care should, indeed, be a daily chore of living. It should be an intentional practice that we partake in – every single day – in order to take care of ourselves. It really can be as simple as getting the right amount of sleep, drinking enough water, or eating a meal that fuels your body. It’s finding ways to insert self-care into those daily chores of living, which in turn, creates a life that may feel a bit more adventurous.

And when I say “adventurous,” I don’t necessarily mean thrill-seeking, but rather, simply, more livable. And what is more of an adventure than life itself? Self-care puts you in the position to live life more fully and to experience it more broadly because it cultivates your self-awareness and forces you to consider what makes you the happiest.


Self-care, really, is just any set of practices that are nourishing to you – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Those practices can be preventative (like taking care of your physiological and mental health needs to the best of your ability every day), and they can also be intervention methods (think: calling out sick just to spend the day taking a bubble bath and reading novels). But the point is that they are necessary to all of our lives, but especially necessary when we’re in eating disorder recovery.

 

Q: We often hear from patients who fear that engaging in self-care is a selfish act. How would you respond to someone worried about being, or being perceived as, selfish?

MF: That’s a real concern, and it needs to be validated as such. We live in a culture that’s driven by capitalism, and the number one value held by capitalism is that of productivity. Have you ever slept in because your body needed rest, but then berated yourself for not getting up early enough to start in on your housework? Or have you ever taken a much needed day off to marathon your favorite TV show, but then felt bad that you didn’t work on your school work, even though you hadn’t taken a day off in two weeks? That guilt is the product of believing that our worth is tied up in how productive we are.

670_06_NEDAW_TWITTER_01_2016_P12 This is especially difficult for women. In our society, men are frequently defined by what they do out in the world. Women, though, are judged by how they take care of others. As such, women’s moral development, according to Carol Gilligan, is all about how we understand ourselves in relation to other people. Women, in particular, are taught that taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves first is not only a selfish act, but even an immoral one. And that’s just straight up sexist.


One small shift we can make is to redefine what “productivity” means to us. I have an ex-girlfriend who was a hustler, trying to make it in the music business. As such, every day when we talked, she’d ask me, “What did you do today?” or “What did you accomplish today?” And sometimes that really overwhelmed me – because what if I didn’t “do” or “accomplish” anything? But the truth is that even if what I did that day was laugh while playing with my cat, or if what I accomplished was taking a trip to the bookstore for fun, then I’ve been productive. I’ve produced something: self-care. I think we need to remind ourselves that taking care of ourselves is an accomplishment.

 

Q: Perfectionism is one of several genetic traits that have been identified by research to be associated with an increased risk for the development of eating disorders. From your experience and observation, how does the topic of self-care intersect with tendencies toward perfectionism?

MF: I like to think of myself as a recovering overachiever, although I still fall back into those old habits sometimes. Again, in a culture where we’re taught to value our productivity, it can be hard not to fall into perfectionism as a way to prove our worth. But the truth is that we need to learn to be okay with the fact that none of us is perfect, that we’re all going to make mistakes.

One of the most valuable pieces of self-care advice I’ve received lately is that of learning to be okay with “good enough.” I’m one of those people who, when I give 75%, will feel guilty and ashamed for not giving 100%. What happens that’s interesting, though, is that no one can ever tell that I didn’t give something my all. As far as they can tell, I gave 110% because what I did was absolutely, positively awesome. Learning to be okay with “good enough” means giving something a shot, but not letting it run our lives, and feeling comfortable with the amount of attention that we were able to give something.

Part of self-care is being able to say, “I can’t (or don’t want to) work on this anymore because it’s possible that continuing to do so will damage my mental health. So I’m done now.” And that means letting go of the idea that we – and everything associated with us – has to be perfect.

 

Q: Another risk factor for eating disorders stems from the emotional and physiological consequences of dieting. What other impacts do you see from a culture that markets diets as a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance?

MF: I’ll be honest: The day that I actively decided to go through weight restoration was the day I realized that I could never be both thinner and happy. I could only ever be one of the two. I could spend every second of every day counting, measuring, and restricting in an attempt to achieve self-acceptance through (what I thought was) self-improvement, or I could attempt to apologize to my body and recreate a healthy relationship with food and within that freedom, find happiness. That concrete realization – that I couldn’t work toward a “better” body and experience day to day happiness – was a huge shift for me.

A spoken word poem that I really love, “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird, has a line in it that says: “This was the year of eating when I was hungry without punishing myself / And I know it sounds ridiculous, but that sh– is hard.” And it is. It is hard. Because we live in a culture that is so focused on dieting as, like you said, “a valid form of self-care and a path towards self-acceptance” that deciding to go against that grain and to seek validation and happiness from elsewhere is a radical act. And make no mistake: Giving up diet culture is a radical act, both personally and politically. Our culture thrives on making us feel small, weak, and less-than. Rebelling against that pressure, declaring that you will not be contained, and saying “no” to everything that our culture and media want us to believe? That is an incredibly courageous act.

 

Be sure to check out Part II of our discussion with Melissa in which she delves into body image and the concept of intersectionality as it relates to eating disorders.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #bmoreselfcare. 


MF 006Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed. is a body acceptance activist, sexuality scholar, and patriarchy smasher based in Philadelphia. She is currently a managing editor of Everyday Feminism, as well as a doctoral candidate at Widener University, working toward a PhD in Human Sexuality Studies. Melissa has worked closely with The National Eating Disorders Association, The Representation Project, and Adios Barbie on campaigns related to body image, eating disorders, and media literacy. Find out more about Melissa and her work at melissafabello.com.

 

 

 

Q&A with Filmmaker, ELENA ROSSINI on “The Illusionists”, why she made the film and her hopes for its impact

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After years of following along with and supporting Elena Rossini’s work to produce The Illusionists, we are thrilled to be able to host the public’s first full sneak peek of the film on June 7 in Baltimore. In advance of the event, we asked Elena about the documentary, the challenges she faced along the way and what’s next for her and the film. Read about her experiences below and be sure to RSVP for the advanced screening and panel discussion.

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Q & A with ELENA ROSSINI

Q: “The Illusionists”is a film about the commodification of the body and the spread of westernized beauty ideals. Can you describe those concepts and share a bit about each of the main themes introduced in the film? What was the biggest surprise you encountered while researching the globalization of body ideals?

The central thesis of the film is that after millennia of puritanism, in the 20th century the body was “liberated” – mostly for commercial reasons – and has become “the finest consumer object.” After all, we all have a body and we all go through the process of aging. There is unlimited consumerism built around the idea that a youthful appearance is key to success and happiness. What I found most fascinating is the fact that Western media is so powerful – and persuasive – that it has exported beauty ideals to the rest of the world. So, if you are walking through the streets of Beirut, Mumbai, or Tokyo, you will see billboard ads that display images of Caucasian models with blue eyes, who look very different from the local population. In The Illusionists I show the powerful effects of this globalization of beauty ideals. One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from British psychotherapist and author Susie Orbach. She says: “I think one of the tragedies that’s happening at the moment is that we’re losing bodies as fast as we’re losing languages. Just as English has become the lingua franca of the world, so the white, blondified, small nosed, pert breast, long-legged body is coming to stand in for the great variety of human bodies that there are.”

Q: What were the biggest barriers for you in getting this project off the ground?

Completing the film truly felt like a Herculean endeavor, as I did virtually everything on my own: from fundraising to writing, producing, directing, shooting and editing. I even took care of archival material and motion graphics – basically covering the roles of a dozen people. It was never my intention to do everything by myself! A famous French director mentored me and proposed to be executive producer: but no French TV networks wanted to give us funding (after 2 years of various meetings), so I was left to do things on my own… and thus started a Kickstarter campaign. When the film was finished and I looked for a celebrity to record the voice-over, some very prominent film people expressed interest in helping… but then disappeared, so I had to resort to finding someone through my own networks. There is an Italian saying that goes “Chi fa da se, fa per tre” – meaning “you’d better do things yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.”

In the world of film – which is such a collaborative medium – it’s very difficult to do everything on your own. So, when opportunities for collaboration arose, I was so happy! The audio part of the film – from the incredible soundtrack created by Pierre-Marie Maulini of STAL, to the sound mix done by AOC, to the voice-over recorded by the amazing Peter Coyote… it was truly a dream come true.

Q: What would you say makes “The Illusionists” different from other documentaries about the media portrayal of beauty ideals?

I pinch myself every time I ILLUSIONISTSfilmstillMILAN01have conversations with sales agents who have watched the film, because they invariably compliment The Illusionists for the fact that it has a global angle. Filming locations included the US, UK, Netherlands, Italy, France, Lebanon, India and Japan. This is definitely the film’s biggest selling point and what sets it apart.

From the point of view of storytelling and tone, I wanted to highlight the absurdity of certain advertising messages, so there are many sections of the film where audiences laugh out loud. I have to admit, I am not a big fan of documentaries that simply point the finger in an angry way or show depressing facts for 89 minutes and have a one minute uplifting section at the end, seemingly out of nowhere. I think humour can be a powerful teacher!

Q: What aspects of the film are you most proud of?

My favorite moments are definitely the most shocking and humorous ones. I love to hear audiences react out loud when I show the hypocrisy of beauty companies. One of my favorite sections is a split screen with skin whitening ads on one side, and self-tanning lotions on the other: those are ads by the same brands, but done in different regions of the world!

670-06_Illusionists_FB_twitter_sidebar_4_2015_P2Q: If you had to sum up your film in one word, what would that word be?

Subversive (in a positive way!). A friend has recently called me a “gentle warrior” – it was one of the biggest compliments I ever received. I love the idea of challenging the status quo, but in a way that’s not violent or angry.

Q: What is next for the film, and for you as a Director?  Are you committed to doing more work on body image and media literacy?

I have the utmost admiration for the career of activist, author and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne – whom I was super lucky to feature in The Illusionists. My dream is to follow her footsteps and continue working on The Illusionists, updating the film or doing follow-ups in the years to come. There is so much to talk about and the media landscape is constantly evolving: I’d love to go to new countries and produce a web series that continues to tackle these topics.

Q: What do you hope viewers will get out of attending this special advance screening event on June 7th?

I am so excited about this special advance screening because so far I have only shown the full film to friends, friends-of-friends, or sales agents. I am thrilled at the opportunity to have my first big sneak peek at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt and to see how people who don’t know me will react. A friend said something that stayed with me. Weeks after a private screening at his place, he said, “After watching The Illusionists, I don’t see ads the same way anymore.” I loved hearing that. If I can manage to make audience members more aware of ads and their messages, I would have done my job.

 

Join us in Baltimore for the exclusive advanced screening of the film followed by a panel discussion with Elena and other experts on body image and media literacy.  Pre-registration is required to reserve seats.

Click the image below to watch a 4-minute preview of The Illusionists

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A Reason to Smile ~ A Featured #NEDAwareness Q&A with Benjamin O’Keefe

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BENJAMIN O’KEEFE is an actor, activist, and writer.  Besides working as a performer, Ben has been an emerging leader in activism work focused on LGBT rights, Youth Rights, and Body Image. In this role, Ben has been responsible for creating many major movements of change – most notably, an International movement against size discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch. Benjamin will speak about his recovery from an eating disorder at a free event on February 22 in Baltimore where he will also co-facilitate a workshop looking at how individual and collective cultural experiences shape the treatment and recovery process.


Today on the blog, Ben shared with us his answers to some of our questions about the recovery journey so that we could share them with you.  Please feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or head over to our Facebook page to thank Ben for his inspiring responses.

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Q & A with Benajamin O’Keefe

 Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand?

Ben: I think the most important thing to know about eating disorders is that they affect no two people the same. They don’t discriminate–even though many people’s opinions on them do. I think that the way we discuss eating disorders needs to fundamentally change. We need to break down the taboo around eating disorders, and start talking about the ways that these disorders affect people from all walks of life and of all cultural make up.

Q: What is one thing you learned about yourself during your experience with an eating disorder and/or the recovery process?

Ben: I learned that I could make it through it anything. Back when I was sick, I never thought that I would make it out of the dark hole that was my disorder. And I certainly never thought that I would make it out to become a person who loves himself so thoroughly–and helps encourage others to do the same.

I learned that, not only am I good enough, but I am great just the way I am.

I learned to surround myself with love, whether that be in the people I spend time with or the environments in which I put myself.

I learned to love my reflection, but more importantly to love what that mirror can’t show me. I am more than a number on a scale, I am a person that deserves love and happiness.

Q: Did you face any specific challenge during the recovery process and what helped you overcome it?

Ben: The road to recovery is so different for every person, but one thing that I think everyone can relate to is the isolation that comes with an eating disorder. It’s so easy to feel like we are alone, in fact it’s Ben-headshot-1024x683exactly what the eating disorder wants you to feel, but it’s just simply not the case. There are people that love you, people you don’t even know.

For me, finding a community of people; whether it be people currently struggling, recovered, or just allies, helped me to see that I truly wasn’t alone in my fight, and that we could get through it together.

Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?

Ben: I think the biggest difference is my relationship with food. It’s no longer an enemy. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. If I feel like having a cookie, then I eat a cookie. It’s seems simple, but for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s not.

For me, I now know that food gives life, and that I shouldn’t fear it, but enjoy it. I make healthy choices, and exercise regularly, but it’s no longer about a number on scale, but instead about being the healthiest person that I can be.

Q: What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?

Ben: First of all I say THANK YOU. This is a journey for you too, and sometimes we don’t think to say thank you to the people supporting us.

Second, I think that my feedback would be to find patience. It’s easy for support people to become frustrated when they see their loved ones taking actions that don’t make sense to them, but it’s important to remember that this is a mental disorder. It’s not a choice.

With patience, love, and support your loved one can make it through. They need you—and your strength and love.

Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?

Ben: Recovery to me means regaining my reason to smile. When I struggled with anorexia I felt like I was never happy. No matter what I did, how thin I got, what compliment I received on my appearance, it was never enough.

Now, it’s hard to find me without a smile on my face. I love life, and I do my best to take whatever comes my way—good or bad—with a smile on my face. To me that is the biggest indication of my recovery.

 Benjamin Okeefe SMILEYou can find Ben smiling over on Twitter @benjaminokeefe.

 Leave your comments below and head over to RSVP for Ben’s upcoming talk at Recovery in Real Life.  You can also view a video invitation from Benjamin here.

Matt Wetsel talks Eating Disorder “Recovery in Real Life” ~ #NEDAwareness Week Guest Blog

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WETSEL-headshot.mediumMATT WETSEL is an eating disorder and body image writer and advocate.  After suffering from anorexia as an undergraduate in college, Matt got involved with the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) doing volunteer lobby work and is now a member of the EDC Junior Board.  Matt launched the blog, Until Eating Disorders Are No More in 2011 and remains a consistently well-informed and responsible voice in the recovery community. We’re honored to feature some of Matt’s personal insights about recovery in the post below and at the upcoming event Recovery in Real Life You can read Matt Wetsel’s full bio here.

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Q & A featuring Matt Wetsel

Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand?

MW: We say it all the time but it’s always worth repeating, eating disorders are serious and must be taken seriously. Especially in America, we live in such a toxic culture that values thinness, promotes dieting, equates weight loss with health without exception, and encourages people to want to ‘improve’ their bodies as if they aren’t good enough already. All of these factors contribute to the trivializing of eating disorders, in popular culture but also within the medical establishment and especially the insurance industry.

It’s so expected of people to diet, to lose weight, etc. that it’s easy to slip into disordered eating behaviors that are actually quite unhealthy and, for some people, pave the way to an eating disorder. These behaviors are so normalized that the warning signs aren’t usually seen as such, but instead are rewarded by the culture and encouraged.

Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?

MW: I recall some studies that reported someone with an eating disorder spends maybe 90% of their waking hours thinking about food, weight, etc. When I was sick that was definitely true. It takes up so much of your time and energy that it starts to feel like it’s a part of you. When I would think about recovery, I was honestly terrified of what would be left of me if the eating disorder wasn’t a part of my life. I’d plan my social life, my free time, everything around food. I’d check the scale multiple times per day. I’d avoid friends and family just to avoid potentially having meals with them.

Now, meals are a central part of time I spend with people. I love to cook for friends, go to potlucks, things like that. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. I don’t remember the last time I felt anxious about eating, because it’s been years and years. Even when other hardships in my life have occurred (and there have been a few), I have healthy mechanisms for dealing with grief, depression, anxiety, etc. when life gets challenging. I don’t know what I weigh, and I don’t care.

Q:  What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?

MW: This is a tough but important question. I’m always afraid to be too specific because good advice for one situation could be terrible advice for the next, depending on circumstances. That said, I think it’s very important to not let the person you’re trying to help or support be the sole source of information on eating disorders. Take time to educate yourself on the subject through other outlets. Make time for yourself and find ways to let go once in a while. If you have to, see a therapist of your own. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be less capable of supporting someone else. It’s like on an airplane, you always put your own oxygen mask on first. That’s hard advice to take when you’re watching someone struggle, but it’s true.

Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?

MW: Much like the previous question about day-to-day differences, recovery, in a word, means freedom. When you spend so much of your time and energy worrying about food, it’s difficult to be productive in other aspects of your life. All of my relationships suffered while I was anorexic. My GPA tanked. I was in pretty constant physical discomfort.

In contrast, I’ve made lifelong friendships doing advocacy work. I ran a half marathon in 2011 that would have been impossible if I hadn’t recovered. I’m free to figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life without anorexia calling every shot, and that’s a really beautiful thing.

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On February 22, 2015, Matt Wetsel will co-facilitate a free workshop with Benjamin O’Keefe entitled, Eating Disorders: Creating a More Inclusive Recovery CultureThe workshop will examine how cultural experiences affect treatment, the experience of the body and the eating disorder recovery process.

 

Erin Matson on Eating Disorders & “Recovery in Real Life” A Special #NEDAWawareness Guest Blog

ErinMatson-1-autocorrect

ERIN MATSON (@Erintothemax) is a writer and organizer for reproductive justice, equality for women, and social change. An activist and strategist, Erin has led local, state, and national advocacy campaigns and has appeared in a variety of publications and frequently on television, including ABC World News, BBC World News, and MSNBC. She served as an Editor at Large for RH Reality Check, and previously held a variety of positions in the National Organization for Women, including serving as the youngest state NOW president in the country (Minnesota NOW), a founding member of the national Young Feminist Task Force, and a national executive officer (NOW Action Vice President). One of her responsibilities was leading the national organization’s Love Your Body campaign. Erin is an anorexia survivor, and for many years said that recovering from an eating disorder was the coolest thing she’d ever done. That changed when she became a mom. 

We asked Erin to reflect on the experience of living with and recovering from an eating disorder and she graciously allowed us to share her thoughts and ideas with our readers. This is what she had to say…

Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand? 

EM: Recovery is possible! When I was most struggling with anorexia, I wish I had known there were people who do go on to recover. An eating disorder means there is hard work ahead but it definitely doesn’t mean that your life is doomed forever. I had an eating disorder and things were terrible, but today my life is terrific. That possibility didn’t get through to me while I was struggling.

Q: What is one thing you learned about yourself during your experience with an eating disorder and/or the recovery process?

EM: I am. It sounds strange, but one of the most profound things I learned through the recovery process is that I deserve to take up space without relying upon external validators like accomplishments, or roles, or size.

Q: Did you face any specific challenge during the recovery process and what helped you overcome it?

EM: Bad days and bad moments happen. Accepting them when they happen, rather than viewing them as failures or reasons to give up, is the first step to overcoming them. During the more difficult phases of my recovery I tried to observe a mental wall of separation between meal and snack and physical activity times; no matter what happened earlier in the day or the day before, I was going to focus on following my recovery plan during the moment in front of me.

Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?

EM: Cue the music and rainbows! Seriously, the difference is amazing. I am able to enjoy life, a depth of thought, and the company of others in a way that was impossible when I was preoccupied with my eating disorder. Recovery has made me more compassionate toward others and the struggles they may be going through. In the super-awesome category, recovery made it possible for me to have a baby.

Q: What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?

EM: Patience. Patience and unconditional love are the best gifts you can give to an individual in recovery. What I didn’t need was people to fix my problem; what I most needed was people who I could count on, no matter what.

Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?

EM: Recovery means living without my eating disorder. It means accepting myself, and allowing myself the freedom to be human. At a macro level, it has come to mean for me actively resisting sexism and eating disorder culture, and working so that people treat each other (and themselves) better.

Want to hear more from Erin Matson on recovery from her Eating Disorder?  Be sure to RSVP for the event Recovery in Real Life and register for her breakout session entitled The Gifts & Challenges of Recovery during Pregnancy, Post-Partum & Parenting. 

Before the event, you can catch Erin chatting about the gifts of recovery in this short YouTube video: What Has Recovery Given You? Erin Matson on Eating Disorder “Recovery in Real Life” 

She also blogs about pregnancy and eating disorders, reproductive justice and other important issues over at erintothemax.com.  

Meet the rest of the #RecoveryinRealLife speakers here.

Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part I


Linda Bacon, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized authority on weight and health.  She will stop by Baltimore this fall for two events aimed at dispelling long held myths about weight and health within the medical community and in our society at large. A nutrition professor and researcher, Dr. Bacon holds graduate degrees in physiology, psychology, and exercise metabolism, with a specialty in nutrition. She has conducted federally funded studies on diet and health, and  published in top scientific journals. Dr. Bacon’s advocacy for Health at Every Size (HAES) has generated a large following on social media platforms and the international lecture circuit. Her book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, called the “Bible” of the alternative health movement by Prevention Magazine, ranks consistently high in Amazon’s health titles. Her latest book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Fail to Understand, co-authored by Lucy Aphramor, is a crash course in all you need to know about bodies and health.

We recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Dr. Bacon to get answers to some of your most popular questions about HAES, the work she does dispelling diet myths and her newest book, Body Respect.  You can find Part I of her responses below, and Part II is available here.

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Q & A with LINDA BACON, Ph.D.

Q: What led you to pursue writing about and researching health and weight science?

LB: My journey began from own personal pain: in my adolescence and early twenties, I believed that I was fat, that there was something wrong with being fat, and if only I lost weight, everything in my life would be better: my parents would be more proud of me, I’d be more popular… Those thoughts sent me on the painful journey of fighting my weight, and included an academic search for a solution. What I found along that academic journey surprised me: the research contradicted many of the commonly accepted beliefs I held about weight. I developed a critical lens through my work first as a psychotherapist, next as an exercise physiologist and later a nutritionist. And that critical lens has been so valuable in re-learning how to look at myself, and my own relationship with food and my body, and come to a sense of peace and contentment. The war that was originally waged against my self – the fat on my body – was more appropriately waged against oppressive attitudes about fat. I’m now on a mission to share what I’ve learned, both to support others in their personal journeys and to support social change. Our culture plays a huge role in fueling our disconnection with self and it’s critical we move towards a more just and compassionate world so that this struggle isn’t so normative. No one should experience the pain and body shame that I – and many others – routinely do.

Q: What are the most important tenets of Health at Every Size (HAES)?

LB: I see three aspects as being most important: 1) RESPECT, including respect for body diversity; 2) CRITICAL AWARENESS – challenging cultural and scientific assumptions; valuing people’s lived experience and body knowledge; and acknowledging social injustice as a hazard to health and well-being; and 3) COMPASSIONATE SELF-CARE – in eating, movement, and other areas. There’s a lot packed into those words, so here’s the simpler response: HAES is all about supporting people in moving towards greater acceptance and improved self-care, and advocating for the institutional and social change necessary to support that.

Free event in Baltimore on November 8th. Click image for details.

Q: Why do you think so many people continue to rely on dieting when the data isn’t there to back it up as an effective remedy for weight loss or improved health?

LB: I have a lot of compassion for dieters. The dieting belief system is so strongly a part of our culture and medical belief system, it makes sense that many people would buy into it and believe they are doing the right thing. And there is so much fantasy imbued in the results: the belief that one will be seen as attractive and successful, and that it will ameliorate disease. It makes sense many people grab onto it, and get a sense of hope when they try. And we’re taught to believe the “experts” rather than to trust our own experience. So when the diet fails to give them lasting results, the dieter blames him or herself, rather than the diet.

The diet is the problem and it’s the diet that fails, not the dieter. It takes courage to take our power back and recognize that the problem is out there, not in ourselves, that we have a system inside us well-designed to help us manage our weight, if only we trust it. The HAES journey is about helping people to understand that the source of their pain is not the weight itself – but the weight prejudice, and to reclaim their power to know what, when, how to eat, and a new attitude towards other self-care behaviors.

Not long ago, I had a very poignant experience of the damages of the diet mentality. I attended a wedding reception where there was a beautiful buffet of gourmet food. At one end of the buffet was the proud father of one of the brides. (I’m in California, where it’s legal for lesbians to marry.) He had helped plan this party; to him, sharing food was part of the ritual that brought his daughter’s friends and family together. At the other end, three women approached. One looked at the display and said, “Oh, I really shouldn’t.” Her friend commiserated, saying, “It really is tempting, isn’t it?” They all looked on sadly. This is the world we have created. These women are “good” dieters. For them, virtue lies in confronting the temptations of good food, exerting their willpower, and overcoming their desire.

This saddens me. I want a world where food is about nourishing us, body and soul, where we can celebrate with the shared ritual of eating. Where you eat what you want without guilt… and without bingeing. Where eating is uncomplicated by weight concerns.

Fortunately, that world is possible and the Health at Every Size movement helps to articulate it. I live in it myself, and I’ve tested it in a randomized controlled clinical trial. And my results have been reproduced by others. We have shown that people – yes, even “obese” people who are experienced dieters – can learn to dump the diet mentality and celebrate food, and that it results in improved nutritional choices and improved health outcomes. And that it does not result in that feared weight gain.

Q: In your new book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, you and your co-author Lucy Aphramor write a lot about the influence of social justice on weight and health. What’s the most important thing you think people should understand about the impact of inequality and social differences on weight and health?

LB: I can sum it up in three words: “our stories matter.” Our experiences in the world get lodged in us on a cellular level. The experience of oppression, for example, triggers a chronic stress response, which in turn leads to weakened immunity and increased risk for many diseases. When we focus solely on an individual’s weight or health habits, we miss these structural and political inequities, and it stops us from addressing the policies and systems that have a far greater impact on our health. It also supports a culture of blaming individuals for their disease: e.g., “it’s your fault for getting diabetes; if only you ate better.”

How we get treated in the world has a huge impact on our health. Acknowledging the power of social status in determining health can help take the blame off of the individual and will have more significance for tackling health disparities than getting more people to stop smoking, or to be more active, or to eat more nutritiously. This doesn’t mean that we need to stop talking about behavior change: helping someone take better care of themselves is valuable. But it needs to be put in context. Once we understand this, it opens up new avenues for self-care and for how health care gets practiced.

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Interested?  Want to learn more about Dr. Bacon’s research and how the focus on weight can obstruct us from achieving health?  Read more in Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon: Part II.

Then join us in Baltimore on November 7th and 8th to see her speak. Visit our Events Page to reserve your seats.


 

Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part II

Welcome to Part II of our discussion with internationally acclaimed author and researcher, Linda Bacon, Ph.D.  If you missed Part I, you can find it here

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Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part II

 

Q: What are some of the repercussions of evaluating a person’s health by their weight?

LB: One key repercussion is misdiagnosis. Some thin people get the diseases we blame on weight – and they often don’t get diagnosed until later when they’re more advanced and harder to treat – and many heavier people never get the diseases we blame on weight. And then of course, it introduces the nocebo effect: tell someone they’re going to get sick and they probably will. So it’s just bad medicine. (And expensive! Those excessive costs attributed to “obesity” can be better attributed to weight bias.) Fat or thin, the conflation of weight and health imbues people with a fear of fat and distracts us from what really matters. It brings stigma, a problem of social justice, into health care. It’s both ineffective AND damaging.

 

Q: How could a focus on weight, or on weight loss, get in the way of effective healthcare? Can you give a specific example?

LB: My knee has been bothering me a lot lately, and that provides for an easy example. My father suffered from similar knee problems. However, he was fat (I use that as a descriptive term, stripped of pejorative connotations) and I’m not, resulting in very different treatment from our orthopedists.

My doc told me to first try physical therapy, that stretching and strengthening the muscles around the joint can help. Surgery was also presented as an option.

But what did my father’s doctors recommend? They put him on diets – over and over again. He never developed a regular exercise habit and struggled with weight cycling and disordered eating his whole adult life.

Carrying more weight may have aggravated my dad’s joint problems; no doubt there are ways it’s hard to be in a fatter body. (I should add parenthetically, that there are also ways it confers health advantage, but that’s a much longer blog post.) But trying to lose that weight is no kind of solution. I can assure you, my father – almost all heavier people – they’ve tried already.

My dad went to his death with knee pain. That’s just not effective healthcare. Even if fat is a causative factor and weight loss may be helpful in reducing symptoms, that doesn’t mean that prescribing weight loss is an effective or helpful solution. (Note also that it’s well documented in the literature: prescribing weight loss is more likely to result in health-damaging weight cycling than sustained weight loss.)

My advice in training health care professionals in respectful care with larger people is to start by considering how they would treat someone in a thinner body. Appropriate exercise? Meds? Surgery? Then do what you can to support your patients in implementing your advice and handling the challenges posed by their particular body.

It’s important to remember that good health habits benefit everyone, across the weight spectrum. And that you can’t diagnose someone’s health habits by looking at them. My father – and people of all sizes – could also have benefited from eating disorders screening. Appropriate eating disorders treatment may – or may not – have a side effect of weight change.

 

Q: On November 7 and 8 you will be speaking at two events in Baltimore, one for the community and another specifically for health professionals. What are some of your main goals for each of those talks and who do you think could benefit from attending?

LB: More than anything else, I want to inspire people. For the general community, I want attendees to leave with a sense of hope, that they can lose the guilt and shame and instead take pleasure in eating, that they can look at their bodies kindly. And I want the health care professionals to leave with a greater sense of agency, feeling empowered that they know how to be helpful for people. I want all of us to walk away with a stronger sense of community, feeling that we’re part of a committed group of people helping to make this a more just and compassionate world.

 

Q: Are you hopeful that our medical community, or even our society in general, will be able to make a paradigm shift away from a focus on weight? What helps you stay focused on and inspired by this goal?

LB: I do feel quite hopeful. I’ve watched the transition that’s been happening over the years, how my message resonates with the medical community, once exposed. Most professionals are feeling disillusioned with the old system, and I’m frequently told that coming to hear me talk is a relief. It allows them to take their disquiet seriously and they feel empowered to be presented with solutions that make sense.

But I’m not naïve. As much as I’d like to have faith in the inevitability of justice being done, and the old paradigm being tossed by the wayside, I’m just not confident that’s going to happen large-scale in the mainstream anytime soon. But I find it very liberating to consider that maybe the point isn’t victory, as much as we would like to see that done. Maybe the real issue is that by speaking my truth, I sleep better at night and it gives me hope.

Desmond Tutu offered this advice as rationale for the work of a freedom fighter: You don’t do the things you do because others will necessarily join you in doing them, nor because they will ultimately prove successful. You do the things you do because the things you do are right.

Dr. Linda Bacon

So I try to let go of the preoccupation with outcome, and find fulfillment in my involvement in something worthwhile, and being a part of this greater community. I look forward to being at Sheppard Pratt soon, and connecting with more people committed to a more just and respectful world.

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Many thanks to Dr. Linda Bacon for sharing her time, expertise and compassion with our online communities.  Please join us November 7th in Baltimore when Dr. Bacon will offer an in-depth training for health professionals and then again on November 8th for an inspiring free community event. Find out more and register for both events here.

See Also: BODY RESPECT Q&A with Linda Bacon: Part I

Perfectly Imperfect: A Special Q&A with JENNI SCHAEFER

Jenni Schaefer
In recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 23 – March 1), we caught up with Life Without Ed author and all-around inspiring person, JENNI SCHAEFER. 

It was about  five years ago that Jenni last visited The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt  and we are thrilled to welcome her back here to the CED blog and back to Baltimore on Saturday, March 1st for a new presentation entitled, Perfectly Imperfect: Eating & Body Image. 

It turns out that a lot can happen in five years.  Armed with a new relationship, a new book and lots of new experiences, Jenni continues to educate, inspire and lead by example both within the eating disorder community and beyond.  We are grateful to Jenni for taking the time to answer our questions and excited to share her responses below with our readers.

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Q & A with JENNI SCHAEFER  

Q: You’ve been a longtime advocate and activist for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and will be speaking in Baltimore in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2014. What does this campaign mean to you and what progress have you seen around the awareness and education of eating disorders since you began this journey?

After struggling for years with an eating disorder, I finally picked up the phone in search of real help. I called 1-800-931-2237, which is NEDA’s Helpline.  NEDA sent me a list of treatment resources (via snail mail back then!), and my healing journey began. It is surreal to me how life has come full circle: I am honored to serve as the Chair of NEDA’s Ambassadors Council today. Working with NEDA and NEDAwareness Week means the world to me. My hope during the week is not only to encourage people to get help but also to prevent some from ever going down the treacherous road of an eating disorder in the first place. If I had participated in a NEDAwareness event years ago, I believe that my journey would have been a lot smoother. Maybe I never would have turned to Ed (aka “eating disorder”) in the first place, or maybe I would have realized that I had a problem and reached out for help sooner. Similar to the 2014 NEDAwareness theme, “I Had No Idea” that I was struggling with a life-threatening illness.

Since I began my recovery journey, I have seen eating disorders awareness and education improve greatly. Back when I was struggling in college, I rarely heard anyone talk about eating disorders. But, today, colleges all across the country ask me to speak at their NEDAwareness events. Again, it is amazing how life can come full circle like that!

Q: In addition to your hugely popular and inspirational books, Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, you have a new book out with co-author Jennifer Thomas, PhD called Almost Anorexic: Is My (Or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem? What prompted you and Dr. Thomas to write this book, and can you elaborate on what you mean by the term “almost anorexic”?

While 1 in 200 adults will experience full-blown anorexia, at Cover: Almost Anorexicleast 1 in 20 (1 in 10 teen girls!) will struggle with restricting, bingeing and/or purging that doesn’t meet full diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Almost Anorexic, which is the third book in Harvard Medical School’s The Almost Effect™ series, brings attention to the grey area between “normal eating” and an officially recognized eating disorder. Dr. Thomas and I want people to know that, regardless of their eating disorder diagnosis or lack thereof, both help and hope are available. A diagnostic label cannot adequately depict pain and suffering. All who struggle deserve help, and full recovery is possible.

[To learn more about
Almost Anorexic and to read book excerpts, click here. You can also watch a hopeful book trailer (video) or register to attend a professional workshop facilitated by the book’s co-authors.]

Q: There has been a lot of discussion within the eating disorder field recently around the conceptualization of eating disorders as brain-based illnesses as opposed to purely psychological or behavioral disorders. You touch on the implications of this in Almost Anorexic How can the words we use to define the disorder impact the recovery process?

When I first received help for my eating disorder, people told me that I would never fully recover. They said that an eating disorder was like diabetes and that it would be with me forever. Believing this, in the end, just served to keep me stuck. I had to change my language, and I had to connect with people who believed that I could get fully better. This made all of the difference.

In relation to brain disorder language, Almost Anorexic explains: “Some people and organizations have found brain-disorder language extremely helpful in explaining to others why individuals with eating disorders can’t just “snap out of it” and in absolving parents of guilt and blame for their child’s illness. Others, however, have worried that brain-disorder language may give sufferers and loved ones alike the hopeless (and false!) impression that eating disorders are lifelong illnesses that cannot be treated and may even provide a handy excuse for the continuation of dangerous symptoms (after all, your brain made you do it). To combat this, parent activist Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh has used the term “treatable brain disorder.” We suggest you use the terminology that works best for you. Words are powerful. Don’t let Ed hijack them.”

Q: Perfectionism is one of the genetically-based personality traits most highly associated with the development of eating disorders and will be the focus of your talk in Baltimore on March 1, 2014. Did perfectionism play a role in the development of your eating disorder? Did it also play a role in recovery?

I was not born with an eating disorder, but I was born with the perfectionism trait. Constantly striving to be perfect certainly made me more vulnerable to having an eating disorder. So did other genetic traits like high anxiety and obsessive-compulsiveness. However, when channeled in a positive direction, these traits played a crucial role in my recovery. I was able to refine perfectionism, for instance, and apply it to things like attending doctors’ appointments and finishing therapy assignments. When taken to the light, our genetic traits absolutely support recovery.

Q: Individuals who are perfectionists often struggle with the urge to compare themselves to people around them. Among individuals with eating disorders these comparisons are often appearance-based or weight-focused but can also be related to one’s career, house, family, wealth or talent. Constant comparison can be very triggering and detrimental to the recovery process. What strategies help you avoid this comparison trap?

My motto, as I originally wrote about in Life Without Ed, is “Compare and Despair.” Early in recovery, I actually displayed “Compare and Despair” on post-it notes throughout my home. These notes reminded me that comparing inevitably leads to despairing, so I did my best to stop setting myself up for this kind of self-loathing. Further, learning that I was not alone in my tendency to compare helped me to change as well.  The Center for Eating Disorders’ survey related to Facebook and comparisons, for instance, has helped people I know to better understand the growing prevalence of comparing (as well as the fall-out of it) and to feel a sense of camaraderie in making positive changes.

Q: In the age of social media, it seems the opportunity for comparing oneself to others has reached an all time high. Do you have any tips for individuals looking to use social media in a healthy way that is supportive of recovery?

In the tenth anniversary edition of Life Without Ed, which was just released, I talk about the fact that Ed surely has a Facebook account! Each time a person with an eating disorder logs in online, Ed does, too. This awareness is key. Further, individuals with eating disorders can change their online settings to block triggering people and ads. Within the anniversary edition of Life Without Ed, I give many tips for how to use technology to support your recovery, including using mobile apps like “Recovery Record” and “Rise Up + Recover.”

Q: You last visited The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt as a guest speaker in 2009 during which you spoke about the concept of being Recovered. from your eating disorder. What new insights about being Recovered. have you gained over the past 5 years, and has any of it surprised you?

I often say that I am recovered from my eating disorder, but not from life. Part of being “recovered.” actually means continual personal growth. Since my visit to Sheppard Pratt, I have blossomed in many areas, especially related to relationships. I have learned how to let more love into my life and have even gotten married. Luckily, my husband’s name is not Ed! Related to freedom from eating disorders, you can click here to download a table that Dr. Thomas and I created comparing “fully recovered” to “barely recovered.”

Q: What are some of the main points you hope to convey during your upcoming talk, Perfectly Imperfect on March 1st in Baltimore? Who do you think could benefit from attending the presentation?

One of the most common comments I receive from audience members is, “I don’t have an eating disorder, but I do have an Ed in my head.” People also relate to my efforts to overcome perfectionism as well as my journey to find happiness in life. We always have fun singing my song, “It’s Okay to be Happy.” That said, my talks are applicable to anyone who calls him or herself a human! On March 1st, I will discuss finding balance with food and weight in a world that is anything but balanced. We will talk about striving simultaneously for both excellence and “perfect imperfection.” And one big goal of my presentations is to laugh—a lot.

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Do you have your own questions for Jenni?  Join us on Twitter @CEDSheppPratt for a special Tweet Chat on Thursday, February 20, 2014 from 1:00-2:00pm EST with Jenni Schaefer (@jennischaefer) and Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD (@drjennythomas).  Use the hashtag #CEDchat to participate and follow along. Send your questions in advance to kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org and we might use them during the chat!

More About Jenni…
Jenni Schaefer’s breakthrough bestseller, Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too, established her as one of the leading lights in the recovery movement. With her second book, Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life, she earned her place as one of the country’s foremost motivational writers and speakers. Jenni’s straightforward, realistic style has made her a role model, source of inspiration, and confidant to people worldwide looking to overcome adversity and live more fully. She speaks at conferences, at major universities, and in corporate settings; has appeared on many syndicated TV and radio shows; and has been quoted in publications including The New York Times. She is also chair of the Ambassadors Council of the National Eating Disorders Association. An accomplished singer/songwriter, she lives in Austin, Texas

Want to learn more about NEDAwareness Week Events at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt?  Click HERE.