Eating Disorder Recovery: A Q&A with Survivor & Advocate Andrea Roe
I regularly feature Q&As with individuals who’ve recovered from eating disorders, binge eating, negative body image and any kind of disordered eating. If you’d like to share your story of recovery, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Roe is an eating disorder survivor, advocate and author. I’m so thrilled to present my interview with Andrea below. Her story is one that many of us can relate to, a story of insecurity, self-doubt, of feeling alone and embarrassed, of denial, secrecy and suffering. But, ultimately, it’s a story of hope, healing, support and strong recovery.
Her story will resonate with so many readers, whether you have an eating disorder or not. I’m tremendously thankful to Andrea for sharing her story here. I think you’ll find that Andrea offers a great deal of wisdom, insight and inspiration.
I highly recommend signing up for Andrea’s newsletter because it’s packed with great information and inspiring stories. You can sign up here.
In part two of the Q&A, which will be published tomorrow, Andrea talks about eating disorder myths, recommended resources, how families can help and much more.
Check out the other Q&As from women who’ve recovered from eating disorders and disordered eating.
A: My name is Andrea Roe. I’m 27 years old and live together with my husband in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. I am actually Austrian and moved to North America seven years ago. It took me about two years to get used to living here, but now I love it.
My ten-year battle with body image issues and depression started when I was around thirteen years old — I developed acne and started hating my face because of it. By the age of sixteen, I had developed anorexia, which eventually turned into bulimia. I was a slave to my eating disorder for about six years. For the majority of my struggles, I felt so alone. I was embarrassed and scared, so much so that, for several years, I didn’t tell anyone about what I was going through.
Today I am recovered. And now that I am healthy, it is my passion to reach out, share my story, support others in their healing journey, and most importantly, spread the message of HOPE – that recovery really IS possible.
During my own recovery, being in touch with others who were either also in recovery or already recovered was SO powerful for me. They understood and didn’t judge me. What I got out of these conversations was that I was really NOT alone and if they could recover, I COULD TOO!
Because I got so much out of hearing and reading other people’s recovery experiences, I decided to connect with recovered/in-recovery individuals and create a book of inspiring stories. The effort became You Are Not Alone: The Book of Companionship for Women with Eating disorders – Volume 1 in 2006 and Volume 2 (which includes Companion CD produced by Shannon Cutts) in 2009.
On a regular basis, I visit schools and support groups in Canada and the US to raise awareness, talk about eating disorders and body image, share my personal recovery story and what helped me get healthy to inspire others to stay strong and keep fighting. There is so much negativity out there and it is important to let people know that there is HOPE and eating disorders can be beaten. I am proof of this.
For more information about my recovery and work, visit www.youarenotalonebook.com
A: I was a shy child. I didn’t stand up for myself. Simply put, I didn’t have much self-esteem. I actually don’t know why but I never felt good or pretty enough. I was a “people pleaser” and wanted everybody to like me. As a result of my low self-esteem and constant self-doubt, during puberty I developed severe body image issues and depression, which eventually turned into an eating disorder. I thought that maybe with changing the way I look (as in losing a few pounds) people would like me more … and as a result, I thought maybe I would like myself more.
By the time I was sixteen, I had anorexia, which I struggled with for about two years. During that time, I actually didn’t know I had an eating disorder. No one around me noticed it either. That is the sad thing about eating disorders that they can be hidden so well. I was in denial. I thought that what I was doing was ‘normal.’
I wasn’t educated much about eating disorders. I didn’t really know what they were. I thought one had to be either super skinny or really heavy in order to have an eating disorder, but I was neither. The truth is that most people who struggle with an eating disorder are in the normal healthy weight range. … it can be very difficult to tell whether someone has an eating disorder or not. They are unfortunately very easy to hide. And this is one of the dangerous things about eating disorders that they can be hidden so well, and for a long time as well.
When my anorexia turned to bulimia and I started binge eating, that’s when I hit the point where I could not deny my problem any longer and I was finally able to admit to myself that what I was doing was not healthy, not normal, and that I needed help to stop this behavior.
But I did not know what to do or where to start with my recovery. I felt lost and confused and thought I was the only one who had this problem. I began to search the internet for answers and that’s when I found out that what I had actually had a name … “Anorexia” and “Bulimia.”
I started reading books about eating disorders and found them to be very interesting and also comforting. I felt like I was NOT alone and that it was possible to get healthy.
3. Q: What motivated you to seek treatment?
A: I wanted to get rid of my eating disorder and tried numerous times to recover by myself but it never worked. Even though I had read that recovery does exist, I didn’t really believe it was possible for me.
My turning point was when I met my husband. He believed in me no matter what. His love and support were what I needed to find the strength in me to reach out and do what it takes to beat this disorder. He was always there for me and never judged me. With his help and support, I felt for the first time that recovery was possible, even for me.
I could not have recovered without the help and support from others. I was close to giving up the fight many times, but my support team was there for me and believed in me, no matter what. And whenever I fell, they helped me get back up again to continue on with my recovery and healing journey. And they also celebrated my successes with me and reminded me of my successes when I was only concentrating on my failures and what was wrong with me. If it wasn’t for my support team, I would not be where I am today.
4. Q: Eating disorders are tremendously treatable but the key is to find the right treatment. How did you go about seeking services?
A: It’s crucial to have a support team in place — and it’s not about quantity, but quality. Whatever works best for you. There are many recovery support tools and resources available; it’s about finding what works best for you and going after that.
My personal support team consisted of my husband (who was kind of my therapist), my family, my nutritionist and others in recovery or who were recovered whom I met online in recovery forums. With some of the women I connected online several years ago I am still in touch today. And a number of them are actually also recovered now.
My support network was always there for me. They helped and supported me along the way, comforted me, encouraged me and also celebrated my successes with me.
In the beginning, it was difficult to really be open and truly honest with my support team but over time I started feeling more and more comfortable sharing with them my “darkest” secrets. Even though they did not really understand my eating disorder, and why I was doing what I was doing, no matter what I said or did, they never judged me or loved me less because of it … I was able to be open and honest with them and talk with them about things that I didn’t talk with anyone else about before.
Talking about how I was doing and what I was going through was liberating. It was healing. Sharing was difficult in the beginning but over time it got easier and I soon hit a point were I was no longer ashamed of my eating disorder.
One of the most valuable contributions my husband made to my recovery was his way of asking objective questions. By thinking about the answers, I’d discover something powerful that helped me in my struggle.
For example, when I told him I had just binged or starved myself, he’d ask me why I turned to food or away from it. He asked me how it made me feel. That was a new way of thinking for me. Up until this point, I thought that food and weight were the problem. It didn’t occur to me that there were other things going on deep inside of me and the eating disorder was the symptom of these things. It took a while for me to really understand (and feel) that my eating disorder was not simply about food and weight but an attempt to use food and weight to deal with internal struggles and ultimately life.
With my support team’s help, for the first time, I was able to look at the underlying issues and what was really going on. And once I had identified the underlying issues and why I had developed my eating disorder and kept it around, I was able to work on these things and ultimately find recovery.
5. Q: What led to your recovery? And what would you like others to know about recovering from eating disorders (e.g. advice, misconceptions)?
A: Recovery is a lot of work, but it is well worth it.
One of the biggest aha moments during my recovery process was really getting and feeling that I was not my eating disorder. For the longest time, it actually felt like I was my eating disorder and my eating disorder was me. It felt like “it” was my identity. I didn’t know who I was without it. I had forgotten.
And whenever I heard the voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, needed to lose weight, etc. … I’d ask myself if that was the “real me” that was talking, or if it was the eating disorder speaking to me. I had to learn to separate these two voices — mine and the eating disorder voice. And when it was the eating disorder talking, I had to learn to fight back, talk back and disobey its commands. I had to learn to take control back over my life — after all, it was MY life, not the eating disorder’s.’
During my recovery journey, my body weight was on a rollercoaster ride—it was going up and down for sometimes no clear apparent reason to me. Sometimes I would eat less but gain and sometimes I would eat more but end up losing weight. It didn’t make any sense to me. But that’s what happens after years of starvation and bingeing patterns. The body doesn’t know what to do.
Luckily, my nutritionist was there to guide me through this process. Even though I didn’t like everything she said, I trusted her. And to my surprise, whatever she suggested actually worked.
After years of hating myself and my body, I am also finally at peace with my mind and what I look like. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see flaws. I see *ME* — a person. And I smile at myself. I don’t beat myself up anymore about not looking like a supermodel. I don’t need to look like a model. I am perfect the way I am.
6. Q: What were the toughest parts of your recovery and how did you get through them?
A: During my recovery I had setbacks — A LOT of setbacks. And whenever I fell, I had to learn not to beat myself up but be kind and patient with myself. It was often very hard to get back up again and continue on with my recovery and healing journey. Sometimes I was able to get back up again by myself … I’d spend some time in my misery and with my eating disorder but eventually got tired of feeling this way and somehow found the strength to pull myself back up again.
And sometimes, when I felt too weak to get back up again by myself — just tired of the whole recovery process and close to giving up the fight — I had people in my life who helped me get back up again. And I was angry, frustrated, felt like a failure and just wanted to be left alone … but my support team didn’t care — all they wanted was to get me out of this dark place again as soon as possible so I could continue on with my journey and move forward to reach my goals. And often I got mad at my support team for helping me get back up … I didn’t feel strong enough to get back up again. I was tired of trying again as I *knew* I’d just fail again in the end anyways. I was tired of being disappointed again and again, of failing again and again. But my support team never gave up on me.
I always hated when someone told me that recovery means taking baby steps … I didn’t want to take baby steps. I wanted to take big huge steps and be done with my eating disorder and get on with my life. But unfortunately, this is not how it works … We have to learn to be patient; we have to learn to be kind to ourselves. And these are all important lessons that recovery teaches us.
Recovery is a process. It takes time. Recovery does not happen overnight. The eating disorder started years before we first binged, purged or starved ourselves — and it will take time to overcome this disorder. And there is no rule for how long it takes for someone to recover. We all have different stories to tell, different reasons why we developed our eating disorders, and we are all at different points in our lives.
Sometimes it feels like we are not moving at all and are not getting ahead. In those moments, it’s important to look back and see how far we have come. It is important to celebrate these baby steps. Like when you didn’t binge, or ate something you wouldn’t normally eat and didn’t feel guilty about it, or when you were just about to buy laxatives but put them back onto the shelf and left the store without them. It’s important to learn to be proud of ourselves for moments like that! Yes, you can be proud of yourself. This is a huge achievement! With every baby step, you achieve many small victories.
It’s one day at a time. One step at a time. And one step at a time may seem too slow some days, but these small steps add up to making a HUGE difference. Each of these baby steps brings us closer to recovery and a life free of ED (the eating disorder).
7. Q: Do you still struggle with eating disordered thoughts and behaviors? If so, how do you overcome them?
A: I am recovered. I am free. I don’t struggle with depression or eating disorders anymore.
During my recovery and healing process, I was able to identify the underlying issues of my eating disorder and depression and with the help of my support team and lots of hard work was able to resolve these issues.
I learned to deal with my feelings and with life in general in a healthy way. Instead of turning to food or away from it in stressful moments and tough times, I developed healthy coping mechanisms. Instead of running away from my problems and trying to numb myself with food, I learned to deal with life in a healthy way.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many men and women who also successfully beat their eating disorder. I am not the exception to the rule. Life without ED really is possible.
Thank you so much, Andrea, for a powerful interview! Again, stay tuned for part two tomorrow.
And don’t forget about the giveaway. Just comment on this post and you can enter to win a fantastic free book! I have one copy of Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder & Take Your Life Back, written by Shannon Cutts, and two copies of 100 Questions and Answers About Anorexia Nervosa by eating disorder specialist Sari Shepphird, Ph.D. The giveaway ends this Sunday at 12 p.m. EST.
Update: Andrea will give away one copy of her book, You Are Not Alone, a compilation of inspiring stories, poems, artwork and song lyrics. Plus, it comes with a CD by Shannon Cutts! Thanks so much, Andrea!
Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Eating Disorder Recovery: A Q&A with Survivor & Advocate Andrea Roe. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2010/02/eating-disorder-recovery-a-qa-with-survivor-advocate-andrea-roe/