Shannon Cutts on Eating Disorder Recovery Myths, The Key to Life & Body Image, Part 2
Here’s part two of my interview with the fabulous Shannon Cutts, eating disorder advocate and founder of MentorCONNECT, a pro-recovery mentorship program.
Below, Shannon tells readers about the biggest eating disorder recovery myths, how to find your key to life and, whether you have an eating disorder or not, how to overcome a battered body image and disordered eating and…lots more!
If you haven’t already, check out part one here.
6. You’ve corresponded with individuals with eating disorders for many years now. What’s the most common theme or issue that your mentees email about?
Beating Ana highlights 27 of the most commonly-asked questions that I have received, and I actually decided to write the book because I noticed that while the individuals who wrote to me all were of different ages and had different backgrounds, different types of eating disorders, and different stories and triggers, many of the questions were surprisingly similar!
But I would have to say the top three issues or questions I receive are:
- What does ‘recovery’ mean? (which we covered in a previous question)
- If I keep relapsing, does that mean I can’t recover? (absolutely NOT!)
- Dealing with food/calories/weight/portion sizes/eating out/etc. (which I find very interesting because eating disorders may present as food-related disorders, but the underlying triggers really don’t have anything to do with food per se, so helping my mentees get past the persistent focus on the food has been a key element in any successful mentoring partnership I have been a part of)
7. One of the ways individuals can start to recover from an eating disorder is to develop goals and find their key to life. Your organization is aptly named “Key to Life.” What are some ways individuals can unlock their own key to life?
Sometimes a “key to life” is clear – for instance, I have met moms who suddenly discovered a burning desire to recover when they witnessed their own daughters mimicking their eating disordered behaviors.
In my own battle, my key to life presented itself to me only after I had lost it to the eating disorder – I had for years pursued a professional career as a musician, only to starve my body to the point where I experienced a severe performance injury that caused me to have to withdraw from the music school I was attending and pick a plan B. And I did pick a plan B, but my plan A then became to recover from my eating disorder and get my music career back, which placed my priorities exactly where they should have been all along – RECOVERY was priority number one, and school and everything else fell into place behind that.
To individuals who are not sure what their key to life is, I recommend the following contemplations (more about this in Beating Ana in the chapter called “The Key to Life”):
- Remember when you were a little child. What did you dream of doing or becoming when you grew up (I can guarantee it wasn’t “lose my life and dreams to my eating disorder!”)
- Analyze yourself for aptitudes (things you are naturally good at) – skills (efforts you have made to refine your aptitudes) – passions (what you care about)
- Ask those who are close to you what they think you are good at and enjoy doing – and here only ask those whom you know for a fact are supportive and loving
- Imagine you are on your deathbed, and there is one thing you never got to do – what is that one thing?
8. What are some myths about recovery that you generally run across, whether it’s in the media, from your mentees, or myths you hear while giving talks and presentations throughout the country?
The number one myth I continually encounter is that recovery should be easier than it is. Recovery is HARD – period! I still remember how incredibly difficult it was – and I tell people who ask me what it was like that it felt like walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope without a safety net. Luckily, we have more of a safety net in place these days than we did when I was recovering, but I always say that if it feels really difficult – almost impossible – then that is how you know you are doing it right. I realize that hearing that is not particularly comforting, but it is truthful, and when someone chooses to do such incredibly difficult, courageous work, they deserve to hear the truth.
People also continue to persist in thinking that recovery shouldn’t take as long as it does. Yet statistics have shown that for every year an individual has been ill, it will take between one and five years for that person to achieve recovery (and whether it is a 1 to 1 or 1 to 5 ratio, or somewhere in between, has a lot to do with motivation, degree of illness, level of support and quality of care).
9. So many people suffer from poor body image and disordered eating, which also can be damaging and debilitating. What would you like these readers to know? Any advice?
While there are at least microcosmic improvements on our horizon as far as recent efforts to change beauty and attractiveness standards, we are still far from fostering awareness among the general public of food’s place and purpose.
Food is fuel for the body, period, the end. In the same way that gas is fuel that makes our car go, food is fuel that makes our body function. Food serves – or at least should serve – no other purpose than this in our lives. When we are using food to manage our minds, emotions, or lives, then we have ventured into the territory of disordered eating. When we equate our worth or viability with a number on the scale or a certain set image in the mirror, we have sold both our bodies and our selves short.
So I would say, first things first, call a spade a spade. Tell yourself, “you know what, this preoccupation you have with food and body image is really interfering with your happiness and energy level. You need and deserve help.” And don’t let anyone tell you differently. You know what disordered eating and poor body image is costing you in terms of quality of life. Get the help you need and get better so you can LIVE.
Next, check out your assumptions against the facts. Are you sure that the only people who are happy, who fall in love, who are successful, who look forward to waking up in the morning, are the ones who weigh less or are shaped differently than you? Open up your eyes and look around you. Watch couples in love, observe successful colleagues, study people who are out there in the world making a difference. Only 2-4 percent of our population can biologically achieve the current beauty standards genetically – that is, their body naturally looks like what is on the cover of all of our magazines regardless of what they eat or whether or not they exercise. The rest of us not only will look different, but are supposed to look different.
Finally, invest some time in learning about the “Health At Every Size” (HAES) and “Intuitive Eating” movements. These movements focus on healthy hearts, bodies, and minds and eschew preoccupation with body mass index (BMI) and outward appearance in assessing health. BMI, like any other measure of health, is based on a bell curve – an average of those who fall both above and below the median. Some of us will always fall above or below what is considered an average measure of health. When we allow our health to be assessed using such average measures, we are trying to apply a cookie cutter-approach to a wide diversity of shapes and sizes that represent us as we are. Understand your family history and your DNA, focus on how your body feels, your energy level, your enjoyment of life, and seek out medical professionals who are willing and able to look beyond BMI to assess your body’s health.
10. Anything else you’d like Weightless readers to know about MentorCONNECT, your book or eating disorders in general?
Readers are warmly invited to join MentorCONNECT, our free global eating disorders mentoring community online, at www.key-to-life.com/mentorconnect.
And remember, each of us is unrepeatable, irreplaceable, and unique. Comparisons are not only unnecessary and ineffective, but are actually impossible! You are you – and you will have to spend 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in your own company for the rest of your life. So why not spend your precious time and energy figuring out how to be fun to hang out with!?
Finally, I promise, promise, promise you that recovery is not rocket science. It is just a lot of hard, sustained work. If I could do it – if I could recover from my eating disorder and be here today sharing my story and talking to you about recovery, then you can recover too, and one day you can be the one who is “paying it forward” and sharing YOUR successful recovery story with another person who needs help and hope!
Recovery is worth it – it is always worth it. And your life is so worth saving – so KEEP FIGHTING!
I greatly appreciate Shannon sharing her insight with Weightless readers. Thank you, Shannon, for a fantastic interview!
What do you think are some myths about eating disorder recovery? Do you think thin equals happiness and success? What are your thoughts about the information Shannon provided?
Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Shannon Cutts on Eating Disorder Recovery Myths, The Key to Life & Body Image, Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 29, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2010/03/shannon-cutts-on-eating-disorder-recovery-myths-the-key-to-life-body-image-part-2/