I’ve already had the great opportunity to speak with several women about their recovery from eating disorders and emotional eating (you can find the interviews here, here and here). I hope to regularly feature Q&As with individuals who’ve recovered from eating disorders, binge eating, negative body image or 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.
I’m thrilled to present an interview with Kate Thieda, a counseling graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kate contacted me to share her story in hopes of encouraging people to pursue their own recoveries.
In Part 1 of the interview, Kate talks about how her eating disorder began, how she sought treatment and what led to her recovery.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, where Kate discusses the toughest parts of recovery, the myths about eating disorders, the health consequences, what families can do and more!
1. How and when did your anorexia start? What do you think contributed to it?
I started eating in a “disordered” way at the end of my freshman year of college. I had gained some weight, as most college freshmen do, during my first year of living in the all-you-can-eat dorms, and I was unhappy with my appearance after seeing pictures of myself taken during spring break. I started restricting my food when I was home that summer, and when I returned to school in the fall, that’s when the real eating disorder kicked in.
On the surface, there were a number of contributing factors to my eating disorder — unhappy with the way I looked, not wanting to “get fat,” and thinking that if I was thinner, a boyfriend would magically appear. However, the core issues that were literally “eating away” at me were residual psychological effects of years of sexual and emotional abuse (not by family members), perfectionism, low-self esteem, and what one of my therapists called “comparativitis” — comparing myself to others and coming up short, even if those comparisons were inaccurate.
2. What motivated you to seek treatment?
A former teacher of mine who had been a mentor and second mother to me for over ten years confronted me during a visit to see her when I was twenty-eight. By this time, I had struggled with disordered eating for over eight years, and was virtually paralyzed when it came to making appropriate, healthy food choices. This was not the first time she had pushed me to reconsider my behavior, but I finally acknowledged that she was right and I needed help.
3. Eating disorders are tremendously treatable but the key is to find the right treatment. How did you go about seeking services?
I wasn’t sure where to start, so I called my health insurance company to get names of qualified therapists. I think I called nearly ten before I was able to find someone who had an opening, and then, when I met her, it was not a good match. I ended up making an appointment with my general practitioner and she gave me a number for a referral service. That led me to my therapist, who then gave me referrals for a psychiatrist and a dietitian. They worked together as a team during the entire time I was their patient.
When I moved out of state a few years later, I contacted the local residential eating disorder treatment center and asked for referrals for individual therapists. I used a dietitian at my university for nutrition services, and she gave me the referral for my psychiatrist. They also communicated regularly to coordinate my care.
It takes a team to treat an eating disorder: You need an individual therapist who is trained in working with eating disorders, a psychiatrist for meds, a dietitian for food education and support, and a general practitioner for overall health care. My experience has been that if you can connect with one of these healthcare providers who specializes in eating disorders, they will be able to make appropriate referrals.
4. What led to your recovery?
I wish I could say, “From the first session I had in therapy, I got better and better!” It doesn’t work that way. I learned that for every step you take forward, there’s great potential to take a few back. I will admit to not being whole-hearted about my recovery for a very long time. By the time I got treatment, I had been fully entrenched in eating disordered behaviors for over eight years, and that can’t be undone overnight. I had no voice left—my life was completely dictated by my eating disorder, and everything I did was to satisfy what it told me to do. I did make progress, but it was slow and hard-won. I give a lot of credit to my team—the therapist, the psychiatrist and the dietitian. They were patient, but persistent.
Two years into treatment, I moved out of state to go to graduate school. Being proactive, I found myself a therapist before I even moved, and met with her right away once I did. We worked together for about six months before I realized that we were not on the same page with where my treatment should go. I decided I needed to make a change if I was going to continue to progress.
Also around that time, a person in my life who had played a big role and was very influential in my life, decided suddenly to end her relationship with me. While it was devastating and confusing at first, it was also a major turning point in my life. This person had known me since I was fourteen, and in her eyes, I had never grown up. She still treated me like a fourteen-year-old, not recognizing that I was now thirty-one. Once the shock and sting of her rejection wore off, I realized that she had not had my highest good in mind all along, and that my eating disorder symptoms were fading away as time passed and I moved on. My voice, which I had not realized had been silenced by this person, started to come back.
I started working with my new therapist, and besides being one of the most wonderful, caring, compassionate people I know, she also uses dialectical behavioral therapy in her practice. DBT was developed to work with borderline personality disorder patients, but it has been proven to work with many other issues as well, including eating disorders. I also joined a DBT skills group, which met weekly for two hours, and received tremendous support there as well. Between the individual treatment and the relationship I built with my therapists and the group meetings, I found myself getting stronger and more determined to succeed in my recovery.
In addition, I was practicing yoga consistently, and began to reconnect with my body and spirit. While I was definitely resistant to trying yoga, I was lucky enough to have a teacher—who later became a very good friend—at my very first class who exuded calmness and peace in spirit, as well as had a talent for teaching. I became a regular in her classes, and grew to love my time at the yoga studio. There were times that I cried through class because thoughts and feelings that had been long buried would surface, but that was part of my much-needed healing process. I was so inspired by the power of yoga that I went to Vermont for two weeks this past spring to train as a yoga therapy practitioner. My hope is to integrate yoga into my clinical therapy practice someday.
My recovery has progressed rapidly in the past year: I graduated from the DBT group, I am about to taper off my last medication, and I only go to therapy every-other week. I also am about to successfully complete my first (very demanding) semester of graduate school!
Thanks so much, Kate, for sharing your story!! Be sure to check out Part 2 tomorrow.