Here’s part two of my interview with Michelle Miller, who struggled with various eating disorders and has been in recovery for three years. She just graduated from college in Mexico and plans on pursuing her masters in clinical work.

Below, Michelle talks about what she learned from her struggles and recovery, offers valuable advice to loved ones, recommends a slew of resources and reveals how she let go of her eating disorders, among other important information.

Missed part one? You can read it here.

By the way, if you’d like to share your story of eating disorder recovery with Weightless readers, please email me at [email protected]

Q: What insights have you taken away from your struggles and recovery?

A: I’ve learned that eating disorders are a disease that’s caused by many factors, including biological, social, psychological and family issues. They don’t have a single cause so that’s what makes it harder to treat. Nevertheless, it isn’t impossible, and they are highly treatable with the right treatment and attitude.

I’ve learned to have compassion for myself and for the little girl inside me (the little me) that I was so afraid to be in contact with. I also learned that recovery is a process, a long one, and that it has many ups and downs. It isn’t a linear path and you have to learn to manage the downs in healthier ways and remember there’s always hope. If you really want it, you can achieve it.
I have a passion for helping others, especially with EDs, so I try to inspire the people I meet that struggle with this and other issues. I’ve learned so much from them and when I hear their stories I realize that every person needs personalized treatment and that the treatment team has to see what works for every individual.

Q: What can family members do to help a loved one with an eating disorder?

A: The key words to this question are: SUPPORT AND LOVE. Family members can be devastated by these illnesses, can be in denial or want to “fix it.” They need to be supported also and they need to understand that they can’t cure the disease, but with their support and understanding, they can help their loved one who is suffering a lot.

It is also important to remember that they shouldn’t judge the person with the ED and instead, loving them and trying to be there for them is essential in helping them. This can be more helpful than trying to fix it or to just ignore the problem.

It is also important for family members to take care of themselves and to also pay attention to the other members of the family, not just the one with the eating disorder.

Q: What resources (books, websites) do you recommend for individuals struggling with an eating disorder?

A: I highly recommend Jenni Schaefer books; they’re quite inspiring and useful. I would also recommend “Eating in the Light of the Moon” by Dr. Anita Johnston, “Beating Ana” by Shannon Cutts, and the books by Geneen Roth, especially “When Food Is Love,” which I read as an assignment in equine therapy.

Other books I’ve found helpful, are:

A very good website for information is NEDA and the Something Fishy website. They both provide support, information and treatment referrals and resources for people struggling. I also recommend Weightless, because it has been a wonderful resource for me. [Thanks so much, Michelle!]

Q: What does recovery mean to you?

A: Recovery is when you stop using food and exercise to cope with your problems. It is also a process that takes a long time and it means a lot of things. Besides not having the symptoms, recovery also means not obsessing about food, changing the way you think and feel about it and being happy and healthy with yourself and with the things you’re doing. Of course this sounds great and sometimes “impossible,” but we all can recover fully.

Another sign that you are in recovery is when you reach out to others for comfort instead of your eating disorder. Recovery is also having good and bad times but knowing that life is like that. Recovery is knowing your true self, not hiding behind the ED identity. Recovery also means being in peace with yourself and your body.

Q: What are some misconceptions about eating disorders?

A: I personally think that the biggest misconception is that a person has to be emaciated to have an eating disorder, especially Anorexia. I’ve seen a lot of patients with eating disorders and I’ve only seen very few cases that are emaciated.

I also think that someone can have anorexia without being “85%” under their ideal body weight. People with all shapes and sizes get eating disorders and professionals, especially doctors and treatment providers need to understand this. This perspective is harmful, because people with EDs then think “I’m not sick enough because I’m not emaciated,” and that can make them struggle even more.

Another big misconception is that EDs are not serious, that they’re just an attention-seeking behavior and that the media causes them. I think that the media contributes but if you already are vulnerable to these diseases, then the media will affect you more. I think the roots of an eating disorder are psychological (such as low self esteem, low tolerance frustration, perfectionism, etc.) and family dynamics. I’m not blaming family here, but I think it has a really big influence on the eating disorder.  [MT: Genetics and biology, like Michelle said above, are a big part, too.]

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about eating disorders or your story?

A: I just want to add that thinking about living a life without your eating disorder can be frightening and very scary. You may be wondering how you will live without it, or even if you CAN live without it. The truth is that you can if you want to.

When I first started getting help, I was afraid to let go of the eating disorder, because I didn’t believe I could live without it (like I said, I was wrapped up in the ED identity). Even though I was afraid to live without it, deep down I knew that I could not survive with an eating disorder.

I wanted to live, which meant I really had to start fighting to make that happen. I also needed to remind myself that I could not recover perfectly and that I needed to stop trying to. Every time I had a slip, I would get so angry with myself and I would end up punishing myself even more.

During recovery you will probably experience periods of relapse or slips. It’s natural for this to happen and it’s to be expected. Don’t get angry and upset with yourself and don’t dwell on it.

Instead, remind yourself of all the positive things you have done and all the progress you have made. You can also learn from those relapses, and in the long run, they will make you stronger. There IS hope and a relapse or slip can make you gain insights about what triggers you, so you can work on how to handle it in the future.

Even though we need help to recover, the decision to truly do it is up to us. No one else can make us want it.

Thanks so much, Michelle!

Again, if you’d like to share your story of eating disorder recovery with Weightless readers, please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected]