In this podcast Tabitha talks to Sarah Thompson about her recovery, and her journey into body positivity. We also discuss:
- Being queer and having an eating disorder
- Weight stigma in eating disorder treatment
- The Be Nourished retreat and certification
- Recovery in an environment that encourages restriction and weight loss
Transcript below with thanks to Marie
The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast
By Tabitha Farrar
Hi there welcome to this weeks podcast. This week I’m going to talk to a lady called Sarah Thompson, I’m going to let Sarah introduce herself. Here’s Sarah:
Sarah: I’m Sarah Thompson I’m a certified Body Trust advocate, consultant, trainer and eating disorder recovery coach in Portland, Oregon. Transplanted from Cleveland, Ohio.
T: We talk about a lot of things in this podcast. I’d say that the general theme though is weight stigma and eating disorder treatment. That brings us to the first question that I asked Sarah which was if she could change one thing about the field that we both work in, which is the eating disorder community and the treatment community what would she change? This was her answer:
S: Weight stigma in eating disorder treatment needs to change a lot more than it has.
T: You recognise it has changed?
S: I haven’t been around for very long at least in the treatment community so I hear that from people who have been in the community for a while.
T: How have you wound up circling in that community?
S: I started such a long twisted story that until I started working with the therapist that I have now who I have been working with for almost 2 years I never fully recognised that I had an eating disorder and so my frame reference for an extremely long time was only through overeater’s anonymous and the addiction model of recovery for eating disorders.
S: I probably shouldn’t even say for eating disordered because when I was in OA, it was never framed as an eating disorder it was framed as compulsive eating or food addiction. That’s part of the reason that I always thought it was a part of having an addictive personality and struggling with addiction and it wasn’t an eating disorder. So it took me recovering to actually recognise that I had an eating disorder and to feel like I belonged in that realm of eating disorder treatment. Or that I had some connection to that field.
S: Does that make sense?
T: Absolutely and I think that that’s true for many people as well . Who do not present as the stereotype of what a person with an eating disorder is.
S: And I think it’s hard because the way that eating disorder treatment look like, at least the way it is framed on a lot of treatment centre websites on information, awareness pages, everything is separate like you’re either anorexic or bulimic or orthorexic or you have binge eating disorder and I don’t feel like many people talk about what if you experience all of it. Or what if it morphs from one to another.
So I feel like people want to fit someone’s behaviour into a box and I also don’t think that the way I experienced my eating disorder fit in a box and on top of that, I continued to think it was my size that was the problem and not my eating behaviours.
T: And do you think that that notion was supported in treatment?
S: I would say that was my experience of Overeater’s Anonymous yes. And in some of my therapy yes.
T: Yes, that size was the problem. You talked about the categories, you either have anorexia or bulimia or binge eating disorder, a lot of the time when people are put in those categories that if they are not put in the category of anorexia or anorexic, I hate the word anorexic but anyway, if they aren’t put in that category then restriction is not looked at, and it’s assumed that that person isn’t restricting and one thing that I think that moulds or binds all those categories together a lot of the time is the presence of restriction and unless you’re in a stereotypically smaller body, restriction is often assumed not to be the case.
S: Absolutely, I still even after reading the Minnesota Starvation Studies a lot, reading it over and over again and it discusses what they classified as semi starvation in this study. Even after looked at that, I still have a hard time looking back and thinking that I was restricting, when I was on whatever diet or whatever cleaning eating you know, I really thought that I had to restrict in order to not binge and most the time that was the solution that I was given, that you need to restrict to not binge. Which just sets you up for more binging and more restriction because you think you’re not doing it right, or you’re not doing it enough so you just have to do it more and better. (laughs)
S: And that just kept me stuck in m eating disorder for a really long time
T: And this comes back to what I think many of us feel is a problem with eating disorder treatment, the treatment serves the eating disorder more than it serves the individual a lot of the time.
S: Yes, I think that’s true in a lot of cases.
T: Treatment telling you to exercise more and eat less which is basically restriction. And treatment telling you to suppress your body weight which is basically what an eating disorder tells you.
S: Right and they use that focusing on weight restoration or tracking someone’s weight while they are in treatment as a tool to also adjust somebody’s food intake and exercise. Typically that’s not to increase it unless you are recognised to be underweight.
Being queer was also one of the ways that I never saw myself as identified with an eating disorder. I think it had an effect on that.
T: Interesting, why do you think that was?
S: Because everybody that I ever saw in documentaries or awareness information about eating disorders, any of the images I saw, not only where they thin people but none of them, not that you have to look queer, but none of them, nobody ever talked about their sexuality or it always appeared as if everybody was straight.
And so I think it gives this idea that if you don’t see yourself in the way something is identified then the reflection is then you’re not going to feel like it belongs to you. I don’t think that has really been addressed until the last several years either.
T: Yes I agree I still think the resources are really minimal.
S: It’s really really true and treatment for people that are gender queer or trans or are on that spectrum are extremely limited. Especially if you want something inpatient or intensive. So it’s actually one of the things that I’ve been working on. One of my friends who’s a psychotherapist in Portland. His name is Isaiah, we are going to be running an in person group for queer people only. For 9 weeks, starting on April 26th and from that I’m now in the process of planning a free support group that would meet through a Zoom video conference. Just to be a place for queer people to talk and discuss and connect and it wouldn’t be structured or have a certain curriculum or anything like the in person group that we are doing.
But I really think that it’s important and I don’t think anything like it exists yet and so I think it’s super valuable and I think it’s worth giving my time for that because it’s incredibly healing to be in a space with other people who have had similar experiences to you. And talking about food and body especially when it’s so connected to our identity, our sexuality, our gender and how much cross over there is with that and food and body.
T: So in light of all of that. How do you recover in that environment?
S: I was extremely lucky I found a program in Portland, Oregon through Be Nourished that recognised all of the stuff that we just talked about is BS and does approach recovery from a weight inclusive, body trust, health at every size approach. And for me that was the key. There are some programs that are able to do that for residential or partial or IOP in the US but it’s very very limited.
T: And so what did that program teach you? What did it help you do?
S: When I went to their retreat I had already been following a lot of body positive people on social media. So I was aware of this idea that my health was not connected to my size. I was able to see people embracing the size that they were without wanting to change their body size. And so when I went it was really amazing because it was the first time that I had ever heard anybody in person talk about it and talk about how ridiculous it was that our bodies were set up in our society to become this project that we have to fix.
Being able to hear the way that they laid everything out with connecting this body project and this never ending cycle of saying that you have to fix your body, implementing that, failing and then thinking that you have to start all over again and just continuing on that cycle. Connected with how patriarchy and capitalism have extremely shaped what we think about our bodies to get us to continue paying all this money to change our bodies which is pretty much always done through food and exercise. So making all of those connections on top of knowing, I feel like I had tried almost everything in my lifespan. So to be presented with this option for learning how to trust my body and to practise trusting my body and to somehow learn how to become friends with my body and to treat my relationship with my body as almost a two way street, I have to learn to mentally trust my body and then my body physically learn that it can trust me to give it what it needs.
T: Yes because everything else of course is telling you that you can’t trust that your body is telling you that it wants more food. Which if you think about it logically is completely ludicrous because your body is your body and it knows what it needs, it’s innocent it doesn’t have any hidden agenda other than health and trying to survive because that’s what bodies or organisms want.
S: Right and homoeostasis, biology, science! (laughs)
T: So I used to hear people talk about trust your body and this that and the other and like I just would write it off like that’s kind of mushy stuff. I don’t think I really understood what that meant which is just actually realising that I don’t have to micro manage it. I can just let it get on with being a body and get on with what it was designed to do. When you where initially presented with that information, did you think that it was something that was possible for you to do, or did it just seem like I don’t even know how to begin to understand how to do that.
S: I think that for a really long time because I was in OA for so long, I think I was in OA for a total of 15 years, I very much believed that I couldn’t trust my body, that was like what was wrong with me. Was that the first thing that my brain told me to do was the wrong thing, and so that was the purpose of me being abstinent aka me being restrictive. For a very long time I didn’t think that I was supposed to trust my body because there was a malfunction with me, with my body and my brain but I eventually started questioning that and then I left and then I started following these people on social media, so I wanted to believe but I had no idea how to do it.
And so I feel like when I was finally able to be in this room on this retreat with 12 other women being taught by 2 women who practised for themselves, who had worked with many people before me on how to do this for themselves I was so ready to hear what they had to say that I think that once I was in this room and presented with all of the information for their body trust wellness paradigm I was, it was the perfect timing for me.
T: Yes you pretty much exhausted all the other routes. I think that’s true for many of us. You find yourself in the right time and space to actually listen to things that you might not have been able to before. OK so moving on from that in a nutshell how did that change anything for you?
S: I feel like it changed everything. I remember going to the retreat in clothes that I wore to hide my body, I feel ashamed, wanted to hide clothes and was so defeated and was so down, you know? Like I kind of felt like I have no idea what I’m getting myself into but I hope that it’s something different.
And I was able to go out to dinner with people from the program who had been practising these things for longer than I had, who were kind of mainly going to the retreat to meet other people who were on the same path. It changed everything between what we talked about that night and then going out for dinner talking to people afterwards, I feel like it completely changed and the next day I showed up in clothes that were not only just comfortable but I felt good. I wasn’t worried about hiding my body, I was wearing a top that was lime green and blue striped and so I just ate up the whole rest of the weekend, (laughs) ate it all up!
Literally everything changed I stopped binging, I was able to start eating without all of this anxiety and without obsessing or thinking that there was never going to be enough. Actually being curious about what I was eating, being more intuitive and listening to my body instead of completely cutting myself off from it. Actually valuing my body and not hating it every time I looked in the mirror. I went out and bought new clothes the next couple of days after the retreat because I had a friend in town that was visiting that got clothes that I probably never would have bought before that retreat. I think that so much of my anxiety and depression went down once I was able to have a different relationship to food.
T: And that’s continued?
S: Yes everything changed.
T: Now you’re fully immersed in this world.
S: It’s pretty true, 3 months after I did that retreat with Be Nourished, I signed up for their very first Body Trust certification for providers because I just felt it in my bones that I had to do it and I believed so much in it and I wanted to be able to share it with other people. At the time I was in school for acupuncture and Chinese herbalism and my plan was to incorporate the Body Trust into my work as an acupuncturist.
T: Big thank you to Sarah Thompson for talking to me today. I’ll link to Sarah’s website in the show notes and I will also link to the Be Nourished website that she talked about, that retreat that she went on.
So in today’s discussion, we discussed that yes you can have an eating disorder in any sized body you can be restricting in any sized body and also we talked that you can have an eating disorder and be queer, who would have thought! I guess if you are listening to this podcast these things might seem super obvious to you, I don’t think that the general perception is there yet. So sharing stories and talking about these things is super important. And being open. Which is why I am so thankful to Sarah and actually everybody else this year that has been on this podcast and shared recovery stories with me. If you have something that you think you want to add to this conversation then please do email me at email@example.com or you can tweet at me as well. I’d love to talk to you. Cheers and until next time, Cheerio.