I’d like to start by saying that this post could be a trigger for those suffering or recovering from an eating disorder, so please read with caution.
I feel like in this era of self love and healthy habits, it’s easy to be confused or tricked by some of the content that’s out there. I was on the discover page on instagram and saw a post with a quote about self love. I clicked it and scrolled, hoping to find other similar content. What I found instead, were body positive quotes mixed in with quotes about dieting and exercise and before and after photos. I’m lucky enough to have friends and follow people on Instagram who have taught me what to look out for in terms of body content. But, there are millions of other people who aren’t so lucky.
If you didn’t know, this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. When most people think about eating disorders, they think about the ones that cause extreme body transformations. But according to anad.org, in the US alone, at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder. According to the same site, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. There are also millions of people who suffer from undiagnosed eating disorders.
Since this week is about awareness, I thought it would be helpful and interesting to hear from a person who works in the field. Lucky for you (and me) my dear friend Connie is one of those people! I met Connie when we were both working as camp counselors. Since then, she has gone on to become a registered dietitian nutritionist and she now works for a practice in Denver! My questions and her responses are below. I already have some follow up questions so I will 100% be doing another post about this.
I know there is a lot of information in this post but I really think it is something that everyone needs to know more about.
1. First of all, introduce yourself!
Constance (Connie) Weissmuller, MS, RDN I am a registered dietitian nutritionist that specializes in eating disorder and dieting recovery and general nutrition from a weight neutral lens.
2. Tell me about your own journey with healthy habits and EDs. Did you struggle with diets etc.? What made you choose the career that you did?
I have a quite a long story but it did contribute to my desire to do this work. I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa Restricting Type when I was in the 7-8th grade.It’s a bit hazy now. My weight was stabilized through outpatient nutrition counseling but I never improved my relationship to food and body till much later in my life. Much of high school was spent participating in sports, dance, and building my social circle. Food took a bit of a backseat, but I always felt uncomfortable in my body. Looking back on that time now I exhibited bingeing and purging behaviors but never thought it was a problem. We’re talking restrict cookies, then feel so out of control around them that you eat a whole tin, then do sprints on the street till you feel like you “burned” enough. It wasn’t a stellar time and no one seemed concerned about me.
Then as I got into college I lost my grandfather and had never grieved the loss of a loved one before. I began to restrict as a way to help me control my feelings about the loss. I developed what we now call orthorexia (see below for definition) and lived with that much of college. I restricted and over exercised in the name of health but in reality I was so far from health. It wasn’t until the end of junior year where I read the book “Intuitive Eating” that my life changed and I started to become the woman and clinician I am today.
I learned that through making peace with food and body through acceptance and unlearning the rules and eating disorder behaviors I had used for so long, that my life could be FULL. Senior year was one of the best years of my life. I fully engaged in my social life in my sorority, I explored the Chicago food scene, I found joy in movement, I went to therapy weekly (and still do!), and I finally once and for all left the disordered relationship I had with food behind.
During college I studied Health Science and had applied to a Master of Nutritional Science program back home in LA. I ended college in Chicago and moved to LA to start my 3 years of nutrition science studies within 7 days of each other. In grad school I only became more passionate about speaking up to my cohort how disordered eating affected my life and how we could be educated as clinicians in the field. I found that much of what we were being taught was what fed my eating disorder and I knew there had to be a different way to help foster health and wellbeing in clients and patients without shame and restriction.
*Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet. A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight.
3. Let’s talk about dieting. Thoughts on why it’s a good/bad idea.
We know that diets have a 5% success rate. Yes, 5. Not only do 1 in 4 dieters go on to develop a potentially life threatening eating disorder but 95% of people gain back weight, and then some, with every diet. It’s a lose lose situation. When one intentionally tries to lose weight the body and brain don’t connect. The body thinks it’s in the ice age, in a famine state, so it will conserve every last calorie as the longest storage form- aka fat. This is why we see metabolism decreases and weight increases with dieting. Weight cycling, or yo yo dieting can also have an incredibly detrimental effect on cardiovascular health. When we look at the mental health effects of dieting it doesn’t get much better. Always striving to be another, thinner, more beautiful person will never result in a more positive body image. It often times brings about shame and worthlessness for failing at the goal of weight loss but it’s not you that failed- it’s the diet.
I’d like to profusely thank Connie for being available to me for this post. She’s incredible and you can find her (and her amazing advice) on her instagram page @constancelyeating
I’d also like to say that if you can relate to or are experiencing any of the behaviors that Connie mentioned in this interview, please each out for help. I’ll link a bunch of websites below.