Today I am welcoming guest Christie Dondero Bettey from Rock Recovery to the Food Freedom Lab to share her personal story of recovering from binge eating.
Christie Dondero Bettey Bio:
Christie has served for almost a decade as the Executive Director for Rock Recovery, a DC-based nonprofit that helps clients and communities overcome disordered eating by combining clinical, community and spiritual care. Having gone through recovery herself, she understands the depth of support needed to recover and how painful yet beautiful the journey to healing can be. Few things make her angrier than diet culture, and she is passionate about spreading the message that complete freedom from disordered eating is possible. She is an active speaker and shares her story with organizations and media outlets across the country. While a true city girl at heart, Christie now resides in the suburbs of Washington, DC with her husband, Ryan and her daughter, Viviana.
TRIGGER WARNING: Christie is going to be sharing information regarding her personal experience of struggling with an eating disorder, if hearing about disordered eating behaviors is not supportive to your journey, please skip this episode
Hello, everybody. I have Christie here with us today, and oh, I'm so excited for her to share her story because not only does she do so much amazing work in the recovery space, but she has a great story that I've heard snippets of here and there, but selfishly, I'm really excited to hear your entire story. So, Christie, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us to be here. It really means a lot.
Yeah, thanks for having me. I always joke I pity the person that sits by me on a plane and asks what I do for a living because I'm like, great, we've got three hours. Let's go. So we won't take that long today. But I'm really excited to talk to you too.
Yay. So why don't we just go ahead, dive right in and talk us through what food and body was like growing up for you, and then when things started to shift in a not so great direction.
I mean, pretty early, I think, which it's something I didn't even totally realize when I did my initial recovery work. It's something I've kind of come to terms with later. I'd say I went through recovery a little over 15 years ago. I'm now almost 40, and I went through recovery in my early 20s. But for me, a lot of the super disordered behavior started in my early teens.
But I remember now kind of my first maladaptive, tough relationship with food happening when I was eight. I have an older sister. I remember my parents said, okay, we're having a family meeting and we're having it tonight. And my sister and I were like, oh cool. Are we like finally going to Disney world or getting a puppy?
And they sat us down and they said, we're moving to Texas the next month. And we were like, wait, what? We're moving to, we're in Pennsylvania. That's far away. Like, are there sombreros there? Like, what do we do? Like, I think there's a lot of cacti. Like, we like Pennsylvania. Our family's here. We don't know other states. That sounds really scary. And so for me, I kind of controlled the only thing I could control, which was food.
I was eight. I didn't have language for this, but my mom, you know, was a Weight Watchers girl. There was a lot of like the diet talk in our household. And we also sort of didn't know how to cope with this stuff. So I felt like I vacillated between food being the thing that I could turn to when I felt scared or uncomfortable or alone with the move and all the feelings.
And then similarly, I kind of started to get the language of, but this food's good, and that food's bad, and we shouldn't eat too much of this, and we should eat more of that. So I had all these feelings, all this stuff happening with food and like no real language for it.
Do you feel like all of the good, bad, all of that food talk from mom, it was innocent, like from a place of like she was just doing what she was taught.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, my mom's so wonderful, so supportive of me, so supportive of my work out recovery. So all the things, right. It's really the problem of diet culture. It's how we've all been taught to live for so, so long.
And everyone thought and sometimes still thinks that these things are what's good for our health, right? So it's totally well-intentioned and out of a good space, like no bad intent at all. Just unfortunately bad information.
Totally. And I think that's so important to hear because it's like, it just getting passed and passed and passed until someone is like, wait a minute. So from there, then what happened?
So many things happened. So, you know, I was eight, we moved. That was a whole tough time for me. Again, sort of went through various years of feeling like I have these like really vivid memories of remembering like when a kid stole a cupcake out of my lunchbox and how it like just made me so sad. And I think I just been looking forward to that cupcake for lunch.
And then when it wasn't there, my whole day felt devastated because I just didn't have a thing to soothe me. You know, I didn't have that thing I've been looking forward to. And just lots of little things like that, that never would have noticed at the time, or even some stories don't feel that compelling, right? But sometimes it's these small things that happen that start to build up.
And then for me, my older sister got more serious into ballet and I was a ballerina too, and I wanted to do all the things my sister did. She was so cool and all I wanted to do was be her. So I got more serious about ballet.
So right around the time, you know, when like my body started changing, I started being in spandex and elite tartan tights five times a week in front of full-length mirrors, comparing my body to other people's and kind of noticing their body is smaller than mine or straighter than mine and they seem to get more compliments about it. Huh, why don't I get those same compliments?
So I was sort of in this place where I was suddenly aware of my body and how different it was looking and still sort of having my experience with food where when I had a hard feeling, I didn't really know how else to handle it other than to turn to food. So this was all sort of happening around the same time and got real kind of convoluted. As I got older and more serious about ballet, I had good friends.
I think I got a little bit better at managing some of the hard feelings, but still didn't have coping skills or tools or therapy or any of that since I saw my first therapist when I was in my 20s. So that was something that I felt I wish I could have had earlier. But I kind of can look back and see food was my enemy and also my friend.
And my body was mostly just my enemy as it started to change. And I wanted to look thinner and have a different body. I'm very much a words of affirmation, love language person. So when the other girls in my ballet classes, you know, got the compliments, I was like, what's wrong with me? Why can't I get those? Like, why can't someone give me?
And I remember one time I was in an intensive summer workshop and a teacher was in town from this great ballet company in Texas, and I saw her walking towards me, I was at the bar doing my little, you know, stretch and my activity. And she started walking towards me and I thought, finally, finally she's gonna notice me and she poked me in the stomach and she said, are you a marsupial? And I said, no. And she said, well then why do you have a pouch? And she walked away.
Oh my gosh.
My face got hot. I felt so ashamed. I think I was 13. Yeah, yeah. I just feel so much compassion for myself. I was just hopeful and I wanted to be seen and affirmed and loved and told I was good enough, and instead it was like totally shattered.
And so that night I remember thinking, I didn't say this to anybody, you know, I didn't like have a plan. I remember thinking, I'm going to change how I eat so that never happens again. Like I'm going to change who I am and how I look so that doesn't happen again. Because like, that's not okay. I need to be good enough. I need to be better. I need to be whatever, right?
Instead of being like WTF, why did she say that to me? Right, like I made my body the enemy instead of the unhealthy and unhelpful comment.
So it started with food to soothe and then it started with body and then food to restrict where I know oftentimes we hear body first, then I started focusing on food. So it was like food, body, food.
Yeah Which is an interesting thing again. I've kind of I hang out with therapists all day long at my work, so it's great. So I kind of come across some of these things even later in life, I'm like, oh, sometimes I would tell my story starting at 13 and I was like, no, no, it started so much sooner. Like it started so much before that moment.
So after the comment, you get serious about your food, and then what happens?
So I mean, as we all know, right, restriction can cause episodes of binging and can make us feel out of control around food. Not for everyone and not always, but I'd say initially I was able to restrict my food. My body started to change a little bit and I started to get compliments and that was all I wanted. So I just felt like, oh finally, like this is what I have to do.
Cool, like I can do this. Okay, and I got more serious about ballet, you know, but even with slight restriction of my food, it didn't get super severe at this point for me, but even with that slight restriction, it still wasn't good enough to compare to other people who have different genetics than me, right, and have different body types than me, and happen to be five inches taller too, or other things as well that I just couldn't quite compete with.
So I still felt really uncomfortable about my body, even though I felt like I was sort of keeping it in line a little bit better, but I felt like I was always holding my breath, like waiting for something to fall apart, waiting for like, you know, something to go wrong that I needed to control or change. And so I just got pretty restrictive. Wasn't totally restrictive.
It didn't turn into anorexia for me at this point, but I was definitely restricting a lot, having weird food rules, counting calories, right? Obsessive of what I was eating and not eating, sort of all those kinds of indicators that were quote unquote normal because a lot of people around me were doing it, but I didn't realize how unhelpful and unhealthy it was for me.
I'm always curious, did you create the calories, food rules, restrictions on your own or did you research and then form rules and a number from there?
My super savvy research of all the health and women's magazines that I could access in my teenage years, right? At this point it was the mid-90s, late 90s. I graduated high school in 2002. So a lot of the low fat this and low calorie this. So it's so interesting when I looked back later at all the things I learned about food, I knew all the calories, I knew all the things, I knew nothing about the actual nutrition, I knew nothing about the vitamins, I knew nothing about like what made your mood better or what made this better, right?
I didn't know that I needed to iron when I was on my period. Like I didn't know any of the things we should know about food. All I knew was, well, that has 17 calories per whatever, right? Like, that was all I knew. Because that was all a lot of these magazines talked about and focused on, because it was all about weight loss.
When you say, it felt like I was holding my breath, tell me more about that.
I think I just knew it was shaky. Like, I knew I was fighting my natural body type, even though, again, I never would have had this kind of language back then. But I think I just knew this is a lot of work and maybe it shouldn't be this hard, but I need to be working this hard to be okay. So I just felt like it was all up to me. It was all on my shoulders. It was just all this work I had to do. And as I got more serious through ballet, eventually I quit later in high school and joined the dance team at my high school instead.
And I remember there's this night, it's so funny I remember this. I was wearing jean shorts and a pink halter top because you know, late 90s, early 2000s, that's like what you did. I remember being at TJI Fridays with my friend Michelle. I just quit ballet and I was like, I'm gonna order dessert, like I'm gonna order dessert. And I remember I got, I think it was called the Oreo Madness. It's like quite delicious.
I haven't had it in years, but I ordered dessert that night. So I was like, I don't have to say no all the time anymore. I can say yes. So I kind of went to the other side where I said yes all the time, even if I was full, even if my body didn't want it. I wasn't able to be in touch with my cues of my body because it was all head rules. It was all either say no or say yes. And it was nothing about it was intuitive. Nothing about it was, you know, paying attention to my body or listening to my body.
And so of course, when I said yes all the time to things, even when I probably didn't actually want it, my weight changed and I gained that weight back. And instead of, you know, the compliments I was getting, either it was crickets or it was critique. And so that sort of put me into a weird place. So that was where I really more severely got into the yo-yo dieting, severe restrictions, severe binging stage, sort of after I had kind of gained this weight when I quit ballet.
When you started saying yes to more things, was it a bingy yes or was it more so, I'm getting these compliments, I'm doing, you know, quote unquote, good with food, I'm allowed to be a little bit more relaxed now?
It wasn't bingy yet for me. It was probably just more not intuitive. Like I was eating past my hunger fullness cues a lot and I was not paying attention to my body a lot. But it wasn't you know loss of control eating or like super large quantities of food in a short period of time. It was more it wasn't connected. It wasn't mindful right. I think it was almost rebellious of like okay well I had been like quote unquote the good girl all those years and said no like I said I'm gonna go say yes and again None of these things I had language for like it's amazing what you can act out of without actually having a conscious thought about it Like it's kind of alarming the things that we process about actually knowing we think or believe right? But yeah I think I just sort of knew I could say yes and didn't know how to Say yes and no and listen to my body was just sort of this external thing instead of an internal thing.
And how long was the restriction to the yes before you went into full blown restriction binging?
I mean, not long, I'd say probably a matter of months, honestly. So this kind of gets me to my junior, senior year of high school. I was, you know, getting ready to graduate. And since, since I was moved to Texas against my will 10 years earlier, I was like, I'm leaving, I'm getting out of this place, like I'm not staying in Texas. So I applied to 10 different schools.
My really savvy criteria was that I wanted there to be more boys and girls and wanted to go to wear a scarf in the winter, but not be too cold. That was like my super academic pursuit of college. So I wound up going to North Carolina State University, great school, go pack, but totally went out of state, totally left. And so before I left, I joined a gym and I started working at the gym. So I was up at like 4.30 in the morning, which was never again, never again.
But I worked at this gym. And so I said to the trainer I was working with, put that trainer for free. I was getting close to graduation. I was sort of like, I gained this weight when I quit ballet, have this weird stuff with food. I want to lose weight. And she's like, great, let's do it. Put me on a super restrictive, like wildly restrictive diet that I couldn't even eat some fruits and vegetables, right? Like all the things because they had too much sugar or had too much whatever.
This is probably the biggest trigger that put me into a full fledged eating disorder down the line was this diet was the thing she taught me that shouldn't do this made me obsessed with food. What was in it, what wasn't in it. And again, not out of health, out of calories and sugar. Like it wasn't about caring for my bones or my muscle. It was all calories, all sugar talk. So that diet, I lost weight relatively quickly and got compliments again. So I'm like gearing up for this big life change. I'm about to go across the nation to go to college by myself where I knew kind of one person and I suddenly was getting these compliments again and I'm in my head making these connections of, okay, this is when I get the compliments, like this will make me safe.
I'm going through this big, scary thing. So if I can just keep my food under control and my life under control, it will all be okay. Like this is all going to be okay. Right? If I had a bad feeling or felt uncomfortable about something, I'd start thinking about what I ate that day. I'd write down my little food log. Like I was putting all of my feelings and angst and anxiety and anything that was uncomfortable or disappointing, I was channeling it all towards my food and my exercise.
And, you know, for a very short time, it quote unquote worked. Like it made me feel better, although it made my life a living hell. It sort of took away the feelings in the short term.
And do you remember your first binge?
It's interesting. I would say it was probably when I went to college because I started drinking. I didn't drink in high school a lot. I mean, maybe once or twice. Sorry, mom, if you're listening to this. But I pretty much made pretty good choices in high school.
There was one time I had… Anyways, I won't go into the story. But yeah, I test the limits occasionally. But I started drinking. And so when I went to college, I would stay, quote unquote, in control during the day with my food rules and my food logs and all the things. But once I had a few drinks, like I would experience bingeing. Like I was kind of the first time I experienced these things. Cause I think my guard was down, my resolve was down and you know, food was there and hadn't eaten enough all day.
I was hungry. Like I wasn't caring for my body enough. Like I was malnourished and not taking care of myself. So I do remember kind of one night coming home from a party and I lived in my little dorm room. So I could only have so much, but I do remember the next morning waking up and looking around and being like, wow, I ate all that last night? Huh. And not necessarily even calling it a binge. Like I didn't even, I don't think I even had that language so much. It was more of like, oh, I was so bad. I didn't keep to my diet.
I had bad willpower. I had bad self-control. Okay, I'll make up for it today. That was kind of, I think, like my thought pattern.
And what were the binges like for you?
I mean, in hindsight, scary, because you feel so out of control. I remember sometimes it's like you can check out when you're binging and sometimes it felt like I knew what I was doing but I couldn't stop myself. Or I could even be like, I'm not hungry, why am I doing this? Or I could be like, I don't even really like this food, why am I doing this? But it was like, it's a compulsion, right? Like it was weird to feel so out of touch with my body and yet so compelled by the behavior. And again, now that I know so much more after working at Rock about the restriction cycle and the binge cycle.
I started binging not just at night, but also during the day and also when I hadn't been drinking. And I think now with what I know, I'm like, well, duh, my body was like, hey girl, eat some more food. Like you're not paying enough attention to us. Let's make you panic and be obsessed with this food and go eat a lot of it. But it definitely felt scary.
But I think for me, I was more just constantly disappointed with myself. Like, why can't I get it together? What's wrong with me? So it felt like I was the problem. And again, now looking back, I'm like, oh, I wasn't the problem. It was the bad advice. It was the restriction. It was all these other things that were the problem. And I was just sort of stuck in this pattern.
I struggled all throughout college with like severe restriction and binging. I did various things, some seasons, you know, even months or years or whatever, it was more restriction than binging. It kind of vacillated up and down. And I joined a sorority because I came out of state and didn't have any friends. And I had some really lovely women and friends that I still am friends with to this day.
But when you get a hundred women together with various opinions about bodies and food, it can be a little bit complicated. And so I remember just kind of looking at people around me and being like, oh, like she only ate peas for dinner. Wow, she's so much more controlled than I am. Like what great willpower she has. Like, why can't I be like that? And now looking back, I'm like, peas? First of all, I actually don't like peace. Second of all, that's not a meal. Like, that's not enough for your body. That's not what you need. But in my little disordered brain, in our little disordered world of women all trying to just be our smallest and not taking care of ourselves, we didn't see what was actually going on in front of us.
100%. I was at dinner last night with new neighbors, and there were burgers and I was the only girl who grabbed a bun and I know that old me would have freaked out by watching everybody not get a bun but also I had this moment of I have no idea what their relationship with food is like. They could totally be old me where it's like I just binged last night and now I can't get a bun. They might have dieters, I don't know, but that I have this double life where I am putting this persona on that I'm so strict or good with food or I'm only eating this way. And then behind closed doors, it is that violent, aggressive behavior.
Totally. Yeah. And it is hard. I felt triggered a lot by the people around me and didn't necessarily realize why. But I think so much of it is comparison, right? So to your point, I'm so glad for healed you, yay for hamburger buns.
Like it's so much better. Like, it's so much better. I enjoyed it, I was done, I went home, no binge. Yeah, right, like wow, what a constant eating a hamburger and like the way it was like made to be eaten with a bun. Maybe eating some cheese, who knows, right? Like who knows what people like, but yeah. So you never know what is going on with somebody and I really think our disordered behavior becomes contagious, partially because we compare and partially because we can then tell ourselves either, oh, we're not the only one or we're not so bad or they do this too, or, oh, they do that.
So I should do it. Like there's all these mental gymnastics I think we do around food as it relates to other people. And so one thing for me was just trying to pay attention to those people and being around people who were good food role models for me, right, versus the ones that I might be sort of tempted to sort of get into old disordered behavior patterns. It was really helpful to think about like, who's my food role model? Like, who loves food? Like, who feels at peace around food and with their body? I mean, it's a small list sometimes, unfortunately, assigned in, you know, the world, but that was what I really like started to get drawn toward.
And not only who has a good food relationship, but I'm sure you notice this too, especially in the line of work that you do, but our culture, especially with women, it's almost like woman bond over body bashing and letting go of people who are looking for that body bashing bond and being like, I'm not going to engage in that anymore. And that's hard.
Mm hmm. Yeah, exactly. I know. I felt like early on when a lot of my friends would do it, I sort of struggled with how to draw a boundary around it because it felt dramatic to just like run away. But I was like part of me was like, I'm gonna run away, I don't want to be around this. But I started kind of learning my voice and learning when to say like, hey, like, I really love you. I feel like this isn't actually the truest thing about you or even an important thing about you or even like I want to build each other up. I don't want to tear each other down. So like, hey, let's like change the subject or also initially I'd kind of make it about me being like, hey, I'm feeling really fragile in this area. I just can't be around this conversation. Can we please just shift it? You don't want people to feel ashamed for what they're saying, because, right, you never know the pain they're going through, what's going on.
But I learned to also kind of talk in my own boundary while also trying to, like, be the change and help people think a little bit differently about what they're saying or how they're treating themselves.
Totally. So with all of this going on, I'm sure you too had the thought of post binge. This is never going to happen again. I'm never going to do this again, and then it happens, it happens, it happens. What was your last straw? Like, when did you start to recognize, okay, I either need more help or something else needs to change?
That's a great question. So recovery sort of found me. I graduated college and sort of lived in this, you know, binge-restrict cycle for a long time. And when I graduated college, I had never had a class before 10am my whole college career. I'm very impressed by myself, but it was really hard to go from that to the real world. So then I got like my first job and had to be there at 8am. I was like, wait, what? So I had this big stress of kind of graduating, going to the real world.
A friend of ours died from cancer, which like rocked my world because you know, he was 22, like lovely guy, and it just was totally scary. So this change of moving from college to the real world, I moved from Raleigh to Charlotte, going to a job where I had to like be an adult, having someone I loved pass away, I was going through all these massive changes and everything kind of like just ramped up really badly to the point that I couldn't necessarily lie to myself anymore and be like, oh, this is just me, this is just willpower, this is just whatever. I started to be like, whoa, this is weird.
Like I would call in sick to work to go to the gym I would feel really upset and I was like, I don't think that's normal, but I would just sort of go whatever I need a mental health day. I had a stressful day It's like I kind of was starting to realize this doesn't feel right and yet I need to do it Anyways, I started having really bad anxiety attacks on my way to work So I couldn't drive my car and you know now I know like it's because I wasn't eating enough Nutrition and my body was like freaking out but so I started to have other symptoms that scared me a lot, namely anxiety attacks and sort of these other things that I couldn't necessarily like brush off anymore.
And then I actually, I met this guy at a bar one night, I just graduated college, I mean, maybe three months after I graduated, we started chatting and he's like, hey, you wanna go to church with me this weekend? And I was like, yeah, I don't really wanna go to church, but you're cute, so sure, I'll go to church with you this weekend. So I went to this church, and not really being into faith, I had my son with me at the time, and the first weekend I went, there was this lovely woman who made an announcement about this course she was running a six-week course I think it was like 20 bucks called new id all about finding freedom from eating disorders and I was like well I don't have an eating disorder but I bet this course will help me lose more weight so I signed up and spoiler alert didn't lose weight actually gained weight in a really great way my body needed to regulate at a different weight, right?
But I just was like, so tricked, so duped, but I'm so glad because that's sort of what like took the wool off my eyes, right? So the first week of new ID, we actually now at Rock Recovery, we run this program. It's a six-week thing we do virtually, which is great. And the first week is all about what are eating disorders and what is freedom. And there's a lot of stories. So there's testimonials every week, teaching, discussion time, and then prayer time since it's faith-based.
Open to anybody, but faith-based. And I wasn't, again, super faithy at this time, but I was like, whatever, these people are nice enough, I'll try it out. And I remember the first night Kim, the founder, Kim Hemsley was going through these things of like, here's what some markers are of an eating disorder. And I was sort of like, okay, check. Uh-huh. Check. I do that. Uh, yep.
Mm-hmm. Do that. Yep. And I remember thinking like, oh shit. And I was like, oh wait, I'm in church. Can I think that? I don't know. I don't know what to do. But I remember kind of thinking like, am I allowed to curse on this? I'm sorry.
Can I curse on this?
Okay. I'm like, I think I can. And I was like, wait, I was like, I think I have an eating disorder. Like, why did no one tell me? And it was, you know, looking back, I'm like, duh, Christy, like, how do you not see it? But I just had no idea what I was doing with an eating disorder.
First of all, binge eating wasn't really in the DSM yet. And I had sort of, I think, OSTED, otherwise specified feeding and eating disorder, right? I have a different diagnosis, but I just had no idea it was that bad until I literally sat down and someone told me, like not even me directly, like me like indirectly at this random group thing I happened to find. And then I was like, oh, I have an eating disorder. That's why my life sucks so much right now. I was like, oh, I at least could name it. Like I was like, that's why this is all so hard. Like I have an eating disorder. Are you for real? And then I was able to kind of throw myself into recovery, but I was really tricked into recovery is what I like to say.
Do you feel like if you read that list maybe a year or two prior, you would have had the same reaction or do you think you would have been in denial?
No one has ever asked me that. It probably depends on the day. I wonder if maybe if you caught me in a vulnerable moment, like hours after. Like post binge?
Like post something, right? Either binge, restrict, or whatever it was, like post something. I wonder if maybe I would have been like, huh, maybe. I'm not sure I would have thrown myself into it, but I do think I might have been like, huh, maybe. But like, eh, you know, as a ballerina, it's fine. I know about that. Like, I've heard about that. Like, I think I maybe would have said maybe, but like still brushed it under the rug. Minimized. Exactly. Not been like, yes, and then let's do it. So, yeah.
So, thank God you were at that place where you were willing to hear that, see that. I can only imagine though that that was probably scary to read and be like, okay, wow, this is legit and this is me and this is what I'm doing. So was it the course? Did you add anything else in? Like, talk me through your recovery process.
Yeah. So, the night I got home, I was living with one of my dear friends from college named Nancy and I've been journaling since I was eight years old, which like, you know, they get a little better as time goes on.
The eight year old ones aren't too like exciting, but like 12, 13 is where it gets juicy and good, I suppose. But I remember I got home and I like found my box of journals in my closet and I like spread them all around me. So I had, I don't know, like 30 journals. And I was like trying to read through them all to figure out where I went wrong. Like I was like, okay, if I read all of this data, I can look back and like find the point or find the thing or find the whatever and then I'll just like get better and then it'll be fine. And so my roommate Nancy came home and poked her head in and she's like, um, hey, sweetie. So how'd it go tonight?
And I was like, well, Nancy, turns out I have an eating disorder. And I'm going to figure out where I went wrong. And I'm going to fix it all. And she's like, well, that's something you could do. Did they give you any therapist referrals? And I was like, yeah, they did. And she's like, maybe you Maybe you should live them. Like, it's just an idea. Like, if you just want one.
Shout out to Nancy.
I know. Praise for Nancy. Nancy is the best. I was like, good idea, Nancy. And so the next morning I woke up and I think I was starting to almost try to feel denial. I was like, maybe that was all like a dramatic response. Maybe it's not that bad.
There was like this email newsletter of like a scripture a day. I started to get emailed to me and I opened my email and the scripture was the same one that we had gone over the night before in New ID. Like every week there's like a certain scripture that kind of grounds the course and this one is all about like I don't know why I do what I do for what I hate I do but what I want to do I do not do. For I have a desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out and so that scripture really resonated with me as someone who's in these patterns of like you know restricting and binging like I don't want to do it anymore I keep doing it I want to stop I feel powerless I don't know what to do and that was the exact scripture that got emailed to me the next day. And like, I've now since developed a faith background, but at the time I didn't really have a faith background, but I was like, I kind of know the Bible is a big book though.
And it's like the fact that I got this scripture emailed to me out of all the bajillions of sentences in that book, like felt kind of like a meant to be aha moment for me where I was like, okay, fine. I'll call a therapist. From there I called a great therapist, worked with her for two years. I did all outpatient work, so worked with her pretty intensively, got a dietician, stayed in that support group for six weeks, kind of kept up with some women from the group outside of it, had peer support, a little bit in accountability, kind of on our own. We sort of made our own little like ongoing support group just to kind of keep each other accountable and started to tell a few friends that felt safe. Some responded better than others, but everyone tried.
Like everyone wanted to be there for me, even if they didn't know how to be there for me because of their own stress. Yeah. So I started to build better boundaries around those who maybe were going to be triggering to me, but still maintaining a friendship to some degree, but realizing we won't do dinner together. Like maybe we'll go on walks or like we'll get coffee. Like I started to put some boundaries in place, started to open up to people in my life, told my family. And that's really a big privilege of mine is my parents were able to help pay for all of my outpatient treatment because you know how hard it can be to find care that's affordable.
I was working at Habitat for Humanity at the time, a lovely place, but you know, not making the big bucks as a lawyer or anything. So that was super helpful, working with my outpatient team, talking to friends and family. And then for me, just the healing journey of like, who am I? What gives me value? Like, what do I actually value? If any given day my thoughts were 80% about food and my body, like, do I actually think that's 80% of what's important about me? Like do I really think that? So working with my therapist to uncover like what do I think makes me valuable? What do I actually value? What do I care about? And how do I start to align my behaviors and activities and thoughts towards those things? And that was where a lot of the healing kind of came for me.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the group element? Because I know I talk about you know group support all the time. That was a game-changer for me. I would love to hear how that was involved in the course and the work that you were doing.
Yeah, well, it's so funny. I mean, the first week I was like mildly grumpy about being there, even though I chose to be there. I'm like, who do I have to be grumpy about being here? Like I chose this, but I remember in the discussion group time, I like sat there with my arms crossed and like looked around there were maybe seven or eight of us in the group. And I remember thinking, I'm not going to say a word. I'm just going to listen.
And two minutes in a woman across the circle said something. I honestly can't even tell you what she said, but she said something that I was so sure I was the only human on the whole planet ever to live that had that thought and did that thing. And she's like, I've been doing this thing and having this thought. And I remember being like, Oh, I'm not alone. Like, I'm not the only one. Like what? And so then I think I probably was like, Oh my gosh, I feel that way too. And so, you know, I did say words and I didn't just sit there quietly and grumpily. But I think it was just so healing. Like the shame totally melted off of me to know I wasn't alone, to know it wasn't just me, to know I'm not defective, nothing's wrong with me.
Like this is a shared struggle. And that we call it, I Rock Recovery, we call this the gift of I get it. Like when someone else is like, oh, I get it. Like everyone's journey is different. Everyone's story is different. And yet there's some shared, oh yeah, I get that. I get that. And that just has such power to help free us from the chains of all the things.
And with the new ID course, was that new identity? What did ID stand for?
Identity, yes, yes. Very good context, good job.
I love that because it is such a huge question of who am I without this? Who am I without my eating disorder? And what makes me me outside of food and body?
Exactly, yeah. And since it has a faith-based element, I think a lot of the root is kind of coming to the belief of like, your body was created. Like you are good as you are. You have this worthiness because like you're here. And so a lot of those things were sort of the core tenants of the course, which were kind of new to me, honestly. Like it was sort of something I hadn't thought about. Like my body was just worthy, like, cause it's here. I have value. Like I'm alive. There's something really beautiful about that. So that was really powerful for me. And then sort of building through again, like what do I value? What do I care about? And just kind of realizing if I felt like my whole identity was my performance or my looks or my whatever, it was all gonna be kind of shifty and could always change.
And it wouldn't be the things I said I cared about in my friends. Like I didn't care like what their legs looked like. I cared that they were kind to me and listened to me and like loved me and gave me grace. Like I didn't care that they were a certain size close. So it's like, oh, why am I putting all this energy into these things for myself when like that's not making me a better friend or a better person or like more loving to my neighbor, right? That was a huge shift for me.
So if you were going to just summarize some of the tools or things or takeaways that you did that had the biggest impact on your healing, what were some of those?
For me, like the three categories I always kind of boil it down to were having shared people, to your point, like the group work, friends, community, like people I could turn to when things got hard, or just for accountability, like knowing someone was going to ask me like, hey, how'd you do today? Like, how was that thing your therapist asked you to do? How was that exercise you did? I remember for a while, like my homework was like eating a muffin a day because I was like so scared of muffins. And like my friend being like, hey, did you have your muffin today? Like, do you want to eat one together right now? That was really helpful.
Having the experts, huge fan of the experts, so having that therapeutic work and the dietitian support, I think was really helpful for me. And then for me, the faith piece and just the values piece of like, who am I? What gives me value? What do I care about? Like, what am I rooted in? And tip wise, I remember for sure with my therapist being like, the only good thing about counting calories forever is that I'm really good at doing math in my head.
Like I can do really quick math. Like my old roommate would always like test me to see if I could do it. I'm like, oh yeah, girl, I got this. I no longer count calories, but I still have that little skill. But I never thought I could stop counting calories because I'd done it for so long. And I just knew what was in every food. Like, how could I possibly stop when I just know?
Like, it's like, I know this book is made of paper. Like, how could I stop knowing how many calories are in this thing? And my therapist was like, okay, you never had a younger brother, but pretend you have a annoying younger brother. And when you start thinking about numbers, start saying other random numbers back at yourself. So if you start saying like 250, be like 3,675 or like 922, like throw off your brain and like make yourself stop.
And I was like, that's the dumbest thing you've ever told me, Melissa. But then turns out it worked because after a couple of months of doing that, I stopped counting calories. And I remember one day being like, how many calories did I eat today? I was like, I don't know. I'm like, how many calories did I eat yesterday? I'm like, I don't know.
And I was like, damn it, Melissa, you're onto something. Like you are good at your job. So like, it was just so great. That was one of the more practical tools. And then just noticing the feelings, right? Like noticing the whole HALT, am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Or the acronym, I also like to STOP, stop, think, observe, and pray, or pause. Don't just like go, go, go, like take a breath, try to reflect, like I had this feeling and this thing happened.
What am I going towards? I like very vividly remembered towards the end, I suppose, of some of my outpatient recovery. Body image off and right can be one of the hardest things to heal and one of the last things to heal. And my body had pretty much gotten back to, I think, a size that it wanted to be at comfortably, not when I was trying to make smaller anymore. And I stopped looking at mirrors for a while, but I was like, all right, I'm going to look in the mirror today before I go to work.
And I like looked at myself and I was like, you know what? I look good. Like outfit looks great. Hair looking blonde. Like I look great. And I got in my car and drove my 12 minute commute to work and got to my cubicle and I was doing fundraising at the time. And I opened my email and I got a rejection letter for this grant that I had worked so hard on, like so hard, so many hours, so many spreadsheets, so painful. And I don't like crying in front of people, so I like went to the bathroom to like pull it together, like a real grown-up.
And I remember I looked in the mirror and I just thought to myself, I look hideous. I look horrible. Why did I ever wear this outfit? Like what is wrong with me? I'm so gross. And I literally remember like gasping and being like, this is what my therapist is telling me about. Like nothing has happened in the last 15 minutes to change my appearance, but it's how I feel about myself. So I started to notice what feelings were making me turn on myself, what feeling was making me turn to something or away from something, not just going through the autopilot process, but actually being curious and stopping.
And once I was able to realize what was happening, it didn't drive the train anymore. I had more like power to stop it.
And I so appreciate you sharing the resistance or kind of skepticism towards your therapist because I know that at least a lot of my clients, especially those that you are listening right now, I'm sure you're gonna laugh at this, but hearing the things that I say and being like, why would I do that? Like, why would that help? Like, that seems like the wildest thing ever. That doesn't seem like anything that's gonna change anything. But it does.
It does. Turns out you guys are smart and you know some things, focus, fancy letters. Look at you, you did it, yeah.
So for anybody who is really struggling right now and feeling like they are ready to change, but they're scared. They're scared about what's going to happen to their body. They're scared about losing maybe their number one coping mechanism. They're just scared of the unknown. What words do you have for them?
I mean, yeah, it's really scary. I totally get it. I talk a lot about how it feels like the eating disorder or disordered eating behavior can feel like the binky, like the little security blanket we turn to. And in some ways it makes a lot of sense that we would turn to these things because life is hard and life is scary and the world is broken and it can be really tough. And my therapist had me do a lot of work on honoring, not of course being grateful for my eating disorder or the things, but honoring what it got me through. I had some tough things happen. I had some traumas. I had some, you know, like all of us have our own stories in different ways. And I didn't know how to cope. And this was the best I could do.
And of course, now that I know better, I want to do better. Miley Angelou, great quote. But it's sort of the idea of giving myself some grace and compassion for the choices that I made and letting myself being perfect around the process. So it's okay to have ups and downs. It's okay that recovery is a bunch of baby steps sort of strung together. And some days feel really small, some days feel really hard, but just taking that next step is always the best thing because I will say like I would say even my best day when I was struggling with my disordered eating kind of pales in comparison to my worst day since because there is this freedom that makes life full in a different way and again everyone's story is different, everyone's journey looks different, but there's something really beautiful about choosing to start to become more free, even if it's messy and kind of painful along the way.
And finding your new ID.
Yeah, finding your new ID. Yeah. Remember that?
I love it. Christie, for anybody who is listening that wants to learn from you, connect from you, just know more, where can they find you?
Yeah, so I am the director for Rock Recovery, which is a DC-based nonprofit.
So best place to find me is there. Our website is rockrecoveryed.org. And then we're on Instagram as rockrecovery, and Twitter too, and then Facebook as rockrecoveryed. Thankfully, I'm not in charge of our social media accounts anymore. We have like a true millennial who's in charge of those things. I'm like not cool enough anymore to do these things, but yeah, you can find me there.
It's a lot of work, you know, and I'm just not hip anymore. So yeah, find me there. Find us on our website. I would love to connect with anybody and just hope that there was some encouragement for my story today. Thanks for giving me a chance to share.
A hundred percent. And in honor of the Food Freedom Lab, what does food freedom mean to you?
Food freedom means I think the ability to say yes or no without judgment or shame and just the ability to show up in my life. I'll tell a quick story. I'm going to tell a story. I'm going to tell a story. I remember, so I got married a little later in life.
I got married at 33 and so six years ago and I remember on my wedding day, you know, like of course everyone tells you how great you look. And I, for some reason, happened to know my weight at the time. I don't know if I went to the doctor or something happened that I happened to know my weight. And I remember on my wedding day thinking, gosh, if you had told me when I was struggling 10 years ago, how long ago it was, that I was going to be this weight on my wedding day, I would have been like, nope, I don't want to get married. That sounds horrible. But instead, during that day, everyone of course was like, you look so beautiful, Christy, like you're the most beautiful bride. And I was just like, I know I'm the best bride ever. Like, I felt so beautiful. I felt so loved. And I just felt so thrilled to be marrying this man. And I remember thinking like, gosh, it was my brain that needed healing, not my body that needed changing.
And I think that's what food freedom is, like the ability to heal and to be able to just kind of live that free life and say goodbye to the lies that we've been believing and to kind of replace them with truth.
My brain that needed healing, not my body that needed changing. Oh, I love that. Christy, thank you so much for taking the time to share that with us, talking us through it and being so vulnerable. I appreciate it so much. Like you said, it feels so good to just hear that I'm not alone.
Absolutely. Thank you.