Valerie Martin: Fulfilling Emotional + Spiritual Hungers to heal from an Eating Disorder (interview)
I am so grateful to have my new friend, blogger, and therapist here - Valerie Martin. We connected a few months ago, and she brings so much insight to her writing and work through her own personal story and experiences as an eating disorder therapist.
Every woman has their own unique story. Can you tell us 'your story' with food or body image?
As a kid, I was a gymnast and always naturally slender. My parents encouraged balanced eating, and no food was "bad" or off-limits. I was a Little Debbie fiend. During freshman year, I was not psychologically prepared for the changes that happened with my body, which were especially difficult given the wall of mirrors at cheerleading practice with all the thin older high school girls who were already dieting.
I followed suit, and my "diet" quickly got out of control and became full-blown anorexia with compulsive exercising. It was a perfect storm of biological predisposition (thanks to some of my personality traits), the comparison and fear of rejection inherent in most high school experiences, societal pressures, and unconsciously trying to control what I could within my family.
I hid my disorder pretty well and made excuses for the weight loss. Concerned friends threatened to out me to my parents, until I eventually couldn't take my sad, small existence anymore and asked for help. It was a difficult journey, and once I fully stopped restricting, it wasn't long before the pendulum swung to full-on binge eating.
My body (and little did I know at the time, my spirit) was so starved, I was a bottomless pit. Food and my body continued to be a daily battlefield as I gained a lot of weight and struggled to figure out how to get back to "an acceptable weight" (as I viewed it at that time) without going crazy again.
During my first year of college, I discovered Geneen Roth's books in my university's student health center, where I was attending an eating disorder support group. I had so many "lightbulb experiences" as I read her books, and they were more influential than any therapy I'd had to that point. Still, eventually the books began to collect dust and I slipped back into old patterns. When I told my Mom I was struggling again, she surprised me with a plane ticket to California for one of Geneen's week-long retreats just a few weeks away.
It was there that I began to truly reconnect with my body, find joy in movement again, and understand the spiritual and emotional hungers I needed to fulfill. Over the next year or two, I still flirted occasionally with diet + exercise trends and "women's health" magazines, but that continued to fade until I reached a point of true Intuitive Eating, where I'm proud to say I've been for the past seven years.
I often say that I have a healthier relationship with food and my body than most women who've never even had an eating disorder -- since, as a society, we are so disordered in our eating AND body image. I am incredibly grateful for my experience of recovery, which is what led me back to graduate school and my job now as an eating disorder therapist. Helping other women reclaim their lives is the most important thing I can imagine doing with my time on this planet, so I consider myself very blessed and privileged to get to do it every day.
What are the two biggest lessons you learned in order to heal disordered eating and body shame?
1) The people who matter don't mind, and the ones who mind don't matter.
I love this saying, and it helped to keep me in check any time I questioned whether I could actually accept my body at a weight that's higher than what Hollywood says is beautiful. "But that's what guys find attractive!" Did I really want to be surrounded by a-holes who cared more about me being a size 2 than they did about me being healthy, my intellect, or what I contribute to the world? NO THANK YOU. Consider it a great way to filter out people who are not worth your time.
2) How you do food is how you do life.
If you're restrictive with food, you're probably restrictive in other areas of life, too, or trying to balance the rigidity by going overboard in another area (i.e. shopping or sex.) Your relationship with food is one of the best teachers to learn more about yourself. Anytime you notice something is off with your eating patterns, it's a big ole hint that something deeper is going on with you that needs to be addressed.
For me, I have to really pay attention to when I start buying more groceries than I actually need (or other kinds of shopping), because it's a subconscious response to wanting to ward off any possibility of deprivation or scarcity. So, it's a clue that I have to ask myself what it is I'm REALLY hungry for.
If you could write a letter to your former self, what would you want her to know?
I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but you are so, so much more than your body and your appearance. It's not worth putting yourself through hell to try to look a certain way, and your time is much better spent finding out what lights you up and how you can bring your uniqueness and love into the world.
I know it sucks right now, and that's okay, because going through this is part of how you'll discover your purpose. There are people who really love and appreciate you. Hold them very close, and prioritize those relationships. So many relationships are superficial, one-sided, and not worth your time or energy. Also, no amount of "totally cute outfits" is going to make you feel better.
You're always going to love glitter and rainbows and fairies (good thing, since you got that tattoo), and that stuff is not something you should "grow out of." It will be part of what makes you unique and connects you to your spirituality. You're pretty cool.
Oh, and you're going to hit the husband jackpot. (Pretty sweet, right?!)
Let's chat tools. What are your favorite books, tools, apps, coaches, etc. that have helped you along your journey.
Certainly Geneen Roth, as I mentioned earlier. I started off with her earlier books (published in the 80s and 90s), but her later book "Women, Food & God" is a great and more updated synthesis of a lot of her previous messages, so it's a good one to start with. I also really loved Courtney E. Martin's "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" and Anita Johnston's "Eating in the Light of The Moon."
Since I like to stay up-to-date with book recommendations for clients, I'm currently reading Carolyn Costin's "8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder," and it's great so far.
Smartphones weren't around when I was struggling, but there are several good apps I recommend to my clients to support their recovery. One is ACT Companion, based on Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, which is one of my favorite modalities. Another favorite is Rise Up + Recover, created by my friend Jess Raymond, who also runs the kick-ass Recovery Warriors blog and podcast.
I also wish I'd worked during my recovery with a dietitian who really understood eating disorders (I grew up in small town Texas, so those resources weren't exactly abundant), because I know that would have made my journey more manageable. So I strongly encourage people to work with someone who truly knows their stuff (ahem, like YOU, Lauren!)
You can search your area for a Registered Dietitian (or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist - same thing) with eating disorder expertise at EatRight.org. Even if you don't think you have a full-blown ED, it's so helpful because they understand the psychological angle of repairing your relationship with food better than most dietitians or nutritionists. (Yes! Every dietitian has their own experience & interests in different fields, so don't be afraid to ask them questions before getting started.)
What keeps you inspired, alive, and vibrant these days?
Regularly connecting with my body through joyful movement is one of the biggest things for me. My absolute favorite these days is Suzanne Bowen Fitness (SBF). Her method is all about mind + body wellness and actually having an enjoyable fitness experience, rather than trying to achieve a "perfect" body or kill yourself for "maximum calorie burn."
I've also been doing a lot of spiritual exploration and learning, including working with energy and the chakra system which is SO fascinating to me.
It's been so nourishing to spend more time singing, both in my church choir and with Blood and Sand, a band (!!) I'm in with my husband and two of our friends. (No website or recordings yet -- we're in songwriting mode right now, but planning to record an EP in 2015.)
My biggest challenge is forcing myself to slow down because there's so much I'm excited about that I could burn myself to the ground if I'm not careful!
Favorite place... Around the camp fire at a beautiful park
Bucket list travel location... Scotland and New Zealand
Favorite way to stay active... SBF! Aaaand interpretive dancing at parties
Quote you love? “We danced too wild, and we sang too long, and we hugged too hard, and we kissed too sweet, and howled just as loud as we wanted to howl, because by now we were all old enough to know that what looks like crazy on an ordinary day looks a lot like love if you catch it in the moonlight.” ― Pearl Cleage
We'd love to support you. What are you working on these days?
I love writing at my blog, Waking Up in Wonder, where I cover any and all topics related to mind + body + spirit wellness.
A few of my favorite posts are: - Emotional intelligence jam session: 5 key truths to understand & work with your emotions - A note to “non-artists”: creativity is for you, too - Introduction to the chakras for mind + body + spirit wellness
I am an occasional contributor at Adios Barbie, and I'm excited to start later this month as a regular contributor at Recovery Warriors.
I'm also kicking off 1-on-1 coaching. You can learn more about my coaching services here (http://wakingupinwonder.com/work-with-me/).
All About Valerie
We'd love to hear from you in the comments below (+ go give Valerie some love!)
- What was one lesson you learned from Valerie's interview?
- What emotional or spiritual hunger do you need to fulfill?