As she is busy promoting her book, Shannon Cutts, author of Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back took the time to stop by Tales of a (Recovering) Disordered Eater.
Now that I’ve read and reviewed her book, it was time to ask Shannon some questions.
Below are my questions and Shannon’s answers, verbatim. I hope you will find her words as powerful as I did.
But before I share our interview, I’d like to extend a special thank you to, Shannon, for taking the time to so Honestly, Openly and Willingly (H.O.W.) answer my questions. I appreciate it so very much, and I know my readers will, too. Best of luck to you on your book tour/blog tour. You’re an inspiration to us all.
Recovery IS possible; she’s living proof.
My questions; Shannon’s answers
1) In your book you don’t talk much about your actual depths into anorexia and bulimia. As a writer, why did you choose not to elaborate on them in your book?
“There are so many amazing books about eating disorders, many written by survivors like myself, which go into great detail about the struggle between life and death that occurs during the battle for recovery. When I was recovering, the book I continually looked for and didn’t find was the one that told me HOW to recover. I knew it was hard. I knew it hurt. I knew eating disorders were very dangerous and ultimately lethal. What I wanted to know was what people who had had eating disorders did to keeping choosing recovery each and every day. I wanted to know how they stayed strong – how they recovered, step-by-step, even when everything in them screamed to starve, binge, purge, over-exercise, or do any of the other coping skills that had become so much a part of my life during my eating disordered years. So as I did my recovery work I kept a journal of all the ideas I thought up for how to stay strong and meet my recovery goals, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Over time, others began to write to me and ask me to help them stay strong. So then I began sharing the things I did with them as I mentored them, and discovered that my techniques and ideas were helpful for them too. Finally, I decided the best way to contribute to the field was to write a book full of positive, pro-recovery coping skills, using real questions and answers between myself and my mentees. I thought that if I wrote a book, the techniques could be available to more people than I could ever correspond with on my own. That book became Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back. And out of that book MentorCONNECT was also born so that those in strong recovery could mentor those who need recovery support in one-on-one mentoring partnerships.”
2) What role do you think parents can/should play in the recovery process? What kind of support is there for parents out there? Do you wish there was something your parents could have done to help you sooner?
“Ultimately, I think eating disorders sufferers need their families, and their parents. In my experience, Relationships Replace Eating Disorders, and while in some families there is too much going on within the family to allow for the parents to fully participate in the sufferer’s recovery process, ideally, parents should be engaged and involved. I also believe that they would do more if they knew what to do – and this was the case with my own parents as well. Eating disorders sufferers find tremendous comfort when family members and parents understand and are supportive, and generally it makes it easier for them to take the disease seriously and accept help. But unfortunately parents are still too often shut out or kept in the dark about treatment plans, and while this may be appropriate in specific situations, for the most part parents I have met want to be involved, they are tremendously worried and feel very lost about how to help. There are still too few resources for families and parents – one of the best is Laura Collins’ “Around the Dinner Table” forum for parents. Something-Fishy.org also has a forum for parents and caregivers, and we have a very small forum for loved ones on MentorCONNECT as well and would like to see that grow in time. Andrea’s Voice Foundation, run by Doris and Tom Smeltzer also does a tremendous job assisting parents with finding resources and participating in the recovery process.”
3) How did you meet your mentor? I know she’s meant so much to you, but for those who haven’t read the book, can you share how you met? Are you still close?
“My mentor was my physical therapist before she became my mentor. My battle with anorexia weakened my body to the point where I could not sustain the ten-hour-per-day practice regimen that my college’s music program required, and I sustained severe injuries that ended my hopes of becoming a professional musician. My doctors actually told me that I would need to choose another major because my recovery would extend beyond the term of my college career. My mother located a physical therapist who she hoped could help me get the use of my hands back, and my new therapist was the one who noticed that it wasn’t just over-practice that had caused the injuries. She reached out to me at a time when I had lost the one thing that I was still living for – my music. And so she became my ally in my fight to get my music, and my life, back. She helped me by brainstorming ideas for how I could overcome my fear of food. She cooked for me and sat with me while I ate and talked with me. She helped me find support groups in my area. She recommended books. And while today we are not in contact, I have such deep appreciation and gratitude for her role in my life during such a critical time. Without her I truly believe I would not be alive today, and even after she moved out of state and we lost touch, I have had a series of mentors who have come after her who have each filled a wonderful role in my life, helping me to move to the next level in my recovery work.”
4) You speak of John Nash and his determination to “not indulge certain appetites.” Do you believe eating disorders are purely an illness of the mind, where we can suppress certain appetites at our will? And why are some people more susceptible than others to having an ED?
“Scientific research has begun to produce a preponderance of evidence to suggest that eating disorders arise from almost equal parts biology and environmental circumstances. In other words, when someone who is genetically predisposed towards developing an eating disorder encounters certain situations in his or her life, an eating disorder may arise. I do believe that eating disorders have little if anything to do with food per se, and everything to do with brain chemistry and personality type. Right now, scientific researchers are conducting clinical studies to determine how the brains of eating disorders sufferers process hunger and satiety cues, and how the pleasure or reward center of the brain reacts in the presence of a normally pleasurable activity like eating. Studies thus far seem to indicate that the brains of eating disorders sufferers process such cues differently than the brains of individuals who do not have eating disorders. Over the years, it has also become increasingly evident that there is a dominant “personality type” which appears to have a greater risk of developing an eating disorder. An individual who is highly intelligent, who has a perfectionistic and rigid approach to life, who has poor emotional coping skills, great compassion, and an ill-formed sense of self, is at greater risk for developing an eating disorder. Scientists are also studying the worry center of the brain, and a very interesting study was conducted with anxiety where one group was given anti-anxiety medication and the other group was offered behavior modification training along with moderate exercise. After three months, the two groups had the same positive outcome. So I do believe that Dr. Nash’s experience of choosing recovery from his schizophrenia, and disciplining his mind to refuse to “pursue unproductive lines of reasoning” had everything to do with his eventual success. It is almost unheard of for an individual afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia to the degree that Dr. Nash suffered to achieve thirty years of medication-free remission! And I can relate very well to Dr. Nash’s story as I too had to learn to turn my mind from a rebel with a lethal cause into my ally in overcoming my eating disorder. This was a key facet of how I healed.”
5) “Relationships replace eating disorders” is one of the key messages in your book. Since EDs encourage solitude, by their very nature, how does one make the transition to welcoming relationships?
“Answering from my own experience, I would say one relationship at a time. I didn’t start by developing a great relationship with myself – that came much, much later. I started with my relationship with my mentor. She reached out to me, and when I accepted her help my relationship with her began to override the influence of the ED voice in my mind. I began to notice over time how different my mentor’s way of relating to me was than the ED voice’s way. She was kinder, more compassionate, and she always gave me the benefit of a doubt, and a chance to make a new choice. I felt better after talking with my mentor, whereas after “talking” with the ED voice I always felt worse. My mentor also helped me to see that everything I was worried about wasn’t related to my weight or my size or shape – in other words, that I was not my body. She helped me to see my body as a willing servant, a loyal friend that I needed to care for if I wanted to be able to live out my dreams. But there is no way to go from A to Z without making many stops along the way, and it was only after developing several caring relationships with others that I began to be able to translate some of that same love and care into rebuilding my relationship with myself. I will also say that eating disorders do encourage solitude, but there is always a significant relationship present – the relationship the sufferer has with their ED voice. So it is not about bringing a person in total isolation out of that state and into a relationship with others. It is about beginning to replace the dependency the sufferer has on their relationship with the ED voice, which promises simple yet deadly solutions to complex but solvable problems, with a relationship that is truly nurturing, life-giving, supportive, and loving.”
Thank you again, Shannon.
How about you? Are there any questions you’d like to ask Shannon?