Getting to Know Jennifer
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an eating disorder therapist and founder of the Eating Disorder Center, which is a group practice that provides eating disorder therapy and recovery coaching. I’m also personally recovered from my own eating disorder, which inspired my passion for the work that I do now in the eating disorder field.
An interesting fact about you?
I did musical theatre growing up, and I did around 13 musicals and plays.
Jennifer’s Mental Health Story
Are there any turning points in your life where you didn’t feel the best with your mental health? Walk us through what you were going through at that time.
I struggled with an eating disorder that took on a few different iterations, as eating disorders can sometimes do. It started out looking more like orthorexia – an obsession with so called ‘healthy eating’.
Then it kind of spiraled into an eventual diagnosis of anorexia, and I struggled with binging and purging as part of that.
And then, as I was working through the early recovery process from anorexia, I became very obsessed in an unhealthy way with fitness and this idea of health.
So, my eating disorder really kind of morphed and took on a few different forms. But it was really the same underlying root, it was just that the symptoms were showing up differently.
In addition to the eating disorder, I also concurrently struggled with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even though I was outwardly viewed as pretty high functioning, I dealt with pretty intense suicidality and at times very debilitating depression.
I would say, there have been definite periods in my life where I felt very disabled in terms of my mental health, and I feel very grateful and fortunate to be on the other side of that at this point in my life.
Better Me, Better Life
What support systems do you have?
Throughout my journey, I did a lot of psychotherapy. I also met with a dietitian, and that was super helpful.
I don’t do that at this point in my life. I still do go to therapy, and probably always will, but not with an eating disorder therapist – just a general therapist to deal with anxiety and life stressors that come up.
I also have an amazing fiancé who is really supportive. I have a couple really great friends, including one of my closest friends Dr. Colleen Reichman, who is the co-author of our upcoming book on eating disorder recovery. And I have an awesome team at the eating disorder center, who are all just like rock stars and so supportive.
How can we build a strong support network?
Depending on the means like accessibility and finances, we have to take that into account. But if you have the resources, build as much of a full treatment team around you as possible if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder or any mental illness.
In my recovery journey, I not only had a therapist and a dietitian, but also a mentor similar to what we now call recovery coach. She was somebody who was recovered, and she was incredibly helpful in my recovery too.
When it comes to an eating disorder, it’s a 24/7 illness. And so, one session a week doesn’t always feel sufficient. For some people it does, and for some people it doesn’t. So, build as much wraparound support as possible.
Also, if there’s any people in your life that you feel safe talking about this with or are able to be supportive, pull them into your treatment as well, and maybe invite them to a therapy session to see how they can best support you.
How has your experience with eating disorder helped with the recovery work that you do now?
I wanted to first disclaim that I don’t think you need to have struggled with an eating disorder in order to be an incredible eating disorder therapist.
For me personally, it’s helped me so much in the sense that it gave me such a deep sense of empathy. And it’s been very helpful because I can remember what it felt like to have some of the thoughts and feelings that some of my clients are experiencing in their eating disorders.
So, I think it’s helped me to be able to work with people who are dealing with similar issues that I dealt with like eating disorders, suicidality, and depression. And ultimately, the biggest thing is, it’s given me so much empathy and compassion for people who are struggling because again, I can remember what that felt like and how exhausting that was.
Jennifer’s Wellbeing Recipe
What does mental health wellness mean or look like to you?
To me, mental health involves a lot of different facets in terms of things that can impact your wellbeing. On a basic level, mental health involves your mood, like any symptoms that you’re experiencing.
But I also think there’re a lot of factors that can affect mental health that are important to look at. For example, relationships, a physical health condition, or if you are somebody who’s in a marginalised group and you experience oppression, that can impact your mental health.
So, I think we need to broaden the definition of mental health to include the various things and systems that can really impact your mental wellbeing.
What is your daily self-care routine? Any practice you’d recommend?
In terms of what I do every day, I always give some time for myself in the morning before my day starts. I sit down, have breakfast, make a cup of coffee, and just kind of relax to get into the mindset of the day rather than waking up late and being rush.
I have a variety of different hobbies that are really helpful for me. One that I’ve picked up in the pandemic has been water colouring, and it’s incredibly therapeutic. There’s research that shows when we’re engaged in an art activity or something where we’re forced to be mindful in the present moment, it’s very beneficial for our mental health.
I also like planning things for the weekend. I know it’s harder with COVID, but that’s something I can look forward to at the end of a stressful week and be able to decompress.
And then I also go to therapy. So if there’s anything in my life that’s feeling stressful, I have that outlet as well.
To All of You Who’re Reading
A final word of wisdom to our readers who are struggling with eating disorder?
If I could impress one thing, it would be to consider reaching out for professional help, if you haven’t already. I think these illnesses can really get worse and perpetuate when you’re silent and feeling shameful, and not talking to anyone about it.
I don’t know where I would be if I had not gotten therapy, so I’d really encourage people that if you’re dealing with an eating disorder, reaching out for help might just be the best thing that you ever do.
Here’s where you can find Jennifer: