Michelle and Jennifer, Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists

Joanna Psaros

11 May 2021

Michelle Southern and Jennifer Hamer’s new recovery tool is called ‘This Girl Rising.’

Photo by Jasmine Carter on Pexels.com
  1. What does the name This Girl Rising mean to you? Is this resource aimed only at women?

The program was developed for girls and women. Whilst it is recognised men are also affected by eating disorder, we had a target population for females with the vision to hopefully create a similar course for males in the near future.

This Girl Rising symbolises a strong, brave and courageous woman/ girl rising back from darkness into their light. This pairs well with the logo of the phoenix which also symbolises rising back up from the ashes.

2. Can you explain what a recovery coach is, and how a patient would get one?

A recovery coach plays a key role in supporting clients with their recovery journey. Coaches help support clients in everyday situations and provide exposure and response prevention. They are there to support the client to make the necessary behaviour changes to move forward with recovery. A coach is often (not always) someone who has had a personal experience so can truly relate to the emotions and challenges experienced during an eating disorder and those in recovery.

3. How does both of your lived experiences inform your work? Does the experience of the trauma you lived through ever make treating patients difficult or painful? 

I believe the lived experience is one of great value when working to help others because you have a true understanding of the feelings, emotions, thoughts and behaviours associated with eating disorders. You can truly understand what it is like to be in the depth of the darkest place, but also how incredible it is to make your way on the recovery path towards freedom. Working with clients who are motivated to recover is often easier as they have come to a place of being transparent and honest about their experience and are open to support. However it becomes harder when a client is in the place of denial, and it is in those moments that can be painful to witness.

4. How would you describe Australia’s current ED treatment options?

Whilst Australia does have some incredible organisations supporting those with eating disorders, access to treatment remains a barrier. With extensive waiting lists and many individuals often not deemed “sick enough” to access treatment, there is a need for more accessible options for people to seek help and support. Furthermore many health care practitioners are not adequately knowledgeable to recognise and support those with EDs. With EDs having the highest rate of mortality of any mental illness there needs to be more funding and focus on enhancing treatment for those suffering as well as support for the families. 

  1. You’ve expressed beliefs that the future of ED treatment lies in greater collaboration between mentors, patients, their treatment team, and their families. 

What does this practically involve from a patient’s perspective? If a person wants help for their disordered eating, where do they start in obtaining this network. 

First it is important the individual speaks to someone. It does not necessarily matter who this is in the first place. It may be confiding in a loved one, family, friend, or speaking with their GP, or another healthcare practitioner they trust. Once they have opened up, the next step (if this was not their first) would be to speak with their GP as well as reaching out to the Eating Disorder organisations such as The Butterfly Foundation, End ED or the Inside Out Institute for Eating Disorders who can all help with resources and sign posting.

Without being biased we would also recommend these individuals to reach out to us, and to enquire about our program and how we can help. Treatment is more successful when there is a team on board, with multiple people helping to build this network, there is a much higher chance the individual will fully recover with such support around them. 

  1. Do you have any advice for patients whose families are not supportive?

For those who maybe do not have supportive families around them, reaching out to friends and others who may be more supportive and understanding can help. Also if the family are open to it, maybe direct them to some resources where they can learn about the complexities of eating disorders and how they can possible be part of the solution.

Often families are not supportive as they struggle to understand the ED. They lose their loved one to what I can only describe as a “beast”, and they watch the beautiful qualities of their family member fade away. This can be extremely difficult for them to see and understand. However if families are provided with more education and support in how they can be there for their loved one and to understand what is going on in the mind of someone suffering they may be able to show more support. 

  1. What are your views on in-person support groups, such as those run by the Butterfly Foundation?

I think in-person support groups are great providing the individuals involved are all motivated on their recovery journey as sometimes my concern is they could be triggering for people if not everyone is fully “in” with committing to recovery. Our platform can help if some people do not want to engage in these sorts of support groups as it can be worked through individually, whilst having the option for direct support and interaction with us. 

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

8. What are the biggest barriers in your experience, to people seeking treatment for EDs?

The biggest barriers in my opinion are firstly the eating disorder itself. An eating disorder will be the main reason why someone won’t want to access treatment, Because accessing treatment means letting go of something that has provided a sense of control, a sense of safety, and choosing treatment means facing all of those uncomfortable emotions and feelings that will arise through challenging behaviours. Furthermore, due to the stigma attached many suffering do not want to speak up about their eating disorder for fear of being judged. 

Secondly I think waiting times and accessibility to affordable treatment is a barrier. With more and more people suffering from eating disorders and disordered eating, there is not enough work happening in this area to support this increasing number. This is especially so in more remote areas, where specialist ED services are few and far between. 

9. Are there any things inadvertently said or done by loved ones that can hurt a sufferer or trigger/worsen their ED?

“Why don’t you just eat?”

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. The idea that someone would be unable to nourish their bodies with enough food seems illogical and beyond understanding for many people. It is confusing when your loved one won’t eat. “Why don’t you just eat?” may seem a logical question, but eating disorders don’t work on logic. Most people suffering from an eating disorder are exceedingly intelligent and competent in all other areas of their lives, and have extensive knowledge on nutrition, resulting in people thinking that a logical argument can “fix it.” However despite being intelligent and knowledgeable an eating disorder will override these traits to keep an individual trapped in the illness. The complex biological, genetic and socio cultural issues all contribute to that person not being able to eat an amount to support their health. 

“You look great/ healthy/ better”

Whilst this may seem like a compliment to say to someone in recovery, those with EDs time and time again report this as an incredibly triggering comment. EDs change the way words are perceived. For someone in recovery from anorexia, sometimes weight gain may be a necessary part of treatment, and they will identify any comment related to their recovery/ change in appearance to confirm their weight gain, which terrifies them, because they fear change. Equally, if someone says “ you look unhealthy,” this to someone with an eating disorder (mostly anorexia) will confirm they look thin and to them this is a success and they feel in control. It is best to avoid any comments regarding the individual’s weight shape or size. 

“You ate well, im proud of you well done”.

Whilst this is meant with good intentions, expressing they have eaten a lot can cause someone with an ED significant anxiety and stress. To say you ate “well” would be translated in someones mind with an ED “ I have eaten too much, I have been greedy”. 

Other things that should be avoided in conversation include:

  • You are not skinny enough, how can you be anorexic?
  • You look healthy, how can you have an ED?
  • You don’t look like you have an ED?
  • But you eat healthy, how can you have an ED?
  • You eat so healthy; you should be so proud of yourself?
  • You can work in the gym to get the shape you want so don’t fear weight gain
  • Stop caring what other people think!
  • It is all about willpower
  • If you are unhappy with how you look just train more and eat healthier?
  • Strive to be strong not skinny
  • Can you not see how bad you look right now?
  • You look fine to me?
  • How does avoiding unhealthy foods mean you have a disordered relationship with food
  • Maybe you’re just dedicated to healthy eating and exercise, you don’t have to have an ED?
  • Go eat a burger and chips?
  • You need some extra meat on your bones?
  • You are looking amazing.

10. What are some of the misconceptions people have about the treatment of EDs?

That weight gain is the answer to an eating disorder. This for me is a huge misconception. My recovery only truly advanced when I worked with the underlying issues around low self worth, never feeling good enough, the narrative I spoke about myself. Yet treatment often focuses so much on the nutrition side, which is important but the psychological aspects are often overlooked. 

11. How can This Girl Rising be accessed and what are the costs involved? 

This Girl Rising can be accessed online from a computer or smart phone anywhere in the world at any time. The introductory promotion cost is $99. This will increase to $200. 

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