Authors Barbie Webber and Carrie Thiel joined us to discuss their book, Surviving Disordered Eating One Bite at a Time. What follows are our questions in italics, and Barbi and Carrie’s thoughtful responses (designated by their initials).
Your book, Surviving Disordered Eating One Bite at a Time, authored by Barbi Webber and Carrie Thiel, includes poems by Claire Bachofner. Can you please tell us the role you each played in this printed work?
CT: The three of us were first drawn together in 1999 when Barbi was mentoring my then teenage daughter, Claire, as she recovered from an eating disorder. Barbi shared with Claire, and me, many of the same cognitive behavioral skills that are in our book, which Barbi had developed as an eating disorder survivor herself; they helped Claire a great deal. Over the ensuing years, Claire discovered that writing poetry helped her make sense and meaning from the horrific experience of anorexia nervosa, while at the same time helping others understand it better. Eventually, her poetry expanded beyond the topic of disordered eating to include many themes, reflecting her growth as a woman and an artist. Barbi and I were thrilled when she agreed to let us feature her beautiful poetry in our book. It feels like we’ve come full circle.
BW: It’s been over 30 years since I began healing from disordered eating. Along the way, I developed many cognitive and behavioral skills that saved my life. I’ve shared those skills with others in my work as a mentor, and they have proven to be very helpful to many people. A few years ago, I realized I wanted to be able to share those skills in written form and hopefully, reach even more people. Carrie and I had collaborated professionally with clients over the years, and I knew she was also a talented writer, so I asked if she’d help me shape my story, skills and strategies into a book. She agreed to do so, and also added topics and ideas from her experience and expertise. It’s been a blessing to work together on this special project. Also, I truly believe Claire’s poetry will move people as she beautifully expresses her journey in and out of an eating disorder’s deadly grasp. She joins me in providing the hope that survivors of eating disorders can bring to others
CT: When Barbi asked me to help her put her ideas into book form, I didn’t hesitate to say yes because I’d known many people who’d been helped through her mentoring. We worked on many sections together—generating and refining our ideas through conversations and by sharing printed work we’d each created. I also wrote a few sections on my own, such as the journaling, mindfulness, spirituality, and advice for loved ones chapters. It has been a pleasure and an honor to bring this book into being, and I hope it helps many people.
In Chapter 1, you provide “Tools, Skills, and Strategies for Health, Healing, and Recovery.” Your language is specific and instructive. What are some skills you each found particularly useful?
BW: Honestly, I use them all with joy! My favorites are: mindful bites, rebalance kits, food bag and cooler, treat egg, it’s okay to throw food away, scarf play, walks, spiritual meditation, beauty of the bath, eye catchers, eat with your mentor, and stop in the moment. All of the tools in our book bring forth mind, body and spiritual balance and success for me every day.
CT: Cultivating mindfulness has been transformative for me. It has helped me celebrate the good times and survive the difficult times. It’s also created more ease and acceptance around food and body image. Weight leeway is a strategy that works well for me, too. The last one I’ll mention—even though I use many more—is using positive self-talk. It really works if you practice it often!
How do you define “Nighttime Armor?”
BW: I used to binge and purge at night, most often. Later on, I realized anxiety from my day, combined with being tired, made me weak in the face of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Many of the dear people Carrie and I work with have also identified evening as a difficult time. I fought back by practicing skills such as: mindfully eaten snacks, rebalance kit, getting warm and cozy in bed, and watching movies. I discovered that eventually, the urge to binge or purge would pass. The self-soothing skills protected me from the eating disorder—like a suit of emotional armor. Hooray!
You firmly believe journaling is a powerful recovery tool. Please elaborate.
CT: Oh my gosh! I believe so strongly in journaling as a recovery tool! Many clients who have successfully recovered from disordered eating have done so by becoming more honest and in tune with how they really feel about everything. In our fast-paced world, it is hard to find time to practice deep reflection about how our lives are unfolding. Journaling forces a person to face the truth of their experiences and feelings by having to select the words to describe them. Once experiences and emotions are identified, we can start to deal with them productively. Vague, unexplored anxiety or depression is much harder to resolve than specific issues one can name.
Can you please share some suggestions on how those in recovery can change their habitual thoughts?
BW: Memorize positive quotes to release in your mind over and over to squelch the negativity. Practice seeking them out and enjoy the relief these quotes can bring. Also, I believe in daily positive meditation. My morning spiritual meditation blesses my whole day! I encourage people to also close their day with kind, positive relaxation such as a beautiful bath. Eye catchers, as described in the book, should be placed around the home, office and car to help a person focus on kindness, self-care, and positive thinking.
CT: I think most people with disordered eating carry on a critical, harsh inner dialogue, noticing more of what they think they do wrong than right. I encourage people to stop and really notice when they do or think something positive, using their names. Some recent research says that when you add your name to positive thoughts, it helps the brain hold onto the thought and the emotion more strongly, thereby helping to create a new, more positive path in the brain’s wiring, so to speak. For example, if I am able to look in the mirror and not think anything harsh about my looks—and maybe even find something I like—I might think: “Carrie, good job accepting your appearance today. That was really kind of you.” It can feel weird at first, but it works well with time and practice.
How might someone respond to those who bully, criticize or judge with the goal of protecting and advocating for themselves or others?
BW: Use your loud healing voice and get really mad at any bully or judging person, including yourself if you are that way! Discover and practice using your new self-advocating voice with your therapist or mentor. You can practice in front of a mirror. Use the scarf splay skill to make if fun. Things you can say include: “Not okay!” or “How you are treating me is mean and hurtful. Do not talk to me like that!” We have a whole chapter in the book on this topic because it is so important.
CT: Along with standing up for ourselves, I think we also can cultivate the inner understanding that not everyone is the same place we are in knowing how to kindly respect others and ourselves. It is our job to advocate strongly, and respectfully, for what we know is best for ourselves and those in our care—children, students, loved ones, clients, patients, etc. Bullies often rely on shaming to get people to do what they want, which has been proven to be damaging and ineffective. In fact, a recent study showed that childhood bullies and their victims both have higher incidences of eating disorders later in life. Some bullies will continue in their ways despite our best efforts to get them to relent. At that point, it is often best to stop engaging with the bully or harsh critic and protect yourself.
You devote a chapter to “How to Help Yourself When a Loved One Struggles with Eating/Body Issues.” Carrie, this has been part of your life. Can you please tell us why you know how essential this perspective is?
CT: Certainly. When my daughter, Claire, was struggling to heal from anorexia, I was overcome with so many difficult emotions that it sometimes clouded my ability to best support her. I felt despair that she might never recover, guilt that it was somehow my fault, anger that it was happening to my daughter, sad that she was missing out on so much, and grief over the loss of my expectations of “how things should be.” As Claire’s recovery played out, I learned how to deal with those emotions and even grow from them, which allowed me to be supportive to her even as I let go of her, to a certain extent, so that she could regain health in her own way. If loved ones aren’t able or willing to learn the truth about disordered eating, how to best support their loved one, and how to take care of themselves during this time, they can end up emotionally depleted and can actually sabotage their loved one’s recovery. It’s that important.
About the authors –
Barbi Webber, BSW and Mentor
Mentor Barbi Webber, received her bachelor’s degree in social work from The University of Montana and is a member of the National Association of Social Workers. Barbi is a survivor of anorexia and bulimia. For more than 30 years, she has mentored individuals suffering from disordered eating. She brings motivation inspired by the positive behavioral skills she created to find her own way out of an eating disorder. Barbi is a motivational speaker on behalf of eating disorder education, awareness and prevention.
Carrie Thiel, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Carrie Thiel has been a mental health counselor since earning her MA from The University of Montana in 2010. She opened a private practice in Kalispell, Montana, that same year, and continues to operate it currently. Before becoming a counselor, Carrie taught high school English for 13 years. In addition to earning a BA in English from The University of Montana in 1995, Carrie also obtained an MAT degree from Grand Canyon University in 2002.
Carrie’s professional interest in eating disorders grew as a result of supporting her daughter through recovery from anorexia more than 15 years ago. As a teacher, she helped develop a program for at-risk youth and co-wrote curriculum used in the program. Carrie has published essays, book reviews and poetry in various magazines and journals.
In her spare time, Carrie enjoys reading, writing, watching documentaries, walking, dancing, yoga, and spending time with family and friends. Carrie is married to Mike and has two children, Claire and Kyle, and three grandchildren, Jude, Kila and Kendall.