55 minutes | Mar 15, 2021

Stefanie Michele: Healing from 20 years of eating disorders and feeling awake!

Read more about Stefanie and view photos here.Stefanie Michele suffered with eating disorders including bulimia, binge eating, and orthorexia for 20 years. She was born the oldest of three in an Italian family with strongly defined gender roles. Her father was overweight and always dieting. As he got larger, he tried to control his kids’ weight.She ended up dieting to the point where she became anorexic by age 16. People thought she had just become really lean. She knew she had a problem and asked for help, but no one else seemed to care. She entered college with bulimia, but her parents were just happy she was putting the weight back on. During her sophomore year of college, she came home from college and demanded help from her parents. That’s when she started receiving therapy.We talked about the comments people with eating disorders receive when they start losing weight. Our neighbor took one look at me and she said, oh look at you, there's not an ounce of fat on you. And there wasn't…she said it with such longing like, ‘Ah, you're so good.’”When she was 19, she went into a treatment center and received valuable help from a therapist who helped her work through issues from her upbringing and her sense of self. But the treatment did not improve her symptoms. None of the therapy she received over 20 years helped her symptoms. “I struggled through age 38. During my pregnancies I was still going to therapy, but I was still bingeing and even purging. I basically just thought I'm broken. No amount of anything seems to fix me.”We talked about whether Stefanie was predisposed to eating disorders. By nature, she was a creative, intense, and introspective child. She had to suppress her true self, being called out as different.Later in her 30s, Stefanie became obsessed with clean eating and health and developed a new eating disorder called orthorexia, fueled by the wellness culture.I asked her what woke her up and helped her shift beyond her eating disorders, since therapy didn’t help. She can’t define one single moment, but rather it was a collection of things when she was around 38.“I had just had my third daughter, and the fact that they're all daughters did not escape me. I felt this huge sense of responsibility for the fact that I was raising girls and yet I could not accept my own body and had this incredibly disordered relationship with food. My oldest was beginning to notice that there were certain days that I didn't eat anything and that my dinners were always different than hers…it made me really afraid.”She was also aware of approaching 40 and facing another decade of eating disorders and more shame. At the time she was a sugar detox coach, actually coaching people into orthorexia by fear mongering about GMOs and sugar. She began to feel that what she was doing was wrong.When she read an article called “Smash the Wellness Industry” by Jessica Knoll, at first she rejected it as ridiculous. But the more she thought about it, she began to see herself as what she was. On her 40th birthday, she read a book called The F*ck-It Diet , about how dieting increases our weight and destroys our relationship with food…and that the only way out is to allow yourself to eat whatever you want. In all the therapy she’d received, she’d never received this message. The book changed her life. “My life opened up after I healed…I'm one of my only friends who's excited to be in my 40s. I feel like I have a lot of living to do and I embrace it.”Now she’s enjoying food like she never did before, especially sushi, pasta, and mint chip ice cream!
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