EG: Hi, I’m Erin Gallagher, Interim Executive Director of This is My Brave, and we’re so excited to present to you this season of Our Turn to Talk, a podcast featuring young people who understand how important it is to talk about mental health. At This Is My Brave, we know that Storytelling Saves Lives. We hope that this podcast inspires you to Be Brave with us and to start brave conversations with your family and friends.
DELANEY: …My eating disorder mostly developed …when I was on a cruise…over the summer before going into eighth grade, and I just remember like, you know, you're on a cruise, everyone's wearing bathing suits. You're just comparing to everyone. And obviously it's normal to compare yourself, but it was like excessive. And I just felt so bad about how I looked. I was just like, you know, I just need to go on a diet. And that's how it started.
AV: Delaney Reilly is from Windermere, Florida, a small town about a half-hour away from Orlando.
DELANEY: I would track my calories and… limit them little by little. And like, I knew what was healthy and I knew what wasn't, but I would still like push my limits and go under. And I just kept getting less and less intake
AV: Delaney was 13 when she was diagnosed with anorexia.
DELANEY: I just thought it was normal to eat how little I was eating. And I knew at the same time, it wasn't, because I would like, hide my food. I would throw things away. …I would leave my house in the middle of the night to go exercise…. I would do anything. It was very extreme at first, but it definitely came from just like a diet gone wrong.
AV: Like me, Delaney is now a freshman in college. We also share a similar story of going through and overcoming an eating disorder. And that’s what we’re talking about today. How you develop them…things that make it hard to cope with them… and the best part, how you can heal from them.
This is Our Turn to Talk. A place for us to have real conversations about our mental health.
I’m Anastasia Vlasova. I’m 19, and a freshman at NYU.
Anyone who’s struggled with an eating disorder knows that it’s complicated in ways that other self-destructive behaviors are not. “Getting clean” is the goal with something like a drug or alcohol addiction. But our bodies require food to survive.
But if food, and more specifically, calories, are the enemy to those of us struggling with eating disorders, the challenges in treating the disorder are made worse by the fact that the body is being denied nutrition, which makes it really difficult for the brain to make healthy decisions.
Once you add in the toxic body image messaging that is literally, everywhere in our society, and the guilt and shame…that bind it all together, well, for many of us it gets pretty overwhelming.
And it can take control over every part of your life.
AV: In Delaney’s case, her “diet gone wrong” quickly turned into an obsession with food and weight.
DELANEY: I think my friends could kind of pick up on it because …I just wouldn't eat at lunch. …I would have a little bit for breakfast. Um, and then dinner, I would kind of like isolate,...and I think my parents started to realize that, cause it was like, you know, we used to have family dinners and now I was like, no, I have to do this. I have to go exercise. I have to go sleep or something.
ANASTASIA: you said that sometimes you would even sneak out at night to exercise. What exactly were you doing?
DELANEY: Um, it was …just stuff I would see on like Pinterest or something. …it was just like those quick burn calorie workouts. …and I would set like a goal at the beginning. Every time I worked out and I would do stuff like jumping jacks, squats, lunges, the really like basic things. Like it wasn't strength. It was more like, burn calories best I could.
ANASTASIA:… during my early years of high school, I did the same thing. I remember I would go to the gym and so on the treadmill, you can see how many miles you're running, but also how many calories you're burning. And so, it wouldn't matter how many miles I ran because I needed to hit that certain number of calories and being the perfectionist that I was, if I didn't hit that goal, I would be even more frustrated with myself.
DELANEY: Yes. I was just about to say the exact same thing about how I was super perfectionistic and I would set a goal and if I didn't meet it, my world would like fall apart. Say I got interrupted in the middle, I would like go like insane. Cause I was so angry. Cause I was like, no, like I need to meet this goal. And it was so like hard to like finally step back from like those kinds of like perfectionistic ways. Cause I think perfectionism is like a huge factor of having an eating disorder. I've never met someone who has an eating disorder who doesn't have those kinds of tendencies.
ANASTASIA: Oh yeah. A hundred percent. …I would literally work out twice if I had to, just because I felt guilty about not doing enough the previous day.
DELANEY: Oh yes. And I'm glad you said “felt guilty” because that's a huge part of having an eating disorder is like this massive guilt that just encompasses you. And, it comes from everything… you just feel guilty if you eat, you feel guilty if you don't eat. You feel guilty if you work out, you feel guilty if you don't work out. …and it's so hard to like, get rid of that.
AV: If there are two feelings that I associate with being in that really dark place in my life with my eating disorder, it's definitely guilt and shame. I felt so ashamed of what I was going through because I thought I was basically a monster and that I was, disgusting. Like, that's really what I thought about myself. And it's, it's so sad that I even thought about myself like that, because like, that's me. Why would I ever treat myself so poorly? So many teens struggle with this stuff and adults too, literally people of all ages yet, like it's so rarely talked about and it's not normalized at all. That's the reason why we feel so much guilt and shame, it's because we're afraid that if we do come out and talk about it openly people will judge us and think less of us.
DELANEY: …there's just this huge stigma around eating disorders, because a lot of people just think of it as like a diet. You want to look skinny, like that's about it, but there's so much more that goes into like eating disorders. And talking to people, people about it is so hard sometimes because it's just like, you know, like the classic responses of like, oh, like it's hard to eat. It's just like, okay, go, go eat a burger or something. Um, and it's like, okay, that doesn't help.
Um, but people just don't understand. And then it's just rarely talked about, but it's so normal. Especially like body [00:44:00] comparisons. I know every girl, every guy like has those days where they compare themselves. Yeah. That's a huge part of like eating disorders. And even though that's so normal, like we still, like, I don't know why people don't like put the two and two together and they talk about eating disorders as much as they compare themselves.
ANASTASIA: Exactly. And …and I know that also I wanted to ask you about what you thought of your body image and just body image in general during your, uh, experience with anorexia. Because I know for me… I actually remember the moment …that I started having my very first, um, body comparison thing.
And it was at the beach and I was wearing a bikini. I was like eight years old, so super young. And I remember looking at this other girl, who's my age. And her stomach just looked very flat. She was super skinny. And then I looked down on my stomach and from my point of view, like it was kind of bulging out a little bit and I was like, that's unacceptable.
And I remember since that day, I always tried to suck my stomach in or like just make myself look thinner …And I just became so obsessed with that. And then say the same thing with, um, a thigh gap. I had a thigh gap when I was in fifth grade or whatever. And then up until like eighth grade or probably even freshman year, I was still because obviously I was getting older my body was changing. I was becoming just bigger. You know what I mean? And so.
As soon as that thigh gap started going away, I started freaking out and I was like, oh my God, I'm not pretty anymore. I have such huge thighs. And they're just so they're like a lot bigger than all of those skinny models or not even just the models, but also the girls in school too. And it was just this constant, like,... walking down the hallway in school, wasn't just walking down the hallway. It was also glancing at other girls and seeing what I was lacking that they had, you know? And so it was like this constant game of comparison. And like, when I would walk by the mirror, I would look at myself and I would think, Ugh, I can't believe I look like that from that angle and stuff.
DELANEY: Oh my yes. …I think it's so important to realize like how skewed our body image could be. Cause I remember when I started to first lose weight, um, when I developed anorexia, I was already underweight to begin with, like, I, I was already underweight and I just started losing more weight and it was very drastic.
Um, and even though I've lost all this weight and I was super underweight, I still just saw myself as big fat ugly unattractive. And that's when I kind of realized after losing all that weight, I was, wow like this isn't about just my body. Cause if it was, I wouldn't have an eating disorder, I was skinny.
I was, I was everything that my eating disorder wanted me to be, but it just kept going. Like it doesn't stop.
… So body image today, it's a lot better, but it's obviously like still a struggle. … because I know when I'm upset, sad or something, it definitely affects my body image.
Which sometimes doesn't make sense. Like I'll fail a test. And then I'm like, oh my God, I'm so ugly. I'm so fat. Which just it's like, where did that come from? … And obviously there are days when I still am struggling a lot.
…. but then I start to realize like, what is this doing for me? I kind of picked up like on radical acceptance… I've actually like, have had a lot of revelations lately, like about like how I look and I'm just starting to kind of like, realize like, this is how I look and I need to start accepting that And just hating how I look, isn't going to get me anywhere in recovery… Like the eating disorder is not going to help me like be in my healthy self.
Like this is my healthy self and I just need to accept that.
ANASTASIA: I love that. So, so much. I think that during the past few months, … I think that I've just come to this place where. I will get nowhere in life if I don't choose to love myself. And by loving myself, I mean, accepting both like the unpleasant and pleasant feelings, …You know what I mean? And so if there are some things about my body that I don't like, there's no point in not liking it. Like it's me, it's who I am.
DELANEY: Yeah, it’s not like it’s gonna go away.
ANASTASIA: Yeah, exactly. It's not like I can just not look at it for the rest of my life, you know?
AV: Even though practicing this radical acceptance makes sense, it’s not always an easy mindset to maintain. For me, therapy has really helped to try to remember it.
And for Delaney too. But her path to getting help wasn’t easy. First, she had to accept that there was a problem.
ANASTASIA: Was your mom the first one to notice symptoms or were you kind of aware you were struggling with food before she knew?
DELANEY: … I was aware and then I kind of would like let her know a little bit, and she’s the one who said ok, we should go talk to someone, see someone.
It was weird because half of me was like, I need to go see someone. I need to get better. But half of me was obviously like, no, like I'm good. So I kind of like told her, I kind of like made this agreement with her. And I was like, if I say no to some things, it probably means yes.
Like if I say, no, I don't want to go out to eat. That probably means yes, I want to go out to eat, but I'm not going to tell you that because that's just going to make my eating disorder louder.
AV: Our Turn to Talk returns in a minute.
EG: Hi! Erin Gallagher from This Is My Brave again.
Whenever I hear young people sharing their stories, I feel even more committed to the work of This Is My Brave to break down stigma and to let others know that they are not alone. Maybe hearing these stories inspires you, too. We have opportunities for high school and college students – check out this is my brave.org Are you a college student? Our Brave Ambassador program is a student-led movement to create a safe space for yourself and your peers to talk about mental health and to break down barriers on your campus. Are you in high school? Our National Teen Show offers you a platform to share your own story in a creative way. If you’re ready to connect with us, more about each of these programs.
AV: One really important factor that Delaney and I both agree is super neglected, is proper education around body image and our relationship with food. Because eating disorders are so misunderstood, a lot of people don’t realize that an eating disorder is actually considered a mental illness. And disordered eating means harmful and potentially dangerous eating behaviors.
And considering eating is something we do at least three times a day it’s sort of weird that we don’t learn about our relationship to food or …to our bodies in school, right? Especially since, left untreated, eating disorders or disordered eating can lead to really serious… health issues, like bone density loss, infertility, hormonal issues and menstrual dysfunction.
LAURELEE: We have a $33 billion a year diet industry….We also have very unrealistic ideas about what people should look like. This culture really breeds eating disorders.
AV: Laurelee Roark is the director and co-founder of Beyond Hunger, an organization just outside San Francisco that focuses on preventing eating disorders .
LAURELEE: We have a three pronged philosophy of recovery and prevention, and that is body acceptance. So we talk to the students about accepting and loving and taking care of the body that they have, no matter what it looks like.
And then the second part is remembering how to eat intuitively because we all …have been a baby before. Babies eat intuitively. They eat when they're hungry, they stop when they're full.
And then the third piece is probably one of the most important pieces of this because we don't have eating disorders or body hatred for any other reason than we don't know how else to take care of ourselves. Whether it's by starving or it's by overeating or it's by hating our bodies or it's by whatever people do to get over their feelings.
So our third piece is emotional intelligence, which just really means you know what your feelings are. You can process your feelings and you know how to get help if you need help with your feelings. Instead of turning to eating disorders or body hatred.
We have to learn how to eat and we have to learn how to have a relationship with our body.
AV: Delaney eventually realized she didn’t know how to have a relationship with her body. But at the same time, she didn’t want to admit it.
DELANEY: …I was like, maybe it’s something else. Like, there’s no way, that’s not me…So it took a long time to kind of like, accept what was going on. Um, but for sure, when I got diagnosed…I remember yelling at my doctor. I was like, you're a liar. Like that's not even true. Like you're dumb.
AV: The night before she entered her treatment program, Delaney was out with her friends. It was Halloween of all days, the day when you’re supposed to eat as much candy as humanly possible
DELANEY:... Halloween is … definitely my favorite holiday. And I remember …I remember that Halloween, it was just so like dark and sad. Like I went trick or treating cause I was pretty young and I remember getting all this candy and I didn't have a single piece of candy that night. …I couldn't enjoy it with my friends. They were all eating candy, trading candy and I was just like, I can't do that.
And it was just, it felt so, like I felt so alone. …November 1st. So the day after Halloween, I was admitted to treatment.
ANASTASIA: …Now, what kind of treatment was that? What was it like?
DELANEY: It wasn't like a residential stay, but it was like. I would go there like eight or nine hours a day. Um, so I did have to leave school early and I had to like switch around some of my classes, which was definitely not what I wanted to do because I was super perfectionist. …I can't go to treatment because I need to get all A's I need to be in school. Um, so it was so hard to learn to put myself first because I just wasn't.
ANASTASIA: I, I can't even imagine what it's like, basically interrupting this whole course that you had set for yourself, you know,
DELANEY: Yes, …it was just really hard to like let go of my life before and to like accept this new life. And I think that really like put me into this, like, like spiral and I just felt so bad and I felt so burdening on other people. And I think that led to like me, like getting diagnosed with like depression and then getting on meds and things like that.
ANASTASIA: Mmm-hmm…And what made you feel like you were a burden to other people?
DELANEY: I just, I felt bad that I was struggling and I just felt like I didn't want to struggle because I didn't want people to like worry or like, feel bad that I was struggling and I just wanted it to be like my own thing. And I still like struggle with those kinds of thoughts to this day. Like, I will be scared to like go to my friends and tell them what's up. Cause I don't want them to be like worried. They're like, you know, like if your friend's sad, you're sad. Like, I didn't want to like rub off, like in the wrong way, like make them upset or things like that.
ANASTASIA: …So do you remember the first time that you decided to be open with your friends and could you kind of describe what happened? How did they react?
DELANEY: Um, definitely. I remember … on Halloween, like telling them because obviously it was obvious I really wasn't like amazing that day. And I was like also stressed, like, oh my gosh, tomorrow I'm starting treatment. That's so weird. So I remember telling them about it that day. And like, yeah, we're very, just kind of like confused. … like, doesn't everyone go through that?
Like, why, why do you get to go to treatment? Like, doesn't everyone go through that? And that was very invalidating.
ANASTASIA: Um, oh yeah,
DELANEY: … or like, especially now, like some of my newer friends, like high school, like if I tell them they're like, are you sure anorexia is the word? Like, I don't know, like you don't look like it. And I was like, okay, I understand what you're saying. But, um, um, cause I think a lot of people just think it's like a certain look, which yeah.
ANASTASIA: So like to be like a skeleton basically to be considered anorexic and that's not true,
DELANEY: and that’s super harmful. Um… a lot of people were just very invalidating at first. Like I know they didn't try to, but I don't think they knew what else to say.
AV: Some of her friends did make an effort to learn more about what she was going through. And Delaney met them halfway: she created an Instagram recovery page that helped them empathize with her struggle. It’s called smiley.delaney [smiley DOT delaney] and you can find it linked on the Our Turn to Talk Instagram page.
Delaney has lived through the scariness of anorexia, so she can really empathize with those who are in the middle of it. Her therapist recruited her to speak with groups of young people who are currently in treatment for eating disorders.
DELANEY: I was able to like talk at some of the events to like the kids …really in the midst of struggling, like they were in a residential treatment program. Like they were really young and she kind of wanted me there because when an adult tells you it's going to get better, like, you're like, okay, okay, oldie, like, I get it,
DELANEY: Yeah. But when it's someone, like more your age, you kinda like realize, a it makes it seem more real. Um, so I was able to talk to like some kids my own age and even like younger and it was girls and boys too. and I think it was good to be there and I think they definitely appreciated it cuz you know, they're just, they see therapists all day and it's just like, okay, but really seeing kind of like an example of like what you're going towards is like good.
And that's scary cuz I also remember like some girl that was discharging and I was like, if that's how I'm gonna look when I recover, I don't wanna recover.
So I kind of knew going into it that maybe it would be a little hard for them. And I was like, I know, I know you guys are thinking like, you don't wanna look like this, I get it right now. I get it.
I talked to the parents too, which I know they were so like appreciative of it because like it's so scary. Like having your kid like miles away, like you're not even with them. They don't even sleep in your house anymore. They’re in residential…And I think it definitely like calmed their nerves a little bit to see like a real life example, like sitting in front of them, like someone, their, their kid's age that was able to like get through it. And it's not like impossible.
AV: Delaney’s outreach goes beyond speaking with groups at treatment centers around Orlando.
DELANEY VLOG: Hi, I'm Delaney. And this is my first like video diary… So I guess I'm just gonna talk about my life and what's… DUCK UNDER…
AV: Back in April 2020–it was just one month into the pandemic–Delaney started recording video diaries to document the highs and lows of her mental health.
DELANEY VLOG: …Like my dietician. I'm usually not as open with her, but … I thought, you know, she'd be like, oh, you suck, you fail, you fail at recovery, but there's no failing when it comes to recovery. There's highs, there's lows. There's good days. There's bad days.
AV: It was part of an initiative that featured young people speaking super honestly about their daily challenges with mental health. The good, and the bad. But it was a powerful reminder to anyone who is struggling that it is important to talk about it, and to remember that you are not alone.
DELANEY VLOG: Hi, it's Delaney and it's Monday, …Um, I actually went to the beach yesterday,... …I actually was really worried to go at first. I was like, I can't eat breakfast. I can't eat lunch. I'm gonna be bloated….I'm just gonna be fat. I can't go. I just can't go. I ended up going, I ended up eating and I was fine….I tanned, I went in the water and I didn't think about if my body looked better or worse than the person next to me or not. Um, it was really good. That is very new.
I took pictures and I was so like, …oh my God, I need to crop this. I need, I, you can see my body rolls. You can see fat. Like it's just bad. I need to crop it. …So I came to my senses after a lot of talking to my friends, they were like, no, you can't do that. …But I realized like, that's not the image I wanna put out. Like, …<Photoshop is not me.and I was like, that's not what I wanna put out to people around me.> I don't wanna show them like that, my eating disorder is winning and that this is my body. This is what I look like. And that's okay, this is me. So it did end up being a really good day.
DELANEY VLOG: Hi, it's Delaney. Again,... ….I love playing violin. It is my favorite thing in the world. … cuz music has just been such a coping skill for me…. …and has brought me through like so many challenges.….when I started like slipping into my eating disorder, I was like, I don't wanna play anymore. Or when I started slipping in the depression, I was like, I'm just gonna quit. But I never did.
And I think finding something…like something you can always rely on is really important. ……and coping the me is like being able to overcome even if it's just distraction…for example, when I was in my eating disorder, obviously I, I didn't have any coping skills. I, the only coping skill I had was like body image and blaming it on my body, blaming it on food, like blaming how I felt on something else. But now I'm able to cope for the most part.
I think everyone slips up and that's okay. And, but finding so something that suits you is really important and you have a lot of time during this quarantine, so you can really find what suits you and what you can use. So I wish everyone luck with that and I hope everyone has an amazing day. Bye.
MUSIC: DR Violin recital audio
ANASTASIA: What runs through your mind when you're playing? …
DELANEY: I just think I'm feeling very inspired and I'm definitely thinking about like I always can connect like something in my life to like my music cuz a lot of music is like a story and I can kind of connect like my own story to what I'm playing. And that goes for my mental health too. Like I can connect like the sad and low parts to like my lowest and then it always comes back up and ends happy and then that's like my recovery.
Um, but I'm always just like thinking about like how I can like be better. And I'm thinking like through like stories and making all these like yes, like stories in my head and all these emotions and it's just like really nice to like, like it's like almost like writing it down, but instead of writing it down, I'm playing.
MUSIC ROLLS UNDER AV, FADES OUT
AV: As you heard, a lot of what Delaney shared are things that I also experienced with my eating disorder. I wanted to share with you one of the things that has really helped me in my day-to-day struggles. No matter what you may be going through.
Mindfulness will do you wonders with an eating disorder and honestly, anything in life. For me, even right now, the urges for binge eating or restricting haven't necessarily gone away entirely. They sometimes do pop up, with little warning, but especially during really stressful times, for example, with school or maybe with family…or maybe when I'm just feeling really overwhelmed by a lot of stuff, that I get those urges.
But then I have to bring myself back to the present moment and realize that this isn't going to benefit me in any way at all. Especially not emotionally. And it's not at all a part of my mental illness, recovery or anything. So it's kind of like bringing yourself out of that dark moment.
What I like to compare that whole…mindfulness thing too, is, um, when you get, when you look at your email inbox, you obviously get dozens of emails every single day. But you don't necessarily open every single one.
And so…, you treat your brain like an inbox. So those…thoughts might come into your brain, but you don't necessarily have to click on it, open it and read it.
So that's how that helps me a lot.
THEME/CLOSING MUSIC IN
AV: Thank you all for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. And thank you so much to Delaney for sharing her story. You can check out more resources for eating disorders at nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Next time we meet another young woman who found music to be therapeutic in her search for identity, something that’s still a bit of a mystery to her …
JADA: I would turn to songwriting when I was feeling the worst sometimes…Sometimes, I write about good times too. But for coping reasons, I wrote even during the toughest times, even sometimes when I didn't want to write, because I didn't have motivation, but I would.
AV: If you’re a young person, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your story? You can go to ourturntotalk.com to share.
Ok, so maybe you're not ready to share your story, but maybe you have a question for us. We will be answering your questions in an upcoming Our Turn to Talk episode. No filters, no shame here. Submit your question on our website ourturntotalk.com
Our Turn to Talk is a production of Principle Pictures. We believe in the power and impact of storytelling through podcasts and films to build empathy and inspire change. Season One is a partnership with This is My Brave, an organization using performing arts to fight the stigma around mental health challenges and addiction. I’ve been very proud to intern there for the past two years. A very special thanks to Executive Director Erin Gallagher and Program Manager Katie Grana. Check out This Is My Brave at thisismybrave.org.
This episode of Our Turn to Talk was produced and edited by Megan Botel. Mixing by Mitch Hanley.
Beth Murphy and Jennifer Marshall are our Executive Producers. Additional support in the field and in the studio from Patrice Howard, Hannah McEachern, Ed Kashi and Ben Kolak.
Support for Our Turn to Talk is provided by The Hollister Confidence Fund, The Hershey Company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Rose-Marie van Otterloo and the Risa Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Washington.
I’m Anastasia Vlasova and I’m so excited to be on this journey with you. And don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
OUTRO: Hello Everyone,! Erin Gallagher again. Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of Our Turn to Talk. Are you inspired by what you heard today? Are you ready to share your own story about your mental health journey? If yes, here’s how you can do it! Go to ThisisMyBrave.org and select Share Your Story. We can't wait to hear your Brave!