Jennifer: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what got you interested in working with people with eating disorders.
Caryn: I originally wanted to become a doctor and was pre-med, however, through my journey and treatment with my own eating disorder, I decided that I still wanted to help people, but in a different way. After having been through inpatient treatment a few times and finally recovering from my eating disorder, I knew that I wanted to give back what had been given to me.
At first, though, I felt like I was still a little too close to the fire, so to speak, after treatment to work with eating disorders, so I got my degree in psychology and started working in substance abuse. I was a counselor, sober companion, and eventually moved up to management in a couple of different treatment centers. After about 10 years of that, the eating disorder coaching started to take off and I decided to finally do what I had been wanting to do for years, and here I am.
Jennifer: What was most helpful for you in your own recovery journey?
Caryn: I would have to say having people, professionals, who never gave up on me, who believed in me and taught me that it was okay and safe to reach out to other people instead of my eating disorder. Reaching out was so hard for me, I wanted nothing to do with being vulnerable or asking for help, but when I started to, I realized that there was no way I was going to get better if I didn’t start. Having people/relationships in my life that encouraged that from me and taught me that it was okay, was key to my recovery.
Jennifer: How is your recovered life different from your life trapped in an eating disorder life?
Caryn: My recovered life today is free. When I was in my eating disorder, I was controlled by it every second of every day. I couldn’t start my day if I hadn’t exercised. I couldn’t eat until a certain time or at all during the day and my nights were run by bingeing and purging.
It’s pretty safe to say that I didn’t have a life when I was in my eating disorder and now I have one that I never thought I could have. I can now say that I am the one who is in control of my life, not my eating disorder.
Jennifer: How can a recovery coach help someone who is struggling with an eating disorder?
Caryn: A recovery coach can help someone struggling with an eating disorder by helping them with the here and nows of their disorder. For example, how is their eating disorder getting in their way today? If they need help going to the grocery store, or a restaurant, eating a meal or a snack, a recovery coach can be there in those moments to help them get through the fear and anxiety that those things may be bringing.
I always like to say that an eating disorder coach is really no different than a coach you may have while playing a sport. The goal is to help you get stronger and improve your skill set to ultimately improve your game. In this case, the game is the person’s relationship with food.
Jennifer: How would you describe your approach as a recovery coach?
Caryn: My approach is to meet people where they are. I am not here to drag someone along to a place that feels impossible to get to, at a pace that is too fast for them. I like to say, small, detailed, attainable goals are key. In setting those, I believe it helps the person to see that he or she can fight back against their eating disorder and start to take steps in a recovery focused direction, even when it feels like they haven’t been able to.
Eating disorders can feel so overwhelming and tend to make things appear very black and white. Meeting people where they’re at and coming up with goals that feel attainable but also challenging, is a great way to help them see that they are able to fight back and win at a pace that doesn’t cause a lot of resistance.
Jennifer: What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job?
Caryn: I would say that one of the more challenging aspects of my job is to know how great life can be without an eating disorder, yet watch someone still struggling so much to believe that could be true for themselves. There is, what seems to be, a kind of universal belief when struggling with an eating disorder that all good things apply to everyone else, except the person struggling.
I used to feel that way too, so I understand. However, having got to the other side, I now know that was just another lie my eating disorder was telling me to keep me stuck.
One of the more rewarding aspects is seeing and hearing the change in someone when their healthy self-starts to take up more space than their eating disorder self. (It’s) when they start to make connections, fight back and see that they are okay and then start to do it more. When they start to live their lives with more freedom, that is an incredible thing to witness.
Jennifer: What is your philosophy when it comes to food and helping people to make peace with it?
Caryn: My philosophy is to look at food as something that fuels us through our life, so we can experience things, enjoy our time on this earth, love, learn and have fun. Our lives are not to be lived around food and exercise, and they don’t need to be. There is so much to do and experience in this life, food is meant to be a part of that, not the reason we aren’t able to do it.
My goal in this work is to help people get to that place in their relationship with food, just like those who helped me get there.