Kristie: In my teenage years, I was an elite athlete living in Australia and prepping for the 2004 Olympics. During that time, I developed an eating disorder that spanned 14 years. I sought treatment in both Australia and New Zealand, however, I was told that I was chronic and should expect this to be the pattern of my adult years – not a prognosis that inspired hope!
As a last ditch effort, I travelled to Monte Nido in California for residential treatment and finally found my feet in recovery. On returning home to New Zealand, I lived in a tiny town of just 35 people. The nearest eating disorder therapist was a five hour drive away and I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to work.”
I found a therapist and dietician who agreed to work with me online and I used my friends from treatment for virtual meal support. Lunchtime in New Zealand was dinnertime in California so we would meet over Skype and that helped me stay accountable to my meal plan.
As I recovered, I was struck by how many people were unable to access support because of where they lived or the high cost of treatment. I decided to offer online coaching and live-in support as a cost-effective and accessible option for people in recovery.
Jennifer: What would you say are some common misconceptions when it comes to eating disorders?
Kristie: When people hear what I do, they often ask “Do you see people who eat too much or too little?”
I used to be unsure how to answer because it was so apparent how little the general public knew about eating disorders I wasn’t sure where to start.
Now, I work really hard to educate people that eating disorders are so much more than ‘too much’ or ‘too little.’ I introduce exercise addiction, orthorexia and chronic dieting as symptoms of an eating disorder which people can relate with…It gets them questioning their own beliefs and can sometimes start a really good conversation.
Jennifer: What is the difference between eating disorder recovery coaching and therapy?
Kristie: I love this question because of how eating disorder recovery coaching has evolved – even in the past year. The best way I have to describe it is the 80/20 formula. It doesn’t apply to every type of therapy but gives an overarching explanation for the difference between therapy and coaching.
Therapy traditionally spends around 80 percent of the time working to process life events that have led up to the current time. The remaining 20 percent can be spent integrating the healing into the present and future.
Coaching is reversed – 20 percent of the conversation might be around the backstory of what has led to this moment but 80 percent of the focus and attention is on specific behavior, thoughts or practical life skills in the present moment, or working on future goals.
The first ‘practical’ coaching session I ever did happened quite by accident. I was volunteeering as a mentor for someone in recovery via Skype – let’s call her ‘Bree’ and she was very panicked about what to do for dinner.
I had been working with Bree for a few months online and typically she would look at her meal plan and write down what she was going to do but I could tell she was extra anxious that day so I said, “How about you take your laptop to the kitchen and we talk while you cook?”
She looked at me and said, “Are you serious?” I wasn’t really sure how it was going to work but I said, “Absolutely I’m serious. Let’s do it!”
We found a place in the kitchen for her laptop and I talked her through the ED thoughts that were happening. I figured if she was cooking dinner I might as well prepare mine so we cooked online together and then ate dinner.
She wrote to me later that night to say it was the most helpful session she had ever had in recovery and could we do more? From there I was like a tiger let out of the cage…What other practical areas of recovery could I help people with?
I have taken clients to the grocery store (both online and face to face), cooked meals at home, gone bra and swimsuit shopping, helped them clean out their closets…I even did a swimsuit session by the fire in a client’s basement during winter to help them prepare for summer!
Coaching is very much about the practical areas of recovery and I love being challenged to think outside the box.
Jennifer: How might therapists benefit from referring a client with an eating disorder to a recovery coach?
Kristie: Eating disorders are so complex that often once a week therapy can struggle to touch upon all the ‘hot spots’ necessary to keep someone facing forwards in recovery. A therapist can continue working with their clients on relational dynamics or regulating emotions while the coach can help put those areas into practice by being part of a family meal or supporting an anxious client to use techniques they have learned in therapy.
The online nature of Recovered Living means we can work with clients right in the comfort of their own home so we are able to help with the practical pieces of meal support, cooking, or going through a wardrobe, no matter where the client lives.
I am very clear that coaching is not a replacement for a therapist or a dietician. Recovery really does take a village. Coaching is an adjunctive support which helps clients navigate the practical areas of recovery while the therapist continues to work on the cognitive and emotional side. It is a hollistic model for recovery.
Jennifer: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges and most rewarding aspects of your job?
Kristie: The biggest challenges have also been some of the most rewarding parts of what I do. I feel very blessed to be welcomed into a family and have them trust me enough to live with them. Energetically and emotionally, it takes a lot to live with someone because it really is 24/7 so self care is super important for me. I also have to work hard to maintain friendships in my personal life because I am away a lot.
What makes me smile is a live-in I did recently where the client said, “Never in a thousand years would I have got from residential or therapy what I was able to do at home. Having someone in my house 24/7 meant that I had to figure out how to do life in recovery and not use my eating disorder.”
This client had spent hours talking about ‘doing life in recovery’ at treatment and in therapy but having someone support her to do it was a whole other experience.
As part of the step-down process, I support her online several times a week and the ‘before’ and ‘after’ experience is tangible. Things are far from perfect – a live-in is not a magic pill – but it does manage to touch areas of recovery that an hourly session just can’t.
Jennifer: What prompted you to start Recovered Living?
Kristie: Monte Nido started my recovery journey but it was having an online team that kept me in recovery and saw me to recovered. The online piece will always be special in my heart and I know the value of it in the recovery journey – I’m proof!
When I was in treatment, I also learned about live-in ‘sober coaches’ used in substance abuse treatment when people transitioned home. I thought, ‘Why don’t we have that for eating disorders? That is exactly what I want!”
There is a complicated explanation why it wasn’t available, but I decided it was something I believed in so I got creative and made it happen.
Recovered Living opened just under a year ago and people are truly valuing our services. We have clients in seven different countries and are able to see people as needed; weekly, multiple times a week or even daily. I’ve done live-in’s that last anything from a week to three months and the changes I have seen in people have been heartwarming.
Jennifer: What kinds of services does Recovered Living provide?
Kristie: We have become very busy so I have brought on two other coaches who are also recovered. This helps us be available on the weekends and in the evenings – typically when people need us most.
We have a full range of online services including coaching sessions, meal and snack support and at-home cooking.
To help make recovery more affordable, we recently started online group coaching, $45 for 90 minutes with a maximum of five people per group.
When it comes to live-in support, it is really important to me that it isn’t used as a replacement for treatment.
Live-in’s were designed to help people step down from a higher level of care, to help people get back on track if they have hit recovery wobbles or to push past a point where they are particularly stuck. It is also a service I’m immensely proud of and is one of the first of its kind.
Jennifer: Anything you’d like for me to shoutout or link to?
Kristie: I have started a project called ‘Recovered Voices’ which aims to inspire hope by video interviewing ‘recovereds’ and sharing the interviews each month. They answer questions like, “What surprised you about recovery” and “How did you heal your relationship with your body?” You can check out the interviews here.
In June, I started interviews for ‘Recovery Voices – tasting freedom’ it is specifically for people who are currently in recovery and want to contribute.
Too often the gap from ‘in recovery’ to ‘recovered’ can seem huge so this is about interviewing people who are in strong recovery and walking forwards – these voices are important to be heard because they are the bridge.
Please contact [email protected] with ‘recovering voices’ in the subject line if you are in recovery and would like to contribute.