Eating Disorders “on the Wire”: An Interview with Jenn Friedman

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Food fuels the body and can nourish the soul. But what happens when it seduces and torments? According to information from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

  • Almost 50 percent of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression.
  • Only one in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment; only 35 percent of those people are treated at a specialized facility for eating disorders.
  • Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Jenn Friedman is a musician, singer, songwriter, piano player and author of Eating Disorders on the Wire. She shares “a message of awareness, hope, and healing through music and writing — and sometimes laughing — because the recovery process and the recovered life can in fact be joyful.”

Q: How did the eating disorder develop for you?

A: I’d had a propensity toward developing an eating disorder. Growing up, I experimented with those behaviors sporadically and relied on food to fill emotional needs. I’d had disordered eating. The beginning of my diagnosable eating disorder was subtle. I started keeping track of my food. The first thing I thought about when I woke up was what I’d eat, followed by a sense of guilt. The disorder crept in slowly.

Eating disorders are often detectable when they’re far gone. I remember when I started restricting my food, but at that point, I’d felt so far gone that it seemed the only way. The line for me between feeling the need for an eating disorder and developing one was most certainly blurry.

Q: How did you learn to take your life back?

A: Practice. Chance. Challenging fear. Consistency. Time. Patience. Practicing what was unfamiliar over and over until it became second nature. I didn’t force it — I just kept doing it. Eating disorders can take a while to get out of your system. They alter how you see yourself and the world. I had to commit to acting opposite of what my mind so automatically wanted to do and where my body so reflexively wanted to go. I had to change the wiring. That’s possible with a lot of practice.

I had to begin normalizing food again and stay away from places I associated with my eating disorder and then slowly reintegrate them into my life. I had to practice choosing food and restaurants on a whim without letting myself obsess. I had to go to the store and pick something without scrutinizing it. I had to practice feeling full. I had to talk through discomfort with my friends, my therapist, my nutritionist, my groups.

I associated with people who were recovered and, in doing so, switched from powerlessness to empowerment. I let myself get close to people. My eating disorder had isolated me and hollowed me. I hadn’t felt the satisfaction of a touch; I’d only run from it. I am an affectionate person, so that was alien to me. I had to learn to feel again. My eating disorder had put up a barricade between me and sensation. I took it down and felt the rawness of life again – slowly, cautiously at first – but I got there.

Q: Do you have advice for others to do the same?

A: You have to take down the barricade to get there. It comes down with consistent self-care. Put recovery and your needs first.

Respect your limits, but also challenge them. Seek guidance on how to gauge when it’s appropriate to challenge them. Don’t trust only yourself at first — the line between your voice and the eating disorder’s voice is hard to detect when you’re just beginning to recover. Work with others who’ll guide you.

Have an outlet, whether it’s fun or expressive or quiet. There’s a special space where only you can find your peace. Define it. Know it. Hone it. Honor it.

Visualize what recovery would look like — how your life would look and feel, what you’d be excited about, where you’d be, what you’d be doing, what you’d want. Allow yourself to want it. See yourself having it. In doing this, you’re projecting what’s possible, whether you believe it or not. Amy Cuddy says in her video about body language, “Fake it till you become it.” It’s an amazing video — a potential life-changer.

Q: Tell me about your book and CD.

A: My book, Eating Disorders on the Wire: Music and Metaphor as Pathways to Recovery (H.T.F.K. Press) tells a metaphorical narrative of my recovery process. It relates concepts such as being at the wheel, in quicksand, on a tight-rope, and in a cocoon to different aspects of the eating disorder struggle and recovery process. Each chapter has a corresponding song on the album, “On the Wire” (Personal Bias Records), which tells a story in its own right. The book and music can be experienced in full by themselves, but together they enrich one another.

I tell my story in metaphor to relay a universal understanding of a struggle to sufferers who feel alone and to those who want to understand. The metaphors provide concepts everyone can grasp. I describe them and show how they can be used to guide recovery forward. The music on the album explores various themes in the book, such as isolation, shame, fear, and ultimately belief, hope and freedom.

I want to take my project to treatment centers, colleges, and other communities by way of sharing, reading, and performing. I want to connect with people over the recovery message, to move and be moved. I want to offer others a space to listen, share, take, feel, and imagine — together.

Recovery can be a process of learning to love yourself unconditionally. That encompasses a lot — loving yourself for your mistakes, for your story, for your triumphs, for your scars, for your vulnerabilities, for your predispositions, for your traits, and above all, for who you are, as you are, and where you are right now. It isn’t a path toward creating the perfect moment — it’s a path toward allowing yourself to recognize the perfection in every moment. And every moment’s an opportunity to practice that.

By Edie Weinstein, LSW

Follow Eddie Weinstein on Twitter @EdieWeinstein1

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