McCall Dempsey

@mccall-dempsey | contributor
McCall Dempsey, founder of Southern Smash, is an eating disorder survivor and passionate recovery advocate. After a 15-year battle, McCall sought treatment at the Carolina House in December 2010. Since then she has made eating disorder awareness and prevention her life’s work and passion. McCall travels the country, sharing her story of hope and healing with audiences everywhere. From high school auditoriums to treatment centers to corporate meetings, her message of authenticity and embracing your inner-uniqueness transcends all ages. McCall also writes the popular blog, Loving Imperfection. Her writing has been featured in various national print and online publications, including Women’s Health Online. She has also appeared on HuffPost Live multiple times. McCall resides in Saint Simon’s Island, Georgia, with her husband, Jordan, and she is the proud mother of two precious children, Manning (4) and Marjorie (16-months).
McCall Dempsey

The Eating Disorder Recovery Resolution I'm Willing to Make This Year

It is January 3rd and I have seen approximately 389,876 weight loss ads. My inner scale smasher cringes every time I see Oprah dancing in her kitchen eating “freestyle” tacos. So here is my PSA to all of you: changing your body will not change who you inherently are. We come in all shapes and sizes. We aren’t meant to be a size perfect – trust me, I nearly killed myself for that “perfect” body. And I don’t think we can exist and live a full life on zero point tacos. Rather than resolve to eat “clean” or workout every day or lose X pounds — resolve to love yourself. Loving ourselves and positive body image does not happen over night and it doesn’t mean you like your body every day. It means you respect your body and self enough to feed it, move it and rest it according to what your body says and not what a diet says. We were born with these amazing bodies that actually tell us when we need to move, rest and eat. But every diet, detox and cleanse, takes away that natural intuition. I love to move my body and I do it joyfully, not because I have to in order to reach a certain size or number on the scale. I don’t set expectations or put pressure on myself to work out a certain amount of times or hit a certain number of steps. You will never catch me with a FitBit or Apple watch. I leave my calorie counting and all science up to my body and it hasn’t led me wrong yet. When I was in my eating disorder, I could not imagine accepting, much less loving my body. I punished myself with endless hours of exercise, which resulted in tearing my IT band. And not even that stopped me from exercising. Nothing could stop my eating disorder mind from achieving that perfect number. Even though I compulsively exercised, you could not find a single muscle on me. My body was using my muscle to fuel itself. Despite looking “fit” and racing triathlons, my body was weak and malnourished. Today, I went to my Pure Barre studio. As I was looking in the mirror during class, I noticed my shoulders. They looked so strong. I even spied some definition. It made me smile, but I wasn’t smiling because I had definition. I smiled because I have taken such good care of my body over the years that now it is strong enough to hold muscle and not use it to stay alive. Strength isn’t defined by muscles. I do not have an overly muscular or toned body. And I certainly do not go to Pure Barre or yoga to achieve a six pack. I go because I love the people, music and encouraging and inclusive environment. My body is a beautiful mix of curves, softness and muscle – and I am happy with every inch of my body. Tomorrow, I might not like my body as much as I do today – and that is OK. But you can bet your ass that I will love it and love it fiercely. I will nourish it, move it and rest it. Wherever you are in your journey, whether it be braving the path of recovery or simply trying to find some peace within yourself, remember that happiness can’t be found by standing on a scale or fitting into that dress. Happiness doesn’t appear at the end of the Whole30 and it certainly doesn’t happen because you finally achieved that killer six pack. Happiness starts within. It starts when we start taking time for ourselves and maybe making some hard changes — real changes. Happiness comes from practicing gratitude and finding light even when we are stumbling blind in the dark.The new year is a great time to make some positive changes, but so is every day, right here, right now. It is great to move our bodies and eat wholesome foods. But I highly doubt zero point tacos create sustainable change. So eat real tacos (and real food), move your body in whatever way feels good and above all else, tone up your body with love this year. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead image via contributor

McCall Dempsey

Why a New Year Doesn't Have to Mean a New You

Seven years ago I rang in 2011 in treatment at the Carolina House. The staff did the best they could to make the evening festive, but there was no disguising the feelings that accompanied spending New Year’s Eve in treatment. I felt there was nothing to celebrate about 2010. The only thing I was happy about was seeing 2010. That year I believed, just like I had every year before, that 2011 would be better simply because it was a new year. Because the calendar year turned over, so too would my life. My life’s happiness always relied on a “when this happens” scenario. I would be happy when I… Left college and got a new job.Moved in with my boyfriend.Moved to Baton Rouge.Got married.Took a new jobAnd of course, I would ultimately be happen when I lost weight. Each new year seemed to signify a fresh start and a chance to find that elusive happy place I was constantly searching for. “This year will be the year! The year I get it together.” Needless to say, every year’s resolution entailed weight loss and diet strategies guaranteed to make me happy. So there I was in 2010, feeling like a loser who had failed at life. My hands held knitting needles instead of a champagne glass. (Learning to knit is like a rite of passage in treatment.) Instead of partying with friends, someone was supervising my trips to the bathroom. Rather than kissing my husband at midnight, I was going to sleep alone in a twin bed. I went to sleep long before the stroke of midnight that year. All I knew is that I never wanted to see 2010 again. 2011 had to be better. And it was, but not because ball dropped and the clock struck midnight. My life did not improve because the calendar rolled over to 2011. My life improved because I made the conscious effort to improve it (and me) every single day. This time of year the airwaves are filled with messages of resolutions guaranteed to make our lives better, our bodies slimmer and our wallets fatter. What if we resolved to stop resolving? Instead, what if we embraced the thought that happiness lies within us and we don’t have to wait for the clock to strike midnight to find it. Our chance at a better life, at recovery and anything else starts now – not one day, not next Monday and certainly not a year from now. It starts now. And rather focusing on what we need to become, try focusing on the extraordinary person you already are and other invaluable things in your life. Look at all of the amazing things you do (and juggle) in a day — the family, career, school, etc. Remember most of the bodies you see in the media aren’t really bodies at all. And even if you obtained that photoshopped body, would it really make you happy? That “beach body” doesn’t change who you are. It does not change the family and friends around you. It does not change their love for you. Your outside appearance has little (read: nothing) to do with your worth. Real happiness starts within. I realize that sounds like an inspirational poster with a kitten, but you know it is true. Take it from someone who almost lost her life trying to find that perfect body in an effort to find happiness — it is not there. I cultivated my own happiness and it started from beneath rock bottom. I finally stopped resolving to find happiness in my body and created my own joy. It started on that New Year’s Eve seven years ago. Unbeknownst to me, my mind was shifting. I was becoming healthier and beginning to understand that a new year did not mean a new me. I was going to have to decide to do the work to uncover the me that was there all along. And I did. And she was, and is, pretty amazing. She also has some killer dance moves. Flash forward seven years and a lot of tears later, I no longer look to January 1st as some monumental day to mark a new me. It does not set the stage for the upcoming year. I probably will not even remember this New Year’s Eve in 20 years. At the end of each year, I find myself reflecting back on that New Year’s Eve in treatment. Had it not been for that night, for hitting rock bottom, my knitting needles and the recovery work that followed, I would still be banking that 2018 will be different simply because it is a new year. 2017 is over and 2010 is long gone, but neither will ever be forgotten. 2018 is a new year and today is a new day. I don’t know what today, tomorrow or this year will bring. The one thing I know for sure is that tomorrow will not be better because I am two sizes smaller — I am no different today than I was yesterday. I am not counting on 2018 to be the best year ever. I am counting on today to be the best day yet. Cheers to today. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via ArthurHidden

McCall Dempsey

Feeding My Kids as a Mom in Eating Disorder Recovery

Last night, I posted a picture of my children enjoying ice cream sandwiches following dinner with a caption that said: Years ago, I would spend nearly an hour in the grocery store’s ice cream section. Opening and closing every glass door, pulling every carton out and quickly putting it back in. My mind raced as I carefully analyzed every black and white nutrition label. Too many calories in this one, too much sugar in that one. I would ultimately walk out with the lowest fat/cal/sugar ice cream-ish substance I could find. I would also leave in the throes of a massive panic attack. Because of my eating disorder, a task as simple as grocery shopping left me debilitated by anxiety .When the ice cream made it to my freezer, it haunted me. I wanted to throw it away. I wanted to eat it all and purge it. But all I really wanted was to stop the monster in my brain. I wanted ice cream to be just that — ice cream. I wanted freedom from my eating disorder. Now, seven years later, I quickly push my cart up and down each aisle, tossing in items on my list: avocados, black beans, chips, crackers, milk. I strolled down the freezer section and caught a glimpse of ice cream sandwiches. “That sounds good!” I thought and tossed them in. I kept my quick pace to the check out so I would make it home to unload the groceries before it was time to pick up the kids. I often hear from parents they limit sweets or do not keep them in the house at all. I believe it is so important that we offer our children a variety of foods and do not label food “good” or “bad.” Food is food — no moral value. All foods fit! When we deny our children certain foods, it creates a hierarchy of food and can possibly shame them from eating it in the future, associating the food with feelings of guilt. Above all else, I believe it is so important for our children to see us enjoying a variety of foods. This evening, my kids and I enjoyed the delicious ice cream sandwiches. I never take a single moment of recovery for granted and the ability to share it with my children. I am so thankful for my recovery and the freedom that comes with it — both in and out of the freezer aisle! The post was shared widely across social media with many “YES”’ comments and women in recovery posting about their own journey with ice cream. However, I knew it was a matter of time before someone questioned my “all foods fit” approach to food. Here are some responses I got: “I disagree in one respect. Junk food is junk. Chemical filled and not healthy. Once in a while a Twinkie or something junky is fine. But children should learn about healthy foods.” “Moderation is so key. As long as my [child] eats a balanced meal that covers most of the food groups, I don’t mind sharing my ice cream with her. She’s such a fruit and veggie eater, she’d rather have fresh picked strawberries most days over processed sugars.” I began to respond, but soon decided my response warranted a longer reply than a simple social media comment. So… Thank you all for your comments. I understand your thought around moderation and labeling food as “junk” because that is certainly what society and many experts tell us. “Don’t eat junk. Childhood obesity is at an all time high! Limit processed sugars. Moderation is key!” I get the “moderation is key” a lot. And to that, I completely agree 100 percent. Is it healthy to eat ice cream and pizza all day long every day? No way. And on the other side of the coin, is it healthy to eat kale and apples all day long? Nope. So yes, moderation is key. I cringe when I see people talk about “chemical filled” food. This has little to do with my eating disorder history and more to do with my daughter’s cancer. Two years ago, when my daughter was in the hospital fighting neuroblastoma, I posted a picture of her with cupcakes sent by my sweet sorority sisters. I was shocked when I received an anonymous email warning me to keep all sugar away from my daughter. First of all, my daughter was eight months old and had just spent a week in the PICU — she wasn’t even close to starting solid food yet. Secondly, sugar does not cause cancer. I realize I might be opening Pandora’s box here, but my daughter was diagnosed at seven months old. All she ever had in her body was breast milk. Cancer just happens sometimes. Sure, smoking causing cancer, but there is very little to connect sugar and processed foods to cancer. Trust me, I have tackled every doctor and nurse on our oncology floor and beyond, asking them what caused Marjorie’s cancer. I asked them what I can feed my children to prevent it from coming back or to keep my son from developing cancer. Unfortunately, there is very little I can do. Cancer just happens sometimes. My daughter’s oncology nurse once told me there were two kids on the unit who both with the exact same cancer. One of the patients came from a family that was vegetarian and ate everything organic. The other child was of a lower socioeconomic level, with two working parents. His diet consisted of a lot of fast food. Extremely different diets and home life — exact same cancer. You can’t keep your children from getting cancer. Again, is it good for us to eat processed foods and lots of sugar all day? No. Moderation. Kale and cupcakes. Hell, kale and chemicals if that is what you label cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches. And to be completely honest, I do buy organic meats, dairy, etc. That is just my personal preference. You will also find non organic bananas and Oreos in my pantry, too. At the end of the day, we can’t deny our children and ourselves what our bodies want. You can’t tell me at the end of a hot summer day, an ice cream sandwich didn’t sound amazing! I don’t think I’ve met anyone who craved frozen kale after a hot day on the beach. Food is food. Sure, some foods pack more nutrient punch than others, but it is so critical not to create a hierarchy. When we limit or deny our children (or ourselves) certain food or food groups, that is all we will crave. When we can truly listen to our bodies, it will tell us what we need. Our bodies might signal us to want leafy greens or they might crave a burger because our iron is low. My children are small, but they understand food is food. My son sometimes turns down cake for bananas and sometimes it is vice versa. The bottom line is we are born with an amazing hunger/fullness system that gets distorted with every diet or food denial. Oftentimes we unknowingly pass that guilt on to our children. We love our children and want to see them healthy and happy, so we limit sweets or fast food. I can’t tell you how many young people I meet who feel like they have to sneak McDonald’s because they feel so ashamed about it. What if we drove through McDonald’s with them? No, seriously. I recently gave a parent presentation with  Oliver-Pyatt’s  amazing director of nutrition, Mary Dye. A mom challenged the “All Foods Fit” theory, saying if she allowed her daughter to eat whatever she wanted, her daughter would go through McDonald’s every day. “Let her,” I said. “She will kill herself with it,” the mother responded. “No she won’t. I promise,” I said. “She will get tired of it. It will lose it’s novelty. She won’t eat it forever and it will not kill her.” Mary then elaborated on my point with a story that gave me chills: “I once had a patient who struggled with binge eating disorder (BED)” Mary said. “Her father was a cardiologist and she grew up in a house that shamed and labeled food ‘bad,’ especially fast food. My work with her was to normalize food and to eliminate the shame factor. In fact, as a therapeutic exercise, we drove to McDonald’s. Fast food was something she would binge in secret and shame, alone in her car. I wanted to normalize the fast food experience for her. So we drove through, ordered, parked and mindfully enjoyed our meal. The more we deny, the more we want.” I have told that story countless times. And what I would give to one day meet the brave patient who did the hard work of recovery, changing not only her life, but maybe her family’s as well. I know the thought of keeping a variety of foods in the house or even you yourself driving through McDonald’s is outlandish, but I encourage you to try it. You might even surprise yourself. I never thought I could have ice cream in my house. Today, I have ice cream, candy, cookies, bananas, kale, crackers, chips, cheese, apples… you name it. And guess what? I don’t think about what I have in my pantry or freezer — unless, of course, I’m heading to the grocery store and need a list. My motivation to recover was to not only be a mom, but be a mom who led by example. I wanted to be a mom who could eat ice cream and kale and everything in between. I am proud to say that I am that mom today. There is also no doubt I am not a perfect mother in a thousand other ways, but I make a conscious effort every day to do my best to live and lead by example. My hope and prayer is not to raise healthy kids, but kind kids who love and live life, kids who forget there are cookies in the house unless their bellies tell them they want one. I want my kids to listen to the amazing bodies God gave them. Moving their bodies when they have bursts of energy or when the sun is shining just right, eating when they are hungry, stopping when they are full and if they eat too much, they know next time to stop. Food is not the focus of our lives — it is important, but our day does not revolve around it. Our daily focus is on loving and living — playing outside, building towers, chasing lizards and avoiding shoes flying through the air when Marjorie throws them in her daily tantrum! Raising what society views as “healthy” kids isn’t as important to me as raising kids who love themselves. At the end of the day, if we love ourselves, like truly love ourselves, we will honor our body. We will nourish, move and rest it as it desires and needs. When we love our bodies, we take the time to take care of it in all aspects: mind, body and spirit. So go ahead, eat the McDonald’s, the kale shakes, the daffodil sprouts and yes, even the “chemicals.” If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photos via contributor.

McCall Dempsey

How I've Reclaimed Exercise in Eating Disorder Recovery

I always heard running was therapeutic — a “good for your soul” activity. But for me, it was anything but good for my soul — or body. I can remember being a little girl and hating running — and by hating, I mean I hated running. I would do anything I could to cut our mile runs short in gym class. But there was always something telling me I was supposed to run. Whether it was to “stay in shape” or to be pretty and popular, I knew I needed to run. But no one ever taught me how to run or that it could be fun and therapeutic. Sadly, Girls on the Run did not exist when I was younger. And even though I hated it, I ran anyway, plugging along, feeling as though I ran with bricks tied to my feet. As my eating disorder evolved over the years, running became my addiction and punishment. I always considered myself a terrible runner, so I would never allow myself to run with friends or along the lakes — both of which make running enjoyable. But the word “fun” did not previously exist in my running or workout vocabulary. According to my inner critic and eating disorder, runs were a true workout, a punishment on so many levels, both mentally and physically. Like most things in my distorted world, running was surrounded with self-enforced rules and regulations. I could not run with friends because I was not good enough. I could not run on scenic and popular paths because I might be seen. When I was 12 years old, I would run from wall to wall in my room because if I went outside someone might see me and laugh. This fear continued throughout my life. In college, I found the most secluded track to run on. I spent many lonely hours running in a boring circle again and again with nothing to look at but gravel. I hated it. Then at age 28, I ran my first 5K. That was a huge step for me: running with others. Thoughts like: OMG. What if they see what a horrible runner I am? plagued me. I did my best to put my fears aside, but I still beat myself up for being a crappy runner the whole time. Shortly after that 5K, I raced in my first triathlon. But even after racing, I still struggled to allow myself to run with others in my training group. On some level, I was still that 12-year-old girl stuck running circles in her room. I always feared they would realize what an atrocious runner I was and make fun or leave me behind. As I wrote in an earlier post, I packed up all of my triathlon gear when I returned home from treatment. It was difficult, but necessary. My running shoes suddenly became my regulated 30 minutes per day walking shoes. This year, after going through pregnancy, delivery, sleepless nights and weaning from breast feeding, I finally found myself itching to return to exercise. Not for calorie burning or weight loss purposes, just for the pure enjoyment of it. Recently, I emailed with my former treatment therapist and mentioned my exercise comeback. I told her I hated calling it “working out.” That just seemed so negative. She suggested I call it “playing,” because that is exactly what it should be. I quickly adopted her advice because it just seems to fit where I am right now. My return to “playing” coincides with my first semester coaching my Girls on the Run team. So lucky for me, twice a week I get the best reminder of what the sport is truly about. It is not about burning calories or pushing yourself until your body breaks. You do not have to run a certain mile time or go a certain distance per day in order to call yourself a runner. You simply have to lace up your shoes and head out the door. My girls are runners. I am a runner. My ongoing challenge in this recovery journey is to continue to put myself out there and do things because I want to do them, casting aside the fear and anxiety that I may not be the best. I might not be perfect and I might just fail at a few things along the way, but that is life, isn’t it? Today, I run tall and strong with the wind in my face and the pavement under my soles. I run because it simply feels good to move my body. It feels free to jog in stride while looking out over the lakes. It is all so very new to me. I finally get it now. I get why people love running. There is something about the melody of your feet as you glide across the pavement and the sun as it hits your face on a clear day.  I also have the added joy of hearing happy baby coos radiate from my jogging stroller as my he enjoys the cool fall breeze on his cherub cheeks. I may not run far. I may not run fast. I simply run. I consider myself lucky to have the ability to run again. It is truly an extraordinary gift. Running has now been redefined for me. Exercise or “playing” has been redefined. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via efetova.

McCall Dempsey

I Urge the Anti-Diet Community to Be Nice and Not Shame Dieters

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741. To my dearest anti-diet community, I get it. I totally get that every diet post, cleanse and celebrity detox makes your skin crawl. I. Get. It. I’m on your team, but I am not behind the shame storm that happens when someone decides to go on a diet or change their eating habits. Recently, I awoke at 3 a.m. — because my brain deems it a great time to wake up — and began scrolling through Instagram. I was taken aback by the diet war happening on  Brené Brown’ s latest post about Whole 30. There were countless comments shaming Brené for her decision to do the Whole30 diet. I then saw that Glennon Doyle Melton (my other hero, or as I like to say, “she”ro) recently posted a Whole30 picture a few days earlier as well. The comments were in line with what I saw on Brené’s picture. All I have to say to my fellow anti-diet community is: be nice. These two women have written best-selling books and changed countless lives, including mine. I believe they know what is best for them. My favorite mantra lately is “You do you.” I believe people should do what makes them feel happy and alive, what makes their hearts beat a little faster. In most cases, people should take care of their bodies in whatever way they see fit. Of course if you are struggling with an eating disorder and feel like you need a little extra help and support, please find a therapist and/or a nutritionist near you. I am happy to connect you. But whatever you do, don’t shame others for their diet decisions. Advocacy does not mean shame and judgment. Advocacy is leading by example, promoting your message through your channels and being kind to others with opposing thoughts and feelings. Do I support the Whole30? No, it isn’t for me. Any diet for me is a slippery slope back into my eating disorder. Also, my husband might die if we didn’t have pretzels and beer in the house. I honestly don’t know much about the Whole30 diet, other than it is 30 days of eating “clean.” It should also be said that the term “clean eating” makes my skin crawl. I don’t think my pretzels are dirty, but you do you, and I’ll do me. And I certainly won’t insert my opinion on Brené or Glennon’s life choices. Often times, we want to jump and say “No diets!” Trust me, my close friends can attest to receiving my anti-diet soap box over the years. I used to be very quick to judge, pleading with my friend and giving her all the reasons why she should not diet. Today, I still stand firm on my soap box, but I try to remind myself the best way to promote my message is to live it myself – not shout it in unwilling ears. For many of us, a diet led to a lifelong battle with an eating disorder, crash dieting and all around unhappiness. I get how it can be triggering and you want to save everyone from the same dark rabbit hole. But for many other, diets will simply be that – a diet. Will the diet work for long-term success? Maybe not, since many diets end up failing. But again, you do you. My first encounter with the Whole30 happened in January. I was at a friend’s house and her co-worker was over explaining how she was on Day 20 of the Whole30. I was intrigued and asked her about her experience. This woman knew what I did for a living and tried to explain it as a “lifestyle change.” I went back and forth a bit on why I hate the term “lifestyle change” when it comes to diet, but she explained her reason for going on the program. Her fall had been fast and furious and the holidays followed. She did not feel good in her body, not necessarily from a weight perspective, but she felt sluggish and foggy. She went on to explain how much energy she has and how great she feels. Her diet is filled with wholesome food, no calorie counting or rigid schedules. She enjoyed the meal planning and prepping. So I get it. I get some people’s reasons for wanting to reset. Some people need a plan to restart. I can totally get behind that. I don’t agree with cutting entire food groups or denying ourselves the calories we need to survive like many diets do. However, we have to remember there are two sides to having a healthy relationship with food: flexibility and meeting nutritional needs. It is a tough balancing act. In fact, lately I have been trying to get more veggies and fruit in my diet. The reason? My life has been fast and furious this spring and I haven’t been feeding my body enough of those nutrient packed foods. I’ve been on the road, grabbing and going. When I finally landed home two weeks ago, I decided to take this next month to slow down, do a bit more yoga and get some color back in my diet. I also use my extra time to sit down and enjoy Easter candy and chocolate with my kids. I believe it is all about balance, moderation and flexibility. But again, that works for me. I don’t know what works for you. Now, would I recommend one of the young people I mentor to try the Whole30? Probably not. I would direct them to talk with their therapist and nutritionist if they feel like they need to make diet changes. The diet industry is sadly one of the most robust and booming industries. We can’t rid the world of diets and guess what? That’s OK! We can’t stop others from dieting or changing their food habits whether it be by slowing down, or by doing the Whole30. We can lead by example, showing those around us what it means to love and take care of our bodies. We can admire and connect with like-minded people, people who make us feel good and people who challenge us, but we can’t shame others for trying a diet or lifestyle change. We can’t be quick to judge. Brené and Glennon share so much of their lives with us, but at the end of the day, we don’t know them (even though I claim them as friends in every talk I give, “My bestie Brené/Glennon/Ellen says…”) At the end of the day, we can’t put people on a pedestal. We are all humans, trying to get through this thing called life as best as we can. No one is higher than the other. When we place people on pedestals, they will inevitably fall off and that fall hurts us more than it hurts them. And if you are thinking of going on the Whole30 or a diet, I would simply caution you and ask you to reflect on your motivation. Weight loss does not equal happiness, despite what society says. On the other side of the coin, there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good in your skin. Remember that health is mind, body and spirit. Do what you love, move your body in a way that excites you and challenge yourself to make every day count. So to Brené and Glennon, rock on. You do you and I’ll do me. And I’ll keep loving you, buying (and recommending) your books, quoting you, photoshopping myself into pictures with you and claiming you both as my besties. With a “whole” (see what I did there?) lot of love and gratitude, McCall If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via a_namenko.

McCall Dempsey

The Importance of Stillness and Mindfulness in Mental Health Treatment

Weekends in treatment were slow … and I mean slow. It was so frustrating to have so much downtime in our schedule. We should be “working” and “doing,” marking things off our imaginary recovery to-do list. Having an empty day meant I was being unproductive and lazy. As it turns out, downtime at the  Carolina House  eating disorder treatment center was very much on purpose. It forced us to practice stillness and cultivate the ability to be alone. Learning to be still and alone is one of recovery’s greatest gifts. Stillness is a skill and a practice. For many of us, eating disorder or not, being alone is a huge challenge and trigger. In the quiet of stillness, we are often faced with feelings and thoughts we’d rather override with our to-do lists. Think about it. When was the last time you were still? Like, really still? With nothing to do or maybe with lots to do, but choosing to take time for yourself and just be. Meet savasana, the most difficult yoga pose. By definition, savasana means lying on your back, eyes closed with arms and legs spread at the corners of your mat. My mom is probably feeling anxious just reading that definition: Lying. Still. Even when I am in savasana, my mind wanders to every corner of my brain: “What should I feed the kids for lunch? What are we doing tonight? Maybe we can watch a movie. Oh, wait, ‘Orange is the New Black’ is on. Yes, we should watch that. Maybe we can go on a date tomorrow. Jordan is off tomorrow. We should take the kids to the pool. Did I get sunscreen? What if the sunscreen I have is on the toxic lotion list? Does sunscreen really cause cancer? Why did Marjorie get cancer? Is it in the water? Did I give the dogs water this morning? Did I give Lola her medicine? I need to make an appointment for Lilly. Is she due for heartworm? I think all the pets are due. What if they get heartworm?” The struggle is real, y’all. Like most moms, I am stretched thin — like really, really, really thin. And every so often, I snap. I need time for myself, time to reset and renew. I get to the point where an hour here or there of savasana — I mean yoga — is no longer enough. I need a solid refresh session. My refresh sessions usually involve time upstairs in my office, earphones in to drown out the tiny humans on the first floor. It goes without saying, I love my kids and family. I am blessed… yadda yadda yadda. And I am also human. I need time for myself away from my mom/wife/cook/vet/everything else role. This week, as I realized my battery was dangerously low, I laughed at life’s irony: years ago I hated everything to do with stillness and solitude. Today, I crave it. I need it. It is an essential part of my mental well-being. And it is one that is so hard to come by, especially as a working mom. Being a mom, a dad, a student, a career person, or any person in-between is hard. Life is hard. Life is also very, very busy. Busyness has become the poster child for being good enough. If we fill our lives and calendars with to-do items then we are good enough. We are worthy. You are worthy whether you are the busiest person in the world or if you are lying on your couch watching “Housewives.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those scenarios. The hard part is learning to say, “I need time for me. I need to just be.” The gift of stillness is yet another reason why I am so thankful for my time in treatment and journey to recovery. It is beyond hard to shut the brain down. It is even harder to know we need time to shut it down. We just keep going and going and going. So here is the Sunday challenge: take time for you. Take time to just be. Find gratitude in the quiet and practice stillness. Give yourself the precious gift of being still. It is a rare gift that we all deserve. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via fizkes

McCall Dempsey

Eating Disorder Recovery Surrendering Desire to Fit Into Clothes

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741. The bad fluorescent lights flickered in the gray dressing room. The Dillard’s dressing room resembled my mental state: depressed, anxious and gray. I squatted onto the cheap carpet with tears streaming down my face. Another dress, another disappointment. It was prom. I was in the depths of my eating disorder and hating every inch of my body. The rickety dressing room door stood between my mom and I. She kept bringing dress after dress, each one sending me further into a downward spiral. My mom was getting frustrated, unable to understand why I hated every dress. She didn’t know the depths to which I hated myself. The anxiety of fitting into the “perfect” dress for prom and school dances ultimately formed a deadly routine I would keep up for the next 15 years. Special event in ___ weeks. I weigh ___ pounds and need to lose ___ pounds. Safe foods only. Cut out food groups. Calories in minus calories out. Chart daily weigh ins. Exercise daily. No drinking. No social activities. No friends. No life. Must. Fit. The. Dress Days and nights were consumed with anxiety about how I was going to fit into “that perfect dress” and look amazing. It never dawned on me that I could buy a dress to fit my body and not vice versa. The morning of the event would arrive and I would step on the scale. The number was never low enough. I was never good enough. My first black tie event after coming home from treatment was one of my most difficult days. I did not “prepare” or use symptoms of my eating disorder, which is a good thing. But I was so uncomfortable in my skin and in my body. I smiled and put on a happy face, but eventually got up from the table and locked myself in the bathroom where I sobbed. My stomach was in knots and I felt invisible. I felt huge and just wanted to disappear. But I held my faith in what my treatment team always told me – that one day I would be free in recovery. Now, the beautiful antique armoire stands like an ominous symbol upstairs in my parents’ home. Inside the expensive armoire are countless equally expensive couture ball gowns, each one holding a different memory – some good and some not so good. Thankfully, I am no longer affected by the memories of the past. I sat my daughter Marjorie on the floor as my mom and I opened the large polished doors. There they were. The dresses of our past. There was one dress in particular I was thinking about wearing to the “Best Dressed Ball” this Saturday in Baton Rouge, also known as the “Cancer Ball.” I am speaking and sharing my daughter Marjorie’s extraordinary story. What an honor. I felt the hot pink dress in mom’s closet would be perfect. I slid the dress up over my thighs and turned to my mom to zip the back. It wouldn’t zip. I am pretty sure my mom was holding her breath, worried I might collapse onto the floor like I used to. I turned around with a smile and exclaimed, “Well, guess we are going shopping!” Just a few days before, a thought entered my mind, Oh shit, Cancer Ball is in a couple of weeks. Before my thought went further, I laughed out loud and told myself, So? I don’t live my life to fit a dress. I live my life and then find a dress to fit me. I wore the pink dress to Cancer Ball in 2014. I was strong in recovery and did nothing to “fit” into the pink dress. It just fit. So, rather than beat up my body for not fitting in that dress two years later, I thought about what my body has done since last wearing that dress. My body has carried a precious life. It has endured nearly two weeks of bed rest, which included pricks, catheters and a hospital stay. My body survived a difficult and extremely painful surgery to deliver Marjorie at 27-weeks. It thrived through 68 days of three-hour drives to stay by her bedside. My body has sung to her, rocked her and held her while chemotherapy dripped into her tiny body. So do I care if I don’t fit in a dress? Nope. My life is no longer about “fitting in” to anything. Besides, I found the most fabulous dress that fits me! And when I say fabulous, I mean ah-mazing. Tomorrow night is not about me or what dress I am wearing. It is about raising money for cancer research. It is about Marjorie. I no longer change my body or life to fit anything or anyone. I eat what I want when I want. I exercise when I want. I rest when I want without guilt. I am finally free. That girl who cried for freedom all those years ago is finally free. There is not a single day that goes by where I take this freedom for granted. To that girl who is crying in the dressing room about not fitting into that prom dress, to the person sobbing alone in the bathroom, you are never alone. You are not defined by what you wear or what you look like. Life is too short to spend it trying to fit into the “perfect” dress. You are already perfect. Find the dress that fits you. Find that freedom. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via MoustacheGirl.

McCall Dempsey

What to Expect at an Eating Disorder Treatment Center

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741. Yesterday, in between work emails and changing diapers, I received a text message that stopped me in my tracks. “I’m being admitted Thursday at 10:30…relieved but scared.” An admission date and time for eating disorder treatment had finally been bestowed upon a sweet young woman I’ve been helping. Reading her text brought back those same emotions I felt when I was admitted to the Carolina House over five years ago. Fear, relief, sadness, excitement. So many emotions, too many to sort through. I just wanted to get there and get started. I remember my admission day like it was yesterday. Thanks to Delta’s stellar service, I missed my connecting flight in Atlanta. The delay did not put me into Raleigh until after 5 p.m., which was too late to start the admission process. The domino effect was devastating to me. I was put up in a hotel and spent the night alone. My two bags weighed more than me and I had to lug them around the hotel and up a flight of stairs. Dinner seemed pointless to me. Why make an effort? I got into my pajamas and tried FaceTiming with Jordan, my husband. Immediately, we both started to cry, so we hung up and decided to spend our night talking on the phone. Hours later, my anxiety still hadn’t received the memo it was time for bed. I laid awake all night, staring at the glow of the TV. Jay Leno, “Friends” reruns, CNN and even infomercials. There was no need to set an alarm. I was already up when the sun rose that morning. The dusty white minivan pulled into the hotel’s driveway. The cold winter air took my breath away as I stepped out of the hotel lobby. I heaved my luggage out the door and thought, This is it. I’m finally doing this. Here goes nothing. I had my “first day of treatment” outfit on. Yes, I methodically planned my first day outfit. I was still of the disordered mindset that I had to appear pulled together. I even held a confident and engaging conversation with the van driver on our way to the Carolina House as if she and I were long time friends. On the outside, I appeared as if nothing was wrong. Of course, I wasn’t going to treatment for what was on the outside. It was my inside that was dying. Eventually, the minivan pulled down a small, two-lane road and then turned right onto a long gravel driveway. There it was, the Carolina House, a beautiful yellow farmhouse sitting peacefully in the woods. My anxiety turned on and my heart began to race as I was led to the office for admission paperwork and too many HIPPA forms to count. Oh shit, this is real, I thought to myself. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. What have I done? My panic turned into fear as they guided me to the kitchen for lunchtime. It was buzzing with women preparing lunches and staff checking off exchanges and approving portions. I actually thought I could “opt out” of lunch. Yes, this would be my mindset for the first week or so. “Oh, thank you, but I’ll pass on this meal…Thanks, but I don’t do group therapy…Thanks so much for this opportunity, but I’m going home now.” No such luck. I was not able to opt out of lunch that day. I picked apart my sandwich. I wanted to run. And I actually tried to. A few hours after lunch, I was informed there was a group outing that afternoon. Once again, I tried to opt out, telling the staff I should really stay back alone and unpack. Apparently, I thought I had checked into the Holiday Inn. Most people fear “dessert day” when they go to eating disorder treatment, but I feared art therapy. And as fate would have it, that was exactly what I had to do on my first day of treatment. It was an art therapy outing to the Scrap Exchange, a place in downtown Durham that offers a variety of crap — I mean scrap — for you to use for art projects. We loaded into the 15 passenger van and all I could think of is that scene from “Girl Interrupted,” where they all go out for ice cream into town. I suddenly realized I was living out my fear. I was the “crazy” girl in the van from the “looney bin.” We are those “crazy” people going to town, I thought. What have I gotten myself into and how can I get myself out? What the staff didn’t know at the time was that I still had my cell phone. I was clutching on to it for dear life in the deep pockets of my bright red pea coat. I snuck my phone out and texted Jordan that this was a mistake and not to worry because I was going to fix it. I always had a plan. Enter: Southwest app. Fantastic! There is a flight out tonight. I can catch a cab to the airport from this scrap place. Peace out. Mistake fixed. Problem solved. We piled out of the van and walked into the Scrap Exchange. My anxiety was rapidly rising in my chest. I turned to the RPA and told her I needed a minute alone and asked her if I could step outside. I walked/ran outside, hoping for just a minute alone, but the RPA was hot on my tail. I spun around when we got outside and said, “Can I puh-lease just have a minute by myself?” No such luck. I then put on my Corporate America working woman face and said, “Thank you so very much for this opportunity. The Carolina House and their staff have been fantastic, but there has been a mistake. You see, I’m not that bad. I really don’t need this level of care like the women inside. I need to go now.” The kind RPA, Mary, saw past my front and began to speak in her calm, soft voice. She questioned why I came, if I didn’t need this help. I told her I came for my husband. And she said recovery would be worth this journey and hardship. I softened a little and somewhere deep down, I believed her. I knew I needed this help and I knew I deserved recovery. I released the death grip on my phone in my pocket and walked back inside to dreaded art therapy. The fear that ran through my veins that first day is still palpable today. I felt like such a failure that day. I was 29 years old, with no job and admitting myself to treatment for an eating disorder that didn’t seem “bad” enough to be in treatment for in the first place. What I didn’t know five years ago — something I know today — is how extraordinarily brave I was to walk through the doors of the Carolina House. While yesterday’s text message brought me back to that first day, baby squeals and dinner duties brought me back to my present life. Cooking dinner once seemed like a foreign concept because having food in the house was frightening. The life I have created for myself today is something I never believed was possible for me. I thought I was destined to hate my body and always be at war with food. Little did I know, the person I thought was a failure was so brave in taking that massive leap of faith that has led her to the extraordinary reality I live in today. So to anyone who will walk through a treatment center’s doors tomorrow, I say this: Do not walk with fear, because you are not alone. Trust the extraordinary team around you. Do not be afraid to be sad, anxious or angry. You are safe. Let yourself feel. Let out your burdens and hand them over. Open your heart to the help and gift of recovery. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. And most of all, be kind to yourself. The path to recovery is long and bumpy, but the ride is glorious and filled with beautiful color. I am so incredibly proud of you. Sending you lots of hope and love! If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via difinbeker.

McCall Dempsey

Why Sex and Intimacy Are Hard in Eating Disorder Recovery

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741. Soapy suds ran down my naked body in the shower. I closed my eyes in an attempt at one minute of peace in my whirlwind life as a working mom with two babies. No such luck. “Honey,” my husband yelled as he swung open the bathroom door holding Marjorie, our daughter. “Did you know the stovetop is loose?” “Yes. Yes, I know it is. I will call the contractor.” Jordan walked out and Manning, our son, entered a few minutes later showing me a truck I have seen (and picked up) a thousand times. Sigh. So much for a few minutes alone. I turned the shower off, opened the door, grabbed the towel and stepped out of the shower. Jordan and Marjorie reappeared, this time trailed by our two dogs. I stood before my husband, naked, as he went on telling me about his day, weekend plans and other non-important news. My thoughts had nothing to do with my body and everything to do with my desire to have a solid five minutes alone. As I began to dress — with husband still talking and Marjorie reaching for me — I had to laugh. This would not be the scenario five years ago. Jordan was not allowed in the bathroom back then. He was not allowed to see my body “unprepared.” What if I had a food baby? What if he saw my rolls? What if? What if? What if? The best advice I ever received in regards to Jordan viewing my body was from my former therapist, Christy. In January 2010, I received a pass from treatment to spend the day with Jordan. We made plans for lunch and walking around, but there was also the looming possibility of going back to his hotel room. The thought of Jordan, my husband and partner for over eight years, seeing and touching my body sent me into a panic attack. In my mind, my body had changed so much in my few short weeks at the Carolina House. Re-feeding and nourishing my body after years of abuse led to bloating and mythical weight gain in my mind. Tears grew in my eyes as I explained this fear to Christy. As always, she listened, validated my feelings and went on to challenge me with an exercise: “When he places a hand on your hip or side, ask Jordan ‘What do you feel?’” I laughed as she said this. What an weird question to ask my own husband. Seriously, I thought, he already has a wife in treatment. I don’t need to act any “crazier.” There was still so much shame about being in treatment and complete vulnerability was overwhelming and terrifying. But I had trusted Christy from day one and I wasn’t going to stop then. Jordan and I ran out of things to do and he wanted to watch golf so we opted to go relax at the hotel. My heart raced as he opened the door to his room. I didn’t want him touching me. I didn’t want him seeing me. We laid together on the big king bed, curled up like two spoons. We watched the golf tournament and chatted about life. Then his dreaded hand moved from a neutral position onto my hip, my side, my most hated body part. I froze in sheer terror then forced myself to ask the strangest question on earth: “What do you feel?” Jordan gave me a similar look that I gave Christy. “What?” He asked. “I mean, do you, like, feel something? What do you feel when you, um, put your hand there?” I said. “Um, I feel your hip.” Christy’s challenge suddenly made sense. My fear and unwarranted anxiety about my body vanished once I spoke out my shame. Jordan was right. He felt my hip. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a hip. He did not feel a “muffin top,” fat or any other name I called it. Jordan was not looking at my body through the same cruel eyes I was. He viewed my body with his own loving eyes. Jordan adored every inch, every line and every curve, but most of all he adored the woman within. Five years, two babies and countless hours of breastfeeding and pumping later, my body has been through the ringer. Some things hang a bit lower and a large scar serves as a constant reminder of my daughter’s difficult birth. But through it all, Jordan continues to view my body through those same loving eyes. And my eyes finally see what he has seen all along. Today, spooning sessions and shower scenes are anything but anxiety provoking. They are also anything but sexy thanks to two small children and two four-legged children. I no longer flinch when the shower door swings open and I no longer hide my body when changing. No body is perfect and nobody is perfect. We put so much pressure on ourselves to look and be perfect. We convince ourselves our partners see what we see in the mirror. We all need a mirror (and hip) check from time to time. Speak your shame, share your fear. You might be surprised at your partner’s response. My guess is they view your body with love and see nothing but beauty inside and out. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via marzacz.

McCall Dempsey

When You Wonder If Full Eating Disorder Recovery Is Possible

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741. Today my morning went a little something like this: 5:30 a.m. Alarm, pre-dawn emails and work to-do’s. 7:00 a.m. Tiny humans wake up, morning “Hunger Games” begin (insert another cup of coffee). As I extracted yet another foreign object from our new puppy’s mouth, asked Manning for the 34th time to brush his teeth and chased a naked Marjorie, I laughed at how chaotic and amazing life is today. You see, seven years ago, the morning of December 14th was different, drastically different. Seven years ago today I admitted myself into eating disorder treatment. Seven years ago I gave myself the best gift – the gift of recovery. Every day I connect with people fighting for that mystical place of recovery. They see it as an impossible and often unattainable dream. So did I seven years ago. Today, I travel the country, speaking and connecting with recovery warriors in treatment. It never fails that I am always asked the same question: Is full recovery possible? My answer is and will always be: Yes. I am proof. We often want to put a label on where we are in our journey or we attempt to be 10,000 steps ahead of where we really are. We often jump at the chance to say or have someone define that we are in recovery, recovered or fully recovered. Disorder gone. No more. In my experience, it doesn’t quite work like that. I think we all have to come to a place where we define recovery for ourselves. There is no universal finish line that can declare you recovered. So when recovery warriors ask me if I define myself as fully recovered, this is how I always respond: I am fully recovered and I will always be working toward recovery, because recovery is an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. I never want to stop figuring out who I am and being my best authentic self. I did not use magic to find recovery. I worked very hard for many years and I fell many times along the way. But I kept getting up and if I was too tired to get up, I looked to those around me to help me up and guide me back to the light. To be quite honest, the years of struggling are a distant in my memory – thanks to my life’s messy, beautiful chaos and the years that have passed. However, they will never be forgotten. I still have a knot in my stomach on this day. I will never forget standing in the freezing cold in my red peacoat, waiting for the van to pick me up. I will never forget sobbing to my family the night I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I will never forget my first full day, sitting in group therapy, hearing other’s share their struggles and thinking, “I am not alone.” For nearly 15 years, I was held prisoner by my eating disorder. I did not know what “normalcy” was. I did not know how to feed myself or that it was possible to even love myself. If I had not entered treatment, there is no doubt in my mind I would be dead. Whether at the hands of my eating disorder or myself, I was running out of energy to put one foot in front of the other. But even if I had survived by the grace of God, I could not imagine the half life I would be semi-living. Because seven years ago, this was my reality: Journal entry from October 19, 2010: “I am lost. No other way to put it. I wish someone understood what I deal with on a daily basis — to know what it’s like to be hungry, but a voice says you can’t eat. You become numb or you plot and plan a day that revolves around stuffing your face – alone – all alone, can never be with anyone. Then figure out what painful measure you will use to get rid of the food – and nonetheless, you still end up a fat ass because you shouldn’t have eaten it anyway. I want others to understand what it is like to hate your body and brush away your husband’s touch because you are embarrassed. To know what it’s like to try on 30,000 different outfits only to end up in tears on your closet floor. To know what it’s like to see your huge, ugly breasts – the ones people envy, but you look at with disgust and burst into an unbelievable meltdown that leaves you lying on your bathroom floor, unable to speak or breath. To know what it’s like to fear and love food. To hurt for no reason at all – or at least a reason you don’t know yet. To know what it’s like to want to start a family and be a mom but you know you can’t take care of yourself, much less an innocent child. I just wish someone understood.” My reality today is drastically different. I eat when I am hungry. I stop when I am full. I love my body, nourish and respect it. I move my body with joy. I get dressed with excitement (usually because it means we have a babysitter and are going out without the kids). The best part of my life today is living a full and present life with my family. There is no doubt my children are my greatest recovery blessings. My two ( healthy) amazing kids that call me Momma. For me, recovery means getting to live and lead by example. And that starts with my children – showing them what it means to love and respect your body. I get to show them how you can chase your dreams and live authentically, while being kind to everyone around you. I get to show them that life is messy and we embrace the mess and chaos. I get to show them that while our house isn’t always sparkling clean, it is filled with love! And most of all, I will always remind my precious babies that life is not perfect. It is hard. They will make mistakes and fall. They will hurt. But in the midst of their hurt, I will sit with them, always reminding them they are loved, fiercely, and that they are never, ever alone. If you are struggling, know this: recovery is possible. I am proof. Recovery is not easy. It is a long and painful journey, but it is filled with moments of hope, color and some pretty damn amazing people. I think recovery is a choice. So keep showing up – every day, every minute. Keep standing up after each fall. Keep reaching for support. Keep fighting! Because this life, your life – is worth it. You are worth it. The ability to live in the present and lead an authentic life is the greatest gift I ever gave myself. It all began seven years ago today. And seven years later, I am still choosing it by showing up and choosing recovery — e very single day. This is recovery, seven years in recovery. And I’m thankful every day. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 . If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 , the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image via