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SKFitLife | Stop Chasing Skinny Podcast, Episode #17, Disordered Eating
Featuring Stephanie Keenan and Dr. Jill Ilagan
Transcript written by Rochelle Sanchez | May 7, 2015
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – Welcome to the Stop Chasing Skinny Radio Program. This program is designed to bring to you everything that might help you create a fit life. Tonight I decided to bring on a guest in a series of shows because February is the National Eating Disorder Awareness month. And so a lot of information is being put out about this and I wanted to put together a series of shows because I see a lot of things happening on my end as a fitness professional that people may not necessarily realize or they don’t know where to get help. My very first show in this series is with Dr. Jill Ilagan.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – Dr. Jill is a local therapist here in Charleston and we’re going to cover disordered eating. Disordered eating is something that I feel like is the #1 as far as the clients that I see and the people that I interact with on a regular basis. Disordered eating is very acceptable in society if not expected. Like the fact that I don’t weigh myself on a regular basis may seem odd. Counting calories… I don’t do that either. And some people may say at home, “My gosh, what kind of fitness professional are you?” Well, I’m one that likes to not live by numbers, like that. Because that’s not really living to me. So anyway, I want to welcome on Dr. Jill Ilagan.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – -Welcome, and please explain just a little bit more about your background and how you got into this field.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Okay great, well thanks for having me. I usually just have people call me Dr. Jill, though. It makes it a little bit easier.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – Okay I can do that, thank you.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Feel free to just call me Jill, by all means. I’m a psychologist here in Charleston and I have a private practice in Mount Pleasant where I specialize in treating people who struggle with disordered eating. I also see people with a range of problems from anxiety to depression and relationship issues, but really my specialty is around disordered eating and eating disorders. So that’s what I do for my profession. I like doing things outdoors as well. I love to stand up paddleboard, and I love to bike and just get outside anytime it’s sunny and warm enough.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – That’s really great. And I love how you just brought the anxiety and depression into the eating practice. It is all linked together. If there is an issue with eating, it’s stemming from somewhere else.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] -Yeah, sure. And anxiety’s usually one of the primary things that I find with people who are struggling with something around eating. There really does seem to be a high level of anxiety and sometimes the behaviors are there to cope — help someone cope with that anxiety.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – – I have to say, I was a binge eater with the best of them. But I ended up exercising to get rid of all the extra food I ate. But yes, it’s therapeutic in a way to stand there and just put food in your mouth.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes, it is. People wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a reason for it.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – Right, right. Which brings me around to my very first point — Let’s talk about what disordered eating looks like. I kind of touched a little bit on counting calories, saying calories in and calories out, and that’s not just coming up with a baseline. That’s issues like obsessing about calories, right? And then maybe weighing ourselves too frequently, and placing too much value on that number on the scale. What are some other things — and you can feel free to talk a little bit about those, too.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Okay, Yeah. And I think that what can help with defining disordered eating is briefly mentioning what it’s not. So eating disorders are disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorders that people are familiar with. Where someone meets clinical criteria for that specific disorder. But then you have a whole slew of behaviors outside of that criteria where it’s still problematic for people and it still interferes with their functioning and their quality of life. But it doesn’t quite meet the clinical criteria for an eating disorder. So then some people and that’s kind of entered into our vernacular to talk about it as disordered eating. That can be the counting calories, that can be the weighing, that can be body image stuff that’s usually wrapped up in that. That a person’s self-worth comes solely from the number on the scale and how close they can get to an idealized body type that they have in their head. Some of the other behaviors along with that, whether it’s overexercising, laxative use, and then a lot of the feelings that go along with that — feeling shamed about your body, feeling guilty about how you’re eating your food, how you’re not eating your food, and it just takes more and more and more time and energy in someone’s head.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yeah, and that’s such a great point. I know that when I would obsess about the food, it did take up so much head space. There are so many things that either you miss out on socially or it does affect you socially. I have heard multiple occasions where somebody will get on the scale and whatever number they see in the morning, that sets the tone for, maybe not even their entire day, maybe their whole week. They were unhappy with that number. I’ve done a couple of side by side photos that I’m going to put this in the show notes where I’m 23 pounds more now than when I was about 4 years ago but I look the same. So you have the scale. It doesn’t represent anything solid. It’s just this number that we put out there and then also with technology — I mean, it was in the magazine for years, believe me. But you see all these different things about counting the numbers and paying attention to numbers. It makes it very easy to obsess.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Sure, yes. Numbers really do stick in people’s heads. It’s something that’s concrete. It’s measurable. And that helps people not feel as anxious.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Right? Because it gives you guidelines.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah, as long as it’s going in the right direction. And then when it’s going in the wrong direction then you see the anxiety peak and then these behaviors come in to get the number going into the right direction so that the anxiety can decrease. So yeah, numbers – I tell people that I don’t really do numbers. That I don’t need to know, I’m not going to check on how many calories they’re eating. I’m not gonna check in how much they weigh. I leave that to nutritionists and physicians that I work with. They’re kind of in charge of the numbers and I get to work more with people on who they are, their goals, and what they’re trying to accomplish.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – And do you find, too, that after you’ve been working with somebody for a little while, maybe they don’t need those numbers anymore? Do they kind of abandon that?
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Eventually. Sometimes, numbers stick around for a while. And even if they’re not — you know, a lot of people will take a scale out of their house so they don’t have access to a scale or a tape measure, possibly. But it’s still in their head. Even if they’re not engaging in the behaviors around weighing, or around counting calories, it’s still kind of in their head and that kind of actually sticks around for a while, but it does eventually go away. But it’s not one of the first things to go.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yeah. I know with my program we talk about non scale victories. So I was saying, “Stay off the scale.” And one of my clients — she was the one who told me about the term — but we talk about non scale victories. So we talk about “Did I increase the number of repetitions that I could complete in the allotted time? Did I increase my weight that I was lifting?” Even non scale victories such as “It was so much easier for me to vacuum my steps today.”
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes!
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Is that something that somebody could maybe shift their thinking a little bit, choosing to focus on those numbers?
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – For sure. Yeah, I think that anytime you can give people more than one thing to gauge their progress on. Even if you only use the number of reps, that could become out of balance. So you need a number of things, I think, to let people know that they’re progressing in the way that they want to be progressing. For some people, they reach a point where scale, in a way, that doesn’t become obsessive. It’s not damaging to them. Some people, they can’t get to that point. But anytime you have a number of things that you can use to look and be like, “Okay I’ve made this progress on this, I’ve made progress on this” and that can be even outside of fitness and even goals that someone might be meeting in regards to work or relationship goals. Maybe a certain hobby or skill set where the input of their self-worth is being measured other than a number on a scale.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – I’m so glad you talked about that. Because that’s what I found myself, was that once — and I can look at this over my entire life — the more into the fitness piece I was, whether it was, yeah I guess the scale was part of it — but the more into that piece I was, I found that it was because I was I was much less fulfilled in a lot of the other areas of my life. Like I wasn’t fulfilled in my work, so I spent more time working out. You know, it was kind of a coping mechanism, and I made my way through it. But I did go through a period of time where it was super obsessive in the exercise department.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – And that shift can happen. And it doesn’t happen all at once. If it happened all at once, less people would have the struggle. But it is just slowly over time, more and more energy goes to this one area and then that leaves less energy for other areas.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – — Yeah. Yeah. And it’s exhausting for people who are around, who don’t have the same obsession with fitness or numbers or diet or whatever. It is exhausting. It’s hard to carry on relationships with people who do. Makes you feel like as the person being that into it, you feel isolated. As the person who’s really NOT into that, you’re kind of annoyed by it. Cause you’re like, “Can we move on to something that’s a little less fitness.”
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah! That does happen, and so I think people start surrounding themselves with more and more like minded people, and in one way it’s good because they’re surrounded by people but in another way it can be detrimental in that they’re surrounded by only other like-minded people who might have a tendency to be a little obsessed about the same thing they are. So they’re not getting other input from people who prefer to watch movie, or do art, or do crafting, or do whatever.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yes! A lot of the listeners — they did find me through my competitive fitness background. I competed as a figure competitor and then also coached as a figure competitor as a coach in that field. So now when I get around some of my fitness friends that I competed with, if they still compete, they want to talk about macronutrients and I really tend to just walk away from the conversation because I’m like, “I can’t, no. I’m not talking about grams of protein and fat and carbohydrates.” Just because I can’t do it.
I feel like that took up a ton of my head space. Once I kind of figured out my formula for it, I don’t need to obsess over that stuff anymore. Could I be more ripped? Sure. But it’s not worth it to me. Balance. That’s the best reward. That’s the huge trophy right there.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Right, yeah. And balance is the big piece of what I work with people on. Trying to move them toward balance. Lots of times disordered eating will have them on really extreme ends of the spectrum. Either they’re eating a ton or they’re not eating at all. They’re exercising a ton or they’re not exercising at all. Moving toward balance is the opposite of where that disordered eating exists. So as they move toward balance, their perspective starts to shift. They have less and less room for being in those extremes.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – They used to be compelled to count those things and now they’re kind of like, pushed away from those.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah! Or even just, “Oh. Well, I could count that, or I could just go have a glass of wine with a girlfriend.” And that sounds way more fun than counting the calories and worrying about how much I’m gonna consume.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yeah. And that’s food guilt, right? Ugh. That’s the worst feeling ever. It’s important to stop that cycle too. One of the things I read was talking about how during the day, because one of the reasons we overeat at night, is because during the day our cortisol levels are really high and we’re busy and doing stuff and then in the evening our cortisol levels kind of come down, and we have time. And we have access to food and there are other chemical things going in our bodies and that’s when we wanna eat. So if you feel like you’ve turned into a werewolf when the sun goes down — which is what I felt like for years — you stand there and you eat the peanut butter out of the jar with the spoon, and then you go to bed and you wake up in the morning like “Oh, I did it again.” It’s nice to break that cycle and not have that food guilt.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah, and part of it’s helping people identify when they are most vulnerable to those types of behaviors. So a similar explanation is that our self-control is a muscle. As you know, you can fatigue a muscle. But you can also not work out a muscle and it can atrophy. And you want to find somewhere in the middle, that self-control muscle, so that you are left with something leftover at night.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – That’s so interesting you say that, because I was just listening to a book the other day that was talking about. They were saying it was possible to over exercise self-control during the day and not have anything left for it at night. Actually it was a book on charisma. It was so funny because they weren’t talking about food at all. They were talking about will power. If you only have a certain amount and you use them all up during the day then you’re kind of at a loss at the end of the day.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Even decisions not related to food and exercise wear on that self-control muscle and use it. So if you’re having to make decisions at work about something that’s completely not food related, it’s still pulling on that same muscle as when you get home and you decide if you’re gonna eat the peanut butter or not.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – And then the peanut butter is not gonna make you lose your job or affect that part so you’re like, whatever, all right, this is the one thing I can do here. Just knowing that helps to take away some of the food guilt and understand where you can maybe decrease some of the stressors during your day so you can make choices later at night.
Well we’re going to take just one quick break. When we come back I want to talk about treatment options for this. So now that we’ve kind of defined what it is, I want to move forward with some of these techniques that we can talk about.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Welcome back to the stop chasing skinny radio show. So now we’re going to talk about some of the different techniques that we can use to help — I say it’s just to gain more freedom.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes, that’s a great way to put it.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – You’re going to free up some of the head space, so you don’t worry so much about the food and the numbers. Oh my gosh, seriously, I kept those spread sheets of whenever I kept macronutrient breakdown, it was ridiculous.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – yeah that’s a lot of numbers, I bet.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – But I was a nuclear engineer before fitness so I was all over numbers. So yeah, Dr. Jill if you could just tell us a little bit more about some of these different techniques for getting past these blocks, these barriers.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Okay, yeah. Well there’s a number of different ways that people might go about treating disordered eating. I’m not gonna get into all of those. One of the ones that I use probably the most is something called Narrative Therapy. The short elevator about Narrative Therapy is it’s really changing a person’s storyline about their life. So they come in, and they have a problem story line, and you help them build this alternative story line.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – So an example of this storyline, because I hear this a lot, I used to say it myself, I’m the kind of person who, if I’m going to have some of it, I’m gonna have all of it.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – yes.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – So you just told that story, that’s how it’s gonna work.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah, I’m an all or nothing person, and that’s part of that problem storyline, and I’ve always been that way, and I can’t change it. So then I get really interested in well, have they really always been that way? Have there been exceptions to that story line? And if so, what were they, and what was going on at that time, so that they start to identify coping skills they really already have within themselves where they were able to overcome the problem or get some distance from that problem storyline. So that’s kind of the theory behind narrative therapy.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – I love that, because I had to do some of that. This is the advice I give, if you’re going to go to a party, a holiday event, something like that, if you walk up to that buffet table and you start telling people “Oh, I really shouldn’t but…” you may as well just shove the food in your mouth. Because it’s probably gonna end up that way. So if you just change the story from the beginning and you go to it, and you don’t pay it any mind, just have whatever you need to have and stop telling that story because that’s what of the storyline is telling someone else “I shouldn’t” and having the other person say “Go ahead and do it” and then you do it, and then you go, “Oh I shouldn’t have, I’m bad.” I hear that a lot. I mean I’ve told myself that story all the time. So you just stop it, right?
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Sometimes it’s hard to just stop it. So sort of finding ways to change it and shift the focus again. So one of those techniques that I use, it’s called “Externalizing.” It was made really popular a book called “Life without ED,” “ed” being Eating Disorder by Jenny Schaeffer. And it’s a great book for anyone who struggles with whether it’s disordered eating, or even an eating disorder, or even knows someone that they really care about who struggles with this. But really, she framed it as such that Ed was really an abusive partner that she was getting a divorce from. So you externalize the problem and we’re talking about disordered eating today, so I thought, well, let’s not call it Ed because you’re going to talk about Ed on another show later on this week or this month. So we can call it DEAT. D for disordered, and EAT for eating. And so when we talk about DEAT we can talk about it in terms of how DEAT affects someone. IF you’re hanging out with DEAT, what are you doing? How does DEAT impact your relationships with other people? What this allows is this space for people to get a perspective on that story line or on that problem. And they can really see what DEAT is up to: Well, DEAT makes me feel bad about eating what I ate, so then I stay inside, so I really haven’t been spending as much time with my friends and I’ve been spending more time with DEAT, especially at night. And so then they can get a clearer grasp on what this problem looks like. And then they can start making decisions about how they want to change that.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Wow, that’s great.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. And it can be very powerful for people. To feel the sense of relief. It relieves some self-blame, because they’re able to blame things on DEAT. And paradoxically, it increases control and responsibility because now they’re making a choice about what they’re going to do with regards to DEAT as opposed to just feeling like they’re being controlled by DEAT.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – That’s great! I’m such a visual person. I just make DEAT some dude that’s so gross and a jerk. So whenever you say, “Spending time at night with DEAT” I totally picture it like opening the door, and showing him out, and shutting the door. And being like, “Nope, I’m good here. I don’t need you in here.”
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes! Yeah, those kind of visual things can stick with people even in the moment where maybe they’re hesitating whether or not to shove DEAT out the door. If they’ve already kind of visualized that, it oftentimes makes it easier to do it again. Or do it in real life.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yeah! Wow, that’s great. And I’m such a visual person. I’m totally going to picture this now.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – And some people come up with their own names for it. And that’s what I always encourage, because it’s closest to their individual experience of what they’re dealing with. For some people it’s male, for some people it’s female. For some people it’s gender neutral. So it’s also a creative exercise that can be used even then you can have them draw and represent their relationship with DEAT. So you can even pull some creative aspect into the creation as well.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yeah. I do a lot of reading about the love attraction and you talk about the things that you want to have in your life, the things that you want to focus on and so I’ve tried to help my clients reframe what they don’t want in their food world to what they do want. So that’s like where I saying if you go to an event or something like that, I would rather have somebody say, “I just choose to have this, this, and this” versus going “I don’t want to overeat. I don’t want to do this.” So it’s kind of the same thing with what you’re saying — to build their new storyline.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. I use the same idea with my clients, it’s kind of like if you’re riding a bike, you look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. Because you’re going to hit whatever you don’t want to go. (undiscernible words) I’ve experienced that myself riding on the greenway right in the middle of those pylons. I have to always tell myself, look in the middle of them, don’t look at them.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – It’s so true! It’s so true. So what are some other techniques that you like to use, or just different tips that somebody can just take away and start to improve their life right now.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. Well I think, starting with the externalizing and really filling that in and even writing about it, journaling about it, drawing a picture about it can be helpful. A good starting place. And then from there they can, in their head, start to utilize that so if they hear that they shouldn’t go out to eat then they can question that and be like “Okay, do I not want to go out to eat? Or does DEAT not want me to go out to eat?” So then they start focusing on what they want. And that’s really the heart of the matter, for me, is helping them figure out what they want to do. You know, lots of people leave behind passions and hobbies and people, frankly, in choosing to be with DEAT. And so if you kind of fill up, decide what you want, get back in touch with things maybe you used to do before DEAT showed up in your life, that really goes a long way to pushing deep, further and further to the outskirts of your life.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – And it’s such a fine line to walk. It’s a challenge between — like I said. I was a competitive fitness athlete. That was my passion. And I learned so many great things about it. I absolutely loved it, I really did. But there were a lot of sacrifices I had to make. And I was willing to make those, and even going back, there are only certain things that I’d do now. But I’m okay with that. I’m totally good with that, because I feel like my health has improved because I gave up certain behaviors. I feel like the listener, you’re probably like, “Okay, well, is my hobby or my goal, is it healthy? Or is it too much?” That kind of thing. I think taking that perspective of what have I given up, and was I okay with giving it up? I was totally okay with giving up my binge drinking and overeating. Totally. Cause that wasn’t serving me anyway. So for me to give that up, I was fine with that. But there were certain things like certain events that I really didn’t feel like going to, because I knew I’d have to be around the food and I would have to resist it. And I just didn’t want to, so I missed out on the experience.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. And I think there’s even balance within that. Certainly whenever we go after something we want, there’s gonna have to be sacrifices made. It is tricky figuring out well when have those sacrifices gone too far? And that’s part of constantly checking in with yourself. I can’t tell anyone if it’s gone too far. Even if I know it has, they have to figure it out for themselves. And that’s what I can do is help them check in with themselves and be like, “You know, it’s okay that I didn’t go to this party where I knew there was gonna be this buffet. But I also didn’t go to dinner with my girlfriends and then I also didn’t do this, and I also didn’t do this.” And so as you kind of string those things together you can see to kind of notice the impact that it might be having on someone. That’s where I kind of point people back to themselves entrusting themselves, which is really scary and a really important part of what we’re covering.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – That’s huge. That’s what so much of it comes down to, for me. I have a program where I offer 12 week training where they’re part of a group and it’s small group coaching and that’s how I do that. But I also offer one-to-one coaching if someone wants one-to-one. One of the questions I ask on the application, because there is an application process, I won’t work with every single person, because if you want me to solve abuse we’re not going to work together. But sometimes what I’ll see is the client applying has been to, Like I ask “Have you tried other diets and other programs?” and sometimes they’ve tried like every other one. And so I have to take that into consideration. So I’m like, “Do you not trust yourself?” and some people just haven’t found what works for them. And other people, they haven’t found anything, they don’t trust themselves, so they always have to have someone telling them exactly what to do. My goal with my clients to help them create this life that they don’t absolutely have to have me. I mean I’m not looking for job security here. You know? Sure, pay me to do the coaching piece but I don’t want somebody walking around with a piece of paper that’s like, “Well Stephanie said that I could eat this and I could not eat that, and I have to eat this much of this.” That’s not how I operate. Because that’s not how I would want to live. It’s not living.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – And the same thing happens with therapy. Working ourselves out of a job, hopefully, to where they don’t need to come in as often and eventually ever. And the same with nutritionists. So there’s a time having people in your life who are helping you know what to do and who are guiding you, but at the same time not taking control away from you if you’re an adult. It’s kind of like you want to find those people who can help you figure out what is best for you.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – So we’re going to take one more really quick break and we’ll be right back.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – Welcome back to the Stop Chasing Skinny radio show. Tonight we’re talking about disordered eating, something I think is very prevalent, and some of it can be the main program that people are signing up for. Do this, and don’t do that. It’s a little too restrictive and like I said I was prior military and I really like being hard core but being too hard core with our food can cause a lot of problems. So now I want to talk about comparisons. Social media. And just media in the dieting industry in general. Because we are bombarded by images every day. We are bombarded by the diet industry saying “You can get these results in this short amount of time. Here are some pictures.” Being in the industry it’s amazing to me. I see “transformations” happen and I know the behind-the-scenes on some of these where “Oh this product is great.” and I’m like “No you’re taking drugs. I know you are.” So there’s that. But it’s hard to sift through that stuff. And even on a subconscious level even in the forefront of our minds we’re like “Well THAT doesn’t make sense” but evolutionarily what we have been able to look at and what we put in our brain as real, like, that happens. Whether we’re on guard or not, it still happens. So I want to talk a little about realistic expectations. When somebody is setting a goal — because you have to goals, if you don’t have goals you’re not gonna go anywhere, and numbers are measurable — so what kind of advice would you give to somebody on setting goals. Especially since we get all of these random messages for us all the time.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Well, it’s important to, with those messages, to really look at them critically. There’s this whole media literacy aspect, to …
[STEPHANIE KEENAN] – Oh I love that.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – …to body image. And being able to really discern, “Well what is this product saying? What are they trying to sell here? What are they using to sell it? Is it realistic?” And so that way you can kind of questioning, “Okay, is that the goal I want?” So this product or this person is putting out “This is where you can get to.” And so you come up with that as “Well this is my goal.” But then if you find out that it wasn’t realistic, that you actually can’t get there without drugs or some photoshop or something else, then you might change your goal a little bit. So even before the goal setting I would kind of encourage people to think critically about their goals and make sure that they are realistic. And that they aren’t based on a lie that’s being fed to them by the media.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yeah. That’s good. I like that, the media literacy. It’s great. And from my background just playing with the camera, I learned this from my grandfather. He taught me how to make the fish bigger. We went fishing and I caught a fish and I said “Will you take a picture of me, grandpa?” and he goes, “Yeah, do you wanna make it look really big?” And I said “YEAH!” And he goes “Hold it really close to the camera.” Anything that is closest to the camera is going to look really big. The things that are behind, further away from the camera are gonna look not so big. So guess what, I can make it look like my thighs don’t touch. Like they are the smallest things ever. My thighs will always touch. That’s just from a camera angle. But the angle really high above me, my shoulders and my chest and everything can look really big, and then I can make my hips look really narrow and my thighs look really small. So just understanding that there are tricks in this stuff. I do have people who will show me a picture of their goal and I’m like, “Look, I can look at that from my standpoint and say that — well, there are a lot of times when I can’t tell if somebody’s been using drugs or not, not always but — from my years in my industry I can tell. Or I can tell some of the photoshopping that’s been done. The camera angles. A lot of my images that are out there, one photographer in particular likes to really make my skin very smooth, but outside of that, there’s not photoshopping to make me leaner or anything. But I like to use a lot of images that just use lighting and they don’t use photoshop. They’re pretty much unedited. But you can bet that I’m using tanner. I’m using angles. And I’m using lighting. And I probably prepped for that photoshoot, meaning that I went on something pretty restrictive for at least a couple days if not a couple weeks prior to it. So walking around like that is not…
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – … is not feasible.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – – Yeah.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – You know I meet people all the time in my work and especially young girls who I wish they could have that perspective. Someone who’s been there who can say to them, “That’s not real.” And I think more and more with some of the upworthy sites and sites where they debunk the different photoshopping type things and they put out that target ad where the thigh gap was like a rectangle, she looked like a Barbie doll, like it was so cut out like a rectangular up into her buttocks. But stuff like that does get put out there. If you’re looking for it. But having someone who can say “Hey I’ve been there. This picture right here” and tell them exactly everything that went into it, I think would go a long way to helping these young girls especially know that this isn’t what a real person looks like 24/7.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – That it was one instant with all these variables.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah, there are a lot of variables. I did put a blog post about what I looked like five week prior to a competition one time and it was just me and, you know, I’m a fit girl, but it was a big difference between that fit girl and then five weeks later the competition. I also put together some of the things that I had to go through to get to that and I was okay with that at the time, but you know, my sleep was interrupted because I wasn’t having enough carbohydrates. I was fuzzy thinking. It took me three times as long to do anything. I was moody. And that’s no way to live, really. You have a short term goal, maybe you want to do something, but even more importantly is coming out of that in the right way. So you’re not just like, “Oh yeah, party it up!” So yeah, and listeners, follow me on social media because I do share that stuff a lot. I try to, you know. Because young girls, you’re impressionable. I was. It’s so funny, I look at the old pictures of the competitors that I used to totally idolize and now, knowing what I know, it’s like “You guys were on drugs! Never gonna look like that!’
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – And if you had known that then, when you were younger, maybe you would have been easier on yourself or something.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Absolutely
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – It may have impacted, you still may have done the fitness competition but maybe internally you would have been a little gentler with yourself.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – You’re absolutely right. And one of the big things for me – so anybody who’s interested in this fitness competition thing – I remember during competition season you only see your team at the competitions. And then outside of that, you don’t really see each other. Well, unless you go to fitness camp in the middle of winter. So I remember I was going to fitness camp in the middle of winter and I was so nervous because it’s like, “She’s gonna hate me. She told me to gain 5-7 pounds and I gained like, 15 or 17. And oh my gosh, she’s gonna hate me.” And I remember we were talking about off season, and she goes, “Stephanie will you please stand up and pick your shirt up.” And I was like, “Oh my god. And she’s gonna do it in front of everyone!” And I raised my shirt up and I was almost in tears and she goes, “See, this is what an off season body should look like. ” And I was like, “I did it right?” Cause what she was trying to say is, even the fitness coaches, you cannot stay lean all year round. And it was such a relief for me. And all the other girls said the same thing. It was so great. I showed up at fitness camp and realized that everybody puts a little extra weight on. And it’s just healthy weight. That’s it. So even fitness models don’t walk around with six pack abs, typically. Very few.
I want to talk a little, too, about some of the emotional things that we’ve put together with food. Do you find that that’s a big problem, like “Good foods, “Bad Foods?”
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah, that sort of moral judgement on it because people tend to then internalize it. So if they ate good food, they’re a good person, and if they ate bad food, they’re a bad person. When really it’s more helpful to look at food as healthy or not healthy. And how it’s functional for a particular purpose. Instead of these moral labels. But we come by that honestly, because back to the media literacy thing, if you look at commercials about food, you get spiritual connotations, you get sexual connotations, so it can be this simple delight or it can be this amazing spiritual experience. So there, even in that marketing and branding, you have “It’s good food, it’s bad food.”
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Wow and that is on a much deeper level.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – I didn’t think about that. So we take them in subconsciously and we are processing that, real good.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes! So even just changing the language makes you at least think about it. So if you start to say, “This is really bad for me” and instead say “This is unhealthy for me” even just that change in language gives you enough pause to think about how you’re internalizing it yourself.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – I try to think about it in a way that — because I always see my body as trying to build something. Because I’ve found that once I shifted my thinking from the blasting fat and the burn it off and all that stuff like that tearing it down perspective and beating it into submission — to changing it to “I am building the strongest body I can.” I want to give it those building blocks. I want that protein to build strong muscles. I want that fat to make me have some nice shiny hair and skin. I mean nothing greasy but you have to have fats. You know it makes your brain function better. So that’s kind of how I try to change the thinking around food. Because I do pay attention to if it’s “good or bad.” But I wouldn’t want to give myself garbage that’s not good fuel.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Right. And I think that that metaphor is great. In that perspective on doing something positive instead of the tearing it down. Then that can even help people who don’t want to have fat, but they can recognize the function of it. This goal that they have. This bigger, overarching goal of building a strong body.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – And I once read something too about “athletes fuel and train.” I can’t remember who they said. Diet and exercise. I can’t remember who they said diets and exercises, but athletes fuel and train. I mean aren’t we all kind of athletes, we’re trying to build strong bodies. You don’t want to have to go do a Spartan race like I do. Life is an event.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. And I think even just those small tweaks in the wording really does make a difference for people. It makes them think about it differently. Well, food IS fuel. I do need food. And how can I use this fuel most efficiently in my life.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – To build that good life. To have good energy. I think that a lot of times — I don’t know if you find this — but some people are lacking energy in all of their lives. They don’t really make that connection that it’s because they’ve been depriving themselves so much good food. So you do need fuel.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes. And a lot of times there isn’t that connection. And there’s not that connection because they’re so hyper focused on what they’re not eating, as opposed to what they are eating and what they want to eat to build a body. So they’re really hyper focused on what they’re not eating.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – What can I cut out.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – What can I cut out. And then just cognitively once you aren’t getting enough nutrition, then you’re not thinking clearly anyway. So it’s much easier to stay in that trap of well, but I’m this size and I’m this weight and I can run this far and so I’m on the right track.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – I must be healthy!
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah, must be healthy. But cognitively even the people in their lives can start to notice that they can’t focus as well. They forget things. They’re sluggish. They can see the ramifications of not getting enough of the nutrition.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah, that’s really tough, once you get into that, I think it’s kind of hard to see it from the outside. So we’re going to take one more really quick break, and we will be back.
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Welcome back to the Stop Chasing Skinny radio show where today we are talking about disordered eating. This is something super near and dear to my heart. I went through it for a very long time. I called it “fitness.” Cause it’s easy to say “Oh no, I’m just working towards a goal.” So at what point does your goal start to impact your life? A lot of people have heard my story with my adrenal failure and a lot of people didn’t, and I have more to add to it. So real quick. I spent a ton of time running. I love to binge eat. So I would run, I would calculate how many miles I have to run to get rid of all that food that I just ate. Which was terrible. It was NOT a good way to live. I never reached my goals. I had to spend a ton of time running and it really beat down my body. And like I said, I never reached my goals. I never looked the way I wanted to look. So after several years of doing this, I moved to Seattle where it was rainy all the time, and, well, I didn’t like running in the rain so I had to find something different. So I picked up Oxygen magazine. Started looking at how to live weights better. Okay, so that’s what I started doing. In there, I saw that there were these fitness competitions. I thought, “That sounds really cool.” And it was also at a time in my life where I was lacking in my life big time. So found a coach, I started training for these fitness competitions. Actually the nutritionist I was working with at the time really wasn’t paying attention to me and my check-in pictures, and dieted me into oblivion. Right now I’m 5’9, 156 -158lbs. I competed at 118lbs. So that was really, really lean. I didn’t realize that it was a problem at the time because I am like a pitbull. If I latch onto something, I will do it. Plus I had somebody who was telling me to do it. So I was like, “She’s the professional. I should be doing this.” So, talk about some problems in my life. I had really bad problems focusing. I was tired all the time. My skin was getting really gross. My hair was not good. I didn’t have my period for 4 whole years. I did this first season of competition is when this happened. Right after that, I all of a sudden, I could not stop eating. I had night sweats, I slept all the time. I was super depressed. I gained 50lbs. I was in full-on adrenal failure. That’s what I was. So I had, at that time, kind of did it to myself. I kind of hired somebody to help me get there. I wish they would have said, “You know maybe this… “
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – “… a little too far.”
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Definitely too far. My coworkers told me I was going too far. They were afraid that my organs were gonna shut down. The one time when my thighs did not touch. So I think that in my path, I think that it was all meant for a reason. I finally felt what it felt like to be really skinny. My size twos were too loose for me. That’s ridiculous. But I think I had to go there to get here. So let’s talk about that for a second, as far as how I took a goal and I took it too far. And I had the backing of a professional to help me. I just hope that people learn from that story. You don’t have to answer anything on that. But do you find that happening sometimes? Do you find that us super overachievers like to take everything to the … end?
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – One of the things that I often hear, especially if I’m seeing adolescent girls. It’s kind of like this refrain from their parents: “She’s such a good girl. She gets such good grades. She’s such a high achiever. We don’t know what happened.” And there’s this thing that I hear over and over again. I think those girls — and men who also fit into the same place — they are at risk for really anything that they try to set their minds to, to taking it too far. And so that becomes food and weight and counting calories and counting how much they’re burning with exercise. Then they’re set at risk to take it too far. And then let’s say you throw in an identity piece. So it sounds like in Seattle, it was new, lots of times moving and big transitions like that can mess with our identity and our place in the world and who we are. Just like adolescent girls. They’re going through a huge identity crisis and that’s a lot of times when people develop an eating disorder. But it can happen at any time. So a mom whose last kid leaves the house to go college. She’s not a mom anymore. Who is she?
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – See, I would never think about that time frame. So what are some other examples? This is great. If I would have had a little heads up, ____?______
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – So more of the identity piece. I’ve had girls who have gotten pretty far in their recovery in high school, even. And then they go off to college. So college is another big time, developmentally, where you’re going through identity stuff. You’re trying to figure out who you are, separate from your parents. You’re trying to figure out what your belief system is. You’re making new friends. You’re going from a high school where you’ve known everyone to this big college where you only know your roommate, who, maybe, you don’t really like that much. Those kinds of identity shifts. It can even be as simple as “I’m gonna be a healthy person now.” I’m gonna shift from an unhealthy person. I’m gonna be vegetarian. Now I’m a vegetarian.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – I was a vegetarian. For ten years. I did that.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah! And then, Okay I’m gonna be vegan now. Not that I’m saying that people who have that label are struggling with disordered eating.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – It can very easily become that
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. Especially if they have those other risk factors of anxiety and high achieving and perfectionism. Those times of variables.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah, I read the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – I haven’t.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Totally ties into this. Totally. It’s so perfect, because it talks about how we wanna, it’s all these exact things.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – I’ll have to read it.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – It’s just perfect. It’s everything. So listeners, if you haven’t put that on your reading list, I’ve recommended it a couple times but it comes right back to this. And it talks about the things that we identify with. And it’s perfect. Sorry.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – No, no, that’s great, yeah.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – So these changes in life. So is it kind of a little bit of control, too? When you feel like you’re changing some other stuff and you don’t control in a lot of different things, so you start to control your food more?
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – That definitely happens. And I know we can take on a cliché because everyone has probably heard that at one time or another. But they’ve heard it one time or another because it is true. And I think for a lot of people, that piece of control, and that’s what — so we go back to DEAT. DEAT offers a way of controlling this one piece of your life. DEAT says do this, and don’t eat this, and eat this and exercise this much, and pretty soon instead of control of that one piece of your life, you’ve handed it over DEAT. And now DEAT’s in control of that one piece of your life that you thought you had control of.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – So now it makes it even harder, because you’re like, “I don’t have control of ANY of it.”
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes. So it’s very seductive, because it feels like initially you have control but then it can quickly slide out of control.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah, and I’ve seen that too. Just with somebody who’s working on their body as far as like, “Okay, so I’m working on this stronger, and that stronger, and I want this leaner and that leaner.” If you don’t watch it, sometimes it can be a slippery slope, and your body can control you instead of you controlling your body. And it’s interesting, just from what I do. A lot of people do make assumptions to that. Somebody who’s fit doesn’t have to worry about food. Have you heard that before, too? Like, Oh, it must be nice to just be naturally thin and fit. It must be? I don’t know, I’ll never know because I’ve done it my whole life.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Those sorts of comments and judgements that we make about other people cut both ways. They cut towards people who are overweight, they cut towards people who are a healthy weight, they cut toward people who are underweight. And it doesn’t do any of us a service to be judgmental about other people, but instead be accepting of them where they’re at. I think that starts with being accepting of ourselves and where we’re at. Even if you’re trying to meet a goal, you’re still accepting of who and where you’re at right now. And it’s almost paradoxical because how can I accept where I’m at right now if I’m trying to move forward to this other goal? So there’s some tension there. But I think as you can do that, then you can be more accepting of other people as well.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah. There’s, I can’t remember there was something else that I read, how people make judgements against somebody else for the things that they are not secure with.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yes.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – People will say, “Oh Stephanie, don’t look at what I’m eating. Don’t watch me work out.” And I didn’t even notice. Unless you’re paying me to notice, I didn’t notice. I’m just doing my own thing. I really don’t care.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah!
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – I’m just busy with my own thing. Something else that helped me too, in changing my thought process. So after I gained this 50lbs, so I was about 118lb, gained fifty which put me about 168 which is only about 10 over where I am now. So I just had to buy a little bit bigger clothes. One, I told myself I’m not going to let my clothes make me feel fat. I’m not going to wear something that’s too tight. I’m going to put something on that fit. And then the next step, too, was I got a new job. And I actually ended up working with a government agency where they had made a lot of accommodations for people who had disabilities. So I worked with a couple people who were blind, deaf. One had MS so bad that she had to wear braces so her hands wouldn’t crumple, like she was in so much pain. Another guy that was only maybe 3 feet tall, it took him forever to get to work every day. He was in physical pain, he was legally blind. And you know what, they got up and they did it every day. So during this time all I could think of was, Well, I really gotta stop feeling sorry for myself for not being able to fit into my small clothes over there. It’s really no big deal, I have full function of my body. And that’s where my tag line, “Life begins when you stop chasing skinny” — if you can really appreciate what you have going on, it’s a lot easier to appreciate that you have a better life than to focus on I don’t have. I don’t have six pack abs. I don’t have whatever it is.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – And I think that that can help with that perspective shift. And some people I know can also use that as a weapon against themselves. Because they get it, and they’re like, “Aren’t I the jerk, here I am beating myself up because I can’t get into my size two clothes anymore, and this person can’t even see. Wow I really am worthless.” So then DEAT uses that as ammunition against themselves to even make themselves feel worse. So it’s an important perspective to have on life, to be grateful where you’re at and to recognize that not everyone is given the same lot in life. And then to stop there and not take it that extra place of beating yourself up for feeling differently. That’s where you’re at right now.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – That’s really good. And thank you for doing what you do. This is one of those things, it’s so not cut and dry. It is so hard to treat. I actually met a psychiatrist when I lived in Costa Rica, she was vacationing there, and we were talking about what she did for work, and she said that she prefers to, so she doesn’t specialize in this, but she prefers to stay away from eating disorders, because it is so messy and so difficult. So thank you for doing that.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. Well, thanks. And I really enjoy it. And it can be messy and difficult at times, and to end on a happier note, there’s really a lot of hope in it as well. People really do make progress. People who have disordered eating make their way a more balanced life. People who have full-fledged eating disorders make their way into recovery. And often times it’s those people, like yourself, who are wanting to then, help other people.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah because we’ve been there!
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah you know how terrible it is. So it’s really, for me, I get a lot of enjoyment and feel privileged when I can work with a client and see that progress and see them move forward into having a more balanced and joyous and fulfilled life. So that for me is a real privilege, and makes some of the messier parts worth it.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – OH yeah I’ve had a couple clients that have been the biggest challenges for me. But when I finally see them make that progress, they get to the other side of it. It’s a really big pay day. Oh my gosh, yes.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – This is why I do this. It’s that affirmation.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Well, thank you. Share just a little bit about how we can contact you. I will put all your information in the show notes, too. So they can come find you. So you have a website.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yep. DrJillTherapy.com. And I’m actually about to launch a new website. It’ll be the same website address but I’m super excited about that.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – That’s exciting.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – So hopefully in the next week or two that will be up. And then you can email me at email@example.com. I can get emails that way. There’s also contact forms on my website. If you just click on that, it’ll shoot me an email as well.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – And you’re located right here in Charleston, which a lot of our listeners are here. That my program goes, actually, internationally. So you can do skype consultations and things like that, as well?
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – I can. I prefer to meet with people first, face to face. But certainly, we could at least sort of have a conversation and help point them in the right direction if they need to get help locally, where they’re at.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Yeah, cause I’ve found — I have a friend who was talking about addiction and alcoholism and drinking and she put her contact information out. Cause some people don’t really know what their problem is. Or do you have a problem. Can I just talk to someone real quick? And let me know before I go in? So do I have a problem? So you have a contact form for that.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah. And people can definitely contact me about that, and I can sort of push them in the right direction if they’re not local. Or if they need something a little bit different.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – That’s great, I like to do that. Like I said, I feel like I’m the first line of defense. When somebody goes, “Okay, I need to lose weight.” And sometimes, yes, they just need a workout program and they need some guidance on nutrition and support. But sometimes they need a functional medicine doctor. Sometimes they need to get help with disordered eating, something like that. So it’s great to have that network.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – It is.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Thank you so much.
[DR. JILL ILAGAN] – Yeah! Thank you for having me, this has been fun. I’ve enjoyed it.
[STEPHANIE KEENAN ] – Great! And thanks for listening to the Stop Chasing Skinny radio program. If you ever have any questions that you want to ask, or topics you want me to cover, or guests that you think would be great for the show, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we look forward to talking to you next week.