Corporations can donate to eating disorder organizations such as NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association). Food corporations can also stop using diet language that is often used in their marketing. Things like ‘guilt-free ice cream’ or ‘low-calorie cookies’ again are only fueling the fire.
As a part of my interview series with public figures who struggled with and coped with an eating disorder, I had the pleasure to interview Lauren Sharpe. Lauren is a Registered Dietitian who holds a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at New York-Presbyterian hospital. Lauren is passionate about helping women create their healthiest relationship with food and taking the guilt out of eating. She is also a fan of all things food, mostly warm fresh bagels and gooey lava cakes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Hi! I am a Registered Dietitian and the owner and founder of Lauren Sharpe Nutrition where we help women finally eat pizza without a side of guilt (amongst many other foods). Within my practice, we focus on your relationship with food and the restrict-binge cycle. I believe that it is so important to take the stress out of eating so that we can find joy in other areas of our lives without counting, tracking, or micromanaging our food.
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I personally understand how hard this is. Are you able to tell our readers the story of how you struggled with an eating disorder?
Where do I even begin… In college, I experienced severe crippling anxiety. I would lie awake at night, sometimes until 6 am. At the time, I was already a dietetics major and wanted to learn more about ‘wellness’ as a means to potentially help curb my anxious thoughts. Little did I know what a slippery slope wellness could be. I began a workout routine that had designated workouts for each day of the week; I cut out sugar along with most processed foods and became obsessed. I wouldn’t eat anything with added sugar, whether it was a piece of candy or it was a bagel that could have used sugar to activate the yeast. The part I struggled with most was that I wasn’t restricting calories or purging, I was simply ‘just being healthy’; it just felt normal. It was very difficult for me to see that it was becoming a problem because of the nature of the issue. It is so important to know that an obsession with ‘clean eating’ can be just as harmful as severe calorie restriction or purging.
What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?
I remember spending an hour trying to make bread out of cauliflower. I had gotten it in the oven and a wave of dizziness came over me. I felt so out of control and anxious and had an instant panic attack. I immediately called my mom and the first thing she said to me was, “Maybe this no sugar thing is a bit overwhelming?” At the time, I didn’t even realize there was anything wrong with it until she said something, and then everything clicked. Controlling my food was actually causing me MORE anxiety.
And how are things going for you today?
Amazing!!! I am so happy to finally be able to embrace my inner foodie without feeling the need to restrict certain foods or feel out of control around foods I love. Even better, I get to teach other women how to do the same. Since healing my relationship with food, I am much more lively, fun, present, and genuinely happy — and I know it shows.
Based on your own experience are you able to share 5 things with our readers about how to support a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder? If you can, can you share an example from your own experience?
- Depending on the severity, a lot of times those struggling don’t even know that what they are doing is wrong. For me, all it took was for my mom to point it out. For others, it will take much more than that, but having a conversation with them is so important.
- Help them make that medical/professional appointment to get evaluated. This can be a big barrier for the person struggling. It is difficult to not only muster up the confidence to realize that they need to seek help, but also make the effort to find a place for evaluation and treatment. Executing the whole situation can be overwhelming and daunting.
- At the time when it was so normalized, I was a college girl and a nutrition major. I was praised for my ‘dedication’ and ‘willpower’; if you know someone struggling, it is so important to not praise them for this behavior. Compliment them on how happy they seem or even the color of their shirt, but please keep the comments about food or bodies to yourself.
- Have good distractions/conversations during meal time and plan small activities for after meals to reduce anxiety. During my clinical experience, I had the opportunity to have lunch with some of the women in inpatient treatment. We had an awesome conversation the whole time and the focus was taken off of the food. Almost all of them ate their entire plates that day and said it was one of their most pleasant meals in treatment!
- Be an example, eat ALL foods around them. The environment is such a huge piece of the disorder. If you are surrounded by others that are picking and prodding at their bodies, counting calories or over analyzing their food choices, it is very difficult to break the stigma. However, if they’re surrounded by people who aren’t preoccupied with food and eat all foods without judgment, that environment is much more conducive to recovery.
Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will get through this and the other side is full of life. There is so much more to life than the food you eat and the size of your body. Coming out on the other side is so freeing and to be able to share your struggles makes you feel so strong (because you are)! Know that this is just a roadblock and roadblocks mean that something huge and amazing is stirring up for you.
According to this study cited by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people in the U.S. of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder. Can you suggest 3–5 reasons why this has become such a critical issue recently?
In 2020, we saw a huge increase in eating disorders and relapsing eating disorders largely due to the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on. In the past years before 2020, I would attribute it to the increased exposure to social media. Social media is only becoming more prominent in our lives leading to more comparison traps and leaving many feeling less worthy and alone unfortunately. With all that said… we are also seeing an increase in the awareness around mental illness which includes eating disorders.
Based on your insight, what can concrete steps can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to address the core issues that are leading to this problem?
A — Individuals can start making a conscious effort to ditch the diet language. Comments like “I shouldn’t eat that” or “I have to workout because I ate so much or so ‘bad’ yesterday” are only fueling the fire of creating a poor relationship with food.
B — Corporations can donate to eating disorder organizations such as NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association). Food corporations can also stop using diet language that is often used in their marketing. Things like ‘guilt-free ice cream’ or ‘low calorie cookies’ again, are only fueling the fire.
C — Communities can host events (in non-covid times, or virtual(!!)) surrounding things like body positive fitness or promoting events that center around mindfulness. I struggled a lot with going to workout classes where instructors would say things like ‘push harder for those abs!’ when that shouldn’t be the reason you’re working out in the first place.
D — Leaders can also create/host events or bring speakers in to educate their peers on the matter. Educating that all foods can fit into a healthy diet is so important.
As you know, one of the challenges of an eating disorder is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just control yourself”. What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that an eating disorder is an illness just like heart disease or schizophrenia?
I think awareness is huge. It is so amazing how people are speaking out about their experiences while more therapists, dietitians, social workers, and other practitioners are specializing and spreading the word. I think we really need the media to continue to pick up on this and for large corporations to shift away from only advertising with thin-abled bodies. A big source of disordered eating in the first place is the media and society forcing us to think that thinner is better. I have loved seeing companies advertising with different body shapes and sizes and I only hope that it will continue!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?
The Intuitive Eating book by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole is a game-changer. It’s almost as if you are ‘re-learning’ to eat. Learning to eat without rules and based on what your body is asking for is life changing. I also love Beyond Beautiful by Anuschka Rees because it addresses navigating body image in a looks-obsessed world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“This too shall pass”. I’ll never forget the day when I was texting my parents and they told me this. Things clicked again, I realized this wouldn’t last forever, I knew that I was strong, I had the resilience and I would get through this. There were times where I really didn’t know if I had the strength to carry on but knowing that things would get better kept me going.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Always working on something new! At LSN, I have created the Empower Method that I have been using with 1:1 coaching clients and have refined and revised it many times. The Empower Method is now making its way to group coaching (The Empower Academy). In the Academy, I will be providing coaching, however this is not in place of medical treatment for an active eating disorder. It is so exciting to be able to create a community to help others feel less alone and create an amazing source for accountability and support.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the largest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to inspire a movement surrounding the idea that the size of your body does not tell your story. It is so frustrating to me that thin people are seen as fit and healthy and that they ‘take care of themselves where people who are in bigger bodies could do the same workouts, eat the same diet and have the same self-care routine. Our body size is so much more than our activity and what we eat.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!