To be frank, if someone could just so easily “control themselves”, or “get over it” or “just eat” or “just stop eating so much” or “just be happy” or “just be normal”…they would. It’s. Not. That. Simple. There needs to be increased education and awareness about mental health — about eating disorders specifically — in order to decrease shame and stigmatization and allow for early intervention. There needs to be increased funding and services to support those suffering (and to support their loved ones) over the long term because most services are limited in access, affordability, and comprehensive care. There needs to be more attention paid towards eradicating diet culture and fatphobia and instead of supporting the diversification of all bodies, of all people. There needs to be more acknowledgment of, more empathy for, those who are suffering in order to make change happen.
As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyla Fox. Kyla has established herself as a visionary and innovator, when it comes to re-framing the way Canadians think about and treat, eating disorders. As someone who struggled herself with an eating disorder, Fox identified care gaps and fundamental flaws in the treatment and recovery approach. Kyla is a Master’s level clinician with degrees from both the University of Toronto in the Master’s of Social Work program as well as an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Women’s Studies. Kyla is a member of the Ontario Association of Social Workers and is registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. She is also a member of the Academy of Eating Disorders and the National Eating Disorders Association. With such deep and varied experience in the field, Kyla is regularly called on by Canada’s top media outlets as a special commentator on a broad list of topics, including eating disorders, self-esteem, women’s health, body image, pregnancy and body confidence and more. Kyla and The Kyla Fox Centre were recently highlighted on Gwyneth Paltrow’s highly acclaimed lifestyle website Goop. She was recently selected as a spokesperson for Uniqlo Canada. For more information please visitwww.kylafoxcentre.com.
Thank you so much for joining us Kyla. Are you able to tell our readers the story of how you struggled with an eating disorder?
I feel most of my life I dabbled in disordered eating practises and had a great distaste for my body. But the focus on my body was merely an articulation of real, deep insecurities, very low self-concept, trauma, fear, and overwhelming feelings of being peripheral. The acute eating disorder came to a head in my late teens through my early twenties and showed itself in the form of restriction and over-exercise. I had no intention of wanting to hurt myself or of getting to the level of danger I did, but the eating disorder gave me comfort (strangely) and a sense of control (albeit an illusion,) both of which I was desperately seeking.
What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?
I had many moments that tested my mortality but one in particular while I was with my mother. It was this moment, in the face of my body shutting down (limbs going numb, hearing blocking out, blurry vision, excruciating chest pain) that I saw the paralyzing fear in my mother’s eyes. I realized in this moment, seeing this fear in my mom, that this eating disorder was bigger than just me and that I had to do something about it — something for her if I couldn’t yet find it for myself.
And how are things going for you today?
I’m an eating disorder therapist and founder of The Kyla Fox Centre — the first of its kind private eating disorder recovery centre in Toronto. I’ve been well now for more than 20 years and I’m devoted to working with those who deserve to live the same truth.
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?
Yes! First off, if someone you love has an eating disorder, you do too. Though you may not have the active food and body symptoms, you are on the emotional roller coaster that they are on (in your own way). So you need support too! Some of the most successful recovery stories come from those that have loved ones in the trenches with them because everyone needs to change, not just the person directly affected by the eating disorder.
So my vote is that family-based therapy and/or couples therapy is a key part of the work to reach new levels in recovery. This will lay the foundation for some critical pieces that will change the presence of the ED in all your lives.
a) learning to get honest and transparent. Most people “tiptoe” around those with eating disorders in order to “not set them off”. This is actually just supporting the eating disorder not a person’s recovery.
b) recognizing that you’re suffering too and getting help for it. This is leading by example.
c) if you are the mother to the person with the eating disorder, you cannot also be the therapist, nutritionist, police officer, detective. You just need to focus on being the mother (that’s your best work/role in this process). Rely on those professionals to do their best work in the areas you are not as equipped (despite it perhaps being your actual profession, you are too emotionally involved to lead in any other way with your loved one).
d) Learn. Get educated. Understand what exactly eating disorders are and stop talking about food and weight.
e) take time for yourself. The struggle of an eating disorder and the journey of recovery is long — very long. There’s no quick fix. You’ll need to carve out space to maintain your own sense of self as this can swallow you.
Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?
You can get well. Fully well. You can be free with food and your body. Fully free. You can live without an eating disorder. Fully recover. I often heard otherwise, “you’ll have this forever”, “you’ll never really get over it”…NOT TRUE!
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?
I don’t think it’s recent, I think it’s always been. I just think we’re talking about it more — still not enough (or in the right ways always) — but more now.
a) We live in a world appropriated by diet culture whose messaging directly supports eating disorder behaviours.
b) We also live in a world that is fatphobic, where thin privilege reins, which denies space for body diversification and creates an appearance-based hierarchy.
c) Mental health is rampant culturally and there are not enough services available to support people in need. This often leads to so many to go unnoticed in their suffering, underserved in the quality of their care, which ultimately leads to escalated harm and comorbidity.
Based on your insight, what concrete steps can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities, and d) leaders do to address the core issues that are leading to this problem?
There are definitely a lot of takeaways for individuals and communities as you can tell from even this interview! Specifically, mental health in corporations should be a company’s ongoing focus — none of this one-hour-per-quarter ‘lunch ‘n learn’ — this does not make any impact whatsoever. A big part of the work I do is going into companies regularly (weekly, monthly) and working with employees and C-level executives to facilitate honest conversations around food, body, and mental health at work. Leaders should promote such initiatives and changes in the workplace, also allowing individuals to be more open about their struggles as they feel they’re in a secure enough environment to discuss such issues.
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?
This is, sadly, an overarching sentiment in response to those affected by most mental health issues. To be frank, if someone could just so easily “control themselves”, or “get over it” or “just eat” or “just stop eating so much” or “just be happy” or “just be normal”…they would. It’s. Not. That. Simple. There needs to be increased education and awareness about mental health — about eating disorders specifically — in order to decrease shame and stigmatization and allow for early intervention. There needs to be increased funding and services to support those suffering (and to support their loved ones) over the long term because most services are limited in access, affordability, and comprehensive care. There needs to be more attention paid towards eradicating diet culture and fatphobia and instead of supporting the diversification of all bodies, of all people. There needs to be more acknowledgment of, more empathy for, those who are suffering in order to make change happen.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?
I am inspired by incredible women. Women who make waves. Women who have strong voices. Women who take up space. Women who open up space. Women who persevere. Women who take risks. Women who are authentic. Women raising and empowering the next generation. Glennon Doyle, Michelle Obama, Jameela Jamil, Brene Brown, Ashley Graham, Jessamyn Stanley, Sarah Landry (The Birds Papaya) are just a few popular favorites of mine; and my grandmother and my mom are my personal heroes.
For me, when I was suffering, I didn’t often seek out eating disorder-specific resources because the struggle is so unique for each individual. I found hearing other stories or the “how-to’s” of getting well didn’t always resonate with me and could often be triggering, even competitive. I was always more interested in what was beyond the eating disorder. What/who inspired me. What did I want “living” to really look like? Who did I want to be like? How could I get there? What did I believe in? What did I like? Who am I? How could I take up space, just like me?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know if I have a favorite quote, per se, but I live by, “live fully, love honestly.” It’s kind of been my personal mantra. There’s such a strong correlation, I feel, between living a full life and living an honest life. And when I say “full”, it’s intentional, it’s beyond the fullness in your belly, it’s about learning how to feel full in your heart — really addressing and facing any emptiness emotionally so that you don’t have to fill it through food and the body. Living honestly and with integrity, speaking your truth, being in line with your moral code, being gracious and generous, being so very kind…these are all the things that I work to live by.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am! I just finished shooting a documentary about athletes and eating disorders that will be airing on TSN. I (along with my partner) will be the featured couple in the conversation for Bad Girls Book Club with author Eve Rodksy about her debut book ‘Fair Play’. I will be on the podcast, ‘The Fill Your Cup Podcast’ with the talented host, Rachel Molenda. I’m also endlessly focused on reshaping eating disorder treatment at The Kyla Fox Centre. Especially now given COVID, we launched a fully virtual comprehensive recovery program, offering all our services online. This has meant that we can now serve those from all over the world. So it has broadened our access to provide care, which is a chip in breaking down some very big barriers for those who suffer.
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’m deeply passionate about changing the trajectory of how the future generations of girls feel about their bodies. Having two daughters myself, I am even more personally connected to this mission. I’m really interested in the ways that different cultures raise their daughters, specifically the diversification of messaging around food and bodies. I would love to illuminate these conversations, these practises, to bring them into the mainstream; for mothers from all over to share and educate — with their daughters — about these personal and cultural truths. I think there are so many beautiful, meaningful, and unique ways we can come together and share in the love, the mothering, the teaching, that we provide for the next generation. As a mother, as a woman, this deeply matters to me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can find me on social media at @KylaFoxRecovery on Instagram, and/or @KylaFoxCentre on Twitter and Facebook.