Please stop policing others eating. Calmly mention you are concerned they’re relapsing if you notice continued behavior indicative of their disorder. Yelling at someone that they need to eat if they are a recovering anorexic or saying, “should you really eat that if you’re watching what you eat?” will ultimately make someone feel attacked and anxious.
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 Renee Cafaro. Reneeis the U.S. editor of SLiNK Magazine, a well-known plus-size fashion and lifestyle magazine. Renee has spoken on many expert panels and has been featured in various outlets including, InStyle, Glamour, and Elite Daily as an expert. Her goal is to inspire all women to truly love themselves no matter if they’re a size 0 or a size 40. Renee believes every woman should have the opportunity to reach their full potential no matter what goal they’re trying to reach. As an editor, Renee has worked with closely with celebrity designers and models including Christian Siriano, who are empowering the plus-size community. Renee originally started her career in politics but decided to change course when she was given the opportunity to be a contributor to a podcast targeted at empowering young women. This led Renee to realize that she wanted to work in the fashion industry, not only because she had a passion for it, but also because she knew it lacked diversity and size inclusivity. Renee aims to show women that they don’t need to fit a mold to be in a certain industry and often shares her stories of her body dysmorphia at a young age, in hope to help young women who might be struggling with it now.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
I am the U.S. editor of SLiNK Magazine as well as a freelance writer, body positivity advocate, and philanthropist. SLiNK Magazine is the premiere print magazine for plus size fashion and body positivity. I left a 12-year career in progressive politics and government to pursue my passion for writing and creating change in mainstream media for women of all sizes.
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?
First, I’d like to say that talking about this is new for me, not because I didn’t have the strength to until now, but rather that I didn’t fully acknowledge that I had an eating disorder until years after I had moved on. I was so brainwashed by a society that emulated skinniness that dieting seemed not only expected of me but “healthy,” no matter how extreme. I was a chubby kid but not what I think would have been considered morbidly obese. However, I took my first over the counter (OTC) diet pill before puberty, around the same time I had my first experience passing out from a starvation diet.
This dangerous lifestyle of diet pills plus yo-yo dieting and extreme fad diets was my reality until I was 18. I was rewarded and felt enormous self-worth when I could report consuming less than 500 or 250 calories in a day and weight loss down to the decimal point. No matter how much I restricted myself, took “fat burners,” Phen-Fen, sweat with body wraps and worked out, I never got smaller than a size 8. I was still seen as obese on the BMI scale for my height, so no one deterred me from this or told me what I was doing was an eating disorder. I didn’t know until after getting into the body positive realm and getting a therapist that technically, my behavior growing up wasn’t “just a girl dieting” but pretty textbook anorexia. I was anorexic, but I still looked fat, so everyone including doctors encouraged me to lose more weight. In retrospect, everyone around me forced me into a life of dangerous disordered eating, but I was always seen as a “lazy, pig who must be stuffing themselves” because of my appearance. I am here to say that restrictive eating disorders and diet pill addictions come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone can “get skinny,” and some nearly die trying.
What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?
My final straw was when after years of OTC and prescription diet pills, I couldn’t handle the heart palpitations anymore. I felt like an anxious-yet-comatose zombie every day I took them. However, I was still on this crusade to hit a goal society handed me, in hopes the fat-shaming and hatred would end. In the end, I realized I was nearly 18, and no one could force me to make myself sick anymore. This was a disorder that was imposed on me and did not come from within. I felt like my heart was going to explode, so one day I just quit. I ditched the diet pills, but I kept the restrictive, starvation diets and worked out. Despite that, I went from a size 8/10 to a 16/18 almost immediately because I had no metabolism.
And how are things going for you today?
Pretty well actually! I have opened up about my struggles with my followers on Instagram, and love being able to discuss body positivity and push my own boundaries of self-love. Last year, I hit a deep slump after seeing some of my body image heroes and fat bloggers lose drastic amounts of weight and after being fat-shamed/laughed at by a nurse taking my weight. I found myself not eating or even drinking water for days.
Suddenly, I was clicking on scam ads that hadn’t enticed me for a decade. It was so odd. I wasn’t thinking about it or choosing to do this. It was like I was possessed, subconsciously returning to my old habits. That’s when I truly realized that my disorder is real and I’m going to be in some form of recovery for life. I felt sad about myself at first, and then sad and angry about the followers of these plus-size influencers who were now commenting about how they wish they were that thin and asking diet tips. It was all too triggering. I unfollowed a lot of people I like as humans because their weight loss transformations were too triggering, and made me feel betrayed by the movement that was supposed to be about self-love at any size. After culling my social media and seeking talk therapy, I got through that rough patch, thankfully!
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?
● DO NOT engage in what is accepted in society as “casual conversation” regarding eating or weight, i.e., “You look great! Have you lost weight?”
● Please stop policing others eating. Calmly mention you are concerned they’re relapsing if you notice continued behavior indicative of their disorder. Yelling at someone that they need to eat if they are a recovering anorexic or saying, “should you really eat that if you’re watching what you eat?” will ultimately make someone feel attacked and anxious.
● Stop putting encoding morality onto eating. The holidays are always the hardest when everyone engages in the “holiday eating” rhetoric such as “being so bad” for eating another cookie or how they must pay penance after the holidays with a cleanse.
● Lead by example and show you are capable of self-love and body confidence. Having women close to me who are much thinner and yet continually griping about how “fat they are” or how they “need to lose X number of pounds before summer,” only reinforces this idea that one must be in constant pursuit of the smallest size or else fear being doomed to a life of exile and ugliness. If a size 6 is talking about how unacceptably huge they are, what is a size 18 me supposed to think about myself?
● Finally, and most importantly, your body and your journey are not theirs. Do not impose your diets, your beliefs or your quick fix ideas (i.e. “just stop doing X”) onto someone with a disorder. This is a disease and a learned compulsion so please do not be dismissive.
Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?
I understand why you feel compelled to do this, and it’s not your fault. Please show yourself compassion because you are beautiful and worthy of love and respect as you naturally are. Life gets better when you leave these disorders behind and just accept yourself. Trust me. I did it, and my life is now the happy fulfilled life I always thought “skinniness” would bring me, but didn’t.
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?
Imagery, Imagery, and Imagery! We used to only be tortured by the unrealistic images of airbrushed models in magazines and impossibly hard-bodied actors who have full-time trainers. Now, this has gone to a new level with social media. People think of “influencers” as “regular people” they follow and not celebrities. So when they show unrealistic images on social media, we think they are authentic and don’t view them with the same grain of salt that we typically have for supermodels in Vogue. Photo editing apps are everywhere, and even your neighbor on Facebook may be tweaking their waistline or creating “a perfect body” with a few simple taps on the phone. With the continued lack of diverse representation in media and the overuse of photo editing apps, self-confidence and body image is harder than ever.
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?
Promote authenticity. Stop over-editing pictures. Include different shapes and sizes. Treat others with respect and take action against bullies or discrimination. Be open about struggles and refocus the “health” dialogue to be about strength and happiness, not size and the number on a scale.
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?
The more we have articles like this and openly talk about the compulsions that come with eating disorders the more we will be able to end the stigma and promote true awareness.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?
I love following @TheAntiDietPlan on Instagram. She is a doctor who truly seems to speak to my issues surrounding diet culture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The life lesson I have been handing out a lot lately is “Everyone deserves to be someone’s first choice, and love starts with you.” The idea is that no one should feel they need to settle for someone who doesn’t truly love or respect them. We must love and respect ourselves to the fullest extent first and demand that same level from others. A lot of women, especially plus size women, have been programmed to “take what they can get” and that is toxic.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The next issue of SLiNK is the Sex and Dating issue, which I think is particularly exciting because plus size women are often cut out of this discussion. We hope to show women and couples of diverse sizes, races, and sexual orientations, as well as advice from doctors and sex therapists. This way we can normalize and integrate plus size women into the sex dialogue which has been historically fatphobic.
I am also speaking with high schools and universities that will allow me to hold lectures on body image, eating disorders and the media, so we can address this self-hatred and fat-shaming culture where it breeds mostly — in young, impressionable students.
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. 🙂
To end the weight-loss industrial complex. We are pawns in a scheme created for profit and executed by mainstream media. I’d love to see a day where magazines and commercials didn’t make us hate ourselves and where weight loss companies weren’t there to pick you up when you’re down. If “lose weight fast and keep it off” scams really worked, they wouldn’t be as hugely profitable. They are designed for you to fail so you can keep coming back for self-assurance or “hope” in a bottle for $19.99 while supplies last.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@foxyroxyfashion on Instagram
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!