Tell your loved one that you care. It’s okay to share that you love her and feel scared. Always use “I” statements and make your feelings about you, not about your loved one or what she does. For example, saying things like “you’re hurting yourself” or “if you’d just eat more…” don’t help. Saying things like “I’m feeling scared and not sure what to do” are honest and reflect your feelings.
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 Lindsay Ronga.
Lindsay is an eating disorder and mental wellness coach. She is a TEDx and NEDA speaker with an MBA from Harvard Business School. Prior to coaching, Lindsay spent years working in finance and as CEO of a Gary Vaynerchuk company in NYC. As Lindsay shares in her speeches, she spent too many years wearing a mask, pretending like things were fine. The truth is that she was struggling with a life-threatening eating disorder. Since recovering, she spends her energy on “BEING” okay instead of “LOOKING” okay. For Lindsay, this means asking for help, slowing life down, and sometimes letting her kids wear their pajamas to school. Her mission is to empower millions to make peace with their bodies and with food through a non-diet approach. To learn more, follow Lindsay on Instagram at rongalk or visit www.outshininged.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Thank you for bringing awareness to such an important topic!
I’m a recovering perfectionist and overachiever. I worked for years trying to prove my worth in investment banking, private equity, and getting an MBA from Harvard. I lived my life to please others and impress them.
I had an ‘aha’ moment after my first baby was born. At the time, I was working in private equity and traveling every couple of weeks. Friends commended me on how I had it all together — raising a child and working so much. You see, I was masterful at pretending like life was fine.
What friends didn’t know is how I cried each time I left my baby for the airport. They didn’t see how I hated working in finance. Several months later, I made a decision to start living life on my terms and to find internal peace. I quit my work in finance and went all in on work that is super meaningful to me.
I battled an eating disorder for seven years and felt like there was no way out. Now I get to use my struggle for good as I guide others on their journey to eating disorder freedom. Simply put, I’m an eating disorder and mental wellness coach. I help people make peace with food and their bodies using a non-diet approach. I work from home in my sweat pants and usually wear bright red lipstick.
And because women can do more than one thing professionally, I am also a speaker, teach corporate yoga, conduct corporate wellness seminars and lead a free eating disorder support group in Austin, TX. Whew! It’s a lot and it all fills me up inside.
Fun fact: my husband and I met online (back before it was cool). He was my very first date from an online match and I was his first date too! Turns out, we went to the same elementary, middle and high school. We were just three years apart. We have 3 small kiddos now and love this fun (and exhausting) stage of life!
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?
It started with a diet in my mid-20s. Weight Watchers. There was a lot of uncertainty in my life at the time as I was applying to graduate business school at Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, and Stanford. I couldn’t control the outcome of whether I was accepted, but I could control this diet. The more results I saw physically, the more obsessed I became. Before I knew it, I wasn’t on a diet anymore. Rather, I was consumed with an eating disorder. It’s all I thought about 24/7.
I naively thought the eating disorder would go away as soon as I heard from the business schools. It didn’t. No matter how many times I moved cities, changed jobs or left relationships, the eating disorder remained. It took me years to learn that you can’t use willpower to fight an eating disorder.
What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?
There were many “final straws” for me. My first attempt at getting well came when the founder of the private equity firm I worked for told me he was concerned. He connected me with a therapist. I thought that I’d go to therapy for a few months and be cured. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
The truth is deciding you want help is just the beginning of the journey. I had countless health scares and challenges, doctors telling me I’d never get pregnant and I lost many important relationships due to the eating disorder. Those were all defining moments when I knew I needed to get better. I tried therapy, meds, residential, outpatient, dietician appointments and support groups. You name it, I tried it. For seven long years. It was infuriating knowing what I needed to do to heal, but not being able to put it into action.
The pivotal moment of actually getting better came on a trip to India to study yoga and spirituality. On that trip, I realized that I wasn’t starving for the perfect body or food. I was starving for connection.
And how are things going for you today?
Really great! It feels strange to say that aloud because I never thought it was possible. I found freedom from the eating disorder six years ago and haven’t had behaviors or eating disorder thoughts since! I’m not ‘in recovery’ anymore — I’m recovered completely. I believe in permanent freedom and I’ve experienced it for some time now.
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?
I love this question! Here are five things you should do (or not do) to support your loved one with an eating disorder.
1) Don’t comment on your loved one’s appearance or weight. Even “you look healthy” can be perceived as “I’ve gained too much weight” in the eating disorder mind. Also, avoid talking about other people’s bodies or weight (including your own).
2) Admit that you don’t know what to say all the time. Share that you can’t understand fully what it’s like to have an eating disorder, but that you will be there to listen and to help her get the support she needs. Always encourage her to reach out to her support team.
3) Don’t discuss calories, diets, exercise or eating habits. Try to discuss things other than food. Discuss feelings. Do not compare dieting or someone’s weight loss to your loved one’s eating disorder. Eating disorders are mental illnesses. They have nothing to do with willpower or discipline.
4) Tell your loved one that you care. It’s okay to share that you love her and feel scared. Always use “I” statements and make your feelings about you, not about your loved one or what she does. For example, saying things like “you’re hurting yourself” or “if you’d just eat more…” don’t help. Saying things like “I’m feeling scared and not sure what to do” are honest and reflect your feelings.
5) Evaluate your own biases around gaining weight and fatphobia. Your loved one thinks she is scared to gain weight. The truth is that she is scared she won’t be loved if she gains weight. If you have any biases around ‘fat’ people or have commented on people being overweight, this can strengthen the eating disorder’s power in linking fat with bad. Don’t try to convince your loved one that she won’t gain weight. You want her to know that you love her regardless of her weight.
Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?
I believe you can recover and find lasting freedom. Millions have found freedom. No matter how long you’ve been battling the eating disorder, no matter your age, no matter your gender or situation, you can do this. Find the right person or team to partner with and make recovery a full-time job.
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?
The number one reason eating disorders have become such a critical issue is that diet culture has become LOUD in our society. The total U.S. weight loss market grew at an estimated 4.1% in 2018, from 69.8 billion dollars to 72.7 billion dollars. As the diet industry grows and more diets gain popularity, eating disorders rise. The message from diet culture is that we aren’t worthy unless we are in a smaller body. This leads to dieting and diets are a precursor to eating disorders.
80% of ten-year-old girls have been on a diet. More than half of girls and one-third of boys ages six to eight want thinner bodies. It starts from such a young age and sadly many parents reinforce the narrative of dieting and fatphobia. Until a new narrative gets out there, eating disorders will continue to be a critical issue.
Based on your insight, what can concrete steps can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do address the core issues that are leading to this problem?
a) Individuals –compliment others outside of their appearance. When we value someone’s characteristics and internal qualities, we start to connect worth with WHO someone is, not what they look like.
b) Corporations — implement mental health and wellness programs! In the same way, corporations offer benefits for gym memberships, they need to do the same for mental wellness. This means investing in a mental wellness program or coach for your company.
c) Communities — start mental health programs in schools to prevent eating disorders. In the same way, we teach young girls and boys about hygiene and menstrual cycles, we need to teach them to love themselves and that they are worthy no matter what.
d) Leaders — so many of my clients are scared to ask for time off of work to get the help they need. They fear they’ll lose their job entirely. So instead, they have one foot in recovery and one foot in the eating disorder world. Leaders need to OKAY take time for mental health. Leaders can help reduce the stigma by being vocal about their employees’ prioritizing mental health.
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?
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. One person dies every 62 minutes. There are more than 30 million in the U.S. affected. They are not a choice and absolutely not something that can be ‘fixed’ by eating more or dieting. Raising awareness that eating disorders are a mental illness is an important start!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?
I recovered at a time when there was only one book available. It was by Jenni Schaefer and is called, Life Without ED. Now, so many people talk about their journey publicly. What a gift! On Instagram, some of my favorites are @lindseyhallwrites, @nourishandeat, and @jameelajamilofficial.
I’m launching a podcast in March called, Not Today ED. The purpose is to offer hope and how-to for those in recovery. I’ll be interviewing experts and giving those struggling tangible actions they can take to move forward.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Easy! And if you’ve ever heard me speak, I quote Henry Ford every time. “Whether you think you can do something or whether you think you can’t do something, you’re right.” If you don’t believe you will find freedom, you’re right. If you do believe you’ll find freedom from the eating disorder, you become open and receptive to new possibilities. You will start to see a path towards freedom.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! The podcast, Not Today ED and I recently launched a digital coaching program. My goal is to make treatment more accessible and affordable. So many treatment options are cost-prohibitive and people have to put their lives on hold to get help. Residential or outpatient treatment is not realistic for everyone struggling.
The purpose of my podcast is to give people the how-to without having to fork over thousands of dollars.
I spent a year researching and interviewing people who found freedom. I mapped out all the commonalities and put them into my digital program called “Break the Behaviors.” It’s affordable and you can do it while wearing your sweat pants in your own home!
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. 🙂
The greatest influence is actually YOU and how you treat yourself. Because others are watching. Our kids notice how we treat our bodies and they model our behavior.
All movements start with one person. And if I could give you anything it is for you to make peace with your body and with food. Speak kindly about your body and appreciate what it does for you. Accept food as food. It has no moral value. You are not better or worse because you ate the cookie. What’s important is not stressing about the cookie because you have more important things to give your energy to. Encourage others in their journeys and remind them that they are already good enough.
How can our readers follow you on social media?