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Resiliency During a Pandemic: Part II

How are you handling the stress of the pandemic? And what makes some people better equipped to handle trauma? As a part of my interview series with people who struggled with and coped with challenges and showed resiliency, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chana Kramer, who overcame an eating disorder after more than 10 years of struggling.

Courtesy of Canva
Courtesy of Canva

Chana Krammer is a former patient of mine (from 10 years ago!) and is currently working on becoming a recovery coach herself. She’s in the process of completing her training in The Karma coaching method, which I talked a little bit about in last week’s blog, where I also shared a bit of my own personal story of resiliency.

Chana came to the United States in 2011 and has been working in sales for the past eight years. In addition to overcoming a decade-long eating disorder, she has overcome other financial and occupational challenges. She’s continued to follow her passion and that has led her to realize that what she truly loves is helping others and inspiring them. Read on for our interview.

“What I can change, I did and what I wasn’t able to change in myself and in my family, I learned to accept.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

My name is Chana and I’m currently 28 years old. I grew up in Israel and I’m one of nine kids. I came to the United States 10 years ago at the age of 18. My greatest passion is to help other people and I know that with the right tools I can do that. I have always been a people person and I have no doubt that this will help me be a better coach. 

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?

From a very young age, I was very hard on myself. I saw how my mom kind of let go of herself, and on the other hand, my grandmother in the United States was very well dressed and always kept herself put together. My mom was the opposite. So from a very young age, I realized that and I started looking at what my mom did and I knew I didn’t want to do the same. From a young age, I  would come to the United States just for the summers and I got to be a “normal kid”—not that religious, conservative child with no sense of style. I started becoming very aware of others and how they looked and dressed. I didn’t think about food—it was not a big deal for me. I remember I would go to the gym, but go ahead and eat junk after. It didn’t feel like anything was wrong, it was all just natural. 

“I felt like dealing with it took so much time and energy and I wanted to use this energy to better my life instead.”

But when I came to the U.S. for the summer at the age of 14 to stay with my grandmother, every time we would go out and she’d see me eat something that in her eyes was not healthy, she would comment on how much I was eating and warn me I would get fat. And this is when I started noticing that I started thinking before I ate. When I went back to Israel, I started restricting. It was pretty fast where I stopped eating bread. I stopped eating fried food. I started going to the gym. It was all very fast. I wasn’t overweight, but I remember thinking that when I lost a lot of weight, it still wasn’t good enough. 

I couldn’t put a finger on it. I didn’t want to admit that I had an eating disorder, but I remember for six months I was very restrictive. And then one day I went to babysit at a friend’s house and they had so much junk food in their house. And I remember having this urge to eat. And I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t explain it. It was the first time in my life that something like that had come over me.

What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you could to get better?

I didn’t like the feeling of something controlling my life, I wanted the control of my life. I felt like dealing with it took so much time and energy and I wanted to use this energy to better my life instead. I went to Renfrew to get help for my eating disorder and saw other therapists, but it wasn’t until I met you that I started feeling better and was more motivated to recover from my eating disorders. You understood me and the fact that you also struggled with eating disorders made me trust you even more and I was motivated to get better and believe in myself. I really thank you for everything. It took me until 10 years later, but I’m just happy and I’m excited that we get to talk all these years later. 

What coping strategies did you use to help you overcome your disorder?

The first and most important thing that you helped me with was developing an awareness of what was happening with me. It helped me unveil some of the reasons that might have contributed to my ED. I became more aware of my thoughts and feelings and learned that I was in full control of them instead of allowing them to control me. 

I’m always aware of stuff and just now I’m able to control it. And since starting my recovery process until now, it’s pretty stable, but you know, you have periods where you’re more stable. So when I see some stuff coming up, I now know how to point it out. And I can control it right away. 

I am learning to be more authentic and real with myself and with other people and if someone doesn’t like who I am than it is not my problem. I have to stay true to myself. 

What are some things that you learned that helped you feel better?

Using cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and other skills that I learned to be more in control of my thoughts helped me feel better. With your help, I was able to organize my life story and have a better understanding of my life experiences, and more importantly, tell myself a story that made me feel more empowered and not like a victim. And I let go of the part of my past that is not worth keeping inside. 

“I was able to organize my life story and have a better understanding of my life experiences, and more importantly, tell myself a story that made me feel more empowered and not like a victim.”

What are some things that you had to accept in order to recover/maintain recovery?

I had to learn to accept myself for who I was, both the great qualities and also things I liked less about myself. What I can change, I did and what I wasn’t able to change in myself and in my family, I learned to accept. Most importantly, I learned to accept that my eating disorder is a part of me but it will not define me.

Are you willing to share some events/experiences from your past that might have contributed to the development of your eating disorders?

Growing up in a very tight religious community and being one of nine siblings. Getting no attention and having a mom who didn’t care much for herself. 

Did your experience with eating disorders help shape the way that you are leading your life? Did it give you a sense of meaning and purpose in this world?

For sure! I now want to help others who are in similar situations and I am working on becoming a recovery coach so I can mentor others who are dealing with eating disorders. 

What advice would you give your teenage self/other teenagers who are dealing with various challenges?

I would hug myself and I would say, “You are beautiful and you don’t need to look at anyone else and compare yourself to anyone else.” We didn’t have social media like today, but I remember how I wanted everyone to accept me. And I think it’s more about accepting myself and all the other girls. You can’t compare yourself to someone else because you don’t know what they have going on inside, either. 

Courtesy of Canva

Each person feels this way. We all feel like we want to be accepted. Your friend might look like she’s confident and that she has it all together, but you don’t know what’s going on inside. She doesn’t tell you everything. So if I could look back and tell myself anything it would be don’t waste your energy on just putting yourself down. Look at what it is that you want to focus on, what are you good at? And praise the art. Don’t wait for someone else to praise you because other people don’t always know what you need to hear. 

“We all feel like we want to be accepted.”

And how are things going for you today?

Today I am doing much better. I have learned to eat in a much healthier way and exercise in a moderate way. 

Based on your own experience are you able to share some things with our readers about how to support a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder? Can you share an example from your own experience? 

The most important thing is to just be there for them and to be very aware of what they are doing. What are they watching on social media? How are they talking to themselves? Negative thinking? Try not to judge them for what they do and just be as curious as you can. My mom had a lot of issues with her weight and she wasn’t happy with herself. My advice to parents is to be aware of how you speak about yourselves and your bodies because your kids are like sponges and they observe everything.

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. 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? 

Individuals: Recognize that as patients, it is difficult to be able to open up and ask for help. As outsiders, it’s important to be more sensitive to people who you recognize are dealing with eating disorders and not judge and learn more about what eating disorders actually are. 

Corporations: Create a healthy environment and don’t put labels on individuals.

Communities: Have a loving and understanding culture, creating groups inside the community to teach about addiction and what it means for the people who are dealing with it as well as their families and teach each other ways to support them.

Leaders: Just like school is important, education surrounding eating disorders is important. It needs to be built into our systems. We need more facilities where there is a focus on education surrounding mental and emotional health (addiction, disorders) to take away the stigma that is around these issues currently.

Can you please give us your favorite  “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“God never gives you more than you can handle,” No matter what it is that I go through and how hard it is, it’s still amazing to me that you pass it and you get stronger. Then, of course, you get faced with another challenge that seems too big for you to handle, and you get past that, and you are stronger than before. And this is how you build yourself and gain experience. That’s my life story: Never stop growing. My advice is to accept the challenge and just remember that this will make you stronger.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am learning about the KARMA coaching that you have developed and working towards achieving my certificate of completion so that I can officially become a recovery coach and help inspire others to overcome their eating disorders! I am very excited about that because I think that knowing that I can help others overcome their challenges was a big motivator for me in the past. I always knew that I had a passion for helping others and this will empower me with the skills I need.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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