Eating disorders have always played a central role in my life. For so many years, an eating disorder dominated my every thought and feeling. No matter what I did or where I went, it accompanied me like an unwanted shadow, turning every life event into a battle against food and my body. I longed for the day when my mind would be free from the struggle, when my relationship with food could be sustainably controlled, when my body would finally look like I always wanted it to and when I could be sure it would stay that way forever.
I spent years in therapy looking for freedom from the struggle. I looked into every underlying issue. I unpacked and then repacked my past, reinterpreting past events along the way to make peace with them. I learned to feel and be with my emotions. I learned how to bring the compassion I so naturally had for other people to myself. I learned not to hate myself. I learned to recognize and acknowledge the things I was able to excel at and to understand and accept the things I found to be more difficult. I learned to appreciate my humanity.
Little by little things began to improve and then one day I looked back and realized just how much progress I had made. I felt more confident and secure than I ever had before. I had skills and tools to deal with feelings of sadness or anxiety that came my way. But somehow despite this progress I still wasn’t fully free from eating disorder behaviors. Somehow I still wasn’t able to have a relationship with food and my body that didn’t feel adversarial and fraught with panic and shame.
And then I was introduced to the Health at Every Size® movement where I learned the concepts of body acceptance, intuitive eating, and joyful movement. I learned about Diet Culture and the ways in which companies profit from making people dislike themselves and think of their bodies as problems to be solved. I learned the science behind intentional weight loss and that for 95% of people, dieting ultimately fails them, while also making them believe this failure is their fault. Most importantly, I learned that I can trust my body’s signals for hunger, satiety and movement, and that once I learned to trust myself, I could also come to accept my body in whatever shape or size it landed as a result of my newfound body trust.
I could finally live a life where eating disorder thoughts and behaviors didn’t play a central role. And yet I decided to center eating disorders in my life again, but on my terms. I was so thankful for all I learned through my struggles and recovery and for all those who helped me along the way that I felt compelled to try to pay it forward.
In 2016, I joined the Executive Board of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). This fall, BEDA merged with the National Eating Disorder Association and I am so excited to now be a member of the NEDA Board of Directors. The joining of these two powerful organizations is a signal to the eating disorders community and those impacted by body shame and eating disorders that all eating disorders and all bodies are important, welcome, and worthy of research, treatment, and recovery efforts.
At BEDA, I saw firsthand what can be accomplished through the efforts of a dedicated leader and a volunteer board. Through BEDA’s advocacy, the stereotypes of eating disorders and who they impact were challenged and expanded. The concept that people in all bodies and from all backgrounds suffer from eating disorders began to gain mainstream recognition. Given NEDA’s resources, leadership, organizational depth, and wide variety of programming serving to further research, raise awareness, and bring support to those suffering from eating disorders and their loved ones, I can only imagine what a powerful force the merger will create. I am so excited to now be a part of NEDA’s Board of Directors, and to see what we can accomplish together.
Susan Vibbert is a small business owner with a background in finance and private equity. She is a mother of 3 children. Susan is a firm believer in the Health at Every Size® paradigm and wants to see the dismantling of diet culture and weight stigma in order to help prevent and treat eating disorders. She is a member of the National Eating Disorders Assocation’s (NEDA) Board of Directors and previously served on the Executive Committee of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA).