Johanna Kandel and life beyond your eating disorder

Sarah Pardus
Chief Copy Editor

As someone who admittedly walks past the tables in Pearlstone without stopping more often than I probably should, I know how easy it can be to ignore some of the events happening on campus. There are just so many. All. The. Time. For those of you who, like me, don’t stop at the tables to check out whatever cause is being promoted this week, you may or may not have known that last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week. I knew not because I stopped at the table, but because I am part of the statistic that is plastered all over the NEDA website. I am one of the 20 million women who will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in her life.
I have battled an eating disorder on and off for the past four years. I came to Goucher four years ago in the very early stages of recovery from anorexia and while I’m in a much healthier place today, I still struggle from time to time. Just like in life, you never know what someone else is going through. Unless you know me personally, you wouldn’t know that it is a part of my past. When I saw that Johanna Kandel, author of Life Without Your Eating Disorder, was coming to campus to speak on Sunday, March 2, I knew I would be in the audience.
I’ve attended a lot of these kinds of events. I’ve been recommended books by my registered dietician, I’ve seen speakers on campus and at local eating disorder treatment centers, and I’ve participated in NEDA Walks in both Towson and Washington, D.C. I can say without a doubt that Johanna Kandel was the most relatable speaker I’ve ever heard. I took so many notes during the two-hour event that I can’t even begin to summarize what she said, as I would not do her words justice.
Many times when speaking about recovery from an eating disorder, the recovery process itself is overlooked. The speakers tend to go into grave detail about what it was like when they were consumed by the disease and then jump to how amazing it feels to be recovered without talking about the incredibly difficult journey in between. Kandel dove right in, describing the tools she used to recover and how she continues to stay on a healthy path today. She didn’t sugarcoat it. She told it like it is: “messy.”
For anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder, you know messy is the perfect word to describe it. For every three steps forward, you will take at least two steps back. Kandel shared what she learned to keep moving forward. For example, looking at the world in terms of a crayon box of colors rather than in black and white gives the world more meaning and lets go of the rigidity of living with an eating disorder. In regards to recovering in a “hostile community,” one filled with diet ads and hurtful statements, Kandel suggested using an imaginary “ignorant stamp” every time someone says something that could trigger negative thoughts. While those are just a few examples of what worked for her, her analogy of an artichoke summed up her experience best: like an artichoke, recovery is about peeling back the layers to get to the center, to the heart. Some leaves are easier to peel back than others and no two people will eat the artichoke the same way. But as long as you keep going, you will get to the heart, to recovery.
Kandel stressed that there are strategies everyone can use, but in the end, every individual must steer his or her own course. For so long, she let her eating disorder steer the course. She said, “I thought I was the one steering my course. I had to walk over the center console and hold onto the steering wheel.”
At first, she wasn’t willing, but after taking many steps forward and almost as many steps backward, she was finally able to take control of her own life again. Her thoughts on what it means to be recovered from an eating disorder stuck with me long after the event ended, after grocery shopping and dinner and thermo homework and yoga: “I believe in ‘recovered;’ I don’t believe in ‘cured.’”
Her parting words were powerful: “All of us have a voice. All of us deserve to be heard. All of us deserve to be okay. My wish for you is that no matter where you are in the journey, that you take one more step.”



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