Let’s shift our focus as humans away from comparing ourselves to others and wishing we could look a certain way, to appreciating our awesome bodies for the way they are, and seeing the beauty in what we have!

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 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 Jessie Diggins, a professional cross-country skier on the US Ski and Snowboard team since 2011. At the 2018 Olympics, she teamed with Kikkan Randall to win a gold medal in the team sprint event, the first-ever gold for US cross-country skiers, male or female. Diggins has 4 medals from World Championship events, and 21 individual World Cup podiums. When she was 18–19 years old, she struggled with an eating disorder, eventually seeking help and finding recovery with The Emily Program.

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 grew up in an active and outdoor-oriented family. When I was a child, we were always going on canoe trips, camping trips, and hiking or exploring trails outside. I feel fortunate to have grown up appreciating the outdoors and loving all the different seasons in Minnesota! When I joined the Stillwater High School ski team in 7th grade, I knew that ski racing was going to be more than a fun hobby for me. Being part of a team, coming to practice every day with my friends and racing to score points for my team made me realize how much I loved the sport of cross-country skiing. I just kept taking it one step further at a time until I was at the international race level.

Now, I get to travel around the world racing and training for my job, which makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world! I love what I get to do: the thrill of racing, the challenge of pushing my limits, the fulfilling feeling that comes with knowing you gave a race your absolute best shot. It can also come with some struggles, like getting myself out the door for a 3-hour training ski in the cold rain! But for the most part, setting goals and going after them by training 6 days a week, twice a day for skiing is incredibly fun, and it’s my absolute dream job.

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?

Yes, and I think it’s so important to share my story because we need to decrease the stigma that often surrounds mental illnesses and eating disorders.

On the outside, the year I graduated from high school was a perfect year for me. I was pulling straight As, loved playing violin in the school orchestra, had a great group of friends and was winning every ski race I entered. From the outside, it looked perfect. And that was the problem.

I’ve always been a “try-hard” girl, someone who tries maybe a little too hard to be perfect. When coaches give me feedback I’m more likely to overthink it, asking so many questions that I might overshoot and miss the point entirely instead of just relaxing and giving it a shot. So when I felt like I needed to make sure I was doing everything 100% all the time, I started to feel like I was out of control.

I would get really stressed. The one thing I could hold onto was the numbing of stress that came along with my eating disorder. Even though I had never been more out of control in my life, I had the illusion of being in control of something, and I clung to that fiercely. For me, it was never about food or really even about getting skinny. It was about feeling like I had control over something in my hectic, fast-paced life; feeling like I could turn to using symptoms of my eating disorder to numb myself and not have to feel the emotions that I was feeling.

So instead of someone saying “you look too skinny” or “are you struggling with eating,” I needed someone to say “Are you stressed right now? What needs to happen so that you can have less anxiety and put less pressure on yourself right now?”

I was in complete denial, but eventually realized that I did have bulimia and needed to get help. My parents were there to sit and talk with me. At my parent’s urging, I finally sought professional help. I checked into The Emily Program, a national leader in eating disorder treatment. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most important. I started going to treatment, but at the time I was still scared to fully let go of my eating disorder, my favorite “tool” to deal with stress in my life.

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

It was actually my grandpa who saved my life; he was struggling with cancer and in the hospital in hospice care at the time I was in The Emily Program’s intensive day program. I had been going through the motions but at that point, I wasn’t fully emotionally and mentally invested in my recovery. But seeing my grandpa so sick, I finally understood what it was like to see someone you love so very much in pain, and be unable to do anything to help them. I realized what I was putting my family through every day, and while I might not be able to help my grandpa get better, there WAS something I could do to get better myself. Even if I didn’t want to get healthy for myself, I finally felt fully committed to recovery so that I could get better to be there for my family. I went to treatment not only physically, but mentally ready to do the hard work of digging into my emotions to figure out what my eating disorder was about. I learned to use tools other than my symptoms to cope with stress or negative emotions. I started to get better one day at a time.

Photo courtesy of Nordic Focus

And how are things going for you today?

Today, things are great! And I don’t take it for granted. I’m happy to say that these days my confidence and self-esteem are completely different from when I was struggling with body image issues. That’s not to say there aren’t days when I have thoughts like, ‘Oh, I wish I was stronger, or I wish I was leaner, or I wish I was faster.’

Everyone has those days, but I would say there’s always this internal dialogue, when you have to be your own best cheerleader. I also learned that I’m a great person the way I am, and that I don’t need to be perfect to be worthy of love.

When I realized that I don’t have to be perfect, that’s when I learned how to really like my body for what it does. Because everything that my body does makes me fast on skis, and that allows me to do all these awesome things that I love!

I was finally able to shift my thinking from, ‘I want’ or ‘I wish’ to ‘Wow, I have.’ That’s been incredibly empowering for me.

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?

It’s really intimidating and scary to reach out for help when you have an eating disorder, which is why it’s so important for everyone to learn a little more about them and to listen when someone you know is reaching out for help. Statistically speaking, 6% of the population either has or will have an eating disorder, so this is something that affects everyone in some way. It’s time to decrease the stigma surrounding it.

For family and friends who want to learn more about how to address a healthy relationship between body image and food, withall.org has a pretty incredible resource called “What to Say” that helps you learn how to talk about our bodies and food. The Emily Program also has great resources, including a quiz to help you determine if you are struggling with an eating disorder.

According to The Emily Program experts, five ways to support a loved one are:

  1. Let them know you love them and are there for them
  2. Ask them what would be helpful to them in supporting them. It may be eating meals with them, checking on them regularly, playing games with them after eating or going for mindful walks.
  3. Model a positive relationship with yourself and your body. Don’t say negative things about your body. Instead, focus on the positive.
  4. Eat well. Don’t diet. Don’t say negative, judgmental things about food.
  5. Model self-care. Take care of yourself, manage your stress, rest, and stay connected to others.

Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?

Get help. Make the call. It’s so hard, but you’ll truly be glad you did.

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?

Thanks to my relationship with the people at The Emily Program, I’ve learned that a big reason why eating disorders are now considered a critical issue is because we’re talking about them more! Before, there was a stigma. People didn’t admit to having them so we didn’t know how prevalent they were. Now, people are speaking out and actively encouraging others to get help.

Another part of this growing awareness is that more treatment is available. There are options for people struggling with eating disorders. Healthcare professionals are now being trained to recognize and refer people to treatment, some of which is now covered by insurance.

I’m speaking out because while eating disorders are a treatable illness, people are still dying from them. This is unacceptable. We can do better.

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?

This is such a powerful question, because we really can make a positive difference by approaching eating disorders from all these perspectives!

  1. Individuals can stop dieting. Work on having a positive relationship with themselves and their bodies. Encourage others to do the same. And support loved ones by helping them get help when they need it.
  2. Corporations can think about wellness program for staff more holistically, not just about weight or a single measure of health. They also can take a close look at their advertising and messaging. Do they portray realistic body images? Do they promote the thin ideal? How can their messaging be more inclusive?
  3. Communities can promote mental health wellness, not just physical health wellness. Recognizing the mental health needs of a community will go a long way towards helping with eating disorders awareness and treatment.
  4. Leaders can promote these concepts through messaging, policy, media, and vision. People look up to leaders, so it’s important that they model positive self-care and encourage others to do the same. I encourage leaders to promote positive mental health, and to support access to care for people with eating disorders and other mental health needs.
Photo courtesy of Render Photography

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?

People need to start thinking of eating disorders like any other illness. I had to learn this! We wouldn’t tell people with a broken arm to “just stop having a broken arm” or “this is a phase you are going through.” Of course not! They would say, “Here, this is what we’re going to do about it to get you well” Medical professionals talking about mental health is a good first step. The more people in our healthcare systems talk about eating disorders as illnesses, the more our culture will also recognize them as illnesses that need care.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?

I’m a big fan of The Emily Program’s podcast, Peace Meal, because they focus on the whole picture; you can hear stories of recovery as well as learn more about eating disorders and body image issues and the role society plays. The book “Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer was also incredibly helpful in learning to separate myself from my eating disorder.

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

“Most people fail at whatever they attempt because of an undecided heart. Should I? Should I not? Go forward? Go back? Success requires the emotional balance of a committed heart. When confronted with a challenge, the committed heart will search for a solution. The undecided heart searches for an escape.” — Andy Andrews

Deciding to go forward in recovery and reclaim my life was incredibly scary. I could always make excuses for why the time wasn’t quite right for saving myself. But in the end, it was the most important thing I ever did! Committing to saving myself required a committed heart.

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

I am! I’m continuing to partner with The Emily Program to increase awareness of eating disorders and help people feel more comfortable about asking for help. I’m also working on a book (to be published next winter), a memoir called “Brave Enough”, where I’m sharing my complete story. I hope that by reading about everything I went through and really getting inside my head, both friends and family members will understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder. I also hope this book will inspire those currently struggling to seek help.

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. 🙂

I would want the movement to be this:

Let’s shift our focus as humans away from comparing ourselves to others and wishing we could look a certain way, to appreciating our awesome bodies for the way they are, and seeing the beauty in what we have!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My instagram is @jessiediggins; my athlete Facebook page is Jessie Diggins; I’m on Twitter at @jessdiggs and my website is jessiediggins.com, where I share stories from racing, travel and training on my blog!

About the Author:

Originally from Israel, Limor Weinstein has been anorexic and bulimic, a “nanny spy” to the rich and famous and a Commander in the Israeli Army. Her personal recovery from an eating disorder led her to commit herself to a life of helping others, and along the way she picked up two Master’s Degrees in Psychology from Columbia University and City College as well as a Post-Graduate Certificate in Eating Disorder Treatment from the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.

Upon settling in New York, Limor quickly became known as the “go to” person for families struggling with mental health issues, in part because her openness about her own mental health challenges paved the way for open exchanges. She understood the difficulties many have in finding the right treatment, as well as the stigma that remains so prevalent towards those who are struggling with mental health issues. She realized that most families are quietly struggling with a problem they’re not comfortable talking about, and that discomfort makes it much less likely that they will get the help they need for their loved ones. She discovered that being open and honest about her own mental health challenges took the fear out of the conversations. Her mission became to research and guide those families to the highest-quality treatment available. Helping others became part of her DNA, as has a commitment to supporting and assisting organizations that perform research and treatment in the mental health arena.

After years of helping families by helping connect them to the right treatment and wellness services, Limor realized that the only way to ensure that they are receiving appropriate, coordinated and evidence-based care would be to stay in control of the entire treatment process. That realization led her to create Bespoke Wellness Partners, which employs over 100 of the best clinicians and wellness providers in New York and provides confidential treatment and wellness services throughout the city. Bespoke has built its reputation on strong relationships, personalized, confidential service and a commitment to ensuring that all clients find the right treatment for their particular issues.

In addition to her role at Bespoke Wellness Partners, Limor is the Co-Chair of the Academy of Eating Disorders. She lives with her husband, three daughters and their dog Rex in Manhattan.

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