On Motherhood and Eating Disorders: A Journey of Recovery and Healing
Motherhood is a unique journey for each of us - yet, we are unified by common purposes and experiences that remind us we are never alone.
Today on the blog, I am honored to share the journey of my friend, colleague, and fellow mama, Jennifer Kreatsoulas. Jennifer is the mother of two girls, a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, and writer based in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She was kind enough to share about her experiences through motherhood so far, in addition to challenges she has faced as a mother in eating disorder recovery. Check out our interview below:
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your motherhood journey. How has motherhood inspired and challenged you, both personally and professionally?
My journey, like most mothers’, has been a beautiful mess of joy and overwhelm. A tumultuous adventure. One that has guided my healing and growth in unexpected and vital ways.
My husband and I were in our mid-30s when our first daughter was born. Although we were elated to become parents, we were also shocked into broad sweeping life changes. We both had successful careers, a vibrant social life, a variety of athletic activities that we enjoyed together and individually, and practically no limitations on our time.
Now, with a baby girl, our hearts and lives were changed forever. Sleep deprivation, overwhelm, and a general sense of disconnection with myself began to settle in. But, that was all OK, I told myself, because now I was a mother, and my soul/sole purpose was to nurture my child.
Just as my husband and I had a better grip on parenting, we were blessed with a second pregnancy. Nine months later, as I held my baby girl in the hospital, filled with all the mother’s love possible, my eating disorder came back with a vengeance. The overwhelm swallowed me up, and I became consumed with a drive to lose weight.
The responsibility of nursing my daughter kept my restriction in check, as I would never risk jeopardizing my daughter’s health and growth. When I stopped nursing at 8 months, however, all bets were off. I spiraled into severe restriction and was hospitalized before her first birthday.
As painful as it was to recover from a relapse, and to do so while mothering two little ones, that time in my life was pivotal personally and professionally. I came to understand that the eating disorder is like a silent temper tantrum, a quiet way for me to express overwhelm, unhappiness, sadness, anger, hurt, pain, and disappointment.
The gift of my relapse is how it reignited my yoga practice, which I had started in college and lost connection with in the overwhelm of motherhood. Yoga taught me how to connect from the inside out. I rest my mind on my breath as I embody the characteristics that are essential to my ability to sustain a well-supported recovery. I sense my strength and confidence in warrior poses, courage in wheel pose, grace in dancer’s pose, openness in triangle pose, peace in hero’s pose, and support in child’s pose. I fold and surrender, reach and grow, twist and energize.
For me, this is what freedom feels like. Today, after much intense work after the relapse, I am steadily traveling my healing path, strong and assured in who I am as a woman and mother.
My relapse also empowered me to change the direction of my career. I left my career as a medical writer, enrolled in a 3-year Yoga Therapy training, and have since founded Chime Yoga Therapy. Now I am full-time yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. Besides raising my children, I believe there is nothing more important I can do with my life than to help others reconnect with their bodies and feel empowered in their lives.
Can you share a bit about your eating disorder recovery journey? How has this influenced your motherhood?
My personal recovery journey has given me the time and space to think long and hard about the values I want to model for my girls, particularly when it comes to relationships with food and our bodies.
If I could, I would move mountains to shield them forever from the harsh messages we receive in mainstream media about which bodies count. The morality language that’s been mapped onto food and the act of nourishing our bodies breed emotional havoc.
At the core of my mission as a mother is my heart’s desire for my girls (and this entire generation of girls and boys) to believe that their moral integrity is not based on the shape of the body or the food they eat.
They are not “good” or “bad” for these things. They do not need to live in the shadows of guilt and shame or be overruled by comparisons. My intention is to always teach them by example and through discussion that they are whole and vibrant with beautiful gifts and talents to share with the world.
What do you think are some challenges mothers today face when it comes to body image? As a mother, how has yoga influenced your own body image?
Mothers face immense challenges. The internal struggle to feel happy in the face of overwhelm is real. Overwhelm and other feelings like it are heavy—literally and figuratively. As a result, our bodies feel heavy, weighed down with stress.
In the beautiful mess of it all, we can get caught up in mainstream and even familial messages and rely on external validation to feel “ok” in our bodies and how we present ourselves to the world.
Breaking those patterns are very difficult, especially when there may not be a lot of personal time for reflection or to check in with how outside sources are influencing our inner dialogue and relationship with ourselves.
Yoga and other quiet practices like breathing exercises and journaling have helped me establish that personal time in my life. When I don’t make these activities a priority, the loss of self-connection makes me vulnerable to outside messages that can cause self-doubt around my body and worth.
As I learned in my early years of mothering, I am a stronger mother when my relationship with myself is intact. I am a more present mother when I take time to affirm my body and self-care through yoga and other empowering activities. We deserve time for quiet and reflection.
What are some words of encouragement that you might have for other mothers who may be struggling with poor body image or unable to accept or connect with their changing bodies?
My message to other mothers is compassion: Give yourself compassion for how challenging it is to balance motherhood with everything else that you do and is important to you.
If you struggle with body image, trust you are not alone; that no matter how isolating those feelings are, you are not alone. Take time to remember your gifts and passions from before you were a mother and explore bringing some of those things back into your life.
Reflect on ways to make space for you in your life and commit to creating some space just for you. Connection with my passions and others has been key to healing negative body image in my own life.
Incorporating affirming and empowering activities into my life has created a tremendous shift, for now my energy goes into those things versus the torment of loathing my body or the helpless feelings that come with desperately wanting to change it.
Compassion, connection, space—these are the pathway to healing negative body image. I truly believe it.
Where can we learn more about you? Tell us about your programs and services!
So kind of you to ask! You can learn more about me on my website. I have a blog, articles, and videos there. I offer 1x1 yoga therapy in person in the Philadelphia area and virtually for those who aren’t local to me. I have clients around the country thanks to technology! I lead eating disorder recovery and body image workshops and retreats. I am also a speaker on these topics and love to travel to meet others in recovery and learn about their journeys.
Coming up, I have the good fortune of co-hosting a 5-week online course with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition called “Heart-Centered Healing” starting the end of February. We’ll be exploring how to use the Yogic practice of intention setting to guide healing negative body image and disordered eating.
And, later this year, my upcoming book Body Mindful Yoga: An Empowering Approach to Redefining Your Relationship With Your Body (November 2018, Llewellyn Worldwide) will be released! Please visit my website to learn about my services or to write and say hi! I’d sincerely love to hear from you.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT-500, is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. She is coauthor of the forthcoming book Body Mindful Yoga: An Empowering Approach to Redefining Your Relationship With Your Body (2018, Llewellyn Worldwide). In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer also leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia as well as yoga workshops and retreats on eating disorder recovery and body image. She is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and speaks and writes extensively on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery. Connect with Jennifer!