Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. I often think of this quote, to shake myself out of judging or making assumptions about people. So many private struggles surround us every day, and appearances don’t give anything away.
I’ve been holding back much excitement about today’s episode, where you’ll get to hear from the brilliant Caroline Toshack. We dig deep into some tricky issues which affect a lot of people in our world today: low self-esteem, eating disorders and exercise addiction. Caroline is an inspirational example of someone who has recovered from these struggles, and built incredible expertise in a multitude of therapeutic practices as a result. She is a yoga and pilates instructor, a teacher trainer, an expert in movement therapy and a therapist for those working through eating disorders and sports-related exercise addiction.
I knew Caroline years ago. I’d heard about her impressive achievements in the world of duathlon and I was dipping my toe in the water of duathlon and triathlon training, having recently moved to Edinburgh after several spiralling years of drinking, smoking and far too much clubbing in Manchester. She coached me for a little while in duathlon and supported me in preparing for my first ever half marathon. She also introduced me to pilates, and I clearly remember stepping into her new studio and feeling the genuine passion she’d developed for this type of restorative movement.
For many years of her life, before this time, Caroline was lost in the grips of anorexia, bulimia and compulsive exercise of over 30 hours every week. She trained and competed at an international level in duathlon from a young age and it became her world. A complex and confusing world, at times saving her from destructive behaviours and at times feeding right back in them.
I’d heard a little of Caroline’s story from others but it was her words in a Facebook post that planted the seed of how much she would have to give as a podcast guest, and that shining more light on her knowledge and experience could be valuable to others:
I went into a vegan café for a shampoo bar, and mentioned that the food looked good. The guy gave the low down on benefits of vegan and raw food eating. While I enjoy vegan food I’ll never be fully vegan for many reasons. He continued trying to explain the virtues, so I tell him I work in eating disorder recovery and it’s a poor example to set when I personally install the virtues that all food groups are valid and no foods in isolation are healthy or unhealthy. And actually, for some people veganism becomes a way to hide their eating disorder. The conversation then goes:
‘Yeah, we don’t have anyone here like that’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘Because everyone who comes here eats’ ‘Eating disorders aren’t just about not eating. How do you know they don’t have an eating disorder?’ ‘Because everyone who comes here looks healthy’ ‘Interesting. What does that mean to you? In what way do they look healthy?’ ‘They are a healthy weight’ ‘Hmmm, and that to you means they don’t have an eating disorder. Have you heard of orthorexia’?’ ‘’No’ ‘It’s when someone is fixated on only eating what is perceived as healthy food and to the detriment of their physical, emotional and social needs. Many people with orthorexia follow veganism. Most people with orthorexia are of an average weight and look healthy, but internally they are struggling’ ‘Well, we don’t have anyone come here who has issues with food’
He’s not listening. I pay for my shampoo and environmental toothbrush and feel sad. I have no issues with anyone who has a full and happy relationship with food, their body and their self-esteem being vegan. I get the environmental argument. And I agree that less meat, less dairy, more vegetables, fruit and pulses is a good way to go. But don’t imply that I should be vegan or that I am of lesser health or environmental conscience because I choose not to label myself vegan. Don’t tell me that you know what someone with an eating disorder looks like without expecting a discussion about that. Mildly raging, mostly sad, massively revved up to continue being a voice for eating disorder awareness and recovery.
It’s not just emaciated white women who struggle with eating disorders. People in larger bodies may suffer too, and face the same battles every day. Not all athletes are models for a healthy body and a healthy mind. So much turmoil can be hidden inside ‘normal’ looking bodies. There is a huge spectrum of disorded eating and exercise issues in our culture and we only talk about some parts of it, generally the more extreme yet socially acceptable ends of the spectrum.
We get into this, and more, in our conversation. We talk about Caroline’s early years; how her unhealthy relationship with sports and food began; how she found her path to self-esteem and full recovery; her transition from working in the corporate world to advocating restorative movement and therapy; how disorded eating and compulsive exercise manifests in relation to endurance sports; and the many myths related to eating disorders.
I know I say this with every episode but I could have continued talking to Caroline for many hours, as she has a wall of wisdom to share, built from the foundation of tough lived experience and honest reflection. She is a positive force in this world and proof that you can recover from an eating disorder and exercise addiction and live life in full colour. I’m grateful for her views and time on these complicated subjects, which for so many people are hard to face up to and deal with in their lives. Caroline makes it clear that it is never too late to start to address these battles, and she is part of a growing movement of options to help people do this, from eating disorder therapy to yoga, pilates and teacher training in eating disorder support. Please check out the resources in the show notes below and find out more about Caroline through her website and her beautiful recovery network recover-ed.net.
Here's the show on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher and most Android apps. Sorry guys,TuneIn seems to be struggling with my RSS feed at the moment and I'm trying to fix this with them. Hope you can access the pod through these other routes!
I hope this conversation is helpful to YOU and I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the issues raised. Give me a shout or share on Twitter @CarolineRMckay or Instagram @caromckay and please pass on to anyone in your community of people who might benefit.