The most important thing you can do for someone suffering from an eating disorder is to love them. People suffering from eating disorders often feel very isolated and misunderstood. Knowing there are people that truly love them is so important.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Allen. She fought the monster that is anorexia for 15 years. Now recovered, she is a brilliant businesswoman and popular advocate, in the Portland area. Inspired by her struggle, Julie has created “Mary Rose NW” a body-positive boutique focused on making women of all sizes feel beautiful, in their skin. She has also founded the Mary Rose Foundation, which financially supports residential treatment facility attendance.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I own Mary Rose NW Boutique, a body-positive, size-inclusive, self-love promoting women’s clothing boutique. We are located in downtown Oregon City, OR and also online. I started the boutique after recognizing the need for a women’s clothing shop that focused on self-love and acceptance rather than self-critique. I also founded the Mary Rose Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit set up to help fund treatment for people struggling with eating disorders. This is very near to my heart, since having battled anorexia and bulimia for 15 years growing up. The foundation works with local treatment centers to fund a portion of the selected patient’s treatment.
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. Are you able to tell our readers the story of how you struggled with an eating disorder?
A. My eating disorder began when I was 13 years old. I had been struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since I was 10 years old. Back in the 1990’s very little was known about OCD and treatment was not available. My OCD took the form of obsession with germs and constant, intrusive thoughts. Anorexia started out as a way for me to manage my OCD. It helped me channel all the obsessive thoughts on my body, instead of the terrifying intrusive thoughts that was my OCD.
By the time I was 14, the eating disorder had completely taken over my life. I had lost 45 pounds on my already thin frame and I was admitted to the hospital for the first time. This pattern of going in and out of the hospital continued for years. I was not ready to give up my eating disorder though. It was still serving a purpose and I was terrified of the OCD returning.
My battle continued for 15 years. Multiple hospitalizations, residential treatment stays, countless amount of therapists, doctors, and dietitians. I truly hated myself and could not see a way out. My life was completely consumed by anorexia and I could not see a way out. This was a very dark, terrifying time for me.
What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better? And how are things going for you today?
A. When I was 18 years old, I was raped. This sent me into a self-destructive, self-hate fueled spiral. The eating disorder had been severe prior to this and after, It was worse than ever. I began using self-injury to cope and had become suicidal. I was in a dark place and I knew I was not going to survive if something did not change. I made the decision, for the first time, to enter a residential treatment center on my own accord. I was beyond scared to live life without the protection of my eating disorder, but I was going to die. The eating disorder was going to kill me. Way deep down I knew I did not deserve to die, but learning how to treat myself with compassion was a long process. After years spent hating myself, making the switch to learning how to be gentle with myself was the hardest, most courageous thing I have ever done. It was all about changing my inner dialogue Learning how to talk to myself in a gentle, compassionate way was the key to my recovery. I have continued to learn over the last 10 years what loving myself looks like. It has been a continually evolving process, but I am proud to say I have been solid in my recovery for years at this point.
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? If you can, can you share an example from your own experience?
A. 1. The most important thing you can do for someone suffering from an eating disorder is to love them. People suffering from eating disorders often feel very isolated and misunderstood. Knowing there are people that truly love them is so important.
2. Being a non-judgmental shoulder to cry on and offering an ear to listen is so valuable. They don’t need you to try and fix them, they need to feel safe, heard, and loved. By being a safe space, you are allowing them to speak freely about their feelings and that is so appreciated.
3. Please refrain from talking about diets and weight. The last thing a person suffering from an eating disorder needs to hear about is the latest diet fad.
4. Please speak about yourself in a kind manner. Hearing other people call themselves “fat” is a major trigger for a lot of people suffering from an eating disorder.
5. No mention of how they look is appreciated. One of the hardest things for me to hear was that I looked “healthy” or “good.” That was code for “I look like I have gained weight.” And if I have gained weight then that means I am failing at my eating disorder and I am bad. Please simply refrain from commenting on their appearance at all. This is something I feel strongly about for everyone actually. Why is it so many of us feel the need to comment on another’s weight/appearance? When someone loses weight, most people will make a comment. I understand nothing negative is meant by this, but it is damaging.
Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?
A. You are worthy of recovery. You deserve to live a life free from your eating disorder. I know how terrifying the thought of living without your eating disorder can be but trust me…you deserve so much more from this life.
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?
Based on your insight, what can concrete steps can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to address the core issues that are leading to this problem?
1. Eating disorders are a result of brain chemistry combined with an environmental trigger. The culture we live in without a doubt places an unattainable standard in regard to body ideals. This could possibly serve as the trigger in a predisposed population. An eating disorder is about controlling one’s body, one’s life, and that is done through food. People that are not predisposed to an eating disorder will not develop one regardless of the societal pressures. It takes the predisposition combined with an environmental trigger for an ED to develop.
2. We are surrounded by an all-pervasive societal pressure to achieve an “ideal” body. This has without a doubt contributed to disordered eating and a skewed perception of body image amongst many people in our society. Disordered eating is different than a diagnosable eating disorder. We live in a culture engrossed in beliefs about what being in smaller bodies versus being in larger bodies represents. There is without a doubt a very prevalent advantage to living in a smaller body. This is referred to as thin privilege and it is increasingly evident in our society.
3. The social media day and age that we live in is likely contributing to the recognition of eating disorders. There is a significant amount of pressure people face to look and act a certain way. People with anorexia specifically are often perfectionists. The false sense of what is realistic has been an issue for a long time. It used to be with magazines, now it is with social media. And there is a lot more of it and it is all-pervasive.
A. What can we do: Individuals:
- I love seeing the body positive work a lot of people are starting to do on social media. The more people that are willing to stand up and be real, open, and honest, the greater impact we will all have in breaking down this pressure. The most important thing we as individuals in our society can do is to work on empowering people of all body types to love themselves. Learning how to combat the diet culture we are surrounded by is critical for improving our self-esteem.
-Bringing awareness to eating disorders and the harsh reality of how they affect people is something corporations can do. Corporations can be more mindful in the messages they are putting out regarding to body size and self-acceptance.
-Communities can find organizations that align with the message they would like to support. My foundation that helps fund treatment locally for people suffering from eating disorders is a driving factor in our community engagement. The more communities are involved in a cause greater than themselves, the more people we are going to help. Having our foundation help local families with the costs associated with eating disorder treatment gives back to our community in a way I had only dreamed about.
The most important thing a leader can do is be willing to be real themselves. I have found the more I am willing to be open and honest about my struggles, current and past, the more other people are willing to share their own. Being a positive role model, does not mean we do not struggle, it means we face our fears and empower others to do the same. Being a leader is about empowering others to also find their voice.
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?
A. Thank you for asking this question. I am glad the message that eating disorders are not a choice is becoming more well known. I believe having honest conversations with people who have suffered from an eating disorder and professionals who work with the ED population to continue to breakdown stigmas and misconceptions is vital. Bringing awareness to anorexia and bulimia without glamorizing them is key. I have found several books and movies about anorexia to be quite triggering and portrayed ED’s in a glamorous light. Having more realistic media portrayal of ED’s will be helpful to help decrease the misconceptions surrounding eating disorders.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?
A. What has helped me the most has been finding my passion and having the courage to live it. Reading all kinds of books on women empowerment, business, and self-help has been helpful in giving me the courage to find what I am passionate about and then act on my dreams.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A. My favorite quote is from Nelson Mandela, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” I have this tattooed on my forearm. The eating disorder was about so much fear for me. I was afraid of everything. Terrified to live without the protection that was anorexia. When I initially began really starting to overcome my eating disorder, I made it a habit to do 1 thing every day that scared me. It started off with the smallest things, but they were huge victories for me. Eating something that was not on my “safe” list. Sitting still after a meal as opposed to immediately going on a walk to get my mind off the food. As I have gotten farther along into my recovery, I am well practiced in overcoming fear. I am incredibly thankful for this mantra I live by. Fear no longer holds me back.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
A. Yes! Our biggest foundation fundraising event is coming up in September. The Mary Rose Foundation is a non-profit organization I started in order to help fund treatment for those struggling with the financial burden of eating disorder treatment. We put on a large fall fashion show with my boutique (Mary Rose NW Boutique) to raise money for the foundation. It is such an amazing event featuring women of all shapes and sizes owning the runway! The event is about empowering all women to feel beautiful and confident and know they deserve to feel that way.
I am also writing a book and am aiming to finish by the end of the year. My book is a cross between a memoir and a self-help book. I dive deep into my struggles with anorexia, bulimia, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, with emphasis on how I overcame these hardships. My goal is to give people hope. Hope that no matter what life has thrown at you, you can endure and learn to love yourself.
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?
A. My mission with my boutique is to help ALL women feel beautiful and confident. When women empower and lift up other women, anything is possible. When we believe in ourselves, know our own worth, and truly believe we deserve good, beautiful things will happen. My goal is to empower as many women as possible to understand they are beautiful and deserve to feel that way.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
A. I am on Facebook and Instagram as Mary Rose NW Boutique. My Facebook group is the best place to stay most up to date with the latest happenings at the boutique. We also have a Mary Rose Foundation FB page.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
Thank you so much for having me! I truly appreciate this opportunity to speak about my history and where I am today. I hope this will inspire others to know they too can recover.