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September 8, 2020

Gaining a Life: A Q&A with Emily Formea

Gaining a Life: A Q&A with Emily Formea

**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.

Emily Formea is a writer and coach passionate about eating disorder recovery, food freedom, and self-love. She is the author of Gaining a Life: The Untold Story of My Eating Disorder & Recovery and the host of the To The Girl podcast. To learn more about Emily, find her on Facebook and YouTube.

Here Emily tells us about her memoir, Gaining a Life, and the gifts of eating disorder recovery to which its title alludes, and shares with us one of her favorite excerpts.

Tell us about Gaining a Life!

I wrote Gaining a Life only four months ago and it has probably been one of the greatest achievements of my life! As someone who recovered from her own eating disorder of 10 years, I wanted to showcase that it was not only possible to recover, but also WORTH it! As a blogger and online influencer around eating disorder recovery, I hear daily how so many people want to desperately recover from their eating disorders! They want to stop struggling with food or their bodies! They want to eat freely and stop thinking about or worrying about their plates, BUT… and it’s always a big ‘but’ because it was the same for me for a decade…. BUT they don’t want to gain weight. They don’t want to have their body change at all! They want to leave their eating disorders behind, but they don’t want to leave their control behind with it. They don’t want to accept that they may gain weight, their bodies may change, that they may not know how long their recovery will last, etc. and that was the exact reason I wrote my book! 

Sure, I gained weight, but I also gained an entire LIFE! My book is split into three parts. The first half of the book is very vulnerable. It’s me detailing my true decade- long struggle with food to you. I wanted my reader to understand how bad I was with food and my body image to make them feel not so alone, to make them realize that if I could recover, so could they! And to make them aware of how my eating disorder affected my ENTIRE life, not just my body or my diet, I wanted the reader to really know about my background to connect us more! Then, moving into the second half of the book, it is all about how I healed! How I did recover, the process, the pain, the abundant joy, etc.! I explain how I chose to live my life off the scales and calorie-counting apps and how THEY can do the same!! The final few pages are actual exercises to help the reader shift their mindset around food, their body, control, perfectionism, and more to make recovery tangible and long-lasting!

I wrote the entire book in 5 weeks, which I know is INSANE, but I knew what I wanted to say, what needed to be said, how badly people were searching for a book just like this one, and how—more than anything—I wanted them to have it and to recognize that while leaving disordered eating behind may be scary, though gaining weight or having their body change may be terrifying… they would be gaining an entire life because that’s exactly what I did and what they will do too! The life gained is worth recovery and my new body EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. My book is for anyone who needs to hear that. It’s for anyone who has ever told themselves that this is just ‘how it is going to be’ for forever. That recovery, enjoying ice cream, loving their thighs, just cannot be for them and they have to let that idea go! My book is for the person who wants to heal so badly, who wants to grow so badly, but may just need a little more love and support to make it all feel doable, safe, and worth it!

Can you unpack the title for us? What did you gain in recovery? 

This may be my favorite question EVER asked about my book! I gained a life, but what does that mean? I gained freedom. I gained going out to dinner with my boyfriend and being so excited to try something fun on the menu instead of immediately flipping to the “lighter calorie” section. I gained the ability to stand up for myself when I felt like I was being taken advantage of at work or by my friends. I gained the mental clarity and quiet that came with not thinking about calories, carbs, fat, protein, steps, water, and more every second of every day! I gained the comfort to wear clothes when I wanted and a bathing suit or sports bra when I didn’t. I gained the simplicity of not having to plan, control, calculate, and worry about everything in my life all the time! I gained conversations with loved ones, Friendsgivings that I will never forget. I gained meaningful moments by going on adventures that two years ago I would have canceled last-minute because I couldn’t be sure what we would be eating and if it fit in my calories for that day. I gained the space to breathe. To welcome into my life my passions, dreams, hobbies, and more! I gained energy. The energy to play tennis with my brother not for the calories burned, but rather the points crushed on his side of the net. I gained the stillness of my body at night because when I’m tired now, I lie down. I rest and I recover. I don’t run every day or walk 10,000 steps every day. I listen to my body and I honor it as such.

I gained a relationship with myself. The thing I never realized was that my relationship to food was a direct correlation to how I related to others. I had no self-esteem, no self-worth. I thought the opinions of others meant something about me. That I could never please other people enough. That I could never achieve enough. I gained the ability to create my definition of enough. A definition that I fit PERFECTLY within. I gained myself back. The space, laughs, light, and love that makes me who I am. I gained it back. Is that worth some extra weight on my stomach or hips? You better believe it.

Describe the process of writing your book.

I think the process for me was interesting because I wasn’t scared. When I originally thought about writing my book, I think there was a huge part of me that thought, “Oh goodness you are going to be so scared to be that vulnerable!” or “What will people think of you writing a book!?” These sort of “Who am I to be doing this?” thoughts kept me from just sitting down and writing it for a very long time! Then one day, I was walking to work and I thought to myself, “I don’t care. I’m starting today!” Just starting. Whether I finish or not, I am going to start. That was how I wrote and published Gaining a Life in five weeks, by getting over myself and doing it for the real reason: to help other people. We get so worried about what others will say about us or what others think about us but in reality, I wasn’t writing the book for me! It was to help people out there who needed a message like mine to heal! When I finally got out of my own way, I just wrote and it flowed so freely and so naturally I was shocked! It was never once challenging or never once did I feel any sort of writer’s block! I was in the flow of creativity with a passion and a purpose; I couldn’t stop. It was truly beautiful!

However, I got emotional throughout writing it! I would cry at the end of almost every chapter I completed because it was taking me back to these times in my life, to this shell of myself that I had tried to shift away from for so long. It was very emotional, yet I think that’s what made my book that much better: I felt it as I was writing it. The biggest reward was absolutely the love and feedback from people who have read it! I couldn’t have dreamed of the amount of love people would give me and how many DMs, emails, texts, Facebook messages, etc. that people would send me thanking me for sharing my truth. It was unbelievable and I have never once taken it for granted!

What has the response been so far?

I know I touched on this above, but it has been life-changing! I received positive messages from people I knew in my real life! Family and friends who had bought it were thanking me and supporting/encouraging me online and offline, but the real gift that writing this book gave me was the connection with people I had never known before.

One particular message still brings tears to my eyes. I received a Facebook message one day from a woman in her 70s—whom I had no connection with, never met before—saying how much she loved my book and how she had struggled her whole life with an eating disorder and how she so desperately wished that my book had been around back then when she needed to read something just like it. I have the message saved on my phone and I revisit it when I feel tired or worn down as a reminder that I have a purpose, a message, love to give people out there who struggle with food and I won’t ever stop doing just that!

Any excerpts/exercises you can share with us? 

I would LOVE to share an excerpt from one of my favorite passages of the entire book! It’s an excerpt from Chapter 5: A Selfish Queen.

“But, maybe, just maybe… it didn’t matter either way. Maybe it didn’t matter what he did or didn’t do, thought or didn’t think, whether he understood or not was not my burden to bear, I had enough burden-bearing going on.

And this is my point. You have enough burden-bearing right now and all that matters is your recovery.

You cannot be consumed with trying to be everything for everyone else or keep a facade or an image or an identity. You cannot keep running yourself ragged, being the friend always giving, but never receiving. You can’t stay up late lending a helping hand AND wake up early for people begging for your attention. You can’t skip out on your therapy. You can’t skip out on your weekly meetings. You can’t skip out on meals or snacks or sleep to help or please someone else.

Even if you think you should.

In the depths of my true recovery, I was selfish. I spent money on myself. Time with myself. I was selfish with my time that’s another huge one. I didn’t call every single one of my friends every week to check in on their lives while mine was shattering below my feet. I didn’t text people who never once texted me first to see how I was doing. I didn’t string boys along who I had no interest in even if they seemed to like me. I didn’t go to events in Boston if I didn’t want to. I didn’t go to the gym if I didn’t want to. I didn’t leave my house if I didn’t want to and ya know what happened, I left my house a lot, I did a lot, I met a lot of new friends, saw a lot of new places, but only on my terms and my mental health at that moment.

I was creating my agenda, not my eating disorder anymore.

I was selfish with my time and my money and my resources and my media and my livelihood. I spent money on face masks and big grocery orders! I spent time with people I genuinely loved and in places I truly wanted to see! I spent resources on hiring my coach, buying self-help and self-improvement books, meditation guides, and mindfulness pieces of training to help me through my journey. I spent energy on myself, myself, and… me!

At times, I would cancel plans because I was really struggling that day and didn’t want to be triggered and I would instantly spiral! I would spiral thinking that this person now hated me, would never talk to me again, would spread rumors about me, would change the way the world viewed me. I would feel anxious and distressed. Disoriented and somewhat distraught, but I knew, deep down, I needed to be selfish and spend my energy on me.

This was an on and off theme throughout my recovery. Some days I felt like my crown was right on fleek! I was shining in the sunshine, baby! I didn’t have a care in the world about what others thought of me and this sort of attitude helped tremendously as my body and identity began to change over time, as well. I was gaining a sense of self-respect and self-celebration. I was no longer dictating my worth based on the number of texts I got or the followers on my Instagram. I loosened the guilt factor that came with me and my disorder where if I felt that I’d upset someone, I was nothing. Where I felt like I could never change plans, be honest that I was having a bad day, put myself first and others second in my mind hierarchy.

I’d never been at the top of my mind hierarchy. And it felt weird and it felt disconnecting and disorienting at times.

For as many moments of happiness and freedom and self-appreciation, there was twice the number of days I wanted to run, hide and revert to my eating disorder immediately. I would see someone look at me ‘a certain way’ on the subway and instantly feel fat for the rest of the day. I would text a friend and not receive one back and immediately jump to the conclusion that they wanted nothing to do with me and it was all my fault!

I would go through phases of telling myself that I was a ‘terrible’

    • Friend
    • Roommate
    • Daughter
    • Sister
    • Employee
    • Girlfriend
    • Not girlfriend, but going on dates with someone friend

I would feel sad. I would feel broken. I would feel lost and I would feel like quitting, which is where we turn to now.

Did I ever want to quit? More days than there are in the year I wanted to throw in the towel. At least every single hour of most days, in the beginning, I would have at least one moment that I thought life would be better, easier, and brighter back in the darkness. But I had to remind myself that I’d been there, that people-pleasing didn’t bring pleasure to my own life. That chasing thin was running away from living and that I hadn’t found a pot of gold at the end of my eating disorder rainbow, so why did I so desperately want to toss away my crown again?

You’re mourning, sweet girl, and this is the most beautiful, frustrating, struggling stage of recovery. Put on your prettiest black dress, we have a funeral to attend.

Gaining a Life: The Untold Story of My Eating Disorder & Recovery is available for purchase on Amazon. 

Get help. Find hope.