Her Eating Disorder Story with Kailan Kalina
Kailan Kalina is one of my business coaching clients who works as a freelance writer and editor...but she is SO much more than this and has so much wisdom to share with women, especially when it comes to living with an eating disorder. She is bold, brave, and vulnerable and I am so grateful that she's opening up about some very personal struggles of hers, as I know how much it will help others.
I recently talked with Kailan about overcoming and finding freedom from her eating disorder and losing her mom to cancer during her college years; a time in life that is hard for anyone. Along with the battles and the dark parts, she shares truth, knowledge, triumphs, hope, and courage. For anyone trying to build more inner strength, this one is for you!
Chasing Freedom From Playing It Small
Kailan talks about freeing herself from playing it small in all areas of her life. Growing up, she had more of a shy personality and thought that's the way she always would be, which she recognizes can be a very dangerous way to think. Playing it small is not honoring the life that we've been given to live so fully.
Kailan has always felt like she wasn't 'ready' for anything big or just didn't have the confidence to pursue what's on her heart. But at the end of 2019, she started reflecting on some decisions that she'd made over the last year and identifying patterns that kept showing up. Seeing her life laid out like this and the fear that kept her from making changes, she decided to step into the discomfort and begin actually fulfilling the goals and dreams that she has in her head and heart.
It's crazy how much we self-create the barriers of our life and we put ourselves in a box; how much goes on in between our ears - the stories - that can truly keep us from taking action. Kailan decided to take responsibility and something she told me is: "I'm a lot more capable and deserve a lot better than what I'm allowing". I love this.
Since I started working with Kailan in 2019, she left her job and took on her own business full-time and even moved to a completely new city and state! I've literally watched Kailan blossom. A lot of what she needed was just to be challenged. She needed her newfound boldness to be reinforced.
Kailan describes herself as someone who has been totally transformed by her struggles. And that's kind of why she shares about them. She was once so deep in a place where she thought that there would never be a way out. Her dream is to be a light for people; to show them, through her own story, that this chapter they're in is not the end.
Battling An Eating Disorder While Grieving
Kailan had every single type of eating disorder you can think of. It started as anorexia in her late teens. She was straight up starving herself. But as the years went on, she cycled through bulimia, then heavy binge eating disorder, bingeing and restricting cycles, body dysmorphia, and orthorexia.
Initially, Kailan didn't think she had a problem, which is pretty typical when you're deep in it. Even when people would tell her she'd lost too much weight, looked too skinny or she needed to eat more. She was in such a defensive mode at that point. She truly didn't think she needed help and that nothing was wrong with her. And the comments almost fed the exact behavior that's unhealthy...when you get recognized (regardless of whether it be in a positive or negative light), it makes you want to do that thing that you're getting recognized for.
Kailan first started losing weight as a senior in high school. She played basketball for 11 years growing up, very seriously and competitively. She was captain of her varsity squad and she decided to get in shape for her senior season. But she did all the wrong things to do that and ended up totally spiraling out of control with it. It got to a point where she was losing too much, too fast.
About 4-5 months after this new health 'regime' began, she found out her mom had brain cancer. When she found about her mom's illness, she had a bit of a reality check. She recalls feeling like "oh, my gosh, I need to figure this out. I can't be unhealthy for my family." So she began eating a little bit more. But then she went off to college and got caught up in the typical college girl activities, then lost her mom 1 year and 3 months later. Obviously, there was a lot of emotional turmoil over the next 5-6 years. And she wasn't really confronting it. She knew she had a problem now - by junior year of college, she knew she needed help, but she was too stubborn. She didn't know what to do and she was so ashamed.
Getting through college as a 19-22 year-old woman is a tough time for anyone. You're just trying to figure out who you are during those years; throw an eating disorder and losing a parent on top of that, and it just gets messy. It's a massive grieving process.
Kailan's mom went into treatment during her college years and she had to make a call whether to go to college or stay home for her family. Her mom told her that she wanted her to go. She got into that school for the journalism program, and her mom didn't want her to miss that opportunity. She went, but the guilt stayed with her. Being away from home as her mom was going through chemo and her dad and siblings were all there to help and watch her deteriorate, a lot of people were angry with her when her mom did finally pass away. She recognizes that this was because it's hard for people to deal with pain in the early stages of loss; it's unfamiliar territory. She recalls people telling her she should have been there, which reinforced that guilt within. Coping with this was A LOT, and again, trying to manage an eating disorder on top of that was too much.
She knows her mom would be so proud of her because this is something she wanted for herself; to fully live and do what she loved. She was a chef and that was like her passion; cooking and baking for other people. So, she likes to think she's like her mom in that way...following her dreams.
Getting Help And Overcoming Her Eating Disorder
She started seeing counselors in her junior year of college and through into her senior year, which helped. But it still wasn't clicking for her. After she graduated from college and came home at the end of 2015, she began working as a personal trainer and she was in a pretty toxic, emotionally abusive relationship. She thought she had things under control; she was restricting her food and being 'perfect' with her eating and staying really lean. But then her relationship started to take more of a toll and she started binge eating again, really bad this time. Binge eating disorder is where you're basically just eating without thinking and at the end of the binge, you're just drowning in feelings of shame and guilt. And so the cycle continues...you restrict because you've eaten too much. But then you do it again because you're under-eating.
Kailan thinks it's important for people to recognize the difference between random binging and binge eating disorder. Most people binge. Most people over-eat from time to time. But the binging becomes disordered when your brain struggles to function rationally and you almost blackout and you'll just eat anything and everything. When someone has a random binge, usually it's on some junk food - something delicious and a little bit 'naughty'. But when someone with a disorder binges, it really doesn't matter what it is - for Kailan, she would binge on healthy food most of the time because that was the only thing she would buy and keep in her house. Whatever is being consumed, when you binge eat in a disordered way, you eat to the point of extreme discomfort. You do it out of hatred, and you know as you're doing it that you shouldn't be. But physically and mentally you don't have the control to stop yourself.
Binge eating as a disorder is an uncontrollable action followed by feelings of deep shame and self-hatred. It's super common for people with eating disorders to deal with depression and anxiety as well, which is something else Kailan battles. Over-eating or an occasional binge tends to be more controlled and the person has more awareness and ability to manage what they eat and their feelings surrounding it. The mindset is different.
Binge eating was how Kailan was dealing with the feelings and emotions that were coming up in her relationship; unappreciated, worthless, not good enough. She hit her rock bottom, which can be such a necessary part of healing. It just hit her one day - she was so over it. She wanted out of the relationship. She wanted out of her eating disorder. She didn't want this to be how she deals with things anymore. So, she did some research and found an eating disorder treatment facility in her area. She made sure insurance was going to cover it and then began outpatient therapy. She went 3 days a week for 5-6 hours a day. And that was when things really started to change for her.
I think it shows so much strength in her character that she was the one who actually reached out for help. She didn't really know what to expect and she was pretty terrified, as you can imagine. She was part of a group of 20-30 women of all ages. Initially, she remembers getting there and wondering what on earth she was doing there. Had she made a mistake? How was this actually going to help her? All the fears trying to hold her back. But she was stronger than them. She told herself she would commit to this and go every day. If she wasn't going to fully submit to the process, it would be a waste of time. Clearly what she had been doing for the last 6-7 years wasn't working, so this time she decided to listen to what the experts had to say.
One of the most impactful things during Kailan's healing journey was being around other women who had been through the same thing. Up to that point in her life, she'd been very quiet and she didn't know anybody else who had gone through what she had. She felt so alone. That's one of the biggest struggles for people with eating disorders; it feels very lonely.
The sense of community and understanding from others took pressure off her and she realized she wasn't crazy, it wasn't all in her head, and it wasn't something she'd never overcome. She also got to see what her life could look like in the future if she wasn't able to overcome it now - many women who had similar struggles were much further along in their lives than her and that was a big wake up too.
She also really liked that she had a dietician and a therapist to work with 1:1. For Kailan, the dietician was super helpful because she could see that Kailan was at a point where she was ready to learn how to fuel her body. When she was at the outpatient center, she wasn't treated like she was broken, and that was paramount too! In Kailan's view, recovery can be made more difficult when you're treated as if you're fragile, or something's wrong with you...it can almost reinforce your own concerns about yourself.
How Faith Played A Role In Her Healing
Kailan hasn't always had a strong faith. At her darkest points, she still didn't really know the Lord. One of the blessings from her toxic relationship was that her boyfriend started taking her to church with him. One day, there was a sermon where the pastor said: "I know there is a girl in this room who is struggling with an eating disorder, and she just needs to know that she's loved." Kailan cried her eyes out when she heard this. It made her realize a) she needed to end her relationship (he didn't even pick up on this moment) and b) that faith needed to be a bigger part of her healing process.
As she began her treatment, she also began going to church more regularly. There was one day only a few months after starting this new healing path where she came home, literally fell to her knees and prayed to God: "I cannot do this on my own anymore. I need you." That was the first time she had ever, said anything like that out loud. Laying her emotions out so vulnerably. So desperate. And from that day forward, she started to feel like she had that hope. Something was placed within her that told her this wasn't the end of her story. And while it hasn't been smooth sailing since then, she hasn't relapsed! Everything is just getting progressively better with her relationship with food and body image.
Something that I read in a book that's always stuck with me and I think totally relates to Kailan's story is that desperation is actually God's grace because it takes you places that you would not have the faith to go otherwise.
Kailan's Advice For Overcoming Disordered Thoughts And Behaviours
While God may fully forgive us for our actions, we don't always forget them. And the enemy can use the memories at the back of our mind to rear its ugly head up and try to distract us from the progress that we're making towards the cross. And when it does, we need a way to combat that.
Firstly, Kailan says that "you have to be all in with something like this. It might take time, but, you know, you're only going to do it when you're ready...other people can't make that decision for you." And you also can't let anyone tell you what you will and won't think or feel. If you're someone with disordered thinking and someone tells you that you'll always have them, don't believe it. Believe in yourself and in God. The thoughts will become less and less. You'll become stronger and more able to stop them. You need to continually practice halting those thoughts in their tracks and saying, no, I'm not doing this today. Question the thoughts that come up. Is what you're hearing really true about yourself? Is that the way God sees you?
For Kailan, a part of keeping herself on track is thinking back to the times when she was starving herself and binging and purging and how heavy the shame, secrecy, and frustration was. It was so heavy - like being suffocated and carrying a boulder on her back all at once, and she doesn't ever want to feel that way again.
Having goals that keep her on track is also super helpful in fighting those thoughts. She does performance-based sports like power-lifting and weightlifting. Sports where if she loses weight, she's going to feel really bad. She won't be able to lift, her sleep will be impaired, and her body will hurt more. Keeping herself focused on things that have nothing to do with how her body looks is important.
One other thing I wanted to know from Kailan is how can we support people who are struggling with something like an eating disorder? Because in my experience, people can get a little defensive when they're working through tough stuff. It might even feel embarrassing for them if they feel like they're being told what to do (or if that's their perception). So, if you're observing somebody you think is struggling, try have a 1:1, private conversation where you guys sit down and you lovingly tell the person "hey, I'm seeing some behaviors that are concerning to me and I'm bringing it up because I love you and because I care about you. I'm not trying to point a finger. I just want you to know that I'm here and that I want to help you in any way that I can."
Kailan wished she had that kind of support. For her, the support she did receive felt a bit more reactive. Her parents would try to force her to eat her food. Or tell her she can't go to basketball practice until she eats her sandwich, to which she would respond by throwing it on the floor and walking out the door. Coming at it with compassion and making sure it doesn't feel like a big intervention where a group of people are going to sit the person down and confront them about all the things they're doing 'wrong' is important. The only time that someone is going to feel inclined to change is if you're showing them support that comes from a place of love and care.
If anybody ever wants to reach out to Kailan, you are more than welcome. Whether it's her or somebody else, if you're in the midst of an eating disorder and struggling to find your way out, find somebody to talk to. You can connect with Kailan on Instagram @kailan.kalina. If you need some more support, you can use the Eating Disorder Help Line: 800-931-2237.
To hear Kailan's story in her own words, listen to episode 83 of my podcast - The Chasing Freedom Show. You can find it on Spotify, iTunes, or SoundCloud. If you love the episode, screenshot and share it with me on social media @trainertanner #chasingfreedom.
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