An Interview with Chloë Grande, an Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate (Part 1)

Photo credit: Eric Akaoka

This interview was conducted by Prarthana Chelat and Sahasra Tummala and transcribed by Sahasra Tummala.

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your ED recovery journey?

For sure! My name is Chloë Grande, and I like to think that my ED recovery journey isn’t that unique. Many people have probably gone through something similar to mine. I grew up doing gymnastics and was always pretty self-conscious about my body and just very aware of how I looked, adding this extra layer of attention to my body. When I was in high school, around 14-15 years old, I started focusing more on eating and restricting when I got diagnosed with anorexia. I had a fantastic treatment plan, and I was in family-based therapy. I did consider myself recovered when I completed high school. However, going into university was a significant change for me, and I felt a lot of the eating disorder behaviors coming back. Again, with COVID, it was the same thing once we went into lockdown. It was just so easy to return to those old coping mechanisms, so that’s when I decided this is so exhausting, and I’m tired of going through all of these ups and downs of recovery. I committed myself to get a new therapist that focused on eating disorder recovery, and I made it my goal to recover so that I felt more proud of myself, as I felt that I was sort of in this mid-level of recovery, but I knew that I was still clinging to some old eating disorder beliefs and in 2021, I started my blog about eating disorder recovery. It’s been so incredible to hear from other people and even you two reaching out to me, so it’s meaningful to see that the message is getting out there that we’re not alone and that it is possible to recover.

How did having anorexia affect your day-to-day life? Did it make it harder to do things?

That’s an amazing question. It does, for sure. While everyone’s story with eating disorders is different, I didn’t have any energy, so I was tired all the time, and it affected my mood a lot. I got anxious about being around friends and began to dread social events incorporating eating. I isolated myself more, and I probably wasn’t much fun to be around because I was inward-focused.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your relapse?

So I think maybe this is something that people who aren’t super familiar with eating disorders may not know. But when you go through an eating disorder recovery, it’s common to have relapses where your recovery is not linear. There are a lot of ups and downs, and sometimes it feels like you’re making much progress, and then there are slip-ups, and you start to fall back into old patterns of an eating disorder. The most recent relapse I had was with COVID, and there’s so much statistics and information out there that many people are getting eating disorders during COVID. It’s happening to many young people (especially women) because we’re isolated. There’s this more inward focus where we’re on our phones more and have more time to exercise or focus on what we’re eating, so that was the case for me. I think eating disorder behavior can also be a coping mechanism for people. So if you’re going through something stressful or traumatic, reverting to those eating disorder behaviors is common. And for me, therapy has been a big thing to help me recognize those behaviors and recognize that they’re not healthy. Because when you have an eating disorder, the eating disorder voice is so loud, and it kind of tricks you into how you see yourself and how you think others see yourself. So recovery is hard but possible. That would be my word of advice there.

I read this book about a high schooler with a severe anxiety disorder, and there was a quote in it saying, “I think what I’ve realized is, life is all about climbing up, slipping down, and picking yourself up again. And it doesn’t matter if you slip down. As long as you’re kind of heading more or less upwards. That’s all you can hope for. More or less upwards.” Do you think your ED recovery journey reflects that quote?

I like that. Things don’t have to be all or nothing, and they don’t have to be black and white. It’s not you’re super sick and have anorexia, and then you’re suddenly never thinking about food and a completely different person. There’s a spectrum. I can relate to that quotation. And of course, there’s going to be days, especially around the holidays, too. You’re surrounded by food. It’s just top of mind and then going into the new year, too. It’s almost impossible to avoid diet talk or New Year’s resolutions about food or weight loss. So yeah, having that reminder that I’m in a better place at the end of it, no matter the relapses, is always nice.

How has writing about your ED recovery journey helped you?

It’s been very therapeutic for me. I’ve always loved writing, and I didn’t necessarily use to write about my eating disorder, but I think because writing is something that comes naturally, and I enjoy it. It seems like an easier way to be more open and vulnerable about my eating disorder, so rather than meeting with all my friends in person and having face-to-face conversations, I published an article through my university’s newspaper. That was the first time that I wrote about my eating disorder, so that’s why I love what you two are doing. I think it’s such a cool segue and that you’re starting younger. I wish I could have done that when I was in high school instead of waiting till university. But ultimately, you have to decide on your terms when you’re ready to talk about it. I also found the feedback given to me incredible, and knowing that I wasn’t alone was very validating. And also, I grew up reading many books about people who have recovered, so it was cool to write about it once I was ready to do so.

Has anyone approached you for advice regarding eating disorders?

I’ve had people. It’s interesting. I think eating disorders are a tricky subject because, on social media, you often see people talking about eating disorders from the recovered perspective. However, when you’re amid an eating disorder, it might be hard to reach out or disclose information, or you may not even be sure if you even have an eating disorder, so I’ve had people reach out to me asking how to talk to that person about their eating disorder. I would say eating disorders aren’t just about food. A lot of it has to do with your mood and how you feel about yourself. So my advice is if you think someone is struggling, which could even be you, ask them the following questions: Are you focused obsessively on food? Are you constantly thinking about food? An eating disorder does affect life, making it hard to function and focus on your job, relationships, or even just household activities you probably don’t feel like doing. Therefore, I would say the significant thing is to check in on your mood. And if you have an opportunity to talk to a healthcare professional, you can bring up the conversation by saying, “Hey, I want to be a bit more open about my mood. I’ve been noticing some changes.” If you focus on the mood part of the eating disorder, it might be easier to transition that into talking about food and other topics because you can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.

When did you first realize you had anorexia? Was that through being more open about your mood?

I did not follow my advice. Unfortunately, I would say I was really in denial, but fortunately, I had gymnastics coaches that noticed changes in me and pulled me aside. Then, I spoke to the school nurse, and many steps took place that led me to be referred to an eating disorder program by my family doctor. But I remember the whole time I was like, “Ah, I’m not sick. There’s nothing wrong with me.” So when I absorbed the diagnosis, it was very eye-opening and shocking. I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with me. I think I was just so sucked into the eating disorder that even when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see the same things that other people saw. Now, I’m finally at a point where I can accept my diagnosis, but it doesn’t define me. I wasn’t just an anorexic person, but it was part of my overall story.

Where to Find Chloë!