I Survived An Eating Disorder-Interview with CEO Alison Maloni

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I personally understand how hard this is. Are you able to tell our readers the story of how you struggled with an eating disorder?

My eating disorder began when I was nine years old when I was attending a picnic with my aunt and uncle. A boy, who I thought was my friend looked at me and said: “you are fat.” Those words changed my life. I am not sure why I wasn’t able to ignore what he said, but I felt like I was punched in my stomach and the pain would not go away. I felt so small. So ugly. So FAT. From that moment on, when I looked in the mirror all I could see was a fat little girl. I began to not eat and exercise excessively. Dinner time was a constant battle at my house and I would sit at the table for hours arguing with my parents about eating. Over the course of a few months, I went from a healthy girl to skin and bones.

How did I get to that point? What I have learned in therapy is that the loss I experienced early on in my life played a significant role and continues to. By the age of eight, my mother and grandmother had passed away. In addition, my father remarried and had abandoned me. Those life events all affected me later on in life and still do.

What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?

Since I was so young, my parents (my aunt and uncle adopted me) took me to therapy. They were at a loss of what to do because they couldn’t help me. After months of therapy, I began to eat again and see the pretty girl that everyone else saw.

And how are things going for you today?

I believe that once you have an eating disorder, it’s always with you. For more than 20 years I was doing great. But like anyone battling this disease, I have the occasional negative thoughts that creep in.

Nearly a year ago, I went through another loss in my life. I was engaged to be married, but the relationship ended. All of those previous insecure thoughts came back. Was I not pretty enough? Was I not thin enough? I have cellulite. My face is fat. I’ll never measure up to other women. In my mind, I was not good enough and the stress wore on me significantly.

I barely ate or slept, but unlike when I was nine years old, I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I simply wasn’t hungry. I began to lose weight and that was making me happy. In my mind, I looked good. But I knew that I was unhealthy. It was as if I was controlling the one thing in my life that I felt I had control of. Then, one night I was laying in bed with my children and I just knew that I needed to get help. I needed to get my life back on track. Back to therapy it was, and after several sessions, I was finally on the road to being healthy.

Based on your own experience are you able to share 3 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?

It is extremely difficult to understand what goes through a persons’ mind who has an eating disorder. They do not see what we see and there is ALWAYS an underlying issue that causes an eating disorder.

1) Counseling. I think that the best thing you can do is to encourage your loved one to get counseling. When someone has an eating disorder they will not believe what you tell them. And many times they will lie and say they ate or sneak food.

2) Support. While they may not listen to you, it is important to let them know that you are there to listen and support them. You must constantly tell them how loved they are.

3) Don’t ever give up on them. They most likely feel alone and extremely sad and the best thing you can do is be there for them.

Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?

My heart truly aches for someone who is going through an eating disorder. I know exactly how you feel and what you see when you look in the mirror. I know that you inspect every picture of yourself with great detail and find your flaws. I promise that you will not feel this way forever and you will eventually be able to eat without thinking about every bite, every calorie and every pound.

But, you MUST go to therapy. You can not fix yourself, nor can your spouse, your friends or your parents. There is a reason that you are going through this and you must get to the root of it. I promise that if you get the help you need, you will be happy again. You will smile and love yourself.

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?

This statistic does not surprise me at all. I believe that social media plays a significant role in eating disorders. We live in a world full of selfies, filters and social media likes. As a 42-year-old woman, I compare myself to other women all of the time. Can you imagine what our tweens and teenage girls are doing? As a mother of three daughters, I am very concerned with how social media is shaping my girl’s minds.

We are diet and beauty obsessed. Turn on the TV or scroll through social media and you are flooded with diet and beauty messages. Lose weight fast, keto diet, low carb diet, low sugar, gluten free etc, look younger, get rid of wrinkles, cellulite, under eye circles, etc. The media is all about how we can look better. It is ingrained in our minds that if we look young and thin, then we will be happier.

We are passing our negative thoughts down to our children. I am ashamed to admit it but I have done this. My daughters have seen me look in the mirror and look disappointed with how I look. They also know that I get botox to get rid of my wrinkles and see me put on makeup everyday. What is this saying to my daughters? I have been working hard to show them that beauty is not everything and I want them to love themselves for who they are, not for the color of their hair or what they are wearing. I tell them every day that they are beautiful inside and out and I hope and pray that they will always see themselves as I do.

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?

As individuals, we need to figure out a way to stop comparing ourselves with everyone else and be happy with who we are.

Some companies are doing a great job addressing this. Dove soap has done tremendous campaigns to highlight real women and their bodies. They are showing that you don’t need to be a size 0 to be beautiful.

Schools need to take a bigger role in this. Many schools claim their school lunch is healthy because they are providing “whole grain” options, but let’s face it…their menus are very unhealthy. For some children, school lunch is the one good meal a day that they get. Serving mozzarella sticks and french fries is NOT a healthy lunch. We must start feeding our kids real food and educate them as to why they are eating it. Not because it’s low fat, low sugar or low carb.

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?

An eating disorder IS an illness just like heart disease and unfortunately, many people do not treat it like that. We need to have more education about eating disorders in schools. In addition, I believe that healthcare professionals must begin talking about it to parents and children. Social media and influencers are not going away, so if an influencer who suffered from an eating disorder addresses this issue they can reach a large audience. It starts with one person and if they have a large following then they can make a difference.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?

I have become a bookworm and there are so many books that I could name. But the one book that has really helped me through things is The Magic Book. My good friend Mandi gave it to me when I was going through a tough time and it truly has changed my life. It teaches us how to be grateful and thankful. You have a lesson each day and it really makes you think about how blessed you are and good things do begin to happen.

Another book that I love is the Alchemist. I have read it twice because the messages are so powerful. I truly believe that things happen for a reason.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is from the Alchemist. “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” This is relevant to me in my life because I believe that everything that has happened in my life the way it is supposed to. I have been putting positive thoughts in the universe and those thoughts have become a reality. The last few months have been incredible in my life and I believe it’s because I have made a change in my thinking.

I can say first hand that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. During my dark times, I questioned “why me?”. Why is this happening to me? But everything happens the way it is supposed to.