• Posted on March 8, 2017 4:27 pm
    McCall Dempsey
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    Today is International Women's Day. And I feel fat. Gasp. How could  McCall Manning Dempsey, a positive body image speaker, feel fat? Oh the horror! Well, folks. We all have our days. But here is the difference. I know that fat isn't a feeling and that when I start thinking and having anxiety about my body, I know it is really about something SO much more (i.e. stressful move, work, tiny humans and cramps). As women, we are programmed by society to go to war with our bodies. Our bodies are seen as the solution to happiness and world peace. If we can whittle down to the perfect size, then we will find ultimate happiness. When I realized it was International Women's Day, I thought 'Hell yeah'. I thought about my personal she-ros: Ellen, Brene, Glennon, my mom, sister and countless friends. I thought about my daughter and nieces. I thought about my friends who are stay-at-home moms. I thought about my camp tribe, my therapist tribe, my high school tribe and my college tribe. I thought about the countless women who have shaped my life into what it is today. So many extraordinary women in my life. How blessed am I?! But no matter how awesome they are - each and every one of them knows what it means to feel fat - aka feel less than. It really isn't about feeling fat. I mean, seriously, how amazing is my body? How amazing is YOUR body? For me, it is about feeling less than. Because as a woman I am split into a million little pieces and jobs: the mom, the maid, the working mom, the carpool lady, the speaker, the writer, the wife, the dog groomer, the accountant..the woman, the myth, the legend. Being a woman is hard y'all. So damn right we get a day. I know everyone reading this can relate to being divided into a million pieces and feeling like you are so split you can't do one thing right because you are doing it all half ass. Well, today is about embracing our half ass(ness). Today is about holding up our countless jobs and responsibilities and shouting, "I am good enough. I am woman. Hear. ME. ROAR. Damn it." Today is about giving the middle finger to society's standards and saying, "I am awesome just as I am. My body is miraculous. My mind is exploding with intelligence and I AM WORTHY." I refuse to go to war on my body any more. I did that for years and guess what, I was a size perfect and I was MISERABLE. I was dying. I'll never forget feeling inferior when I was in my teens and twenties by men who would comment on my body as if it were some inanimate object, like a toaster. I was too ashamed to speak up. I wanted so badly to talk back to the sexist comments, screaming that my was not some new shiny convertible car they could comment on. Sadly, I didn't have a voice so instead I focused all of my energy on changing my body instead of changing the world like I was born to do. Well, not anymore. Today, my voice is strong. It may shake from time to time, but it shakes with passion. It shakes because I am using it. A voice can't shake if it is silent. I speak up and stand up for women today because I was once that silent girl, muted by society's standards. I'll spend the rest of my life speaking out for that girl. I will never stop screaming back at the gremlins in my own head who continue to tell me I'm not good enough. Because I am. I am not perfect, but I am worthy. Worthy of love, of belonging and worthy to have a voice and take up space on this planet. If you are at war with your body, if you are confused about women's day, then let me set the record straight. You do not have to be a civil rights leader or international activist to mark your place in history. You are marking your place right where you are by being who you are. You are cementing your place by standing up for others and yourself, wherever you are. Talk back to those gremlins, look in the mirror and say I am worthy. Because that is what International Women's Day is all about. Always remember you are WORTHY, valuable and loved just as you are. I no longer waste time feeling fat or unworthy because I'm too busy changing the world to change my body. Oh Happy day ladies!  

    Advocacy, Authentic, Body Image
  • Posted on October 24, 2016 3:15 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    1

    Three hours. Three hours was all it took for the feelings to surface and the tears to flow. Three hours and a phone call from my mom. Last week my time in Raleigh consisted of ten talks, two Southern Smash events and two treatment center visits. When it was all over, I was DONE. Think about the most painful time in your life - your darkest days. Now put yourself back in that moment and tell that story to an audience...TEN TIMES in five days. I speak my story because I have been called to do so. It is a story of pain, hopelessness, faith, recovery, hope...and the many, many gifts that have come from it all. The gifts that I have worked damn hard for. Most people go on work trips, do their job, make some money and return home. My trips are very different. Yes, I do my job - but it isn't a job. It is my passion and mission. It is something I pour my heart and soul into. Self-care is beyond important during these grueling trips. I carve out time to be alone and rest my mind and body - a skill I learned many years ago at the Carolina House. I speak about my eating disorder, my recovery, Marjorie's early birth and battle with cancer. I explain how the gifts of recovery have carried me through these last two years. I speak on how thankful I am for my eating disorder and how we can all turn our dark days into lessons of hope. I take questions and listen to others' stories of recovery, abuse, self-harm, suicide and every trauma in between. I cry with patients. I laugh with them. I tell them how insanely brave they are. They are my heroes. North Carolina and the Triangle area holds a very special place in my heart for obvious reasons: the Carolina House. Then, four years ago Veritas Collaborative and its amazing staff and brave kids stole a big piece of my heart. Over the years, UNC Chapel Hill has become my second home and NC State is quickly doing the same. The people, the area (and the food - best restaurants!) make it one of my most favorite weeks of the year. The icing on the Raleigh cake is the full circle moments that inevitably happen each year. Three brave young women took to the stage at SmashTALK: UNC, sharing their story of eating disorder recovery. I have had the absolute honor of knowing these women throughout their recovery journey, watching them soar and fall with every challenge ED threw their way. As Sara, Sarah and Teresa took the stage, I sat in the front row crying like a baby...like a proud momma bear. Each woman spoke with such poise and power, the audience sat silently captivated. I sat overwhelmed with the realization that not only had God given me the ability to pay it forward myself, but also helped me create a platform for other's to pay it forward too. My pay it forward promise to help just one person has multiplied ten thousand fold in the last four years. And now the ripple has spread even further. Watching these three women pay it forward by spreading their own messages of hope and healing was nearly too much for my sensitive heart to handle. On Wednesday, the women (and men) of the Carolina House (both Raleigh and Durham locations), absolutely blew me away. Their bravery, openness, and willingness to 'go there', left me in awe. While scale smashing might be silly fun to those on college campuses, it is no joke at a treatment center. Many times people are not ready to 'go there,' they are not ready to say goodbye to the scale. When you're in the midst of your disorder, the scale often represents a best friend. Many people enter treatment not wanting to be there and not yet willing to accept these tough therapeutic challenges. It doesn't mean they won't recover or that they aren't an amazing person; it just means they aren't there in their recovery journey - and that is okay. Everyone's journey is different. We all move at different speeds - none better than the other. The women this year, however, were ready to 'go there'. They beat the SHIT out of their scales. I buy and send scales ahead of time for each patient to decorate and SMASH! It makes it really personal when you are SMASHing a scale that has a message you wrote to your eating disorder or significant numbers, like the number of suicide attempts you've had. After the SMASH, we went inside to process the feelings that came up, and once again the women's vulnerability and bravery blew me away. There were tears, laughs, anger and yes, awkward therapeutic silence. Of course, I don't know how awkward it really was - we all needed a moment of silence after the intense afternoon. The silence was beautiful. Not to be outdone, the young children of Veritas Collaborative left an equally big imprint on my heart. It never gets easy - seeing 9, 10, 11, 12 and older children with feeding tubes, covered in scars of self harm. You can see the pain in their souls, but often you can also see hope in their eyes. I don't know what their young minds took from my story, if anything, but I took so much from them. Heroes come at every age - they are my heroes. Bravery comes even when we don't feel so brave. And most of all that this illness knows no bound - age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomics. It can strike at ANY age to anyone. And I dare you to look a 9-year old in treatment in the eye and tell her an eating disorder is a choice. Looking out to a room filled with children suffering from eating disorders, I can't help but think of their parents. The blame they feel. The worry. The heartache. I hope they know they are not to blame. No one is. We don't give our children cancer and we don't give them eating disorders. But we can give them treatment to heal. We can walk with them, learn how to support them and sit with them when they fall. We can't always save our children - trust me, I've tried. But we can help them to save themselves. That is what the Carolina House, Mary and Christy gave me. They didn't save me. They gave me the skills to save myself. As I exited Veritas' beautiful new facility, my heart was full and my body was exhausted. I knew the feelings from such a powerful week were sure to surface, but I assumed it would be when I drove away the following day. Wrong. Three hours after collapsing on my hotel bed, completely zoned in on mindless tv (thank you Bravo for the Below Deck marathon), my mom called to see how my week was. My first thought was to give her a 'Sportscenter' rundown of the week since I was tired. But before I knew it, I was describing in detail each and every day. I told her about the amazing day at NC State and UNC, about how much I fell in love with NC State and the great turnout. I recounted the incredible women of Carolina House and the woman who wrote the number of suicide attempts on her scale that she smashed. I told my mom how moved I was with her willingness and her ability to let happy tears overcome her as she shared how it felt to SMASH that number. I told my mom of the young children with feeding tubes and the big hugs they gave me after my talk. I told her about the PHP kids and how much fun we had together. From autographs to snack time to talking about the challenges of recovery, those PHP guys and gals were the perfect ending to my week. My mom listened intently and then said, "I am so proud of you baby. You are making such a difference." Well that about did me in. Cue. The. Waterworks. Streaming tears soaked my phone as I told my mom how I talked about her in each and every talk. She laughed a little because we both know some of my 'mom stories' were difficult ones in our relationship. But after sharing these mom stories so many times this week, I reminded her how much I love her. I told her how damn proud I am to be her daughter. Sure, she was not the perfect mom, but throughout my recovery journey she has been able to admit mistakes AND do the really tough work to dig deep in her own life. Parenting is hard. I know I will make mistakes and I will correct mistakes my parents made in my own life. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like my mom. Today, I no longer want to be like my mom - I don't want to be like anyone. I really and truly just want to be myself because I have discovered that I am pretty awesome person just as I am. However, I hope that when the time comes to admit my parental misguidances and mistakes, I can be as brave as my mom. I pray that I can fall down and walk the path side by side with my children, just like she has walked it with me. Mom and I cried together on the phone a few minutes and I continued to cry after our call ended. There aren't enough blog posts to describe such a magnificent week. The feelings circle back to my first day in treatment, December 14, 2010. My heart remains with the people and place that have been such a huge part of my journey. Every time I share my story and meet others in recovery, my heart grows. I feel like my heart is going to explode on a daily basis and then I wonder how I got so lucky? Oh yes, I didn't get lucky. I worked so damn hard to create this beautiful life for myself. This beautiful and imperfect life. Yes, this is MY life and it is SO, SO good. It is an absolute honor and privilege to tell my story and it is an even bigger honor to listen to yours. Thank you NC...until next year. Thank you North Carolina for the love, my wheels are already spinning for next year. NC State, UNC, Carolina House and Veritas...thank you for welcoming Southern Smash and me with massively open arms. These events (and life) just keep getting better and better.    

    Advocacy, Eating Disorder, Health
  • Posted on August 6, 2016 7:48 pm
    McCall Dempsey
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    The signature Wal-Mart yellow face smiled down on my mom and me as we slowly pushed our buggy through the back to school aisles. I was just a few weeks away from moving out and into my college dorm at Ole Miss. Most freshman fear the move away from home, making friends or getting into a sorority. Not me. I only had one huge fear. One MASSIVE fear that trumped any other fear: Gaining the Freshman 15.  I. DIE. I spent the summer compulsively reading every article on how not to gain the weight. As my mom pushed the buggy, I told her my plan for avoiding the dreaded beer weight gain. "I won't eat late night and I'll avoid beer. Oh and I definitely won't go to the dining hall - they said it is LOADED with calories..." My mom (unaware of my eating disorder) did what every loving and amazing mom does: she offered advice and encouragement. "I use a scale to keep my weight in check." She said, "I hop on every few days or once a week to gauge where I am and know if I need to cut back a little." Her innocent suggestion led us to the scale aisle where I purchased my first scale. Before you start judging my mom, remember that we are all doing the best we can - especially as parents. We love our children and often don't have the tools or education on how to cultivate a strong body image. (See below for parent/body image resources) The simple white scale became my best friend, my worst enemy and my measure of worth. Every morning the little dial rotated and sprung back and forth until it landed on my weight worth of the day. My once day weigh-in quickly escalated to over thirty times a day. I once missed class because I lost track of time obsessively stepping on and off of the scale. So did I gain the Freshman 15? Nope. I lost weight - and it was met with high praise. "McCall, you look so good. ... What are you doing? ... You have such willpower ... College is treating you well!" The compliments fueled my obsession. How low could the scale go? I watched with joy as it showed me a lower number every day. But what goes down, must eventually come back up. And when the number crept back up, life really spun out of control. I was going out and allowing myself to drink and even eat late night. I practiced the college diet rule that many students do: restrict during the day, saving all daily calories for alcohol - also known as drunkorexia, a dangerous and deadly practice that is all too common. Alcohol lowered my inhibitions and ability to stay away from food. After eating late night with friends, I would sneak down the hall, scouring vending machines and even garbage cans for leftover, thrown out pizza. I would wake the next morning with such shame and guilt, too mortified to ever reveal my secret, my struggle...my ILLNESS. On the outside, I was your All-American sorority girl. I experienced a fantastic rush, pledging Kappa Kappa Gamma. I had a wonderful roommate and friends. My grades were off the charts amazing. But behind closed doors, I was literally killing myself. To this day, I still wonder how I didn't drop dead during college or the years following. The war in my head and the way I abused my body should have caused major health issues - those didn't come until nearly ten years later. Shame kept me silent. I continued to struggle throughout my college years, bouncing between anorexia and bulimia, addicted to that bathroom scale and playing the picture perfect girl all the way through. So I am sure you can guess my solution to how you can avoid the freshman 15... DO NOT BUY OR STEP ON A SCALE! Often times your roommate or even the dorm or sorority house has a scale. It is impossible to never encounter a scale. (Side note: if your dorm or sorority house has a community scale, stop reading this and email me: mccall@southernsmash.org). While we can't stop others from purchasing and depending on scales, we can choose to not step on it ourselves. We can choose to measure our worth on who we are as a person not what we weigh. College is a time to find yourself, to try new things, meet new people and yes, eat late night and drink beer. I don't know anyone who has discovered their passion or found new friends by standing on a bathroom scale - trust me, I tried. To all college students, especially you freshies: LIVE life. Live YOUR life. This is your time. It is going to be amazing, hard, difficult, hysterical and full of new adventures. You can't fully experience life with lingering anxiety/obsession about the number on the scale. And if you are experiencing ANY type of anxiety - go TALK to someone. Your school has a counseling center on campus. Again, email me and I will help connect you to locals in your area. I lost so much of my college experience to my eating disorder and I will do whatever I can to make sure you don't do the same.  Whether you're a Rebel, a Tiger, a Tar Heel, a Bulldog, an Aggie, part of a Wolfpack or God forbid a Gator, Blue Devil or Roll Tide (JK...not really), I am here for you. You are not alone.  Get off the scale and let your freshman year be about YOU, not your weight. With love (and a Hotty Toddy!), McCall Body Image & Parenting Resources About Face Body Image Health Ellyn Satter Institute A Mighty Girl Beauty Redefined Body Image Articles Reclaiming the “F” Word:It’s For The Children It’s Not Just Girls. Boys Struggle With Body Image, Too Raising a Girl with Positive Body Image  

    Advocacy, Body Image, Eating Disorder
  • Posted on March 8, 2016 2:01 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    Here is what my former eating disordered life looked like: Monday-Thursday: restrict, calorie rules, weighing in 20-40 times per day, diet pills, low fat, no fat, sugar free, fat free Friday-Saturday: Dinner and going out with friends, events, Mardi Gras balls, football games, excessive drinking and eating Sunday: Close the blinds, self-loath, binge, purge, more self-hate Restrict and REPEAT. I woke up Monday feeling lethargic and foggy. The past month has been busy and I have been going hard - really hard. I have worked hard, played hard, 'mom'ed hard. There has been little time for rest or self care. And after a week of taking care of tiny humans plagued with the flu, exhaustion caught up with me yesterday morning. But rather than take it out on body and blame my body, I honored it. Yesterday, I rested. I actually laid down and took a nap. I sat on the porch and blew bubbles with Marjorie. I ate and I got dressed. I did not wake up yesterday telling myself I was fat or needed to 'cut back'. No, no. I woke up and said, "I need to take it easy this week." To be able to say that to myself is such an incredible gift. Rather than go to war on my body, I knew that I needed to honor it. I needed to love it extra hard. My eating disorder mindset would have laced up tennis shoes and gone on a run and begun the Monday restriction cycle. My ED solutions never healed the bigger problem. The one thing I needed that I could not give myself was love. Today, I give myself an abundance of love and know when I need a little extra self-love. Too often when we wake up 'feeling fat' or 'gross,' we avoid real clothes like the plague. At least I used to. My former closet carried a multitude of sizes to appease whatever mood I was in: muffin top jeans, fat pants, sweats and my favorite...yoga pants. Now I still live in yoga pants. Can you blame me? I work from home and I take pride in my yoga uniform. However, I know when it is time to get up and put a real bra on. Years ago, getting dressed was an emotional roller coaster. I never knew what was going to fit or how my ED mind would react. Would it be happy or would it be anger or would it be sheer panic? Usually, it was the latter two options. My body was in constant motion - bouncing from one size to another depending on which cycle of symptom use I was in. It took nearly three years of SOLID recovery work for my body to level out. Let's also remember I had a baby within that time frame too! Being patient with my body as it learned to take in nutrition was beyond difficult. There were many 'white knuckle' days where all I wanted was to fall back into my eating disorder. But I knew going back to restriction, diet pills, crash dieting or purging would only set me back further. I had to wait. And the pay off was worth every agonizing minute of bloat and discomfort. My body no longer jumps from one size to another. And the only problem I have getting dressed these days is deciding on which outfit to where because I like them all! My closet consists of one size - size ME. Whatever jeans I buy today, will fit me tomorrow, next Tuesday and in two years. My body is my body and while I may live a bit too hard at times, it isn't because I am abusing it. It is because I am loving life and every person and moment in it. It's been a busy month and life isn't slowing down anytime soon. I have to carve out time to slow it down, which is a challenge for me - as it is for so many of us! Yesterday, I carved out time to do 'nothing'. I penciled in time for me on my busy calendar, which is the most important appointment I will have all month. Recovery is a choice I make each and every day. And yesterday, I chose recovery through rest. We want our bodies to be perfect all the time. We brutally compare them to others. We expect so much of our bodies and we forget to give them the one thing they need: love. We all go a little too fast and hard at times. Stop and listen to your body and what it needs. I doubt your body will say, "Please start another one of those awesome kale shake detox juice cleanses. I love those." Your body, instead, will tell you to rest, to honor it and above all else to love it. Live life and detox with love.  

    Advocacy, Body Image, Eating Disorder
  • Posted on January 18, 2016 3:32 pm
    McCall Dempsey
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    No matter how many activities I packed into today, time seemed to stand still. My heart raced and my mind was dizzy. I have been to yoga, taken kids to a bouncy house park and lunch and the quiet still creeps up on me. It is always there in the back of my head. The clock that is counting down to the inevitable. The injection, the scans, the return to the hospital. The wait. This morning in yoga I was so wobbly and distracted. I tried my best to warrior on (see what I did with that pun there ;) ) But I nearly knocked down the room with my giraffe legs that were so off balance in a headstand - thank you sweet Tannis for catching me and setting me straight. I choked back tears during most of the class. "Set your intention for the day, week, month or year," the instructor said. What is my intention? Shit. For no cancer in my daughter? For my son to never be diagnosed? For no one else to have cancer? For no one else to have an eating disorder? For no one else to suffer? For unicorns to fall out of the sky and shit rainbows onto all of us so we no longer hurt. So my heart can stop hurting with anticipation for what is to come. Tomorrow morning, Marjorie and I will load up and head to Wolfson Hospital for her nuclear injection. The injection is part of her MIBG (PET) Scan. It is the 'glow worm' test, as Jordan lovingly named it. The test lights up where the remaining cancer is. Our last scan in October, this injection caused her to spike a high fever and be overall miserable the whole night. I am praying there is less of a negative reaction this time. Wednesday morning we will arrive at Wolfson at 10am for her scans. MIGB first, then her CT scan. Then HOME. You can bet I will be carrying my baby home as fast (and safely) as possible. Jordan called me this morning and told me he was super anxious. I told him about yoga and how I was feeling the same. We choked back tears together over the phone and both carried on with our day of distractions. Every time I look at the clock I think to myself, "We will be done in 72-hours...48-hours..." Our hearts seem to be aching more with this one. Or maybe it is because life has been blissfully normal since our last scan causing us to drag our heels upon re-entry into the cancer world. Marjorie is crawling EVERYWHERE and pulling up on EVERYTHING. She is a constant ham, making us laugh at all of her show pony tricks. Big brother Manning races to wake her up every morning. He loves her so very much, well, until she touches any of his trucks, which is daily. But he seems to forget within minutes and is back to making her giggle within minutes. Our daily life is so full of laughter and giggles, we put the Brady Bunch to shame. (Brady Bunch proof as evident in pictures below:) So I get really angry when anything threatens our happy bubble, probably because I know too well what it feels like for your world to be shattered. My current mood is one of childish anger. I want to stomp my feet and tell the doctors 'NO!' We aren't coming. I want to opt out. I want my friend, Leslie, to not be driving her daughter to St. Jude today. I want to opt out for them out too. No such luck. Then I think back to when we were in the cancer trenches. My mood softens (slightly). I am so thankful we don't live in and out of the hospital. I am so thankful we aren't on round after round of chemo. I am so thankful Marjorie has a fuzzy head full of wild post-chemo hair. I. Am. Thankful. AND...I am angry - all at the same time. And that is okay. I know my heart can handle it and I know that I would be doing a disservice to my tiny fighter if I didn't honor every piece of emotion in my heart. The next few days will be up and down. They will be filled with laughter and tears and stress AND they will pass by. Our life will return to normal. We will get back the ordinary bliss. I feel really grateful God gave me this super sensitive heart, a heart that feels everything and feels for everyone. It is such a gift that I treasure. I am grateful recovery has taught me to feel and honor my own heart and not put it behind anyone else. I take care of myself so I can take care of others. As I march back into the cancer/scan battle, I carry you with me. My family, friends, prayer warriors and most of all my fellow recovery warriors. I probably think of you and your families more than anyone else in this journey. My heart breaks for those eating disorder mommas, who feel as though they are on an island. Help and support is so hard to come by, not to mention people who understand. When we hear a child has cancer, our hearts break and we run to our friends offering prayers, suppers and support of any kind. We send gifts, coordinate meals on wheels and share Caring Bridge and prayer links with everyone online. When we hear a loved one has an eating disorder or goes to treatment, we whisper and aren't sure what to do. There are no Caring Bridge sites set up or Meals on Wheel Calendars created. We want to help, but don't want to intrude. The shame that comes with mental illness is the elephant in the room that no one can seem to move. Here's how we move that elephant: talk to them. Reach out to their mommas. Offer a meal, a hug, a carpool. They deserve a meal, a shoulder to cry on and a friend to sit with them in the hurt. They are still a person with a family who has a disease that is no different than cancer. As you offer Marjorie and me prayers, offer a prayer to a friend or family member with a mental illness. They need and deserve a prayer too. Imagine if I went to the hospital tomorrow, only to be told by my insurance that Marjorie's cancer wasn't "that bad" so she should go home. You all would be outraged - rightfully so. That scenario plays out hundreds (if not thousands) of times a day. I just received a text the other day from a brave momma who is FIGHTING her own insurance so that her daughter can receive the treatment she desperately needs and deserves. You may not understand eating disorders, but chances are, you don't understand cancer either. And that's okay. We don't have to fully understand to empathize, love and send our prayers and support. An illness is an illness, whether it is mental or physical. The brain is a part of the body, as Senator Ted Kennedy says. It is not a mythical place. It is part of us, the most important part of us. Marjorie's cancer is no different than the countless others who are hurting from mental illness. Don't be afraid to ask questions. You aren't intruding, it means you care. To my fellow cancer mommas, eating disorder mommas and every momma and person in between I am so thankful to have you in my life. The love you send helps ease my 'scanxiety' for I know I have an army behind me. Thank you for the constant prayers, love and support. We embrace and cherish each and every one and send it right back to you. I will keep you updated on our Marjorie as this week progresses on. And PLEASE don't forget to vote for Loving Imperfection as the Best Health Blog of 2015. It takes ONE SECOND and does not post to your Facebook, I promise! ONLY THREE DAYS LEFT! First place gets $1,000, which will all go to Southern Smash. Help us raise money and continue our efforts to spread positive body image and eating disorder education! Thank you for your continued love and support - I send it all right back to you <3  

    Advocacy, Authentic, Cancer