• Posted on May 1, 2017 8:48 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    3

    To my dearest anti-diet community, I get it. I totally get that every diet post, cleanse, and celebrity detox makes your skin crawl. I. GET. IT. I'm on your team, but I am not behind the shame storm that happens when someone decides to go on a diet or change their eating habits. Recently, I awoke at 3am (because my brain deems it a great time to wake up) and began scrolling through Instagram. I was taken aback by the diet war happening on Brené Brown's latest post. There were countless comments shaming Brené for her decision to do the Whole30. I then saw that Glennon Doyle Melton (my other 'she'ro) recently posted a Whole30 picture a few days earlier. The comments were inline with what I saw on Brené's picture.   All I have to say to my fellow anti-diet community is BE NICE. These two women have written best-selling books and changed countless lives, including mine. I am pretty sure they know what is best for them. My favorite mantra lately is 'You Do You'. Do what makes you happy and feel alive. Do what makes your heart beat a little faster. Take care of your body in whatever way you see fit. And if you feel like you need a little extra help and support, find a therapist and/or a nutritionist near you. I am happy to connect you. But whatever you do, don't shame others for their diet decisions. Advocacy does not mean shame and judgement. Advocacy is leading by example, promoting your message through your channels and being kind to others with opposing thoughts and feelings. Do I support the Whole30? No, it isn't for me. Any diet for me is a slippery slope back into my disorder. Also, my husband would literally die if we didn't have pretzels and beer in the house. I honestly don't know much about the Whole30, other than it is 30-days of eating 'clean'. It should also be said that the term 'clean eating' makes my skin crawl. I don't think my pretzels are dirty, but, YOU DO YOU and I'll do me. And I certainly won't insert my opinion on Brené or Glennon's life choices. Both Brené and Glennon are sober; I highly doubt they would judge me for my glass of wine so why would I judge them? Often times, we want to jump and say NO DIET! Trust me, my close friends can attest to receiving my anti-diet soap box over the years. I used to be very quick to judge, pleading with my friend and giving her all the reasons why she should not diet. Today, I still stand firm on my soap box, but I try to remind myself that the best way to promote my message is to live it myself - not shout it in unwilling ears. For many of us, a diet led to a lifelong battle with an eating disorder, crash dieting and all around unhappiness. I get how it can be triggering and you want to save everyone from the same dark rabbit hole. But for many other, diets will simply be that - a diet. Will the diet work for long term success? Probably not since diets have a 95% failure rate. But, again, you do you. My first encounter with the Whole30 happened in January. I was at a friend's house and her co-worker was over explaining how she was on Day 20 of the Whole30. I was intrigued and asked her about her experience. This woman knew what I did for a living and tried to explain it as a 'lifestyle change'. I went back and forth were a bit on why I hate the term 'lifestyle change' when it comes to diet, but she explained her reason for going on the program. Her fall had been fast and furious and the holidays followed. She did not feel good in her body, not necessarily from a weight perspective, but she felt sluggish and foggy. She went on to explain how much energy she has and how great she feels. Her diet is filled with wholesome food, no calorie counting or rigid schedules. She enjoyed the meal planning and prepping. So I get it. I get some people's reasons for wanting to reset. Some people need a plan to restart. I can totally get behind that. I don't agree with cutting entire food grounds or denying ourselves the calories we need to survive like many diets do. However, we have to remember that there are two sides to having a healthy relationship with food: flexibility AND meeting nutritional needs. It is a tough balancing act. In fact, lately I have been trying to get more veggies and fruit in my diet. The reason: my life has been fast and furious this spring and I haven't been feeding my body enough of those nutrient packed foods. I've been on the road, grabbing and going. When I finally landed home two weeks ago, I decided to take this next month to slow down, do a bit more yoga and get some color back in my diet. I also use my extra time to sit down and enjoy Easter candy and chocolate with my kids. It is all about balance, moderation and flexibility. But again, that works for me. I don't know what works for you. Now, would I recommend one of the young people I mentor to try the Whole30? Probably not. I would direct them to talk with their therapist and nutritionist if they feel like they need to make diet changes. The diet industry is sadly one of the most robust and booming industries. We can't rid the world of diets and guess what? That's ok! We can't stop others from dieting or changing their food habits whether it be by slowing down or doing the Whole30. We can lead by example, showing those around us what it means to love and take care of our bodies. We can admire and connect with like-minded people, people who make us feel good, people who challenge us, but we can't shame others for trying a diet or lifestyle change. We can't be quick to judge. Brené and Glennon share so much of their lives with us, but at the end of the day we don't know them. (Even though I claim them as friends in every talk I give "My bestie Brené/Glennon/Ellen says...") At the end of the day, we can't put people on a pedestal. We are all humans, trying to get through this thing called life as best as we can. No one is higher than the other. When we place people on pedestals, they will inevitably fall off and that fall hurts us more than it hurts them. Remember when your parents fell off? It hurts.   And if you are thinking of going on the Whole30 or a diet, I would simply caution you and ask you to reflect on your motivation. Weight loss does not equal happiness, despite what society says. On the other side of the coin, there is NOTHING wrong with wanting to feel good in your skin. Remember that health is mind, body and spirit. Do what you love, move your body in a way that excites you and challenge yourself to make every day count.   So to Brené and Glennon, rock on. You do you and I'll do me. And I'll keep loving you, buying (and recommending) your books, quoting you, photoshopping myself into pictures with you and claiming you both as my bestie. With a WHOLE (see what I did there?) lot of love and gratitude, McCall

    Body Image, Brene Brown, Eating Disorder
  • 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 October 8, 2016 9:52 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    To my dearest daughter on your second birthday, I wish I could look back on this day with loving memories and joy. But I can’t. Your birth date was one of the most difficult days of my life. I will never forget the sounds and sterile surroundings of the OR room. Your daddy sat behind my head, resting his face next to mine and holding my hands that stretched out on the cold steel table. When Dr. Glas finally pulled you out, the nurse came around the curtain and held you up. “She’s beautiful, mom and dad.” She said as she held you up for us to see your precious face. You looked back at us with wide eyes, as if to tell us, “I’ve got this mom and dad.” Tears streamed down my face – and your daddy’s too. Those precious few seconds would be my only glimpse of you on your birth date. My body had been through too much and I was unable to see you until the following day. I could not get to you fast enough the next day. Waiting for the doctor to make rounds and free me from the catheter and IVs, was agony. Unable to walk, your Aunt Anne and daddy wheeled me down. Daddy already had the NICU drill down – sign in, scrub in. I followed his lead, trying my best to clean my hands with IVs hanging from my arm. He pushed my wheelchair into your tiny room, where your NICU Momma Lisa was already there loving on you. She lowered your bed so I could get my first glimpse at you. I slowly reached my hand through the tiny porthole of your Plexiglas home and touched your tiny fingers. Tears welled and streamed down my face. You were so beautiful – and so tiny. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. But there you were. You clearly had a different agenda. Your birth set the tone for the spirit you carry with you today: small, but MIGHTY. Tough, but loving. Wild and free. Full of LIFE and ready for life’s next adventure – even if your mom and dad aren’t ready. You clearly have your own timeline and march to your own drum. Your contagious laughter and independence are going to carry you so far in life, my sweet girl – I just hope daddy and I can keep up with you! I don’t know why you have had to endure so much in your short two years, but I do know that there is NOTHING you can’t overcome. You have captured the heart of so many – and you have so many angels flying on your shoulders, watching over you, protecting you when we can’t. I often think about how I will tell you about your birth and tumultuous first year of life. I still don’t have the answer, but I don’t think I have to. You will let me know when you are ready. You will lead the way in your own life – just as you always have. Marjorie Mims, you are a shining example of what life is about. Perseverance, discovery, love, hope and faith. May this year be filled with tons of laughter, Minnie Mouse, wagon rides, black beans & cheese (lots of cheese), dancing, singing, sparkly & squeaky shoes, hair bows, big brother tackles, friends and HEALTH. You are my hero. You and your big brother are my heart and my light. I prayed long and hard for you. I dreamed about you before you even kicked your way into this world. I thank God every day for not only blessing me with a baby girl, but a feisty one who is going to be a world changer. You’ve already changed my world for the better. I know this isn't the birthday we planned on. Hurricane Matthew drove us out of our home, but we are together - and that is all that matters. You continue to teach us that no matter what curveball life throws us, we will march on - and we will do it with laughter and love. The world is your oyster baby girl and I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for you! Happy happy birthday my precious angel. Here is to the best year yet and prayers that your daddy and me can keep up with you! We love you, peanut!

    Faith, Family, Health
  • Posted on August 6, 2016 7:48 pm
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    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 May 24, 2016 9:37 am
    McCall Dempsey
    No comments

    The week that forever changed our lives is upon us. Last night, I posted a picture saying, "The week Jordan and I have been dreading is here." I received many comments to celebrate and rejoice. I realize 'dread' is a strong word, but it describes much of what my heart feels. Of course, there is celebration and joy - look how far my girl has come in a year. AND I would not be doing her story or my heart justice if I did not embrace the sadness that comes with this week, the week of her cancer diagnosis. The days leading up to her diagnosis were ominous, filled with signs. I knew in my 'mama gut' something was wrong. In fact, on this very day one year ago, Marjorie, Jordan, Manning and I were at our best friend's pool. I was showing my best friend's mom Marjorie's distended belly. Everyone confirmed it had to be gas, constipation, etc and then gave their tried and true remedies. I wanted to believe them. I really tried, but I knew something was going on. I just had no idea that 'something' would be cancer. This week marks the days prior and then signals off the days, weeks and months that followed the diagnosis day. The tears, the gut-wrenching moans of sheer disbelief, the unbearable pain and yes, the laughter. The laughter through tears brought to us by our friends, family, nurses and you. I will most likely be writing quite a bit over these next few days. It is the only way I know to settle my heartache. Jordan likes to look ahead. I always tease him that he 'shits rainbows'...and he does, which is a big reason why I love him so much. I, on the other hand, have to reflect and (re)feel the days and memories. It is a big part of my healing process, one that I have worked hard to cultivate since my eating disorder recovery. I do not dwell in the past, but I do honor it. Reflecting the past, gives me the ability to look back with different eyes. In this case, the wounds of last year are still pretty raw. It will be quite some time before they heal and I am not sure if they ever completely will. It feels like cancer put a dent in my soul. And while my soul may be forever dented, it is not damaged. My dents and scars are signs of life, of living, of defying the odds. My wounds heal because I work to heal them, I absorb the painful grief, remember the past, live for today and push forward to tomorrow. I don't believe in 'forgetting' the past. The past created my future, it shaped my soul - dents and all. So as my family and I walk through this week and the coming months, I invite you to walk with us, soaking in the memories and yes, even the pain. While there is much to celebrate, there is also much left to feel. There are many tears to be shed and many belly laughs to jiggle out as we look back to what has been the most defining year of our lives.     

    Cancer, Eating Disorder, Faith