Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee is 'Renewed'
Back in 2014, O&AN profiled the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee (EDCT). Over the years the EDCT has grown and expanded its programs, and it has recently rebranded itself as Renewed, Eating Disorders Support.
In its new incarnation, Renewed remains a critical resource for the LGBT community. As Courtney Grimes, Renewed’s clinical director, pointed out, "Often times, the LGBT community can be particularly vulnerable to eating disorders. Issues surrounding gender identity and body image can create a myriad of inner conflict, including feelings of inadequacy and loss of control. Additionally, external stressors such as coming out or discriminatory treatment can exacerbate depression and anxiety levels, leaving the individual feeling hopeless or alone. Eating disorders can arise as a way to cope with or avoid these feelings."
Kendall Cooke, who now lives in Nashville and volunteered with the EDCT, shared some of her story in order to give some insight into the way that eating disorders develop and impact LGBT people. Cooke grew up surrounded by sports—her dad was the director of the local recreation center—and by high school she had burned herself out on most things.
“My dad asked me if I would be interested in pole-vaulting since he had done it in high school and college, and he and I had pretty similar athletic abilities,” she said. “So I gave it a try and became pretty good at it, eventually deciding to continue to pursue it in college.”
Eventually the pressures of competing in sports, maintaining grades to keep up with scholarship requirements, and general feelings of inadequacy built up to threatening levels. “College athletic pressure was the toughest I had felt to date… On top of that I already had some inadequacies about the college/career path I was pursuing… I had already changed majors and focuses a few times and still didn’t feel happy with what I chose, which was health and exercise science…”
“It was already a pretty toxic environment,” she added, “and to top it off there was a deep rooted shame struggle that I had yet to even begin to tackle—my sexuality—which would be something that I would continue not to deal with for years.”
“All of that pressure pretty quickly spiraled into an exercise focused eating disorder during my freshman year of college,” she explained. “Pole vaulting continued to be a motivating factor for the eating disorder. I spent most of my free time exercising. And many of my athlete friends actually saw it as dedication to my sport.”
“As it grew into a full eating disorder, my thoughts and behavioral patterns became more twisted and harmful. I began skipping meals pretty often and watching how many calories I ate. I bought a scale to hide in my dorm room and went from 2-a-day practices to 3-a-day practices.
All the while, none of it left me feeling anymore satisfied. I was completely unhappy with my body image and had very little self-worth. I began to have passive suicidal thoughts.”
When a knee injury interrupted her training, Cooke focused on restricting calories, one way or the other. “Diet pills, laxatives and vomiting all became daily tools that I employed in order to try to get closer to this illusion of worthy and beautiful that seemed out of reach. Over the next year, all of these symptoms and motivations grew more serious. Passive suicidal thoughts became active, and I started self-harming, by whatever means I had.”
As those around her began to notice, they tried to help, talking to her about what was at the root of her issues and trying to keep her away from triggers. She had always avoided exploring that truth, a well of shame and self-criticism, but she also began to recognized how much she was suffering and how much she had lost, in terms of both health and relationships.
At last she decided to take a handle on the issue. “At the end of my sophomore year of college I quite pole vaulting. I changed my major and I started attended treatment 3 nights a week at the Renfrew Center in North Carolina. After several months of treatment, I ended up running away. Literally, I just left a letter for my parents and drove to Chicago with my best friend.”
Cooke wasn’t running away from treatment, she just felt the need to get away from the conservative environment she’d grown up around in order to learn about and acknowledge who she was. While she ultimately wasn’t ready to embrace her sexual identity, fearing loss of her conservative support network, she did discover her deep love of songwriting, which she had begun experimenting with during therapy.
The next school year, she transferred to Belmont to study songwriting. Once in Nashville, she found out about an opening for an intern at the EDCT (now Renewed). “I applied hoping that it would provide both a financial support for my time in Nashville and hoped that it would create a strong support system for my health” she explained. “And that is exactly what it did for me.”
“I spent half of my time during the three years I worked there traveling to schools to share my story of recovery as a part of the Speakers Bureau program. I started to feel validation from vulnerability. And ultimately I saw the support that I had around me.”
That validation helped pave her way to coming out. After leaving EDCT and beginning to see a therapist again, she admitted that, “the biggest influence in my depression was that I knew that I was gay and had never told anyone or even acknowledged it myself. After that I began dating girls and started telling some of my friends and family.”
“Not dealing with my sexuality shaped one thing in me the most,” she added in retrospect, “which was a fearful shame tendency… It also made me really afraid to speak up about my feelings, for fear that they weren’t okay or valid or ‘holy.’ That last one comes from having spent my entire childhood in a Baptist church three times a week.”
Those struggling with eating disorders at any stage will find a community of support at Renewed. "Renewed serves as a valuable resource to the LGBT community,” said the organization’s president, Kathleen Yabroudy. “We are here to help those who struggle with eating disorders and co-occurring issues by connecting them to treatment providers that specialize in these areas and offering support programs that take place in a welcoming and inclusive environment."
For more information on the organization and its programs, visit renewedsupport.org.