Many people call themselves mental health advocates, but what exactly does that mean? With the hundreds of mental health conditions, it can be hard to know which one an individual is choosing to advocate for, and why. Steffanie McKay, however, has made it clear—through her journey and several points of action—what she’s passionate about and sees worth advocating for.
Originally from Northern Virginia, Steffanie recently moved and is now in Pennsylvania with her wife and son. She spent most of her adulthood in Maryland and is looking forward to getting settled so she can spend time with her friends and family while pursuing her passion of helping others as a Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach.
Steffanie is becoming certified coach through The Carolyn Costin Institute. She’s been—and still is working—as a Private Duty Aid but said, “I can’t wait to give back to the eating disorder community after they helped me for so long.” When Steffanie isn’t working at her current position she can be found promoting her coaching business, FreEDom Recovery Coaching.
Being the go-getter she is, Steffanie also volunteers as an independent mentor through her Instagram, and with both ANAD and Rock Recovery where she will soon be a Mentor Team Leader. She hosts a peer support group on Facebook for eating disorder recovery and is hoping to start a virtual support group that meets weekly to share a meal.
See what I mean when I said she was a mental health advocate with a mission?
One of the questions I love asking those on the blog is how their eating disorder started and where their recovery began. With Steffanie specifically, I wanted to know how motherhood impacted her journey.
Steffanie was a crew team member on the rowing team in high school because she was told by others she was too small to row, while her mother told her she was too big to be a coxswain. Both contributed to her eating disorder as she got older, however, the roots of her disorder go back to when she was a child.
Here’s what Steffanie had to say about the development of her disorder:
My mother was away in the military for various periods of time while I was a child, so my grandparents (Oma and Opa) and dad mainly raised me. Because she was in the military, she was very rigid with her rules and expected perfection out of me. I was determined to give that to her because I wanted to be the perfect daughter when she was around. That went from school to sports, to extracurricular activities, to my appearance. I did anything and everything to be that perfect daughter because I wanted her approval when she was home more than anything else in the world.
Although my mother wasn’t in the military when I was a child, the absence of my father was something to contribute to my eating disorder for similar reasons to Steffanie’s. The craving to be recognized by your parents as a kid can get taken so far when the nurturing needed from one of them is missing. Like Steffanie, I aimed to be the perfect daughter in hopes I might bridge the gap between my father and me. However, what I—and I’m sure Steffanie has come to realize—is that rigidness and distance from our parents wasn’t ever our fault even though our eating disorders did a wonderful job at tricking us into thinking otherwise.
Diving into Steffanie’s recovery, she expressed, “I struggled with anorexia, exercise addiction, purging, self-harm, and various addictions for nearly twenty years. I attempted recovery for the pure satisfaction of others, but it wasn’t until I wanted it myself did I recover.”
True recovery started for her after she was told she needed to gain weight to give birth to a child. Steffanie had a deep desire to be a mother and to be there for her child, giving them the love she never received from her own mother. Although different than hoped for, her story of how she made this dream a reality and moved forward in recovery is absolutely beautiful and way better told in her own words. She said:
When we went to the fertility doctor they said I would have to go off my mood stabilizers to become pregnant, which my wife and I were not willing to do, so from the beginning, I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry a child which broke my heart. We ended up deciding that we would use my eggs, but my wife would carry them. I was told the minimum weight I needed to reach and I did everything and anything to get to that weight because I wanted to have a biological child. As soon as I got to that weight and was able to maintain it without regressing we went back to the doctor. At that time, I told myself I just had to gain weight to have the egg retrieval, and then I would lose the weight again. I kept telling myself, I can always go back to my eating disorder if I don’t like recovery. After months of medications, we had to abort the first cycle because I didn’t have any viable eggs. Everyone felt it was because maybe I wasn’t healthy enough. So, we waited…I worked on my health and we tried again. That time we made it to the egg retrieval but there were only three eggs to retrieve. After maturation, only one survived. We did the implantation procedure but unfortunately, it didn’t take. I kept trying until we were almost out of money and could only try once more, so we decided to have my wife go for it. This was a huge loss for me that I had to recover from. There was a lot of grieving involved in the fact that I was unable to have a biological child. And then the anger came out when my wife had seventeen eggs retrieved and one took on the first try implanting. I was mad that she was able to do it so easily while I struggled just to get a single egg. I realized it was because of my eating disorder. Because of the eating disorder, my ability to have a biological child was taken away. So I learned to take my anger out on my eating disorder and that’s what led me to true recovery. For so long I thought I was invincible to my eating disorder because my medical tests and everything always came back fine…until they didn’t. I’m sad that it took me so long to realize how destructive my eating disorder was, but I am glad that I realized before it was too late. This journey is what gave me the courage and strength to recover. I didn’t want my eating disorder to take away anything else from my life. I recovered for my son.
I find this so inspiring being that I have known many people whose eating disorders were triggered by the birth of a child. It’s not uncommon for those with a history of disordered eating to take part in behaviors again due to the uncomfortable feelings to arise from the baby weight. Steffanie may not have dealt with this sort of trigger, but she could have easily turned back to her eating disorder as a way to cope with the disappointment of not being able to carry a baby in the first place. Instead, she let the disappointment fuel her fire to recover once and for all.
Steffanie said what helped her most in her recovery was having a mentor who was recovered. This mentor used similar behaviors during their disorder days, recovered when she was older like Steffanie, and was of the same sexual orientation. Steffanie described it as “the perfect match” and one she will forever be grateful for. She said she and her mentor still stay in touch and now both recovered, can enjoy life as friends.
Still, like everyone else, Steffanie hit roadblocks in her recovery. One of them being her relationship with the scale and compulsion to weigh herself. She explained:
The most harmful thing in my recovery was no doubt the scale. I was completely addicted to it. There were times I would throw it out or give it to my treatment team, just to go to the store and buy another one the next day. It wasn’t until I got rid of my scale for good and worked with my therapist on my compulsions to know my weight that I was able to recover. A scale shouldn’t dictate anyone’s life, it’s not worth it.
Steffanie said that if you are looking to help someone going through an eating disorder now, the most useful thing you can do is, “Just be there for them and listen.” She said to ask them what they need, educate yourself on eating disorders and if you’re able, attend support groups put together for family and friends of eating disorder victims. Most of all, Steffanie suggests avoiding talk around food and bodies around these individuals because of the harmful effects diet culture can bring about.
And for anyone currently battling an eating disorder, Steffanie wants you to know this:
My DM’s are open to ANYONE struggling that needs support. I am hoping to start a “text-only” support program for individuals later this summer because I know how hard it is to verbalize your struggles with your eating disorder and texting may make it easier in the beginning. My Instagram is @freedom_recovery_coach and if you message me, I can connect you with any of the services you are interested in.
I’ve put links to Steffanie’s Instagram and Facebook pages below, as well as her direct email. Looking into her services or giving her a follow on social media is a great way to kickstart your recovery. Even as a recovered individual, I’ve found her content to be eye-opening and helpful. It’s also a great way to stay updated on the support groups she is hoping to start shortly!
Steffanie’s Instagram: @freedom_recovery_coach
Steffanie’s email: email@example.com
Lastly, if you enjoyed this post, make sure to give it a like, comment below, or reach out to Steffanie and me with your thoughts! We’d love to hear how the blog post impacted you.
Take care and be well friends,