When I was looking to hire another professional to join my team at The Eating Disorder Center, I received lots of applications for this position and conducted many interviews.
I knew immediately after I interviewed Sarah that I wanted to hire her because I was so blown away by her clinical skills, knowledge of eating disorders, and passion for the work.
I was so excited to do an interview with my amazing new contractor, Sarah Rzemieniak, eating disorder recovery coach, who works with people worldwide via video (Zoom).
Jennifer: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what fueled your interest in helping people to recover from eating disorders?
Sarah: I struggled with an eating disorder for a long time starting when I was quite young, and it took away so many of the normal and joyful experiences of adolescence and early adulthood.
Based on what I went through, and from working with so many different health professionals during my recovery, I always felt drawn towards working with others going through difficult times, especially in the health and mental health fields.
My first career was as a dietitian where I worked with outpatient eating disorder clients, and it was here that I realized how much I enjoyed helping others on their unique recovery paths.
I soon realized though that it was the coaching and counseling aspect of the dietetics work I loved the most.
So I pursued additional training to become an eating disorder recovery coach.
Jennifer: What would you say are some common misconceptions when it comes to eating disorders?
Sarah: One common misconception that comes to mind is where we think someone needs to look a certain way to have an eating disorder - that unless someone’s emaciated or thin, it 'can’t be that serious, or even exist at all.'
This is completely false. Eating disorders do not discriminate and can impact people of every weight.
Another is the misconception that recovery can be a mind over matter thing. That if someone has insight into their disorder and says they are motivated to recover or feels motivated, I think there can be a misconception by others and even sometimes the sufferer that they should be able to change their behaviors and recover just like that.
However, eating disorder recovery can be complicated and is definitely not a linear process. As much as part of someone might want to recover, in the beginning it’s often a small part of them and there are still so many needs the eating disorder is meeting for them, regardless of how badly part of them wants to recover right then and there. And as much as they might have insight into why they do what they do, facing change is scary.
For me, the eating new foods and gaining weight felt like facing phobias, and no amount of insight or rational thinking or motivation could just make those phobic feelings immediately go away.
Jennifer: How would you describe your approach as an eating disorder recovery coach?
Sarah: My primary focus is in helping each client connect with, awaken and strengthen their own inner healthy selves, and to support that part of them in facing and healing their eating disorder selves. It’s not about me being against their eating disorder, but about helping their inner healthy self to get stronger and then be able to learn from, challenge and heal their eating disorder self. I focus on helping clients learn to meet the needs their eating disorder has been meeting for them in new more life-affirming ways, gradually putting their eating disorder out of a job.
I’m also really passionate about the power of self-compassion for the recovery journey, and I integrate this into almost everything I do. I think it’s so hard to change ourselves from a place of fighting and hating the part of ourselves we want to change.
I strive to create a space that feels nonjudgmental and collaborative, where I can support the client in clarifying their goals and moving towards them. I want them to feel supported in challenging themselves while still always feeling like they’re in control, and that they’re fully accepted for however their journey unfolds.
Although I had my own recovery journey, everyone’s recovery is completely unique, and I love working with clients to discover what their own unique needs and growth areas will be.
Jennifer: Do you subscribe to a Health At Every Size approach?
Sarah: Completely. Whether for someone in recovery from an eating disorder or for anyone at all, I believe it’s so important to approach wellbeing from a place of self-compassion and tuning into our individual bodies and overall needs, rather than relying on external appearance and weight/BMI as a gauge.
I think it’s so important to recognize that weight and BMI are not accurate indicators of physical health risk. And of course, there is so much research to back this up.
I also really wish for a society where we are not so focused on people’s bodies, regardless of whether they are healthy or not, and where people feel accepted and respected for who they are regardless of their body size, weight, or health status and pursuits.
Jennifer: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges and most rewarding aspects of your job?
Sarah: One challenge of my job is making sure that the boundary remains really clear between me as a coach and me as a friend. I do many things with clients that a friend might such as eating meals with them and being available between sessions by text or email for support, so I need to make sure that the boundary and relationship feels really clear and comfortable for each client.
And the most rewarding aspects of my job are being able to connect with individuals in such authentic moments in their lives, where they’re facing huge fears and self doubts.
Being by their side and helping them to work through scary things, helping them to see that they can do what they didn’t think they could, and seeing them become more hopeful about what their future could look like, and then actualizing this – it’s amazing, and I feel so blessed to be able to do this work.
Jennifer: How is your life as a recovered person different from your life in an eating disorder?
Sarah: They feel like night and day. When I was struggling with an eating disorder, my days revolved around doing whatever I had to do to avoid my own inner critic, and the anxiety and fear that would come if I didn’t follow all my rigid rules and routines. I felt extremely isolated and disconnected from others and the world, and from myself.
Being recovered now, life feels so free. I don’t feel numb and disconnected, and I don’t rely on strict rules and routines and external markers like my diet and body to feel okay with myself and to manage my anxiety.
It took a time and work to get here, but I finally feel at peace with who I am, and I feel free to do what I feel like doing and what brings me joy, and I finally feel able to know what these things are!
Life still has challenges and tough days related to just life, and as a woman in this society I still have moments when body image thoughts come up, but it doesn’t affect how I feel about myself on a deep level anymore.
Overall, life just feels really free, intuitive, and much more present and connected to the world around me and to myself.
Jennifer: What is one piece of advice that you would give someone who is struggling in their recovery?
Sarah: One piece of advice I would share is to try to focus on finding patience and self-compassion for yourself and the journey, no matter how difficult and frustrating it can feel at times.
Remind yourself that everyone’s journeys are unique, and that your journey is filled with so many growth opportunities and difficulties that help you to build strength and inner awareness that you will likely be grateful for in the future.
Remind yourself that so many people who are fully recovered also felt at times that recovery was possible for others but not for them.
Expose yourself to other people who have recovered, get support, and be gentle with yourself through the recovery process. It’s not meant to happen overnight, or be easy, but it will be so worth it.
A Self-Compassion Exercise from Sarah:
One exercise that I often use with clients is called a self-compassion jar.
When something doesn't go how your inner critic thinks it should, instead of just ending with being tough on yourself, it's an opportunity to put a colored marble in a jar, (along with a small self-compassionate note to yourself if you'd like!) if you are able to end from a place of self-compassion
It's a tangible way to practice having compassion for yourself in challenging moments
If you feel like you could use more self-compassion in your life, this is one activity you could try!
The Eating Disorder Center is a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center founded by Jennifer Rollin. We specialize in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, OSFED, and body image issues. We also offer therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder. We provide eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Silver Spring, Germantown, and Washington D.C. We provide eating disorder recovery coaching via Zoom to people worldwide. Connect with us through our website at www.theeatingdisordercenter.com
The Eating Disorder Center
We are a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center in Rockville, Maryland.