Starting the Body Conversation
Featured Guest: Robyn Cruze
Today I’m joined by Robyn Cruze, who serves as national recovery advocate for Eating Recovery Center. Her early career as an actress brought her from her native Australia to Los Angeles, all while she became more and more sick with her eating disorder. But as she began her own recovery journey, she formulated the ideas behind “the body conversation,” which shifts the focus off of dieting and emphasizes listening to your body’s signals. She sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to discuss the overlap between eating disorders and addiction and to share how to spot red flags of disordered eating even as our culture’s unhealthy messages about body image make it harder than ever.
David Condos: Welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos, and today I’m joined by Robyn Cruze who serves as national recovery advocate for Eating Recovery Center. Her early career as an actress brought her from her native Australia to Los Angeles. All while she became more and more sick with her eating disorder.
As she began her own recovery journey, she formulated the ideas behind the body conversation which shifts the focus off of dieting and emphasizes listening to your body signals. She sat down with me at the Innovations and Recovery Conference in San Diego to discuss the overlap between eating disorders and addiction and share how to spot red flags of disordered eating even as our culture’s unhealthy messages about body image make it harder than ever. Now, here’s Robyn.
I’m here with Robyn Cruze. Thank you for being with us this morning.
Robyn Cruze: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
David: First let’s have you tell us a bit about your personal story and the journey you took to serving this field because I read you started out in performing arts, right?
Robyn: I did, yes. That was my first career, my biggest passion was to be this actor. God, I remember from the age of two just this ability and desire to move people with my words. I haven’t lost that, but I definitely have transitioned throughout my life because of my story, because as the eating disorder and the co-occurrence with substance use disorder, I struggled from an eating disorder from the age of 11 through to 29.
David: Wow, it’s a long time.
Robyn: It is. And you know what’s so sad about that, David, is that Eating Recovery Center treats as young as eight years old now. When I was growing up, 11, that was really super young, but now I’m seeing kids younger than that, and it’s a shocking thing.
David: Yes. You grew up in Australia?
Robyn: I grew up in Australia, always wanted to come to the United States of America. I was like, “That’s where all the famous people went.”
David: Yes, we have Nicole Kidman now.
Robyn: Exactly. I ended up coming over to Los Angeles, and I spent a lot of time auditioning and I got sicker and sicker, and sicker. I just remember my manager wanting me to do the next pilot season, and I made up some excuse that I had to go home for immigration. I promised him that I would be back in six months, and I didn’t return for five years. All of those opportunities were gone. But in those five years, I literally traveled from country to country trying to find out who I was, trying to get recovery from this eating disorder and then the substance use. Every time I put down the eating disorder behavior, the substance use came up.
David: Did you realize that you had an eating disorder and a substances use problem?
Robyn: I had realized since I was 16. I was triggered by a traumatic event, as many people are. My mom was diagnosed with lupus when I was 11. Her kind of lupus was attacking her kidneys and they were failing. She was told that she had to prepare us for her death. That’s a hard thing. I have a 10 and a 12-year-old now, and the thought of them having to hear that, you don’t really understand the impact of that. When that traumatic event occurred, it all of a sudden, that environment event catapulted me into an eating disorder.
David: Through that journey, when did you turn it into finding your own recovery and then turning around and becoming that advocate that you are today?
Robyn: That was a long process. [laughs] As I said, I lived and traveled in seven countries in five years trying to find myself, and I remember coming back to LA after about five years. Once again, I thought that if I could just do it myself, if I could just be a better person, if I could just try harder, then I would have a better life. Because I knew that there was a better life, there had to be a better life.
I remember having given myself food poisoning from food [unintelligible 00:05:02] store. I remember just thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.” I thought about my mom and the strength that she had. I remember her saying to me, “Robbie, why can’t you do what you need to do for yourself to get recovery just like I need to do for my lupus.” I had this amazing woman to show me what it looked like to just show up for the challenge even. The interesting thing, when I was getting recovery, is 15 years ago, and there was no such thing as Eating Recovery Center, which I totally wish there was.
I got a treatment team together, as much as I can afford, and somebody told me about 12-step meetings. I don’t endorse any kind of model, but this is what worked for me and it’s my story. I attended those meetings, and I just remember feeling like all of a sudden I wasn’t alone. Why that was not my primary illness? The lack of conversation around the body. I didn’t want to speak about the body anymore and I found that I could hear the heart language more. I went to these meetings and I was sober for about two years and I remember somebody asking me to share my story and I thought, “Oh my God, holy crap, I cannot share my story to a bunch of people that are alcoholics.”
David: Yes, you were afraid that they would think, “That’s not the same thing. What are you doing here?”
Robyn: “It’s not the same thing, you use alcohol for very different reasons, and you’re not a part of this club, so get out.” [laughs] That’s what I thought they would do. I got up there and I told my story as honestly as I could. When everyone was thanking me at the end, I got a very different response than I thought I would. I had people say to me, “Robyn, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’ve been in recovery for 10 years but for nine and a half, I’ve been bulimic.” It really hit home, that we have this population that gets recovery from one illness and then they’re handed another. 50% of people that have eating disorders will be susceptible to substance use, and then 35% in primary substance use will be susceptible to eating disorders.
David: That’s a really big overlap.
Robyn: Right? Why are we talking about this? 57% of men that have binging disorder or also have substance use. That’s a lot.
David: And not only are we not talking about it, we’re not treating it. When you have somebody come in for, say, substance use, then that’s not even really a part of the program.
Robyn: Exactly. Throughout my recovery, I wrote a book called, Making Peace with your Plate, with co-author, Espra Andrus. With my husband being an interventionist and a family coach and working with Eating Recovery Center, I was so privy to these two separate worlds. They’re really separate. I’m always left with, “How do we bring them together?” What I discovered was there was a missing link that substance use professionals were educated on how to recognize eating disorder behavior. Doctors aren’t educated to find eating disorder behavior. They have like a half a day in their whole six years of training, so it’s no surprise that substance use professionals aren’t educated either. For me, I feel like, “Who am I not to educate this population because they’re my people.”
David: That gets into what I was going to ask next. That’s your presentation that you just gave at the conference about the body conversation. Could you introduce us to that? I read that there are three phases. Could you lay that out for us?
Robyn: The body conversation I like to– I try to complicate it so that I can sound fancy and smart, but it really isn’t that complicated. I like [unintelligible 00:09:15] and I’m sorry, Tim, he’s my husband. I remember about a year ago, I was hating on my husband. We’ve been married for 15 years, and I find myself looking at him and judging him and wanting him to be different and I knew that something had to be done. We booked a marriage therapy. When you go into counseling, it’s a safe space. What happened through the process with my husband and I is that, when he started talking, all of a sudden the anger and the judgment left and I was able to listen to him for the first time, I think it really hear what he was saying because I was in a safe environment.
Then through that connection, I was able to respond to him form that place of connection, which is really what the body conversation is. The structured approach is about listening, creating a safety net in a safe environment where I can begin to listen to my body. So many of us that spend our time ignoring our body that we can’t hear it, it has not given us any signals. I have to create a safe environment where I can begin to listen.
David: And building that relationship with yourself and your body and your brain.
Robyn: And asking, are you there? Can I hear you? When you think about it, our bodies are so intelligent. My body gave me two children, the goodness saying. I had a foundation, it fed my kid, it told me what I needed, it tells us when we’re sick, it tells us when there’s something wrong. Why can’t it tell us what to eat? Well, it’s because we have so much fear. We live in a culture where 10-year olds fear being fat more than they fear being run over by a bus. Yet with this $66 billion diet industry, we have an epidemic of obesity. 80 Million people adults in the United States are obese, 12.6 million children and adolescents also. I’m really curious why we’re all trying to buy in to these different diets. If they don’t work, then what’s the answer. When no one wants to have a relationship with their body because they are scared, they’re scared of what their body’s going to tell them.
David: It seems like the diet is a quick easy way to avoid the real issues.
Robyn: That is it? Because the issue will never go away if you don’t consult what’s going on. The elephant in the room, which is I fear that if I eat sugar, if I allowed myself to eat whatever that is, that suicidal time he tells me it’s bad for me, I would eat everything in the world because I want it so much that I will put on all this weight. It’s not true. I’m saying, that’s created a structure so that you can safely feel like you can listen, which is where the three meals come into it, the variety of food. [unintelligible 00:12:25] with the portion size, that’s your foundation. It’s not going to explore safely.
The second approach is mountainous, which is where a lot of people want to stop. They want to go from a dieting mentality straight into well, I’m just going to be intuitive about it. I’m just going to eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full. That’s great. But if you spend all your life ignoring your body’s signals, you’re trying to shove them down, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to get there. When we move into mindfulness and we still have the structure, we can start to respond within that structure. Now we can go well, what do I do feel like? Do I feel like a piece of fried chicken or do I feel like baked chicken. I don’t know.
David: Cool, because you’re able to listen to your body better.
Robyn: Right. If there’s no good or bad food and that’s it’s in my structure, then I’m safely exploring so. Then stage three is the self care parts, the optimum health which is where I respond. Now that I know that I can eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, my beliefs are being challenged. It’s not true that if I eat that piece of cake, I’m going to be the size of the house. It’s not true that I’m unlovable. I’ve got to be honest with you, it took me 10 years to get there. The time I got into optimum health, I was able to make those food, these mood choices. I can do it and it’s not a punishment.
Did you know dieting is punishing? It tells you that you are bad and that you can’t trust yourself, whereas the body conversation tells you that actually you do spend a little bit of time. You can get to know your body and your body can tell you everything that it needs. I tell my girls that all the time. They come home and some of the stories that Sara told me that I shouldn’t eat that cake because I’ll be fat. I constantly remind them what do you have to do? Listen to my body, when I’m hungry [unintelligible 00:14:15] because then you don’t have to worry about all the noise. Let me tell you, there’ll be hell of a lot of noise about your body and what it should look like and what you should eat, but your body knows best. Listen to that, nothing else matters.
David: You got into a little bit earlier about the overlap between substance use and eating disorder. Why are they so often connected, and how can we identify those signs and help the whole picture?
Robyn: Dr. Casey Tallent, who works for Eating Recovery Center, said that there was two specific ways that you’d tell whether somebody had a primary eating disorder or a substance use disorder. I was the way that they utilized the alcohol, which I thought was very interesting. Somebody who has an eating disorder, they will drink in order not to eat. Somebody with substance use disorder, they are not eating to get more of a high. They use the alcohol in very different ways.
I think the reason why we can’t detect it straight away is that we don’t often know hidden behaviors. Sometimes we miss the red flag. Sometimes we mistake somebody’s need to want to be healthy and fit. We support that like it’s a good thing in recovery, and sometimes it is, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s not.
Here’s the other thing, if I ask somebody in a talk, who goes around their dining room when their clients are eating to observe them? Maybe one or two hands in a room of a hundred. Now, we can assume that everybody has an eating disorder that has good or bad food mentality or constantly says I can’t eat that because that’s bad for me or that’s unhealthy, that makes me fat. What we can do is get curious about what’s going on with them, and there’s plenty of indicators. People staring at food and not eating it, people not eating all day and then you go into their room and under their bed is just wrappers upon wrappers of food.
There are many indications that we’re just not educated to know. Here’s another thing, David, I think the most important thing is, they are two very different illnesses. What will work for addiction recovery doesn’t really typically work for eating disorders because we have to eat three meals a day to survive. My call to everyone is, let’s work together as a team, let’s not try to treat things that we’re not expert in, let’s work together as a team and set our clients out for long term fulfilling recovery because I believe that that’s what we’re meant to be doing, right? How do we work together as professionals to take them to the next recovery?
David: What are some ways that you’ve seen that work effectively?
Robyn: Knowing how to identify eating disorders. When you see something, be able to talk to your client about it before out instead of sending them home and sending them to serve a living where quite honestly, eating disorder is really [unintelligible 00:17:44]. Send them to a facility to get extra tools in their toolkit. So they’re not separating their eating disorder from their substance use so they can somehow find a map because a very map for their recovery process. Instead of having to try to figure it out alone, what drives me, is not wanting people to have to spend 15 years trying to find a strategy of recovering from both, that works for them.
David: As you alluded to earlier, you were talking about how you’re seeing kids as young as eight, talking about the conversations you’re having with your daughters. All of this is going on against the backdrop of the body culture that we have a really unhealthy body culture that we have. How does that make your job harder, that people are fighting against that everywhere they turn?
Robyn: It has become incredibly difficult to recognize eating disorder behavior in the general population because it is so acceptable to diet and to look a certain way. The problem is that the body ideal construct created for us is not real, yet we keep on trying to fit in to that. If we’re in a culture where that kind of behavior is acceptable to talk about the current diet we’re on.
David: Compare yourself to that.
Robyn: Yes. We’re breeding that in our culture. Yes, it’s so difficult. Again, that’s really what I’m interested in seeing for people, is to challenge it, challenge this diet mentality. If it really were, you would have stopped dieting 20 years ago. I do feel like as parents, the way we treat our body impacts [unintelligible 00:19:46]
David: Sure. As an example?
Robyn: As an example. Practicing not being derogative about your body, putting your body down, commenting on your body is a great start. No way parents do not create eating disorders. We don’t make our children have eating disorders. We are not at fault, but we can be a major part of the solution.
David: All right, to wrap up with this final question, you’ve devoted a lot of your time and effort to the work you’re doing now. Could we wrap up by having you sum up why helping people build healthier relationship with food for the long term, why is that so important to you?
Robyn: I know this is such a simple thought process, but I really don’t want people to struggle the way that I did with my body. I had to stumble upon this new conversation with myself, and that’s super scary, right? That’s a scary conversation to have with yourself, and to really have to feel like you’ve got to figure it out. But it was the most profound relationship that I continue to have in my life. I want that for people, I want them to be able to trust themselves because it’s such an empowering way to live.
The trust that you build with yourself just trickles out through the rest of your life. I really want that for the people. Most of all, I want that for the next generation, I want to make difference.
David: Robyn, thank you so much for your time and for sharing all that with us.
Robyn: Thanks for having me, David.
David: Thanks again to Robyn for joining us. Now I’m happy to welcome Will Heart from the Life Challenge team. He joins us each month to give us an update from their community, which is an aftercare support network for those who have gone through foundations treatment programs, and anyone else up for accepting the challenge of living life in recovery. Last months’ challenge was to make this summer one to remember. Now Wills’ back to share the new challenge for this month. Welcome, Will.
Will Heart: Thanks for having me.
David: All right. Yes, good to have you back. How are you doing today?
Will: I’m pretty good. I’ve got a trip right around the corner, so just looking forward to that.
David: Nice, yes. What have you got for us this month?
Will: Well, with July, we’re starting the second half of the year. We thought a half year resolution would be a fun idea. Everybody does their new year’s resolutions, maybe you need to recommit to that new year’s resolution, come up with a brand new idea and just keep moving forward.
David: What are some of the examples you have for that?
Will: Simple ones. I’ve got get in shape, lose weight, be healthy, take a trip, save money, and improve relationships with family and friends. I always think that’s important.
David: Yes, absolutely. All right. Well, thank you for sharing that with us, Will, and like always, people can share what they’re doing on your website, right?
Will: Yes, lcaccepted.com bragging rights page specifically, we’re always happy to see what you’re up to.
David: Very cool. All right. Well, thanks again for being here.
Will: Yes, thank you.
David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Robyn Cruze of Eating Recovery Center. For more on their work, visit eatingrecoverycenter.com. Thank you for listening today. Please take a second to give us a rating on your podcast app, and subscribe so you won’t miss out on what we have coming up. See you next time.