Talking Eating Disorders with Kyla Fox
Kyla Fox is a clinical therapist and the founder of The Kyla Fox Centre in Toronto. She is a member of the Academy of Eating Disorders and the National Eating Disorders Association.
I was lucky enough to sit down and speak with Kyla. The following is a transcript of our conversation.
Graydon: Hi Kyla! I'm so excited to speak with you about your journey and business, the whole subject of eating disorders and how that’s changed. Where should we start?
Kyla: [laughs] I don’t know! Where do you want to start?
Graydon: Well, let’s hear a little about your clinic, because I think it’s quite unique.
Kyla: So, I have an eating disorder centre. I opened it about 7 years ago, after being in practice privately for 10 years. I got to a point in my practice where I wanted people to have a full scope treatment process. Kind of like a one-stop-shop operation, that was different than what’s available, and missing in the city in terms of eating disorder recovery. When I was in my practice, I was finding as clients therapists, they needed so many other professionals, such as a dietitian, or body work, art therapy, endless amounts of things people may want to tap into for their wellness. I wanted to facilitate that in one space, with like-minded practitioners that are eating disorder experts, with the same belief that recovery is possible. Because it’s not really the message people talk about when they talk about eating disorders; it’s more the dreaded "you’ll always have it, you’ll never be okay," and I really don't come from that position. So I wanted to create a space that was safe and comfortable, in addition to being holistically thought-out.
Graydon: Amazing. I didn’t get so lucky! [laughs]
Kyla: I didn’t either, and I think that’s the intention of it. And the other thing too is that so many people suffer with eating disorders, and just sort of eating…
Graydon: Do you define those differently?
Kyla: Yeah I do. I think we live in a culture that supports particularities around food and the body. There’s a preoccupation that we have in health fads, especially now a days. I think that eating disorders, for me, are really acute. You're not necessarily able to function in the way that you need to, or have control the way you need to. Your rituals and regimes with food and the body become overpowering and overtaking. I think we live in a culture that has disordered eating. We have a preoccupation with food, certain rules that most people have, but also implications for those rules, like not feeling good enough if we don’t follow them or punishing yourself. That, to me, is disordered eating. They may be more functional in the world, but they are certainly preoccupied, there’s an awareness, there’s a protocol. I think it’s become normal and non-problematic in our culture, but I would argue that it is problematic, because that means there isn’t ease in a person’s life with food and the body. There’s angst, anxiety, disappointment.
Graydon: That’s very insightful, thank you for explaining that to me. I keep hearing about orthorexia.
Kyla: I think orthorexia is really defined by super-clean eating, and the inability to have flexibility outside those rules. And needing to eat in a very whole-food sort of way, and a very culturally supported way right now. What it does is create anxiety for people if they don’t eat like that. It’s an overconsumption of clean eating and particularities around where you get your food, how you make your food, those sort of things.
Graydon: So rigidity and self judgement?
Kyla: Yeah, yeah. I think orthorexia-type eating is so common. I think that, again, disordered eating is not seen as a problem because it’s so culturally supported and people get a lot of validation for it.
Graydon: It sounds like your philosophy is to be more balanced. And being okay with finding perfection in imperfection.
Kyla: Yeah. And being self-accepting as a result. So commonly eating disorders are driven by the desire and need to be perfect, and deep feelings of inadequacy and incompetency, in addition to all the things in our life that cause us to feel frightened, and anxious, and not good enough. so finding a place to feel flexible and at ease, and not have to be so rigid.
Graydon: So much easier said than done though!
Kyla: Which is why recovery is so challenging! That’s why we work with clients for such a long time. We’re not a short-term program. It’s really my belief that no two people’s eating disorder is the same, and therefore they don’t need the same treatment. We find out who they are, and then we design treatment for them. And that treatment is not stagnant, it’s also flexible and malleable, because life changes, growth happens, and therefore treatment needs to shift in that way. You can move away from food and body patterns, but internal pieces still need to be managed and worked through. If you can resolve or confront all those things that are deeply within someone, then the likelihood is that they won’t need to show that, or not show that, with food and the body. So we are with people for a very long time, just because we are working through their life overtime.
Graydon: Ultimately, that is creating wellness, which we all need. Do you find that your client-base is quite varied in terms of age, gender, ethnicity?
Kyla: Absolutely. We work with boys as young as 6, women as old as 75, and everything in between. I would say that as a private centre, we attract a client that has a readiness for recovery. Usually our clients have been through many stints of treatment, historically. It’s more common that our clients have had their eating disorder lifelong, but they're showing up generally at 20-40 years old, in a space of feeling ready to take on their life and be proactive. I also think there’s a cognitive capacity. When we're younger, maybe we are not developed enough to move through the psychological work. I think recovery at the centre is about people who are ready to say it, to confront it. They are really tired of it, they want to have a better life, and are interested in being who they’re ready to be. I would say that as vast as the spectrum of clientele we have, there’s no one kind of people we see, which speaks to the nature of eating disorders in and of itself.
Graydon: Just like mental health issues, it can be very invisible.
Kyla: When you have an eating disorder, you really suffer in silence. So much of the harm happens in silence, and people don’t really understand that. There’s this thinking outwardly that if you have an eating disorder, you look a certain way. The truth is, most people affected look totally normal, and you would never know. That’s why so many people suffer in silence. And the harm they’re facing is astronomical.
Graydon: Can we talk about harm?
Kyla: Yeah, I think it’s a massive spectrum. The mental and emotional harm is enormous. Whatever criticisms that can be said about yourself live and breathe within your mind. There are tons of physical ramifications when you are engaging in binging, purging and restricting. That can have a lot of issues with digestion as they recover. Sleep can be deeply affected. In very acute cases, heart attacks or stroke. Hormonal imbalances and fertility, that was something that was a driving force for my own recovery, just this overwhelming fear that I would never have children, despite the fact that I was terrified of what it would do to my body, but I recognized I would miss that chance because I was engaged in so much harm.
Graydon: For me, it was more osteoporosis. Something that’s nice to avoid. The leeching of minerals does affect your hair, your skin, your nails, all these other parts of your body.
Kyla: When I think about clients that work with us, one of the things they start to notice as they’re starting to engage in more regulated eating and taking care of themselves, is that their hair or nails are growing. All of these are signs that the body is responding to wellness.
Graydon: Feeding your body from the inside out! Our bodies want to be our friends, and are just so happy when you treat them nicely with love.
Kyla: I think the interesting thing about recovery is, you realize after your body has been in harm for so long, it accommodates the harm you're in and keeps you alive. When you’re in recovery, it’s like a dance to learn how to be in connection with your body again. Recovery is learning how your body can be heard, and listening to your body. Harming isn't listening to the needs of your body, those needs are ignored. Recovery is recognizing the language your body is speaking to you, and responding, tapping into that and learning to honour that.
Graydon: Feeling your feelings, and being in your body.
Kyla: Most people think that recovery is about regulating your relationship with food and your body, but its really about emotionally finding safety and stability, because that’s really at the core about how you feel about who you are and how you relate to others.
Graydon: So many people just don’t realize that, but that’s why you're doing the work that you’re doing. Ten or 20 years ago there was this lack of education and awareness. How do you think eating disorders have changed over the last few decades? I mean I’m in my 50s…
Kyla: How does it feel to be in your 50s? Does it feel great?
Graydon: I mean, yeah! Your body does change, but in terms of what you’re talking about, owning yourself, I actually feel like I’m doing pretty well.
Kyla: Feeling more comfortable.
Graydon: And being grateful for my body, inside and outside. I feel like there’s a level of deep pride.
Kyla: With intense restriction, in its acute form, it’s really a person walking around the world saying, "Look at how empty I am." People in recovery need to find purpose, and gratefulness, and fulfillment as a result.
Graydon: I mentioned to you I have a son, and I’m definitely always talking to him about why his school program is meaningful to him. When he graduates and gets a job, what does it mean to you? It was something so foreign to me, and had so much resistance to the idea of enjoying what I choose to do. It’s something as parents that we can do for our children, to help them connect.
Kyla: I have two little girls, and I see their freedom and openness to the world. As a mom, I try to foster this ability to access who you want to be, and be in awe of their ability to be that way.
Graydon: Always trying to do our best.
Kyla: It’s the hardest, best thing I’ve done in my life.
Graydon: I think the whole mindfulness movement that is happening, people are becoming more mindful with parenting. Mindful parenting! I would like to think that it is a wonderful way to make change in the world. Do you find that’s a common theme among your mom-friends?
Kyla: Yeah, you attract what you put out. I feel like for me, in my life as I’ve moved and changed and grown, honesty and living in the world honestly has been the most profound, healing thing. So being in the company of people that live that way, and align in that way, and put that message out. Being mindful is being honest and present. The juggle of being a mom and working, I find it all to be so hard to balance and manage, and feel good about all of it. How do we do it? I still am puzzled by that. How did you find that when your son was younger?
Graydon: It was hard. I was teaching yoga at the time, so that was a little bit better because I taught a lot at home. Do you see a world without eating disorder or disordered eating? Do you think that’s something that will be endemic no matter what era it is?
Kyla: I think that so many people need a place to articulate their emotional experience and that the body is ours to control. Therefore it becomes a safe place to access that emotional experience. That’s why I think eating disorders will never go away. My hope is that they can be repaired more effectively and quicker.
Graydon: What about the whole medical world? Have you found that more clinical physicians are changing their lens to a more holistic focus?
Kyla: I think there’s a bit of a shift, but I also think there’s an important space for medical facilities.
Graydon: Oh absolutely!
Kyla: I think there is a more openness to the diversification of recovery. No two people will recover from an eating disorder the same, and I think that’s the benefit of having different lenses, different methods of recovery, different belief systems. I suppose I’m biased because of the way I feel eating disorders are best treated, but I certainly can see how there might have been a really important time for something to go to a hospital and that served it’s purpose in the moment. I think there’s a space for everything, because people need to find their own way in recovery.
Graydon: I actually have a few things I want to ask you and throw out there. I’d like to know if you have any tips for people who are going through this. It’s really hard to witness a family member or a friend going through those things. And how do you define wellness and wellness tips?
Kyla: The first thing I would suggest is to ask yourself if you’re being honest with the people around you about what you do with food and the body, are you being honest with yourself? I think that being and finding comfort in opening up and sharing your struggles so courageous. Whether you share to your diary, partner, teacher or parents. The steps of wellness come from moving in to connect to others, because you don’t have to be alone. As we said, eating disorders live in isolation.
Graydon: And that’s hard to do sometimes! Like where do you find a support group?
Kyla: Maybe you don’t, maybe you start writing it out and being honest with yourself first. Maybe that’s the first place to start, acknowledging that this is actually real for you. When and if you reach a place where you are open to receiving care and support, you give yourself permission to find that support that will really resonate with you. Just because someone says to go here, or work with this person, you need to find our own way and define that for yourself. Here’s my thing about the friend or coworker thing, if they have an eating disorder, you have one. You may not have the physical effects, but you are on the emotional rollercoaster. There’s so much work that can happen, moving someone through recovery, when you yourself are getting the support you need as a loved one. If you love someone who’s suffering, to have support and a place for yourself to talk through and understand this, I think it’s key. And there is so much to be gained for the person who’s suffering if the people around them are trying to be well too.
Graydon: And like any relationship, when one person shifts, everyone shifts.
Kyla: The big wellness question!
Graydon: What is wellness to you and what are some accessible tips?
Kyla: The first thing I think about is my girls. Wellness to me is living a peaceful, honest life. Which means connecting to things I deeply love, like my kids and my partner. I would also say my yoga mat and my work. Wellness to me is knowing when to say no. It’s about taking care of my body, and feeling worthy of taking care of myself.
Graydon: That reminds me of something that’s really important to us, and that’s self-care. We make products, but a lot of what we do is education on self-care, what it means and how to incorporate that.
Kyla: Self-care can be listening to beautiful music that moves you, self-care can be going for a walk, self-care can be taking a bath, self-care can be laughing so much.
Graydon: Agreed! Well, I’m so glad you could spare some time!
Kyla: It was my pleasure!
To learn more about Kyla and the eating disorder treatment offered at the Kyla Fox Centre, please visit www.kylafoxcentre.com
When I was younger, I struggled with eating disorders. Click here to discover how my journey towards recovery and health played a major role in Graydon Skincare.