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Mental Note

Episode 4 - Gorge

By Kara Richardson Whitely
Check out our podcast, Mental Note. Join us as we talk with Kara Richardson Whitely, author of the book Gorge, about her lifelong journey towards recovery from Binge Eating Disorder and it's ramifications in her life.

Quote by Kara Richardson Whitely

Synopsis:

How often do you associate binge eating with trekking to the top of the highest peak in Africa? We thought so... Join us as we talk with Kara Richardson Whitely, author of the book Gorge, about her lifelong journey towards recovery from Binge Eating Disorder and it's ramifications in her life. She'll take us from the roots of her disorder, all the way up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro as we dig into this highly misunderstood disease. www.kararichardsonwhitely.com

Transcript

Kara Richardson Whitely: [00:00:00] For me, a binge doesn't start out as me saying I'm going to go binge. It never starts out that way. 

Ellie: You're listening to Mental Note podcast. I'm your host, Ellie Pike. Binge eating is not what you expect when the topic of eating disorders pops up. Traditionally, we've treated it with disdain and disgust instead of with understanding. Today on the [00:00:30] podcast, I have the honor of talking with Kara Richardson Whitely. An author, speaker and recovery advocate who shares about her experiences with binge eating disorder. 

Kara: In my eating disorder the way my brain would convince me to start eating was something innocent. Like, "Oh, it's after lunch. You could go for something sweet." Of course, I say to myself [00:01:00] I'm just going to have a healthy portion, but then this thing is set off in my brain where I just need more and a little bit more and how much would it hurt if you just had a little bit more. 

There was never an on and off switch. The only way that it felt like that was enough was when the bag was empty, but then panic mode sets in. My brain would tell me that this is something I'm doing that's out of kindness, but [00:01:30] in a way it just turned into this ravaging punishment. A cycle that I just physically almost couldn't get out of. 

Ellie: Binges aren't really that uncommon. We use the term to describe everything from a love affair with cookies to Netflix marathons. In order to figure out the dividing line between an occasional habit and a disorder, I spoke with Dr.Julie Friedman. A a binge eating expert and director [00:02:00] of the better program at Eating Recovery Center. 

Dr.Julie Friedman: A binge, we describe as eating more than most people would eat in the same time period and under similar circumstances and feeling a loss of control while you're binging like you can't stop yourself from binging. I think it's important to note everybody binges. Binging is part of normal eating behavior, but when you are binging for one time a week for three months or more [00:02:30] minimally. Then again, when there's that distress and impairment to it. Where I feel guilty after I binge, I feel a loss of control after I binge, I'm embarrassed by how much I ate, I feel disgusted with myself. That's when we start looking at it as more of a pathological behavior. 

Ellie: That is super helpful. I like how you just made that really concise and normalize the fact that most people binge at some point so we can all relate to the story. 

Dr. Friedman: Absolutely. 

Ellie: Okay, back to our story. 

Kara: [00:03:00] I guess a lot of people know me as the author of Gorge. They know when they meet me, I'm like pear-shaped. I have an unusual body shape where I'm small on the top and big on the bottom. The thing that really shocks them is that I've actually climbed Kilimanjaro three times. They latch on to that like, "Wow, I can't [00:03:30] believe she's hiked Kilimanjaro three times. Look at her." They must think I still struggle with weight. The journey for me is not so much up mountains, but it's more about my road to recovery with binge eating disorder and finding a healthy way forward. 

Ellie: Kara's connection to overeating grew early in life from traumatic experiences. 

Kara: My relationship with food first became complicated [00:04:00] when I was nine years old and my parents were on the verge of divorce. It was so terrifying to hear my parents screaming all the time at each other and knowing that my father was out somewhere else with another woman. The way that I retreated was with food. I literally hid in the pantry. The crunching of what I was eating would drown out the sound of their screams. It was the only thing at that time that felt good for me. 

Ellie: Wow, [00:04:30] that sounds like a really traumatic time. Coping with emotions was done by eating and numbing out the sound literally, but emotionally too. Then at what point did it grow into something larger, like monstrous? 

Kara: Because my parents divorced, my father wasn't around. I would go home to an empty house while my mom was working nights and I would eat because I was lonely. [00:05:00] The worst thing that I think that manifested from that situation is because I was a latchkey kid and because my oldest brother was getting into trouble and hanging out with some of the wrong people. On my 12th birthday, I was sexually assaulted. 

[music] 

The way that I dealt with that again as weird as it sounds-- It sounds remarkable to me now that I thought of this, but it would be strange to somebody who doesn't have a complicated relationship with food. The [00:05:30] way that I stopped it was to offer the guy something to eat. 

Ellie: As a distraction? 

Kara: As a distraction. Probably because that's what I really wanted to numb how I was feeling [00:06:00] at the time. It was enough of aha kind of moment and pause that I was able to get up and get out of the situation and enough for him to scamper upstairs to hang out with my brother. 

Ellie: It seemed like at that moment you realized the power of food for the better at that moment. 

Kara: Right, for that moment. I think from there it was something that soothe me, [00:06:30] comforted me, made me feel good because I really felt awful a lot of the time. Hearing people like Dr. Friedman talk about the science of binge eating disorder, it helps me understand even deeper why my narrative was-- That I followed the path of binge eating disorder. 

I'm 12 and I'm putting on all this weight. I was so sick and depressed that I developed shingles. [00:07:00] Something that an 80-year-old person would get. My mom knew that I was sexually assaulted. She's actually a psychiatric nurse and because at that time there really wasn't binge eating disorder as a true diagnosis, she'd find wrappers under my bed, like a teenager with stash porn. 

Ellie: You'd hide the evidence of eating? 

Kara: Right. She would ask, am I throwing up because the only thing that she could think of was [00:07:30] that I was a bulimic, but there was no purging. It was straight-up binging and that's how I coped. I think that I just continued to use food as a way of calming and now, of course, I'm putting on even more weight. I'm withdrawing from [00:08:00] a lot of self-care things. My hygiene wasn't so good and because I was larger, I didn't fit into the clothes that the cool kids were wearing. We couldn't afford the clothes that the cool kids were wearing because my mom was on a single mom income. 

Ellie: Was that in middle school, in high school? 

Kara: Yes, I don't fit in to anything. I don't fit into clothes, I don't fit into peer groups, I don't fit into life anymore. There were a lot of [00:08:30] things that compounded that relationship with food and it was always so easy for me to return to it at home and when I was lonely and feeling isolated. The more that I ate, the more isolated I felt, the more weight that I put on and the less motivated I was to change and get out of those habits. 

Ellie: It's easy to see the cycle Kara is describing. Her binge eating fostered feelings of isolation which supported her depression, which encouraged her to [00:09:00] find more comfort in food, thus starting the cycle anew. 

Kara: One of the turning points in my road to recovery, I saw as a moment that I needed to make change. Some of my friends thought, "Hey, let's go hike Camel's Hump." Camel's Hump is the second highest peak in Vermont. It's gorgeous. It looks like the back of a camel. 

Ellie: Did you like to hike at that point? 

Kara: I thought I did. [00:09:30] The only real walking and exercise that I was doing at the time was basically walking to class or work. Then like 50 cent draft night or 25 cent draft night I should say. I was doing a lot of drinking, I was doing a lot of unhealthy eating and so there was this idea, let's all go for a hike. It's about a five and a half-hour hike. [00:10:00] 20 minutes into it was my end because I couldn't hike. I had that-- 

Ellie: What did it feel like?  

Kara: It felt like a marathoner has lead leg at mile 20 at a marathon. I was sweating from every pore in my body. Burping up breakfast, I was really feeling sick. Most of my friends had gone up the mountain [00:10:30] without me. Then one friend stayed with me and finally I said, "Christy, go ahead. I'm just going to go back down. I think I'm not feeling well." I made all sorts of excuses that I could think of, "Oh, maybe I twisted my ankle," or "maybe I ate something funny last night." 

I went down to the bottom of the mountain and instead of it being that Oprah aha moment, [00:11:00] the only thing I could think to do was to eat the contents of my backpack. That was a diet soda and a bag full of sweet stuff. That's what I packed because that's what I knew. 

Ellie: The disappointment of that failed hike up Camel's Hump never left Kara's imagination. As life moved on it became harder and harder to shrug off. This finally led to her first big turning point. 

Kara: I would get these adventure travel catalogs in the mail of these [00:11:30] glossy pictures of the Alps and Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro. I'd say to myself, "I'm going to do that when I lose weight." Everything was like that. I would even say, "I'll go to the doctors when I lose weight." Here I was 30 and realizing that I'm saying this to myself all the time. It's not okay anymore because I want to do these things in these pictures . 

I guess I just thought, [00:12:00] "I want to be part of this community, I want to be a hiker girl," and I figured I should just start hiking. Even if I couldn't plan a trip to one of those glossy pictures that I was just going to have to start hiking. Fortunately, I was in New Jersey so there's a lot of flat trails. 

Ellie: You just realize like, I don't have to miss out. I can do just one thing at a time and just start. 

Kara: Exactly. 

Ellie: Wow. 

Kara: The first obstacle of course is that [00:12:30] I didn't really fit into the hiking community. I wasn't a Patagonia model. If I went to like an EMS or REI or whatever kind of hiking supplies store, I didn't fit into any of the clothes. Even the socks are too tight. The thing that I could latch onto, the only thing that I could participate in this world was to buy a water bottle. The kind of bottle that if you and the Nalgene bottle fall off a cliff, the Nalgene bottle would [00:13:00] survive and you wouldn't. [laughs] 

Ellie: I love that you don't let those other things deter you. That you just said, "Okay, I'm going to start with the Nalgene bottle. Let's go." Where did you start hiking in New Jersey area? 

Kara: The New Jersey area, I started with some 20-minute trails and I'd suit up like I was going on Everest. It's a little embarrassing to admit now, but I'd have a compass, I'd have a safety whistle. 

Ellie: I love it. You were highly prepared. 

Kara: I was. I was ready for anything. In the [00:13:30] beginning of those 20-minute hikes, they felt like forever. Then I'd finish. I felt like launching my hands in the air like I'd really done something important. 

Ellie: That's so exciting to have found something that you value which is nature, discovery and curiosity and being able to just play it out by walking outside. 

Kara: Exactly. It's been a real gift to me. The cool thing about it was as I started to do these trails, I'd pick longer ones and more strenuous ones. After a while I figured, [00:14:00] "Well, I better set myself a goal." It's nice to have a challenge in front of you and the thing I thought about was Camel's Hump. 

[music] 

Ellie: The one that you had stopped hiking when you were in college. 

Kara: Right, I figured that was my nemesis. 

Ellie: Tell me about that. When did you complete it? 

Kara: I decided that I would take it on on the eve of my 31st birthday and I would do it as a sunrise hike. I got my little headlamp because of course now [00:14:30] I can get myself a headlamp. Now that I'm suited up with all sorts of other hiking gear, I got myself a backpack. I got everything ready to go. I got a camera and it was beautiful. I was hiking up this mountain that had left me so winded. Because I was training and I was active and I was moving, I was able to do it. It wasn't easy, but there I was all alone on the trail just working my way forward. 

I'm nearing the top and it's been a couple of hours [00:15:00] and because I started too early, there's no one else on the trail. This is the time before South East. I had a camera, but I didn't have a plan of how I was going to capture this image. Right behind me, I started hearing this sound [panting] and it's dog. I figured, "I don't think this dog is hiking by itself." 

Ellie: There must be a human. 

Kara: Right, then a woman and her daughter come up behind and they make it to the top before I do. Which is cool. [00:15:30] That was fine, but as they were on their way down and I'm reaching the summit I'm like, "Wait, wait, can you take my picture?" 

Ellie: Awesome. Did it feel like such a proud moment? 

Kara: Yes, I did. Of course, I have to spill everything about this journey to them that I've been training for months and I'm so excited it's eve of my birthday. Will you please take my picture in the night. They're like, "Oh congratulations. That's great." Then of course to make conversation I asked them, "How long have you been training for this?" They're like, [00:16:00] "We live at the base of the mountain. This is our morning walk." 

[laughter] 

Ellie: They've been training every day. 

Kara: Yes. It was a fun reminder, maybe for them that everyone is on different parts of their journey. It was a little humbling of course. That made me think to myself, maybe I could just live this way. Maybe I could just be a hiker girl. 

[music] 

Ellie: Kara had done it. She conquered the [00:16:30] literal mountain that had defeated her in college, yet her trail was only just beginning. During those time around 30, 31 you're getting more active. What was your relationship with food like at the same time? 

Kara: I would say my relationship with food was much better at that time because I was moving so much so I started to feel better. Then I started to take a better care of the food that I was putting in [00:17:00] my body. The thing that starts happening of course is that I start dropping pounds. I do things like, I go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and thankfully back up again. I did Vermont's highest peak which is Mount Mansfield. 

Ellie: Was your body just becoming more comfortable to you and more mobile because you had lost some weight. 

Kara: Yes. The more the more that I was able to move, the more I could do. I think that I was responding and taking better care of myself and being [00:17:30] more thoughtful about what I was putting in my body. The natural thing that starts happening is that I start dropping a lot of pounds, so much so that-- 

Ellie: I think we all have that one thing that we pin our hopes on. If only I could fall in love, if only I had more money, if only I could lose that weight. For Kara, she's seemingly won that lottery. She was shedding the weight, but it didn't exactly result in the bliss she'd imagined. 

Kara: Everybody [00:18:00] had to say something to me. It was so uncomfortable because I've put on weight to cover myself. Psychologically, if I were to psychoanalyze myself, I probably put on weight as a barrier to other people. 

Ellie: Like making you more invisible? 

Kara: Right and especially after being sexually assaulted, it was a way to divert attention I think. People would come around and they'd call me skinny and I wasn't skinny. [00:18:30] I'm not being hard on myself, but really I wasn't skinny. My BMI was solidly in the overweight category. I was working hard and I was feeling better, but I wasn't skinny. 

Then everybody wanted to know what diet I was on, have I had the surgery, what was I doing, how long has it taken? 

They would even follow me into the bathroom and just get an analysis of what I ate that day. [00:19:00] I needed a way to distract from that attention. I decided that I needed even bigger goal. Lo and behold, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain that someone can hike to the top of. 

Ellie: It's over 19,000 feet, right? 

Kara: That's right, 19,343 feet. I felt, "Hey, I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it as a way to raise money for AIDS orphans in Africa." [00:19:30] To give me an idea of how many questions I got about my weight, now every time one of those women would follow me and ask me a question I would tell them how they could donate to Global Alliance for Africa and my Kilimanjaro climb. 

Ellie: That's fantastic. That's a great way for the question and make it useful. 

Kara: Change the conversation. 

Ellie: It's so good. You raised a lot of money, right? 

Kara: Yes. To give you an idea how many questions I was getting, we raised $12,000. That's how wrapped up people were in my weight and [00:20:00] my accomplishments. I mean, and for a good cause at this point, but there's was an obsessiveness about it that paid off fortunately for Global Alliance for Africa. 

[music] 

Ellie: When was your first hike? 

Kara: The first hike was in 2007, and so my husband completed it with me. We went all the way to the top of Uhuru peak. Uhuru in Swahili means freedom. [00:20:30] This five and a half-day journey was arduous. There are things like nausea, a lot of people struggled with sleep deprivation, though I was hiking so hard I didn't really struggle with that because I fell right asleep when I needed to. You're pretty much eight days without a shower, so this is not for everybody, this kind of hiking. For me, it was great, it was an awesome, amazing challenge, and it reminded me that I could do anything, and go anywhere from this point. [00:21:00] 

[music] 

Ellie: There Kara was, she'd shed the weight, she'd climbed the mountain, she'd impressed everyone, recovery achieved, right? Well, not so fast. Kara's next adventure proved how far away from the true summit she actually was. 

music] 

Kara: When I returned home, not a lot of people know all those women, had to ask me what my next adventure would be. Of course, they wanted [00:21:30] to know was I going to do Everest or Machu Picchu or if Cheryl Strayed's Wild had been out they would have asked, are you going to do the Pacific Crest Trail? but I had a whole other adventure in mind. It required a new set of gear and a new language, and that was having a baby. 

[music] 

Almost a year after that first Kilimanjaro climb, I had my oldest daughter. You see, I'd gone from [00:22:00] feeling so out of control and so lost with food and my binge eating disorder, even though I didn't call it that at the time to feeling so on top on things. I was literally on the roof of Africa. I had climbed, what is technically, the highest freestanding mountain in the world, one of the Seven Summits, and then I got pregnant. I went from someone who could do all those things to someone who could barely walk across my living room because I had [00:22:30] sciatica going up and down my leg. 

Pregnancy is beautiful and amazing and wonderful but it's so flipping terrifying. Oh, in that first trimester I was so tired. I remember I would do everything right, I would have my sneakers right at my bedside, and then I'd wake up and be like, "I can't. I can't do it." In retrospect, I probably should have had therapy appointments just as often as my prenatal appointments, but I didn't. 

Ellie: It seems like an emotional blow to feel [00:23:00] out of control and debilitated. 

Kara: Really debilitated. Just like that, my binge eating disorder came back with a vengeance, because I was scared. I have this being growing inside of me, what kind of mom will I be to her? What kind of life will she lead? Am I going to do something terrible to my body? Is she going to survive this? Because [00:23:30] not every baby survives a pregnancy, and so it was terrifying. It was a really scary time and so I put more than half of the weight that I had taken off back on in that nine-month period. 

Ellie: Were you noticing those same behaviors of secrecy and hiding food? 

Kara: Absolutely, because I didn't want anybody to know. I felt like such a failure, such a fraud. 

Dr. Friedman: There are certain emotional states, first of [00:24:00] all, so I'll start there that definitely leave people more vulnerable to bingeing. 

Ellie: Dr. Friedman again. 

Dr. Friedman: Being tired, being overly hungry, being anxious, being bored. 

Ellie: Kara was running full steam into her disorder. No wonder she was in the perfect storm of binge eating trigger behaviors, isolated in winter, unable to walk due to pain, financially strained from taking time off from work, and sleep-deprived once her daughter finally arrived. 

Kara: She woke up all the time, [00:24:30] and she was one of those children that you hear about that wake up every two hours for months. 

Ellie: Sounds exhausting. To turn things around, Kara came up with a new plan; crowd up the disorder with more charity fundraisers. She chose one goal per month. 

Kara: A 5K, or the Penguin Plunge which was this crazy event where I jumped into the lake. 

Ellie: Topping off the 12-month cycle with another ascent of Kilimanjaro. 

Kara: Anyway, so I did all these crazy things, and I needed [00:25:00] so badly to climb Kilimanjaro again, but I found myself as I near this climb answering to the fear of this task versus the excitement. I skipped going on training saying, "Oh, I've got this baby. I don't have time." One of the biggest signs of my denial of my issues with food was that when I was packing [00:25:30] for this trip up the mountain, I actually brought a lot of the same clothes that I wore the first time, even though I was significantly heavier. I didn't even try them on until I was at the base of Kilimanjaro at a hotel. 

Ellie: Oh no. 

Kara: Oh no, is right. This is a bad place to find out that you need plus size clothes in a hurry. Plus size clothes, I should add, plus size clothes that are suitable for [00:26:00] a mountain hike. 

Ellie: Sure, you can't just buy a dress. 

Kara: No, that's not going to work out very well for anybody involved and so I had a problem. I had a big problem and I needed to solve it because I was leaving on this climb the next day. Then I remembered as I came in to the hotel, I saw a house that had a sewing machine on it. I thought, "I've got two pairs of pants, what if we just made them one?" 

I had to take them down to the hotel desk and ask the front desk manager if she could [00:26:30] find someone to take six inches of one pair of pants from either side and then make a stripe down the side of the other right in the seam on the side down the leg. 

Ellie: That was pretty inventive. Smart. 

Kara: Thanks. I wish I had thought it was inventive and smart, but I was so filled with embarrassment. I mean here's a hotel that deals with elite climbers [00:27:00] every day, and I was asking them to make a jumbo size of pants for me. 

Ellie: Kara returned to her room and began to binge like she'd never binged before. 

Kara: When I returned to my hotel room that night after making this request, I basically took some treats that I had bought in the Amsterdam Airport for my daughter and my niece and nephew who were going to be visiting from California. I had to set it [00:27:30] aside in a special suitcase so that I wouldn't touch it, it would go straight home with me to New Jersey because it's the suitcase that stays at the base of the mountain while you climb. 

I took it out, and I started with one, and I started with another, and then another, and another, and then it's just this haze, this lost feeling of uncontrollable bingeing, probably the worst binge that I've had in my entire life. [00:28:00] 

[music] 

Spoiler alert, obviously I didn't make it up the mountain that time. I returned home so desperate, and in a really dark ugly place where I didn't think that I was going to hike ever again. 

Ellie: Defeat written across her body, memory, and imagination, Kara figured that she'd never improve, until she checked her inbox. 

Kara: Then, I get this e-mail [00:28:30] from a friend by the name of Sally. She and I met at the Weight of the Nation Conference in DC. She decided that she wanted to hike Kilimanjaro because she was about to turn 50 years old and she thought, "I'd like to do it with Kara." She tells me that she and her friend are going to hike the mountain, and not only will they hike the mountain, but they'll raise $1 per foot of the mountain for Global Alliance for Africa. 

Ellie: Over $19,000. [00:29:00] 

Kara: Right. 

Ellie: Wow. What made this ascent different? She'd done this big ordeal multiple times only to fall back on her disorder. 

Kara: I knew the narrative. I knew the narrative that my parents got divorced, I felt abandoned by my father. I was sexually assaulted, I used food for comfort. That was my narrative but I needed to understand the skills, the things that would help me move forward [00:29:30] in a healthy and positive way in my recovery. 

Ellie: And start a new narrative. 

Kara: Exactly. 

Ellie: Some of those skills she had gained were pretty simple, and came from conversations with her eating disorder therapist; things like slowing down and feeling the warmth of a cup of tea in her hand, or when a binge craving hits her and she walks into the kitchen, she'll place her hands on the cool countertop to take a pause and find a reminder to be in the moment, rather than escaping from it with food. [00:30:00] These may seem like simple or even trivial fixes to a really intense problem, but Kara's recovery was all about reconnecting with her emotions rather than running from them. It made a world of difference in this third attempt of Kilimanjaro. Looking back now, what strengths did you have that you didn't even realize you had at that time? 

Kara: A lot of quad muscles. [laughs] 

Ellie: Yes, no kidding. 

Kara: [00:30:30] I think that the power of Kilimanjaro is that when you do it right and you do it from that perspective, it's a great time to think about all the things that are going on in your mind. It's a great mountain to climb when you've got almost like a query in your head. I felt really strong and really, really good. Even though the first day on the mountain is like four to five hours and the next [00:31:00] day is ten hours, I was feeling really incredible. Then in that second night, it was so cold. 

It's the kind of night where you just want to snuggle in, in your sleeping bag, and put your sleeping cap on, and wake up when the sun rises because hopefully, that means that the temperature will warm up. I went in my tent just to do that. I settled in and I was pretty tired. It was 10 hours of hiking that day. Trust me, I was doing just fine but man, that was a bruiser day. 

Ellie: Absolutely. 

Kara: I think anybody of any weight would have been tired. [00:31:30] I started to fall asleep and then I start to hear this laughter coming from the tent next to us. Of course, tent walls aren't that thick, so I started to hear laughter. I don't really understand a lot of Swahili, which is what the guides spoke, but I do know what my Swahili nickname was on the mountain and that was Mama Kubwa. It means big woman. I've been heavy since I was a kid. I know that kind of laughter that somebody's [00:32:00] making fun of me and is ridiculing me. 

I heard my name, Mama Kubwa this, Mama Kubwa that, and I knew they were ridiculing me. Here I was doing something that I thought was so good for me, and strong, and feeling truly in my strength, and the people who I was paying to help me come up the mountain were making fun of me. It's really not unlike so many people who struggle with weight and they try to make [00:32:30] some positive steps. They join a gym, they go for a walk, and then they're just a target for ridicule and embarrassment. I was mortified. My initial reaction was just to get the heck out of there. 

Ellie: I was going to say, there's no easy exit. 

Kara: No. I did think about it. I had a headlamp and I thought to myself, "This is my third time up the mountain. Surely, I could find my way down but what do I do then?" [00:33:00] I decided no, no. These people are counting on me to climb with them. I made a commitment. I'm going to keep going. I was pretty tired. After a silly little mantra like, "I can do this, I can do this." I lulled myself to sleep, but the next day it was still with me. 

I started to feel clumsy because all I could think about was like, "What a jerk." I couldn't say it to him that night. I couldn't stand up and get out of my warm [00:33:30] cozy sleeping bag to tell him, "What a jerk. How could you say this about me when I'm in the next tent? How could you make me the center of your jokes?" During this water and pee break, I thought to myself, "What am I going to do? I'm going to have to confront Kennedy," who was our head guide. 

I just take him aside. I said, "Last night I heard you. You were talking about me. What were you saying?" [00:34:00] He said, "The porters and guides, they don't believe you're going to make it to the top." In that moment of clarity and pureness, because I wasn't dealing with my emotions from food, I said, "What did you tell them? Did you make any money bets? Because you should, bet on me. Bet on me." 

Ellie: I realized as she told me this story with tears in her eyes [00:34:30] that this was the real victory of Kara's third climb. It wasn't measured in vertical feet, a peak reached or dollars raised. It was measured in her ability to confront difficult emotions rather than bury them in a binge or quit the climb to run away from them. 

Kara: The strength that I found from that climb was that moment of being able to just stand up for myself and say, "Hey, I'm working here." 

Ellie: [00:35:00] I love what you said too about having the clarity of emotions because you weren't using food. It sounds like finding your voice and saying that was like the antidote to eating disorder world, and you could say believe in me and that hurt my feelings just by confronting it, that's our fault. 

Kara: That we're not going to be joking about my weight all the time. Along the way there were little jokes here and there about don't sit on this rock, you'll break it like little [00:35:30] things, but then to hear them all just roaring in laughter about me, it was too much and enough, enough. I'm dealing with enough here. This might be easy for them because they do it all the time, but for me, it was really hard work, emotionally and physically. 

It cleared the air so to speak and there wasn't any more of that kind of talk. I was able to have, I should say, [00:36:00] a successful climb. I'm not going to ruin the end of the story because in case somebody wants to read Gorge. 

Ellie: Oh, that's classic. Leave them hanging. 

Kara: That's right. Now, I think that it's really important for me to recognize that my victories and things that I celebrate are more at sea level. There are things that I do like planting in my community garden, and that's the ultimate food planning when I got ahead. 

Ellie: Exactly. [00:36:30] I thought it was incredibly powerful that in your recovery you've written the book, Gorge. You've used your voice to explain your story when in your eating disorder a lot of the eating disorder was like hiding your voice, right? 

Kara: Yes. The greatest thing about writing and then telling my story around the country, if not the world, is having that ability to share my story and share the human experience of binge eating disorder, because the more I talk about [00:37:00] it, the less power and shame food has over me. 

Ellie: Kara has even linked up with binge eating treatment professionals like Dr. Friedman to get her story in front of people who are struggling. 

Dr. Friedman: It is such a thrill for me to be able to work with Kara and to be able to really put a face to this community. Her courage, and her willingness to be vulnerable, and share her pain, and share her [00:37:30] story, it means so much more coming from her than it does for me. I can give the professional side, which is fine, and the treatment side, what do we do about it? 

Kara: I really do try to walk the walk, and that means things like exercising and hiking and serving as a recovery advocate for Eating Recovery Center. I partner with the American Hiking Society to show that hiking can happen at any size. I even do things [00:38:00] like I join the community pool. Even though wearing a swimsuit takes more courage than climbing Everest, I do it because I want to show my kids that it's fun to be active, and honestly, I'm going to just wear a darn swimsuit. 

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Ellie Pike: Maybe we won't all climb Kilimanjaro but what is it that we [00:38:30] can take away from Kara's story? I personally was affected in knowing that everyone has a different journey, but we all have to start somewhere to choose health and freedom. It's powerful how Kara accepts her body where she is and believes in all that it can do towards health. 

If you can relate to Kara's story and feel a loss of control with your food, feel free to ask for help. There are treatment options available that honor you in your journey, that treat you as more than another before and after photo, [00:39:00] and that can guide you to a rewarding life. Call 877-411-9578 for a free consultation with Eating Recovery Center. Mental Note Podcast is sponsored by Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health. Our show is produced by Sam Pike. I'm Ellie Pike your host, signing off, till next time. 

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Presented by

Kara Richardson Whitely

Kara Richardson Whitely, an Eating Recovery Center Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate, is the author of Fat Woman on the Mountain and Gorge: My 300-Pound Journey Up Kilimanjaro, an honest and unforgettable, journey of intense passion, endurance and self-acceptance that readers can learn from without having to trek up Africa's highest peak. A detailed account of Richardson Whitely's struggle, Gorge also gives confidence not only to hesitant would-be mountaineers but to those, like her, whose biggest hurdle is to learn to be comfortable and secure with oneself. Her latest book Weight of Being was just released.

Kara has written for Self, Everyday with Rachael Ray, and Runner's World magazines. She was recently featured on Oprah's Lifeclass, Good Morning America, was an Outside magazine 127 Defining Moments finalist and has been written about in Redbook, Weight Watchers, Backpacker and American Hiker magazines as well as dozens of other publications.

Follow Kara Richardson Whitely on Instagram.

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