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Over ten years ago, I received an email that I was sure to be spam. The sender was Dr. Anita Johnston. Why would Dr. Johnston be emailing me? I had read her book, Eating in the Light of the Moon, years prior—when I was still struggling with my eating disorder—and found her words incredibly helpful. As it turns out, she was, in fact, emailing me. She was actually asking me to co-present at a conference with her. This was another one of those moments in recovery when my life seemed to come full circle. Since that first email, Dr. Johnston and I have presented together several times, and even better than that, we have become fast friends. I am deeply honored to share Dr. Johnston’s wise words on my blog with you today. (This is my absolute favorite section from her book!)

For a chance to win a signed book, see information at the bottom of this post. Be sure to check out Dr. Johnston’s free video series.

Excerpt from Chapter 3, Eating in the Light of the Moon

Eating in the Light of the Moon
For a chance to win a signed copy of Eating in the Light of the Moon, post a comment below. Consider sharing how you were able to “let go of the log” in your recovery.

The recovering woman needs to recognize that her obsession with food and fat does not define who she is. Her perspective must shift so that she can see this obsession not as some horrible character defect but, rather, as a simple, and much-needed protective mechanism she picked up along her journey through life. It is something she has learned to use to help her deal with the emotional distress of being different or feeling misunderstood, unaccepted, or overwhelmed. She needs to consider the possibility that the development of disordered eating patterns may not necessarily have been such a poor choice, given the limited options, resources, or coping skills she had available to her during stressful periods or times of crisis in her life.

Imagine yourself standing in the rain on the bank of a raging river. Suddenly, the water-swollen bank gives way. You fall in and find yourself being tossed around in the rapids. Your efforts to keep afloat are futile and you are drowning. By chance, along comes a huge log and you grab it and hold on tight. The log keeps your head above water and saves your lift. Clinging to the log you are swept downstream and eventually come to a place where the water is calm.

There, in the distance, you see the riverbank and attempt to swim to shore. You are unable to do so, however, because you are still clinging to the huge log with one arm as you stroke with the other. How ironic. The very thing that saved your life is now getting in the way of your getting where you want to go. There are people on shore who see you struggle and yell, “Let go of the log!” But you are unable to do so because you have no confidence in your ability to make it to shore.

This is not unlike the position many people find themselves in when they first become aware of their disordered eating. They feel foolish at best, humiliated at worst, that they are unable to stop a behavior that is interfering with their desire to get where they want to go in life. In the face of their shame, they quickly forget the role their disordered eating played in their survival, how it helped them keep their heads above water through some rough times by giving them a way to deal with their conflicts, feelings, and difficult situations. They immediately assume that there must be something wrong with them to continue such “destructive” behavior. This view, unfortunately, is supported by well-meaning friends, family, and professionals who suggest that they “just stop doing it”: stop starving themselves, stop bingeing and purging, stop eating compulsively, stop gaining weight.

Light of the Moon CafeSimply letting go of the log may not, in fact, be the best course of action to take. What would happen if you let go of the log, began to swim to shore, and got halfway there only to find that you didn’t have the strength to make it all the way? This means that you won’t be able to make it back to the log, either. Many people feel foolish for clinging to the log, and many of their friends, family, and even health professionals become frustrated with their “resistance” to letting go. They assume the tenacity with which they cling to their disordered eating is a personality flaw, rather than a sign from within that more preparation is needed.

Recovery from disordered eating requires honoring rather than condemning the resistance encountered. It insists upon a recognition that any behavior that slows, stalls, or creates obstacles in the path toward recovery has meaning and a purpose that can be valuable, even essential.

A woman who seeks recovery needs to understand clearly the ways in which her disordered eating has served her so that she can stop viewing it as simply an impediment to her happiness. Only then can she know precisely which skills she needs to develop in order to live a life free from bingeing, dieting, and food obsessions.

One woman may discover that her fat has helped her avoid unwanted sexual advances from men. This tells her that assertiveness is a skill she needs to develop before she can let go of her weight “problem”. Another woman may discover that she has binged and purged to eliminate inner tension she experiences when faced with conflict. This means that in order to resolve her bulimia, she needs to learn some conflict-resolution skills. Yet another woman may recognize that her obsession with dieting helped her cope with an intrusive, alcoholic mother, and for her, recovery entails learning how to set boundaries in relationships.

To recover from disordered eating requires the development of whatever skills are necessary to replace the function of the log. Once a woman develops these skills she will discover that they are much more effective and efficient than the disordered eating behavior, and will tend to choose to use them to help her cope with whatever stressors life throws her way. She can then let go of the log, relying on her newfound skills to keep her afloat and to give her the strength she needs to make it to shore.

And so, very slowly and carefully, you let go of the log and practice floating. When you start to sink, you grab back on. Then you let go of the log and practice treading water, and when you get tired, hold on once again. After awhile, you practice swimming around the log once, twice, ten times, twenty times, a hundred times, until you gain the strength and confidence you need to swim to shore. Only then do you completely let go of the log.

Recovery from disordered eating begins with the understanding that the disordered eating behavior served you when your goal was survival. This understanding is then followed by the development of new skills that will enable you not to simply survive, but to get what you want out of life, to thrive. Survival is no longer the only goal. The goal becomes one that includes a life that is rich and fulfilling.

It is a gradual, step-by-step process that calls for letting go of judgment (“there is something wrong with me”), the development of some important life skills, and learning to trust that inner voice that will tell you when you are ready.

Meet Dr. Johnston and hear her present at our upcoming Eating Recovery Center Foundation Conference!
Meet Dr. Johnston and hear her present at our upcoming Eating Recovery Center Foundation Conference!

For a chance to win a signed copy of Eating in the Light of the Moon, just post a comment below. How were you able to “let go of the log” in your life?

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  • JessW

    I am still in the process of “letting go of the log” but would love to win a copy of this book!

    • Recovery is certainly a process. Keep fighting! And, yes, Dr. Johnson’s book is amazing! Thanks for sharing.

    • Moon Café

      It takes courage to “let go,” keep up the great fight. Being “RecoverED” is worth the risk you are taking. Have you checked out the free video series to help with your recovery. Here it is: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • Sarah Kate Hutchison

    I am in the process of letting go of the log although it is extremely difficult. There are days where I am in the “treading water” phase and days where I may grab ahold of the log with one hand. Each day I am working to use different skills learned throughout my treatment stays and now recovery process outpatient to begin treading water more and more each day. I have found my love for music and playing the violin again, coloring, playing with my dog, and spending adequate time with friends and family for the first time in years.

    • Sarah, I love your message. Thanks for your honesty and for your message of hope. I love that you are playing violin again, coloring, and playing with your dog. We recover from our eating disorders in order to recover our lives.

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      It warms my heart that you are using the log metaphor to gain perspecitve of your eating disorder and what you need to swim to shore. Thank you for sharing your story. Have you checked out the free video series to help with your recovery. Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • Lauren Harnedy

    After years of treatment and being told that my problems are about more than food, I’m finally realizing for myself that my ED did once serve a purpose. However, if I want to live the life that I dream about, if I want to live a life worth living, then I’m going to have to continue to develop new strategies that are not self-destructive. It’s a process, one that often feels slow and tedious, but I’m not giving up.

    • Lauren, thanks for sharing your experience, strength, and hope with us! Yes, recovery is a process. And you are right: never, never, never give up!

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      Never give up! Recovery is possible. We are proud of you for reaching out for help, and that you can now see the purpose ED served in your life. Keep learning new tools and skills…and practicing them. If you haven’t already, check out this FREE video series. In it Anita offers several strategies. Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

    • Hi again, Lauren! You are the winner of Eating in the Light of the Moon! Please send your snail mail address to jenni@jennischaefer.com. Thanks again for sharing.

  • nanciejoy

    I have been able to let go of the log with the gentle caring help of my professional team and my choosing life & the next right step one step at a time. thx for this post. I feel hopeful I will swim again 🙂

    • Aww…I love your message! Yes, you will swim again!

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      Wonderful! You will definitely swim again and reach the shore. Keep asking yourself what are your truest hearts desires and what you need to get them. And together with your team, you’ll learn how to acquire the skills needed. There is a FREE video series, if you are interested, in learning ways to use metaphor in your recovery and get a few more skills. Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • Ben

    The log metaphor is also helpful to those of us standing on the shore shouting “helpful” advice. It’s helping me realize what my daughter needs to hear, and what messages are counter-productive.

    • Thanks for posting, Ben! I think it is always helpful to hear from a loved one’s perspective. We certainly couldn’t recover without supportive people like you!

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      Absolutely! Using stories, myths and fairytales keeps every aspect (people, places, things, the disorder etc.) objective, so you can see the different players and their perspective. Carl Jung was a genius! If you are interested, there is a FREE video series that teaches more ways to use metaphor in recovery and a few more tools as well. Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • megan

    I love that picture! havent yet “let go of the log” and the thought of letting go is terrifying but have reached out for help in letting it go and with the support and encouragement from my therapist and dietician am learning to trust I can eventually let go

    • That is so great that you have reached out for help, Megan. Yes, you are right: you will be able to let go one day. Stay strong!

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      Yay you! The metaphor of the log is so powerful. Your eating disorder served a purpose and now you are learning what you need to let go and swim. Lean on your treatment team until you can do this yourself-full recovery is possible. If you are interested, there is a FREE video series that teaches more ways to use metaphor in recovery and a few more tools as well. Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • Jen Wojciechowski

    Can’t wait to read the book! I’ve had my eating disorder for 27 years. I turned 41 today! Still, after all these years, I am so tired of people telling me “just eat” or “just stop”! There are no words to even explain what goes on in my head with my eating disorder. It’s amazing when you find other people who know exactly how you feel!

    • Happy birthday, Jen! I hope you have a great one. Connection with others really is an amazing thing. Two of the most powerful words are, “Me, too.”

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      Connection with people who “get it” is so very healing. We learn so much about ourselves by sharing our story with others who have a similar one, and witnessing theirs.

      If you are interested in learning more about using metaphor as a way to heal your eating disorder, there is a FREE video series available for the next week or so. Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • Nicole Kristine

    I was able to finally let go of the log a few years ago. I couldn’t have done it without my supportive family and amazing care team. Most of all, though, I realized that nobody on this earth deserved to go through the pain I went through. I wanted so badly to help others struggling with eating disorders, but realized that in order to help others, I needed to help myself first. It took years, but with my strong motivation I finally made it and have a year left of my master’s degree where I will have met my goal and will be able to work with the eating disorder population.

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      Congratulations Nicole-on all of your accomplishments! You will be an amazing provider because you intimately understand the disorder.

      There is a FREE video series available for the next week or so, about using metaphor as a way to treat eating disorders that might be helpful to your clients. Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • Amy

    I had been working on my anorexia for a few years when I got pregnant with my first baby. He changed my life. I started to appreciate my body and give it what it needed to grow a healthy baby. There have still been difficult days since he was born two years ago, but I finally feel free. I’m pregnant again and this baby has moved me from recovered-ish to recovered. I do it for my children, but more importantly for myself. I am so much happier without the internal fight to eat less and exercise more.

    • Light of the Moon Cafe’

      Good for you! Growing a baby under your heart, inside of your womb is a humbling yet privileged experience; YOU are part of these precious miracles because you nourished your body and soul.

      There is a FREE video series available for a short time if you are interested in learning more about using metaphor as a way to help during those “dark days.” Here is the link: http://www.lightofthemooncafe.com/jenni

  • Jo

    I love how forgiveness and understanding underpins this excerpt. For me, taking steps to let go came in how profound the silence was after all the noise. I had had people calling to me and trying to help me, but to my senses, their offers of help hit like threats; I was very afraid and lost. Somehow, the ones trying to help me were not communicating with me in a way that my heart could receive as loving, even though it was intended to be that way. In an extended cross-cultural experience, surrounded by a team of people from many different nations, I suddenly caught glimpses of how things could be different. The nations I was with loved me in their own languages and ways, and something in that, and in the cadence of the atmosphere in the country I had travelled to volunteer in, whispered to my heart in a way that melted my defenses and let me know that I was safe. Perhaps it was because we didn’t really directly talk or dwell on food or exercise, but because, more often, we talked about other things…stories from our lives, experiences we had had, dreams we were dreaming, and God. And we laughed, so much! In those months, I saw, beyond the shoreline by which I was floating, the unexplored land beckoning me, and I had a foretaste of all that was growing on it. I’m not there yet, but I have now got some really good support around me, and the adventurer in me wants to go explore the land more. I know that not everything on the land I have glimpsed will be sweet…but I do know that it will, in the end, all be good.

  • Sarah Katherina

    I love this analogy and was especially drawn to these words: “Recovery from disordered eating requires honoring rather than condemning the resistance encountered. It insists upon a recognition that any behavior that slows, stalls, or creates obstacles in the path toward recovery has meaning and a purpose that can be valuable, even essential.” There is so much wisdom in these words. It is easy to fall in to the trap of condemning oneself rather than honoring the resistance, which strangely (and even though it feels counterintuitive to begin with) is what leads to progress in recovery. I have come to an understanding that my ED has served a purpose over the years and am still in the process of replacing former habits/behaviors that were once functional but are now maladaptive with newer, healthier coping. It is still hard though, and the last time I let go of the log and started swimming towards shore, I thought I was ready but have realized in the last several months that I may not have been ready to ditch the log. I’m in the process of figuring out the next
    step…calling out to those on shore rather than forcing myself onward in silence
    and trying to figure out if I keep swimming or need to come back to the log and
    go through some of those more basic practice skills first. Either way, I hope to read this book, of
    which I have heard amazing things, and I have hope that its insights can help
    me to get away from the log but in a healthy, self-honoring kind of way.

  • Megan

    I just found your amazing site. I have tears in my eyes having just read this blog post. As I begin to explore your site, I am overwhelmed by how much I have longed for community. ED is such a lonely place. It is so wonderful to know that there are so many resources and support systems out there as I take my first steps into recovery.

  • Alissa Gianino

    this was so prominent for me right now. The part about letting go of the log and grabbing on again before getting to shore several times is where I’m at now in recovery. Its very hard and sometimes a shameful place to be. Reading this gave me reassurance that what I’m going through and this is where I’m meant to be right now and things will get better.

  • Katie D.

    Thank you. I needed to read this tonight. I have clung tightly back to the log and have question over and over that there must be something wrong with me for doing so. I was called destructive by my psychiatrist and told to “just stop.” Thankfully I have a supportive therapist and nutritionist but at the moment I can only cling to the log. I have to learn how to let go but I feel paralyzed to do so.

  • Katie D.

    Thank you. I needed to read this tonight. I have clung tightly back to the log, after working hard in treatment for 3 months to get rid of it. I came home still semi attached and now feel like I’m drowning again. I question over and over that there must be something wrong with me for doing so. I was called destructive by my psychiatrist and told to “just stop.” Thankfully I have a supportive therapist and nutritionist but at the moment I can only cling to the log. I have to learn how to let go but I feel paralyzed to do so. It’s like I’m a parachuter who has been give all the tools, great instruction, encourgement, and then jumps out of the plane. As the parachutes jumps and the time comes to pull the chord, she is paralyzed and can’t do it. Everyone is yelling, pull the chord you can do it. Your body is “healthy” enough to reach up and pull it, do if. You see the ground rushing towards you and know what will happen but you just can’t pull the chord. It is the most confusing thing I’ve ever dealt with. I hope one day I’ll be able to pull the chord. I feel like I should be able to but am so stuck.

    • Katie – You are very brave and strong; don’t quit! Keep seeking help, and stay connected. You CAN do this! I believe in you.

      • Katie D.

        Thank you Jenni, that means a lot. We keep fighting everyday. Hopefully one day, it gets easier!