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Pt 3 - Stories of Hope, Education and Inspiration: A four-part series from Eating Disorder Therapist

Rachele O'Hare, LMSW, Eating Disorder Therapist

Rachele O'Hare, LMSW is truly a one-of-a-kind person who I have had the joy of working with at my time at Monte Nido & Affiliates. Rachele is also a recovered professional who continues to work with clients struggling with an eating disorder.

Meet Rachele

Rachele is a therapist specializing in treatment of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, self harm, trauma and addiction. She recently left her full time job at the residential level of care to venture into full time private practice and is so excited about! Two important things about Rachele that she wants you to know are: she is from Chicago and she has a dog named Nibbler.

What was it like recovering from an eating disorder?

My recovery was weird because I didn’t go to treatment. I didn’t have a lot of guidance throughout the process. I remember feeling really really scared and knowing something was wrong but not knowing how to course correct. Being in my eating disorder was exhausting but I also didn’t know how to get out of the cycle. I ended up symptom swapping a lot. What really launched my recovery from the eating disorder was entering recovery from addiction. When I began recovery from my addiction, I found the connection with other humans that I was craving, and I didn’t really need to use my eating disorder to cope with loneliness or depression that had spurred my eating disorder symptoms in the first place.

I knew from experience that it was pretty impossible to maintain close relationships while I was in my eating disorder, and was able to recognize that if I wanted to be a part of the addiction recovery community and keep these connections, I needed to let go of the eating disorder. It didn’t really feel like a choice, it felt like a life or death scenario. I knew if I didn’t let go of the addiction and the eating disorder, I wouldn’t make it much longer.

It took a little while after I stopped using eating disorder symptoms to let go of the roots of the eating disorder, like negative body image and black and white thinking around food, but once I stopped molding my behavior around eating disorder rules it was easier to let go of those ideas.

What are some things you struggled with in my process of eating disorder recovery?

I struggled A LOT with body image. I had a really hard time coping with my body changing into an adult body. I think that had to do with several things: having a body of an adult woman came with harassment and feeling unsafe and unsettled in the world, it also came with the sense that I should now be an adult, which I found terrifying. In addition to that, all the messages I’d received about bodies growing up were extremely fatphobic, resulting in a belief that life would be intolerable if I were in a bigger body.

It took me a really long time to let go of these beliefs. Even after my eating had stabilized, I struggled with tolerating the weight I had gained, and believing that I was worthy and attractive. What helped me was discovering the concept of body neutrality and fat positivity through folks like Christy Harrison (FoodPsych Podcast), Virgie Tovar, and Jes Baker.

There are a TON of resources out there about fighting fatphobia and that is by no means an exhaustive list of people. I overhauled my Instagram feed to follow body neutral/fat positive folks and I started talking about it with friends and family. Talking with my sister really helped tease apart what I’d learned growing up that was not helpful to my recovery.

What is it like being an eating disorder therapist?

This has been my dream job. I became a therapist for a lot of reasons, one of which was to help folks like me who struggled in young adulthood when they were told they were supposed to be thriving. I thought there was something terribly wrong with me when I went to college and then fell apart because of anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and addiction. I thought I was unhelpable. Having the opportunity to communicate love, support, care, and validation to folks in exactly that spot has been so amazing.

I’m so grateful to get to walk alongside people in their recovery journey. It’s also helpful because I know what it’s like to be stuck in your own brain, imprisoned by thoughts of calories and pounds. It’s a really crappy place to be, but it can also feel safe and comfortable. I think knowing that makes me better able to validate others and offer them a way out, if they want one.

What are your words of advice for individuals struggling with an eating disorder?

To get angry. My eating disorder was a lot about feeling angry and not knowing how to express it, as well as feeling as though the demands put on me by the world were too much to handle. When I was younger, anger was terrifying and instead of feeling angry I would shut down and zone out. What helped me let go of my eating disorder was to recognize my anger and figure out where it was really directed.

Ultimately it was not about being angry at my body or my therapist, it was about being angry at societal standards and cultural norms that told me it wasn’t ok to be who I am. It helped to be able to feel that anger and realize that I wasn’t going to spontaneously combust just because I was angry. This isn’t the right answer for everyone, but it was helpful for me.

How did you know you wanted to be an eating disorder specialist?

I wasn’t sure about it, but I had an inkling in grad school. One of my favorite teachers worked at an eating disorder treatment center and she had this amazing way of being totally honest and transparent and pushing us to use ourselves as a tool in therapy. I really liked the transparency and the push to use my story as a tool.

Throughout my work as a therapist, I’ve experimented with using my own recovery as a tool if it seems like it will help the client. I like that I get to help folks who’ve been through something I’ve been through, that I can use my darkest moments to help others find light.

How did you know you recovered from your eating disorder?

Because I didn’t go to treatment, I didn’t really know that being recovered was a thing until a few years ago, so I don’t have a specific day in mind. Looking back, I think I knew I was recovered when I was able to wear clothes that I felt confident in, that were the right size, that didn’t hide my body, and when I was able to eat what I wanted without guilt or shame or an emotional hangover, and just enjoy the taste of food.

What’s your relationship with food like now that you're in recovery from an eating disorder?

I love food. I’ve always enjoyed food, but now I don’t use it as a tool to control my feelings. My body trusts me because I feed it regularly, and I trust my body because I’ve learned that it knows what to do with food. I don’t have to define my moral character by what I ate today, and I don’t have to beat myself up for having something delicious. It’s pretty great.

If exercise was an important part of your eating disorder, what is your relationship with exercise now?

Exercise was an important part of my eating disorder. I don’t exercise a whole lot now, and when I do it’s because it feels good to move my body. I was really careful for a long time about exercise after letting go of my eating disorder. I took a long break from it and when I started again I was vigilant of not obsessing about numbers while exercising.

What was something you knew you needed to work on in eating disorder treatment in order to recover?

I had a lot tied up in body image. For me I think it was detaching my worth from what I looked like, or what others thought of my body, like that helped. Learning that I have a lot to offer this world that has nothing to do with my body, and that being noticed for my body doesn’t feel great, and recognizing those are not the kind of relationships I want to cultivate. I am someone who has to learn lessons by doing, so it took a while for me to realize that focusing on body image was not how I wanted to spend my time or energy.

Rachele O'Hare, LMSW is a NY licensed therapist working in Brooklyn, NY at Well Williamsburg.


About the Author

Stephanie Polizzi is a licensed psychotherapist (LMHC) in Scarsdale, NY at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling. Stephanie is an expert in treating teens and adults struggling with anxiety, eating disorders, behavioral challenges, life transitions and trauma Stephanie uses a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness, and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) & EMDR in her work with clients. ​

Stephanie is available on weekdays, evenings & Saturdays in our Scarsdale office or via Telehealth for video counseling sessions.


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