Julie Mathers is a passionate educator, tutor, and yoga teacher. She works as the Educational Director for Owl Hill Learning Centers and teaches yoga at Evolution Power Yoga. Julie has three much-loved babies (a “singleton and twins!”) and has been married for eight years to her British husband. Julie openly shares about her life and struggle with an eating disorder on her blog.
Q: Tell us about your background and your path in life. Who are you? Where did you come from?
I was born and raised outside of Philadelphia in a small town named Swathmore. I was the fourth generation to be born and raised there in a very small family. I came to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to go to school to be a teacher. I had this instinct from square one that I wanted to teach. Even growing up I made my sister play school all the time. It’s what I did. I stayed in Lancaster because I ended up teaching and continuing my education here. Right now, I coordinate preschool programs for a private childcare company called Owl Hill Learning Center and teach at Evolution Power Yoga.
I got sick in 2000. I’m learning that a lot of my life and what I was doing up until that point were precursors to the disease. It was during my junior year in college that I started wrestling with an eating disorder, mostly anorexia.
Usually there is a trigger that sets off an eating disorder. One of my triggers was that I was with an abusive boyfriend for six years. Our breakup in 2000 was a catalyst for my eating disorder. I didn’t get sick because I wanted him back or because I was devastated by the breakup, but because I was used to being emotionally and verbally abused. It wasn’t him that specifically caused it, he was one piece of it, but I was missing something I had had for six years. I had this negative relationship, but it also gave me safety because it gave me a definition. It gave me an identity and it was what I knew. When it was gone, I needed to find a punishment to replace it. To define myself.
So, I chose ”Ed”, eating disorder, and we call him “Ed’ because it gives all of my thoughts and my behaviors a name and an alias. Because I’m not Ed. I’m not an eating disorder, I’m Julie. I’m a teacher and a mom and a friend, and I’m not Ed. The disease is Ed.
I faked recovery for over 13 years, but last year I went into full out-patient recovery, including therapy, psychiatrists, psychologists, dieticians, groups, etc. I worked to get back to a healthy body weight and I’m working towards fine-tuning all of the wonderful things that come along with shifting all of the patterns that come with eating disorders. It’s my work. And my big passion is making the world understand that this is a disease that kills, just like cancer, and it should be handled with the same amount of intensity, understanding, compassion, and awareness. Eating disorders don’t just affect white rich girls, they affect everyone. It’s for men, it’s for all ages, it’s for all ethnicities. It’s a huge disease with lots of facets and it has to be dealt with that way. It has to be dealt with mind, body, and soul!
After a year of therapy, I learned that I didn’t know how to be mindful. I’m learning how to know when I’m full and know when I’m hungry. I’m learning how to honor my needs, desires, and wants. I’m learning how to say “No”. I’m learning about self-compassion, anxiety, guilt, and shame. People without an eating disorder can eat anything without attaching feeling or meaning around it. If I eat something that’s not healthy for me, I feel so guilty and ashamed about it. I attach all of these negative emotions around eating and food. I’m learning to sit with those emotions. In past years, I could numb out negative feelings by not eating and I was extremely disconnected from my body. I’m learning to be present now.
I’m working on a series of events called Love Your Selfie—No Edits. The very first part of that series is a scale smash event. I rented a space for two hours with all these events tied around letting go of numbers that confine you. We’re literally going to have a graveyard with sledgehammers and mallets to smash the you-know-what out of scales. That’s going to be followed up by an eight-week body-image workshop series and the culminating event is going to be a transformational speaker, Suzanne Conrad. She’s going to be coming from Vancouver and she does a life coaching leadership series. She’s coming to the Ware Center to speak. The workshop series will extend from Sunday, October 5 to Sunday, November 23 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Evolution Power Yoga in Lancaster.
Q: You’ve been identified by someone as being incredible. What do people see in you that is incredible?
JM: That is really hard for me to answer. I have a hard time believing that I am incredible. Parents say to me that I’m an amazing educator or students say that I am a great yoga teacher and it’s really difficult for me to say thank you. I don’t think anything I do is incredible, because for me nothing I do is enough.
Incredible to me is something that’s not reserved for me. I have to DO something to be incredible, right? And you know, maybe the incredible thing is that I’m learning how to be me. And that me is enough.
Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?
JM: Don’t worry about being perfect. Because perfect doesn’t exist and it will be a life of hell trying to find it Also, perfect people aren’t fun, because they’re not living. The only things that are perfect are inanimate objects, because they’re not alive. My entire life I’ve been trying to be perfect—a perfect eater, a perfect teacher, a perfect mom, a perfect woman, a perfect body—and it’s so stressful trying to be that way. I’ve literally killed myself for perfection. My expectations are unrealistic and I expect 195% of myself at all times and it’s just not possible.
To be honest, I am so afraid of my children having the same disease that I had. The only way I can stop that is to make sure that I am honest with them and let them know that these are the lessons that I have. I learn so much by watching my kids. My son said to me the other day, “Mommy, I just stop when I’m full because I’ll just have it later on.” When I asked him how he knew that he said, “I just know.” It was awesome.
Q: Tell me about struggle.
JM: I think it comes from trying to be perfect. My biggest struggle has been dichotomous, black and white, all or nothing thinking. For example, my thinking was either eat everything and purge through exercise, or eat nothing. It was, “I’m going to do 755 things in one day or be so sick that I have to be in bed.” That type of thinking is hard, especially when you’re trying to be intuitive with your eating and your mindfulness, and your rest. Nothing is ever enough and there are no limits with that kind of thinking.
My struggle is this—how do I let go and how do I trust? How do I just be? How do I relax with what is and stay present? I’ve lived past and future and I’ve missed so much that is present. My struggle is being here now. The present is always OK, it’s living in the future that causes anxiety.
Q: Life is beauty and pain. You’ve told me about pain in your life—What is beautiful in your life?
JM: There is so much beauty in my life, but unfortunately I feel like I’ve missed so much of it. Beauty for me is on the inside. It’s not a size anymore. It’s doing what gives me life. What makes me thrive. I thrive by teaching—a teacher to myself, a teacher to students in the classroom or in the yoga studio. Teaching others by example that you don’t have to starve yourself or go on a diet, that women get to eat fries and not just salads. For me, beauty is what makes me come alive.
My kids are beauty. My kids are amazing and trusting. They are free and freedom is beautiful.
Beauty is compassion. It’s caring. Beauty is healthy, but nothing to do with your body size—it’s freedom from rules or rigidity.
Again, there’s so much in my life that is beautiful. I get to do what I love. I get paid to educate on a daily basis. Beauty is that I got to have these wonderful babies even after I had an illness. I spent so much time in my disease that I lost sight of all things beautiful…and there’s so much.
Q: What question did I miss? What else should I know about you?
JM: I think that I am really passionate. I’m really driven and have this hard work ethic and I want that compassion, work ethic, and drive to attract people. I’m not here to change the world, but I’m here to be a little selfish and to take care of myself so that others can see that that’s ok.
I’m completely dedicated to my kids and I want the world to be different for them. That’s my mission.
I’m extremely thankful for the reception that I’ve had on my blog in my coming out as having an eating disorder. The support has been incredibly non-judgmental and supportive. This community has been an amazing accountability partner. I thank my yoga practice, too. Yoga started as a form of purging to get rid of calories, but now my yoga practice has forced me to be in my body. Now that I have a healthy body weight, my practice has gotten much stronger. It has given me a connection to myself.