Q: As I have been led to understand it, eating disorders are as much—or more—issues of controlling one's own life than a matter of image. I'm assuming that some thing or things—whether people or events—intervened to change the way you looked at your behaviors and choices as you grappled with your anorexia. Can you talk about the point in the process at which you decided to survive? When the arguments in favor of living in a different way took over from your other behavior?
Rochelle from Illinois
Dillon: Rochelle, when I was a skinny model, I noticed that everyone in the fashion business was struggling so hard to create this ideal image. Make-up and hairstylists work for hours to camouflage any imperfections on the model, and photographers use light and angles to further this illusion. As if that weren't enough, magazines use retouching to "correct" any remaining flaws on the final photograph. I realized that NO ONE, least of all me, could live up to the standards we were inflicting on the rest of the world. That was very eye opening for me.
Q: My 14-year-old daughter has recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder. I do not know how I, as her mother, can help her. Some days she allows me in and will talk about what is bothering her. Other days, she is withdrawn. I do not know which type of day it will be when she wakes up. She is even more distant to her Dad. She has told me she hates him. We are all in therapy. Any insights you can offer?
Dillon: First of all I want to congratulate you for having the courage to get help. My advice to you is to be patient with your daughter as well as being patient with the whole situation. She probably feels pretty awful right now, and the best thing you could give her is love. This shouldn't be an overprotective kind of love, but just don't be angry with her for not wanting to talk about it. Let her come to you. She will if she doesn't feel pressured to. Also, be patient with and kind to yourself. It's wonderful to help others, but take care of yourself, too, so you can be even stronger for your family.
Q: My question is, well, I do think I'm kind of fat. My friends say I'm not, but I think they say that just to be nice. I really try not to eat a lot, but sometimes I get so hungry I try to eat everything I can. But then the next few days I'll try not to eat anything. I would like to know what's wrong with me. If you know, please write back.
Anonymous from Texas
Dillon: Anon. from Texas, I can completely understand how you're feeling. I used to have similar feelings. It's not easy to be a young girl, torn between who she thinks she should be and who she's discovering she is. The way you're eating sounds really unhealthy but, as I'm not a doctor, I can't really say what's "wrong" with you. If you can, talk to your parents or an older adult you feel safe with about your concerns. It does sound like you could use some help, but you don't sound defective! Be good to yourself. Enjoy every minute of being the individual you are, and believe in yourself.
Q: What do you feel helped the most to decrease your body image satisfaction and move the focus of self esteem from external to internal satisfaction? The clients in our eating disorder center struggle immensely with the problem of distorted body image and feeling okay about themselves.
Dillon: I really made a conscious decision to commit to myself. I decided I would allow myself the freedom to be whoever I was naturally, and that what was most important was laughing and feeling good. I literally retrained my brain to value the things in myself I valued in others, I never admired anyone for being pretty or skinny... I admired people for being strong and revolutionary. I realized I'd rather be someone I'd want to know, than the person I thought the rest of the world expected me to be. And I decided to accept myself no matter what. The amazing thing is I discovered myself to be O.K. despite being bigger than I'm supposed to be and despite the fact that I'm a bit goofy!! I embrace my total self.
Q: I am not sure why but I am not comfortable about myself, even though my friends, family, and boyfriend all tell me how beautiful I am. I just don't see it, and my question for you is: How do you build up the confidence? How can I build up the confidence in myself to keep me from being depressed all the time? I am a size 16 but feel so much bigger. I think being depressed about it is making me bigger. Sometimes I wish I could make myself sick to be smaller. I just can never bring myself to do it and sometimes I would rather die than be big.
Lyndsey from Virginia
Dillon: Lyndsey, listen to the way you talk to yourself. Would you talk to your best friend that way? I hope not!! You are right though, it doesn't matter what other people say, it's what you think that counts. Unfortunately, you've got yourself on the receiving end of your own harsh judgment. Being big can really suck. Believe me I know. But do I really deserve less love and happiness because I'm not petite? No way. Very rarely do I feel badly about my size. I know not everyone will like me, but then again I don't like everyone either!! Embrace your size. Love yourself for it. You are strong and have so much more to offer than your sexy, voluptuous body anyway. Think about your heart and soul...
Q: What is the recommended weight for a 14-year-old girl?
Alisha from North Carolina
Dillon: Alisha, everyone is made differently. There is no right and wrong. And weight is virtually meaningless. Muscle, bone density, all these factors contribute to weight. If you are concerned about health, talk to a doctor about body fat percentage. The average woman should have between 22 and 28 percent body fat.