Hey guys! Welcome to the show notes for Episode 19 of the Grapefruit & Granola Podcast. I’m really excited because today I’m interviewing Rachel Tenny, who is a fellow Charlottean, an eating disorder therapist and an amazing artist. We did this interview in my house and it was so fun to chat in person.
I obviously love all of my podcast episodes but this one might be my favorite. Maybe it was because it was the first in-person episode I ever recored… maybe it’s because Rachel is so great… or maybe it’s because this is a conversation that every woman should hear!
How Rachel Got involved in Mental Health
“I Actually have a lot of family members that have struggled with mental illness and so from an early age, probably when I was like 11 or 12, I actually had a lot of family members that were dealing with depression. My grandma is bipolar and so it just became a really candid conversation in our house as we talked about mental illness and kind of the stigma that comes along with that.
I just really became fascinated in what could be done to help those people and kind of based on that, I knew it was something that I wanted to get into as a career. I went to undergrad and studied psychology and didn’t really like classes until I got to psychology classes and something just kind of clicked where I was like, “Wow, this is what I want to do.”
In order to be a therapist or to work in mental health, you typically have to get a master’s degree so I then decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree in counseling and my first placement in grad school was in an eating disorder treatment facility so it was just kind of serendipitous that that then became my placement and I stuck with it and here I am like four or five years later after that moment.
I just kind of remember, even my first couple of days there, even that was really hard. Just feeling like very reassured that this was the type of work I was supposed to do. Yeah, that’s my good, quick, summary of how all of that happened but definitely just felt very drawn to working with women, especially surrounding eating disorders and body image and helping them find their value.
It just kind of seemed a natural fit for me for sure.”
How important is mental health and emotional health in regards to your overall wellbeing?
“It’s 100% important. I mean, I feel like if you don’t have a solid emotional and mental wellbeing, the rest of your life is going to be hard. We are so much kind of how our brain works and the way we feel about ourselves and the way we process information, that is integral in every single part of your life whether it’s relationships or a job or even what you do in your free time, if you’re struggling mentally the rest of your life will kind of suffer as well.
It’s kind of hard to even pick a part, areas of your life, that mental health doesn’t impact honestly for me.”
At what point do you recommend seeking the help of a professional?
“I tell everyone I meet that I had a patient that they should go see a therapist. I know, do you tell everyone you meet that they should see a dietitian?
I think that therapy is so beneficial even if you feel like you don’t have a lot going on, I think it’s really just kind of important to have someone that could hear you out and validate you and help you come up with some coping skills with whatever is going on.
I honestly recommend any one going to counseling even if you just go a couple of times but if you’re noticing that you’re more anxious or you’re having any big life changes then I would recommend it even more.”
Tips for picking out a therapist – how you’d be able to tell if you were a good fit with someone?
“That’s a really good question. I think it’s just kind of like a pair of shoes when you have a good pair on, you know it. Sometimes the first therapist you see is not going to be a good personality fit, there’s lots of great websites especially my favorite one, Psychology Today.
It’s a resource where you can really just type in your location, what type of issues you may be struggling with, if you want to use insurance, et cetera and it will match you up with people that could be a good fit. Then, really, it just kind of seeing who of those people may match best with your personality.
I would always recommend a lot of therapist will do like a free initial consult where you get like 10 or 15 minutes to chat with them before you book a first appointment, I always recommend people do that.
You can tell if someone will be a good fit but also, if you go to an appointment, you’re not married to have to go back again. If you go to an appointment and it doesn’t feel right and it feels like that person may not understand you or personality wise, it’s not a good fit, you can always look for somebody else.
But definitely checking in and like doing one of those 10 or 15 minute calls to kind of just see if the person is someone you may feel comfortable with.”
Is counseling something that you would recommend doing in the short term, if you’re struggling with something or should someone expect for it to be a long term thing?
“I think that depends on the person for sure. I think it depends on like the severity of what you’re struggling with. I would say typically, if your life is pretty stable, your therapist – it’s not necessarily about how long you see them but the frequency in between when you see them.
Typically when if you’re really struggling, are having a lot more going on, you might want to see you one to two times a week, typically once if you maybe have some minor issues but not a whole lot, maybe every two or three weeks and if you’re kind of more just like wanting someone to check in with, maybe once a month.”
Is there a stigma when it comes to addressing mental health?
“I think overall, mental health has been de-stigmatized in some ways. But in general, it is still kind of seen as invisible illnesses. You can’t physically see someone’s depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder. Because you can’t see it, I think a lot of times, people feel invalidated in their own mental illness and then also, other people don’t’ know how to deal with that.
I think it’s really important to educate individuals about what mental illness really is, how it impacts people, how it is very serious and should be taken just as seriously as a physical illness. An example I give a lot when I’m working with adolescent patients and their parents is like, if your kid was sick and broke their arm, would you not take them to the doctor?”
How much does stress impact your mental health?
“It impacts it a lot. I will say that from even my own personal standpoint. I feel like I have a lot of like my own personal anxiety that I work through on a daily basis and a lot of stress makes mental illness worse honestly. Just like stress impacts your physical health, it impacts your mental wellbeing. A lot of times, people don’t understand what anxiety feels like but a lot of stress and anxiety is correlated
Ways to notice when you’re stressed:
- Are your thoughts scattered?
- Are you forgetting to do things?
- Are you so overwhelmed that you just kind of get paralyzed and get stuck?
But, a lot of times stress and anxiety get people paralyzed where they can’t do anything or they feel like there’s so much going on, they don’t even kind of know where to start.
Even without getting too much into emotional eating, what else are you doing to alleviate your stress, do you come home from work every day and do you need a glass of wine or do you feel like the only way and listen, I’m guilty of that too.
Does that become your coping skill? What are you looking to kind of like curb the stress that you have. Do you notice that yeah, exactly like your emotional eating or are you drinking every night or are you engaging in like online shopping? I don’t know, a lot of people online shop when they’re stressed.
It’s not necessarily that those are bad things because I do all of those things but are you relying on that to help you calm down or feel less anxious or feel less stress with what’s going on. That’s kind of how you can tell when it’s an issue if you’re constantly relying on that.
What are your coping skills and are you relying on things that are maybe not long term going to be helpful.”
If someone is engaging in one of the behaviors that you just mentioned and they are using that as a coping mechanism, do you have any tips as to how they can start to deal with their stress?
“Yeah, I think you have a good point too like in our cultural context, like people are doing so much and women especially are expected to do lots of things and juggle lots of balls so I think the first thing in alleviating the stress is even just being honest with yourself. Instead of just saying, “I’m good, I’m fine, everything is great.”
Like, when you have friends ask you how you are, let them know. I think it’s kind of unpopular sometimes to let people know when we’re struggling but I think being able to be honest with yourself and be able to be honest with the people around you and ask them for support is really key because then they can help you figure out ways to maybe take something off your plate. A lot of our stress can be internal but a lot of it is external from trying to do too many things.
I know from me, that’s a huge stresser, when I try to do too many things in a small amount of time and they could in fact even be things I enjoy but when I’m trying to do too much, it feels overwhelming.
Asses your life, what could you cut out, is there something you don’t need to be doing, is there something that you could pass on to someone else, is there a responsibility that you don’t’ need on your plate?
Really, kind of evaluating, being honest with yourself, checking in with the people around you and figuring out what is not serving your life well and what you could stop doing.
It’s like, what is the sense of urgency that we have for everything. I think a lot of times, at least for me in the past, I give everything the most intense sense of urgency like it has to happen tomorrow but it doesn’t, even with the recording this podcast, like yeah, it was later than we thought it would be but it still happened.”
What about stressful things that are out of our control?
So for example, dealing with a sick family member or maybe an upcoming move or relocating or a job issue that’s really outside of your control. I know that those life things can be so stressful, so where should someone start with dealing with that?
“With a therapist. Really, yeah, definitely with therapist but I think it’s really important to just assess what’s going on, I like to do what I call a brain dump where I put all of my wild and swirling thoughts in my head on a piece of paper and so I can kind of evaluate what’s causing these stress and for me, it’s helpful to acknowledge like wow, these are a lot of things going on.
I try to write down everything that could be going on, even there’s good stress that’s chaotic like right now, I’m in the process of buying a house with my husband and that’s been really stressful.
Those are like things that just kind of happen in life. I think for me, just acknowledging that it’s stressful and then kind of even trying to take on less extra things. If you know you have a sick family member and they’re going to require more of your time and intention, what are some other areas you can cut back on?
If you have a really stressful job, maybe that means spending extra time on the weekend doing something that you enjoy.”
Virtual counseling resources vs. seeing someone in person?
“I think that there is nothing that can compare to being in the same space which is kind of fun that we’re even recording this in the same space. I think as such a technology driven society, there are so many amazing resources that we have access to now because of the internet.
I think there’s a lot of people that wouldn’t necessarily go to counseling in person for various reasons but then may seek the help online. There are several really good, legit resources and I can give you a list of those too for people that may be interested that screen therapists, that you have to have certain licenses and credentials to do. I think, if you’re not willing to see someone in your area, that’s just something that you’re not going to do then telehealth can be a really beneficial thing.
Can you tell us a little bit about eating disorder patterns?
“Some common things that I see that may not meet like the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder but are still disordered are eliminating entire food groups when there’s not a reason to do that. Kind of tying your emotional value to a certain number or size and just really getting into that, really kind of intense and obsessive workout programs that cause you to have to eat or restrict certain things.
Really, any time that you are restricting something in your dietary intake, it also impacts your mental wellbeing based on that restrictive mentality. Really, anytime people are not doing something that they want to do or feeling like they can’t eat a piece of cake because they don’t want to, it’s not actually beneficial for their wellbeing.
Anytime there’s like an obsession with working out or eating a certain way, and something consumes – this is kind of where it’s a grey area. If it consumes half of what you’re thinking in a day about when you’re going to eat next or when you’re going to eat next or when you’re going to work out then that’s not really healthy for you at all.
It’s actually adding extra stress onto your body.”
If you can’t enjoy life experiences, like going to someone’s birthday party and like you said, having a piece of cake, you know, at what point is that really affecting your overall mental health as well?
“I think that’s such a good point too because it becomes just sort of when it does impact the quality of your life, are you basing what you do and don’t do based on if you have to eat or not then that’s not going to be beneficial for anybody if you’re avoiding social situations or things that you enjoy just because you don’t want to have to deal with the food that maybe there.”
Where do you think diet culture starts?
“I think a lot of it is cultural but a lot of it stems from like the people we’re are around. Our beliefs and value and the things that we learn come from the people we’re around most when we’re little kids.
I think a lot of that is societal and then the other piece is like what it’s talked about in your home, how our bodies talked about. How our diet’s treated, what do people eat or don’t eat, how are people talking about food?
Does food have morality, like is food good or bad? I think a lot of that want is societally event and then it’s also impacted most for people when they’re growing up and seeing how their families talk about those things.
Diet culture for children
“That’s always so heartbreaking for me, honestly. I can’t tell you how many stories I hear of like a mom poking her daughter’s belly or like telling her to suck it in or not wear a certain clothes or like not eat a certain thing and it really does not just impact the way someone sees food but the way that they see their worth and value as a person.
What advice would you have to kind of prevent that from happening?
“One of the things I tell people’s parents the most is like let your kids see you doing things in your body that you enjoy, let them see you putting food in your body that is nutritious and exercising because you enjoy it, let them see you do things that you would want them to do. But having like very strict food rules or habits or letting them see you exercise is kind of a punitive thing can be really detrimental.
Make sure you’re not talking about your own body or standing in front of a mirror picking it apart when you kid is there. I’ve had so many people I work with tell me that they just kind of remember watching their mom and seeing how their mom was talking about her own self and assuming if she said these things and was picking herself apart then they should do that too.
Be mindful that even if your child isn’t talking or paying a lot of attention to what you’re doing, especially as women, like we’re intuitive, we pick up on things. Your daughters may be picking up on things that you don’t’ even know that they’re watching you do.”
Sometimes when there is a huge shift in weight, there’s actually something else going on. Either a medical condition or an emotional issue and so maybe addressing the underlying issue and leaving the weight part our of it is a lot more productive.
“Definitely. I think that’s a good point too. Even talking to your daughters about the images you see in magazines and the things that you see in media and talking to home about how those images have been retouched and that yeah, even if you lose weight, it’s not always a positive thing. There could be something else going on with somebody.”
Study about little boys vs. little girls
“It talks a lot about how we talk to little boys about what they do well but we talk to little girls about how they look. Even from a toddlers – small.
Little girls are told that they’re pretty or that they have cute outfits or that whatever. I always challenge people to even think about things that they can tell their kid that they’re doing well so that they don’t’ – especially as little girls don’t find their worth and just the way that they look too.
If someone’s listening and they are struggling with body image and they feel bad about themselves when they look in the mirror, what advice would you have?
“That’s a hard question to be honest, just because I think it’s very different depending on what people’s own journey has been like. Know that you’re not alone first of all. I think everybody, myself included have days where they look in the mirror and they don’t feel 110% great about themselves. There isn’t an expectation that you have to love yourself all the time and just to be able to accept your body.
I work with my own clients a lot on just being able to accept their body even if they’re not happy with it, even if they still would like to change it. How can they accept it and be grateful for the things that allows them to do. How many amazing things do you do because you have a body. I mean, everything we do, right?
If we travel, if we have relationships, if we go out to dinner or go dancing, all of those things we do because we have our body. It’s really sad to me when we spend so much time kind of beating it up and hating it. For just existing.
I constantly challenge people to not wait until they lose five pounds or 10 pounds or whatever arbitrary thing they’ve had in their head before they do things.
Something I see a lot, I don’t know if you see this but the people you work with is the idea like I will be happier if my body is smaller or my life will be better if I lose weight. I think that that idea is really just a myth. People hold off on so many incredible things because they’re unhappy with their body.”
Tell us a little bit about how you try to live your healthiest life- are there any favorite things that you like to do to stay healthy, both physically and mentally?
“Yes. I try to block time every day to either go to yoga class or take my dogs for a walk; one of the things I realized is that I hate working out in the gym, I like to do things outside of the gym like running on a treadmill is not what I enjoy.
So while that may had been benefiting my physical health, it wasn’t good for my mental wellbeing. I would much rather be outside doing something or in a class with friends, I try to pick types of exercise that I enjoy.
Let’s see, one of the other things that I really like doing is scheduling off like one or two nights a week where I don’t do anything besides go home from work where I don’t schedule anything with friends, that way I just kind of have margin for myself on the weekends.
My husband laughs at me because I actually have like what I call my self-care budget for the month. That includes like when I want to go out and do things with friends or get a massage. It doesn’t even have to be extravagant but like, what are little things you can do, I try to do at least one, either every Saturday, usually ends up either being Saturday or Sunday mornings. I will spend time just by myself like I’ll either go eat by myself or go get my nails done by myself and just really take some time where I’m not listening to a podcast or doing anything else or just kind of being.- trying to read, I mean, there’s all kinds of things but really, it’s not about adding more things into your routine, it’s like finding things that you can again, like what I said earlier, like what are some thing you can stop doing, what are some things you can take out so that you can focus on being more present with what you’re doing at the moment.”
About Rachel Tenny
Rachel is a mental health therapist and artist, who combines her love of bright paintings and encourage words to encourage women to accept themselves and their bodies. She works with women who struggle with eating disorders and female entrepreneurs who want to prioritize their mental well-being. When she isn’t working, you can find her traveling or spending time with her husband and their rescue pups. For more of her work, follow along at racheltenny.com or @rachel_tenny.