Maryjeanne Hunt was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1971. As a teenager she developed what is now known as Diabulimia and battled her eating disorder for 22 years. Now fully healed, she has been free of her eating disorder since 1997. Her memoir, currently titled, Eating to Lose is scheduled to launch in January 2012.
A nationally published a wellness columnist since 2009 and licensed personal fitness and weight management coach since 1987, Maryjeanne’s story has been featured on ABC News and Oprah Radio.
Maryjeanne has been a guest speaker on the topic of Diabulimia for both The American Diabetes Association and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She has also led discussion groups about the food-body image relationship in a variety of settings including hospitals, schools, fitness centers, and community centers.
In addition, Maryjeanne holds a full-time position as a financial advisor with New York Life Insurance and has served as a volunteer committee member for The American Diabetes Association. She is the mother of young adult twins and lives with her family in Millis, Massachusetts.
1. How old were you when you were diagnosed with diabetes?
I was 10 (1971).
2. At the time of your diagnosis, did you know anyone else with diabetes?
Not a soul! I’d never heard of it before I went into the E.R. the week after Christmas 1971.
3. In your upcoming book, Eating to Lose, you write about your years of what is now called, “Diabulimia.” When and how did your disordered eating patterns emerge?
That’s a question I’m still exploring and learning more about every day. Like any emotional or psychological “toxins” do, my disordered eating patterns somehow sneaked in the side door when no one was looking. They seem to have been the result of many factors. Perfectionism certainly played a role. So did typical adolescent self-doubt. There were many layers really.
There was the “diabetes” layer. Treating diabetes in the 70s required a hyper-focus on food. At age 10, mustering up that much willpower was just one of the challenges that fueled the illness.
Another layer was constructed from of all the media messages that still continue to bombard us today — some overtly, some subliminally — telling us in no uncertain terms that we are just not good enough as we are. I decided that “skinny-mania” was the only place worth living. If I wasn’t skinny, I couldn’t be pretty, and if I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t worthy – of anything. Not love or success or happiness.
Then there was the layer of my relationship with my mom. She was my role model, my little-girl-hero. And I picked up on her eating habits early on. At 125 pounds, she thought she was fat and spotlighted opinion daily. “Just 5 more pounds to lose,” she would repeat. She never turned anorexic but neither did she ever develop a healthy relationship with food – used to use food to fill up her emptiness. It became a coping strategy I inadvertently learned from her. Mom was in her late 20s when I was diagnosed and was prey to the same polluted messages of the times that we all are. Like many women, she also sought her self-worth through the eyes of others, especially my dad. But that kind of self-worth is empty and un-nourishing. And whatever my dad could offer her was never enough to satisfy such a bottomless longing for self-worth.
4. Research states that women with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to struggle with eating disorders, can you shed some light on this? Why are we more prone to this behavior than women without diabetes?
Clearly we have two factors working against us here. First, there’s insulin itself. It is imperative for treating our physical illness, but at the same time it stimulates the appetite and promotes fat storage. If you are a young adolescent girl with body image issues, overcoming these obstacles is like pedaling as fast as you can uphill and finding yourself drifting to the bottom of that hill no matter how hard you pedal.
Then there’s the mandated focus on food. Even though treatment of diabetes today is much different than in the 70s, you still must attach a number value to everything you eat. For some of us (especially young women who seem to be more susceptible to the whole food-body image war as it is), food begins to categorize itself as good vs. bad. If it has a lot of carbs, calories, saturated fat – it’s “bad”. And all the foods that are low in all those same things are “good”. But there’s really no such thing as good and bad, only balanced and imbalanced.
5. Writing my book, The Smart Woman’s GUide to Diabetes, was a surprisingly transformative and healing journey for me and I think, for a lot of the women who shared their stories with me, did you have a similar experience writing your book? What is your hope for this book?
YESSSS!!!! I haven’t had a binge-purge cycle since 1997 or 1998, but I’m not sure that true healing ever stops. I say this because even now I can find myself reexamining where I’ve been and where I’ve come to, and what I’ve learned and I often arrive at some deeper level of healing that I wasn’t aware existed. I guess it’s a work in progress, a road that has no end. And there are always greater gifts to receive along the way when you’re open to them.
6. You are a personal trainer and exercise coach and you have a website called, The Real Fit, More than our Bodies. Can you tell me about your exercise philosophy?
I address this in my book in much greater detail, but in short here is what I’ve come to believe about exercise. The only reason we need to engage in regular daily exercise is because the modernization of our world has taken away from us the NEED to move. Our bodies are designed to move and if we compare today’s lifestyle with the lifestyle from ages before us, we’ll see a steady decline in the need to move for the purpose of satisfying basic survival needs. We used to hunt and gather; now we drive to the corner pizza shop and slap a few pies on the table. We used to play in the fields for entertainment; now we plop in the couch where our only exercise is lifting the arm to get the remote. It used to take hours to walk a few miles to get the mail or the groceries; now we whine if the traffic makes it longer than a five-minute commute. I’m not bashing the modern world; I’m just saying it is the reason that a healthy lifestyle today asks that we think of exercise as important as sleep, food, bathing, and brushing our teeth. It’s part of an overall maintenance plan for the wellness of our bodies. HOWEVER, we have to remember we are more than our bodies. Our minds, souls, relationships need ongoing nourishment too. It’s about wholeness, not fragmented-ness.
7. What is the best advice you received about living with diabetes?
Don’t let diabetes live your life; live your life with diabetes. I’m not sure where I heard it, but it resonated with me when I did. Diabetes is just one more thing in life we need to (or get to) manage. And all you can do – with anything in life that requires management – is the best you can do, whatever that happens to be at the time (and don’t get tricked into thinking today’s “best” should always be better than yesterday’s). So forgive the mistakes and the flaws. It was never supposed to be “perfect.” Funny thing is, as soon as we let go of “perfect,” it seems to appear everywhere!