Blogging for Recovery: An Interview with Body Boop’s Nicole Rohr Stephani
By Pooja Patel--When you are struggling with an eating disorder or weight-related issues it can be hard to find an outlet where you feel comfortable speaking openly. Of course, therapy is a great resource, but sometimes you also want support in a less formal environment—but not everyone you meet can understand what goes on in the mind of someone fighting a mental disorder.
However, Body Boop, started by Nicole Rohr Stephani, shatters the idea that you have to suffer alone. By creating a safe space for those struggling with eating disorders and other mental illnesses to share their stories and experiences, Stephani helps to break stigma and encourage recovery. Proud2Bme interviewed this body-positive titan to find out how she inspires people every day.
Pooja Patel: You talk about it a bit in your ‘About Nicole’ portion of your site, but what was your inspiration for Body Boop? Additionally, how did you come up with the name?
Nicole Rohr Stephani: Body Boop started as just a personal outlet for me. My background is in journalism and writing, so I thought, "Well, if one person reads this, then maybe I've helped someone." After it launched in March 2014, I started to receive messages from individuals who wanted to share their recovery stories, too. Maybe this was something bigger? I then began to think of Body Boop as a resource for people in all stages of eating disorder recovery, where the stories shared were not triggering. I'm just one of a huge population of people that has to scrape together resources to maintain long-term recovery—why not have a place where we're all talking about it and make it easier for people on their journeys?
Body Boop came from my husband "booping" me on the nose when he thought I was being cute or funny while we were dating. It made me feel good in that moment and like I could conquer the world. THAT is the feeling I want to spread to people struggling with ED. Plus #bodyboop makes a pretty great hashtag.
PP: Body Boop was featured nationally on Fox News. How do you think this exposure will aid those struggling with eating disorders?
NRS: People talking about eating disorders and eating disorder recovery is great, no matter what prompts the conversation. When I was first hospitalized for anorexia in 1999, the medical staff there had no knowledge or training. There was only one medical doctor and one eating disorder therapist who could help me in my city, and the few treatment facilities that existed were across the country. Exposure for Body Boop, to me, means A) Providing people with eating disorders an uplifting place to turn to when they are in crisis and feel alone—an alternative to pro-ana and pro-mia sites; B) More experts and recovered individuals sharing valuable information with people who may not know anything about eating disorders; and C) Raising money for eating disorder organizations through Body Boop merchandise and events.
PP: How do you decide what types of things need to be addressed on your site?
NRS: My personal blog posts are based on my current triumphs or struggles in long-term recovery. I have great weeks and really awful weeks, so I like to share those moments to communicate that even 10 years out, recovery is HARD but worthwhile. In terms of other features and other people's stories, I really let that happen organically. If I meet someone in recovery who has an inspiring story to tell, I ask them to write for the site. If they're not comfortable writing, I do a Q&A or write the feature myself. The people who are the most scared to write something themselves usually do an amazing job—it's quite cathartic to talk about your deepest secrets with a community of people who understand and support you.
PP: There is often a large struggle between reporting your eating disorder as it happens, and triggering others when doing so. How do you ensure that you and other writers can express themselves and their stories, but also stay away from possibly triggering material?
NRS: Body Boop has a strict no-numbers, no tips & tricks policy, for the blog and for events. I edit everything personally to make sure that no calories or weights are included. I read every article I share to make sure there are no super obvious triggers (though everyone's triggers are different). And to avoid my BIGGEST media pet peeve, we never feature "before" pictures when posting about someone's recovery. We want to see you as your BEST you, and we definitely don't want to foster a competitive environment with regard to weight and looks.
PP: Who is your body-positive role model? Why?
NRS: Can I say me? I've worked really hard to love myself! Other role models are Kate Winslet, Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, Meghan Tonjes and a couple of dear friends from treatment who support me every day.
PP: Body Boop not only features articles and posts about eating disorders, but other mental illnesses as well. How did this come about?
NRS: It's a common misconception that eating disorders are ONLY about vanity and weight. Often, an eating disorder is a coping mechanism for something else. Trauma, addictions and other mental illnesses can trigger eating disorders. For me, once my anxiety and depression was properly treated, it was easier to recover from anorexia and bulimia. We've featured articles about bipolar disorder and eating disorders, and specific manifestations of eating disorders like medically-induced anorexia. Other mental illnesses can make your world feel chaotic, and the eating disorder provides a very temporary form of relief. It's important to talk about the fact that you can overcome multiple issues in your life; it's just a long process. Mental health matters—if you haven't tried therapy before, I'll shout it from the rooftops: IT MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER.
PP: What is the favorite part of your events like "Nourish: A Body Image Conversation"?
NRS: Nourish: A Body Image Conversation was our first Body Boop event! My favorite part was hosting a workshop that I could have really used myself at some point during the past 16 years. We started the day with yoga, breathing and meditation, and then we had body image presentations by a social worker trained in eating disorder recovery and by a health/wellness coach. I partnered with Emilie Maynor Living for this event and helped curate content on nutrition and health that was helpful and not triggering. It was a wonderful half-day of healing!
PP: We all get stressed sometimes! Do you ever get overwhelmed by running Body Boop? If so, how do you deal with the stress and how it may affect your wellbeing?
NRS: I regularly get overwhelmed by running Body Boop and often feel like giving up. But in those moments, it never fails that I get an e-mail from someone needing help, or someone who is desperate to find help for a family member. It reminds me why this project is so important and precisely why I can't give up. The pressure and additional workload can result in 13- or 14-hour days (I have a full-time day job, too!), but as Body Boop grows perhaps there will be an opportunity to bring more people on to help split up the work. For now, I try my best to make sure I get up and go for walks to clear my head, talk to my therapist about the stress, eat well, watch as much reality TV as I want, read fiction and take bubble baths every night (even at 2 am sometimes). There are weeks when I don't make it to the gym because of my full plate, but that's part of my recovery story, too. And right here, right now, doing this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.
About the blogger: Pooja Patel studies neuroscience and philosophy at Barnard College, Columbia University. She does research at a CU neurobiology laboratory, which emphasizes anticipation behaviors, circadian rhythms and biology. She has interned off and on at the National Eating Disorders Association for about two years. Pooja enjoys reading, dancing, watching mindless TV and keeping up with fashion trends.
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