It takes a lot of courage to admit one has struggled with an issue that is a disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-5. When one is under constant public scrutiny as a star of a hit reality Bravo TV show like Vanderpump Rules, it takes even more courage. People Magazine is reporting that star of Vanderpump Rules Scheana Shay has discussed her eating disorder.
Scheana Shay is also saying as she comes out with this information, that the disorder is in the past. But is it really?
Many experts would say that an eating disorder is a life long recovery process. And most professionals treating someone with an eating disorder would not recommend that client become a spokesperson for a diet or weight loss pill. So there is some doubt as to whether or not Scheana Shay, who is a spokesperson for the weight loss pill Hydroxycut, is being completely real about her past struggles with eating disorders.
Eating disorders are often treated at rehab facilities that also treat addiction because the cognitive problems that are the foundation of these disorders are very similar. So a person that has struggled with anorexia or bulimia to be promoting a weight loss pill is not unlike a drug addict being an activist for the legalization of marijuana, or a recovering alcoholic promoting Southern Comfort. The actions are incongruent with the process of recovery.
Scheana Shay working for Hydroxycut is perhaps the biggest red flag regarding her road to recovery. She also has the additional risk factors of living and working in Beverly Hills, and being on a nationally-televised reality show that appears to have a lot of superficial qualities.
It’s not to say her statements are incorrect. If she’s not being completely real about her eating disorder, it is more likely that she’s not being completely real with herself, which is the most important step in the recovery of any eating problem.
In the most recent reunion show for Vanderpump Rules, Scheana Shay came out with her struggle with eating disorders. It was in response to a fellow cast mate Stassi Schroeder who had accused her of being anorexic. Scheana said that as a past survivor of anorexia, the comments were hurtful. Scheana described her life of anorexia as having occurred in her twenties.
“I was 20 years old. I was going to be moving out to Hollywood. I wanted to be an actress. This was in 11 years ago. Kim Kardashian was not a thing. It wasn’t cool to have a big butt.”
Scheana described her struggle with eating as just that, a struggle with eating.
“I don’t want to work out, so the only way I know how to get skinny is to stop eating. I remember stepping on the scale the day of my college graduation and I was like 102. I was like, ‘Yes, I’m almost under 100.’ I was proud of myself.”
It was when her friends began noticing her weight loss that she picked up eating again, although she says she used laxatives to keep her weight under control. As her twenties went on, between the ages of 23 and 26, Scheana Shay says that she gained alcohol weight.
People reports that five years later, Scheana says she is fully recovered and has a healthy relationship with food. She eats whatever she wants whenever she wants, and works out now and is able to keep weight off.
But one look at her shows that Scheana does not need to keep weight off. So she clearly still is in the weight control mindset. This is another red flag that suggests she is not completely recovered from her eating disorder.
To Scheana’s credit, being open about it at all is an important part of her recovery. As Dr. Phil says, you can’t change what you can’t acknowledge. She’s acknowledged it. But has she done so completely?
The National Association of Anorexia says that approximately 30 million Americans suffer from anorexia. They also say that every 62 minutes, someone in America dies from it and that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of mental illness. That’s at least 23 Americans a day, dying of anorexia.
Surely some of those 30 million Americans are watching Vanderpump Rules. Scheana Shay is to be applauded for coming out and being open on the topic. She’s also given an opportunity with a national platform to do more. But she needs to be real with herself first.
As Jules Wainstein of Bravo TV’s Real Housewives of New York City would say, a national platform is a perfect reason to be open about an eating disorder. Scheana Shay is not the first Bravo star to be open with it. Jules Wainstein, former Real Housewives of New York City star, said she was open about it because she wanted to help other women.
And she acknowledged that even as of filming last year, it was something she still struggled with. When fellow RHONY stars watched her make a pizza and hide utensils in the pizza, her odd food rituals did not go unnoticed. In a separate report People notes the one episode Jules Wainstein opened up completely to her fellow cast mates.
“I live on the fine line of an eating disorder. In one second, if I have a bad day and I have my slips all the time. Three days ago I threw up my food. I’m not going to lie – it’s my life. Bulimia, it’s with you forever. It’s a big part of my personality.”
Jules also noted on the reunion show of Real Housewives of New York City that “Secrets keep you sick.”
YouTube star Tyler Oakley is another celebrity who has been open about his eating disorder. TheDaily Mail reports he said, “I don’t think eating disorders ever really go away, it’s just something you learn to deal with better.”
This is likely the stage that Scheana Shay is at with her process of recovery. She’s dealing with it better, but it still is a concern.
Dr. Margo Maine, founder and adviser of the National Eating Disorders Association and author of Treatment of Eating Disorders: Bridging the Research-Practice Gap, says that a recovery from anorexia is possible, but that there are risk factors that could bring an eating disorder back anytime. The risk factors she cites are risk factors that Scheana Shay is dealing with.
“Being a woman in modern western culture is a primary risk factor of developing an eating disorder. The fashion and media industries have given society very clear messages about the importance of a woman’s weight and appearance. The cultural pressures on women have created tremendous risk for otherwise healthy women to develop these life-threatening conditions.”
Scheana Shay is smack dab in the middle of the fashion and media industry by being a star of a hit reality television show, filmed out of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Dr. Maine also says that major life changes can contribute to triggering eating disorders, even in those in recovery. Scheana Shay is not only the star of a big time show, but she is also going through a very public divorce, after leaving her husband due to his own struggles with addiction.
Eating disorders are all about controlling one’s environment, with food issues being the symptom of the problem, rather than the problem itself. Dr. Maine says this about that.
“As adults, women who are in recovery may relapse, women who have had issues throughout their lives may get worse…when you’re feeling like your life has devolved into chaos, latching onto an eating disorder may feel like grabbing onto a life preserver you feel a desperate need for.”
In other words, it is easy to control food and calories and workout routines, when other events happening in life are beyond one’s control. It gives those struggling a sense of accomplishment, not unlike the one Scheana described when she said she was proud of herself for being almost under 100 pounds.
However, Dr. Maine also says that those suffering can leave their problems in the past, but that it takes work. Dr. Maine says you can tell someone is in recovery when that person does not define their lives by weight loss.
“You no longer see the world through the lens of weight, food, and appearance. You are able to see yourself as a full person with strengths and gifts. You’re able to turn down the volume on that internal dialogue.”
Does that describe Scheana Shay? Only she can answer that. But as a spokesperson for Hydroxycut, it’s difficult to believe that she does not see the world through the lens of weight, even if it’s only for work.
When Jules Wainstein went open about her eating disorder, her fellow cast mates kind of shook their heads at her for doing so, suggesting she was opening herself to criticism and judgment from people that did not understand. Scheana Shay discussing her eating disorder has done the same thing.
She is to be commended for that step of bravery. She will continue on the path of health and wellness by staying real about it, and not promoting life through the lens of perfect body image and weight loss. It will be interesting to see if Scheana Shay will use the unique opportunity of having a national platform to help others struggling with eating disorders, or if she will continue promoting weight loss pills.
[Image by Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images]