July 14, 2008

Blogging the Hard Truth: Stephanie Quilao Interview

[By Crabby]

Here at Cranky Fitness, we tend to talk about health and nutrition and exercise generally rather than personally. Which means you are more likely to read advice on what we think everyone should do (eat your vegetables!) and less likely to hear reports about what we actually do ourselves. (Well, popcorn is technically a vegetable, isn't it?)

How much do we weigh? Did we do our cardio this morning? Do we plan to cut down on our cupcake consumption? Unless we've been in a unusually confessional mood, it's anyone's guess... 'cause we're not saying.

Other bloggers out there are much more forthcoming. Many of you who have blogs share the details of your struggles and goals and accomplishments with your readers. It's brave and inspiring! But being personal and honest comes with challenges, doesn't it?

One such blogger, Stephanie Quilao, found herself confronting difficult questions about the "personal" versus the "public" on her blog Back in Skinny Jeans.

For those of us who are not lucky enough to be hearing her speak at the BlogHer Conference in San Francisco (July 18-20) Stephanie offered to share some of her experiences "Coming Out" on her blog about some very personal issues.

CF: The title of panel you're speaking at is called “Who We Are: Coming Out Via Blog”... Some people might jump to the conclusion that you broke the surprising news to your readers that you were a debutante lesbian. But they'd be wrong! What were you actually referring to?

I was thrilled to get the invite to speak at BlogHer08 but the request came with a “But…” {cringe…wait for it…here it comes Steph}

Coming Out? My initially reaction (in my head) was, “But I’m not Lesbian. Yeah I’m single, over 40, and have no kids so to some of my relatives I surely must be a Lesbian, because well, if this were “My Big Fat Filipino Wedding” you’d get the picture. In “Coming Out” they meant about something highly personal and the “but” part was, “We want you to talk about how you came out about your bulimia relapse this past January. It’s really personal I know but would ya?”

I have never spoken about the bulimia in front of a live audience before that wasn’t some anonymous healing program so part of me is really nervous to be honest. Coming out online is one thing but talking about this in front of hundreds of eyeballs focused on you is very different. I’m doing this not only as an opportunity for personal growth, but also as a way to help my fellow women bloggers in their own healing journeys.

CF: What did you think might happen once you "came clean?" And how was the response similar or different to what you were anticipating?

The fact that I had suffered from bulimia was not a secret, but the fact that I had an active reoccurrence while being one of the top bloggers in the holistic weight management/body image category was a huge conflict of interest, so, you can imagine the guilt and sense of hypocrisy I was feeling behind the scenes.

I was just going to shut down the blog because that would have been the easiest thing to do, just close the doors, but something inside wouldn’t let me do that, at least not yet. So, I chose to share the “messy middle of the success story.”

I read lots of autobiographies because I want to know more about the middle part, the hard part, the part where real life happens. I am inspired reading about where people fall down, screw up, fail, feel defeated, and want to give up, and then how they got back up again, grew, and kept moving forward. I like to read about their tenacity, focus, commitment, and most importantly hope.

In my personal experience, the only thing that gets most people out of hellish situations is hope, the belief that things will get better. So because I had hope, I decided to share my personal struggle, and yes it was surely a knuckle biting, “want-to-pee-in-my-pants” experience the day that Part I of III went live.

What I hugely underestimated was the compassion, love, and support people gave to me. I was truly scared about this potentially damaging revelation but, coming out about the relapse showed me so much about human connection and compassion. Many people said to me, “I respect you more because you had the courage to show your humanness.” My goal is not to be any kind of hero or role model, I just want people to feel less alone, stigmatized, and shame, because I know how debilitating that can be.

CF: Do you ever fear a recurrence of the bulimia?

I’m often asked, “Can you be cured from bulimia?” I am not a health professional, but I am someone who has had almost 2 decade’s worth of experience dealing with both western and alternative healing modalities, and I can tell you this.

The absence of something that was once there does not mean that you are necessarily restored to health. Just because you don’t binge & purge doesn’t mean that bulimia will not come back. Just because cancer has left your body does not mean that it will not come back. Just because you are over one addiction like drinking or drugs doesn’t mean that you won’t develop a new one. Whole healing is mind, body, and spirit, and many people think that if they can just rid themselves of the dis-ease in their body, they’re home free, and realistically that is not the case. Those who have experienced quantum healing where their un-wellness does not return are those who have gone through what I call metaphorically, “Extreme Makeover: Body & Soul Edition.”

If you don’t deal with the underlying things that contributed to you getting sick and addicted in the first, it will come back. And if you relapse, it does not mean you are weak or that you failed in your healing, it just means that you have more work to do, or that you have been slipping back into your old patterns and habits, and you need to get back on track to doing the things that make you well.

Back to the Extreme Makeover example, I had to go into my basement and clean out years of piled up emotions, dirt, and baggage because I knew that the only way I could truly be well again, not perfect, just well, was to clean up everything I kept ignoring or hoped would just go away which we all know, never happens.

Bulimia will always be a tool in my “Life Box” of things to use in coping with stress and life, but whether I choose to use that tool or not is my choice. Now some will say that having an eating disorder is not a choice, it’s an illness, and yes I agree to a point. However, you as an individual have the choice to get help or not. You have the choice to heal or not. You have the choice to continue to live like this or not. For me, I choose to heal and to grow, and yes it’s not always easy or pain-free, it’s a process and I have hope.

CF: If somehow you did run into trouble again, do you think you'd blog about it in real time, or hold off until it was in the past again?

When I came out about the bulimia relapse I did it after I had a couple months of treatment. I don’t recommend anyone writing about their experience while they are in the middle of it because you are highly emotional, irrational, and not able to be objective. It’s best to wait for some time to pass when you are in a space where you feel stronger and more grounded.

When it comes to eating disorders, there are also the Pro-Mia and Pro-Ana blogs where some come out and blog about their eating disorders more as a way to stay active in their behavior or “lifestyle” as some of them refer to it, and not actually heal. I am very careful when I blog about my bulimia experiences and I don’t do it often because I want to be clear that my message is about healing and inspiration to have a better life.

CF: Do you think the "public disclosure" aspect of weight loss blogging is a good thing or is it a source of pressure for bloggers who have issues with eating disorders? Or is it a mixed bag?

I’m going to say mixed bag because publicly disclosing your weight loss journey can really play havoc with one’s inner “Perfect Person.”

On the upside, blogging your weight loss can give you additional community support, accountability so you are less likely to slack from your journey, and a sense of accomplishment. On the flip side, all is good when you are losing weight but what happens when you plateau or worse as many see it, start gaining back what you lost where a 2 pound gain quickly turns into 10lbs, then 15 etc. Most people start to panic, start to “fudge” with the numbers, and in an extreme worst case scenario start to full on lie like the KimKins lady.

Why? Because publicly disclosing your weight loss becomes more about your image and ego than about actual healing. Business-wise, you want to “hit your numbers” for the Quarter so you look good to the boss (your blog audience). The pressure to look like a success online can take over, and for those who already are prone to addictive and self-punishing behavior, something that started out as helpful, can easily turn into something hurtful (to oneself).

I blogged last year about shedding 25 lbs, and a year later I have kept 22 pounds of that off, but it was not entirely a whole healthy journey, and the pressure to keep writing about my progress week after week on my Weigh-in Wednesdays really had Perfect Girl in over drive. Would I ever blog about trying to lose weight again? After this experience, I would say no.

CF: Any other advice you have for folks who have struggled with eating disorders?

I could go on and on with this question, but for now I will just say this. You are not your eating disorder and you are good enough no matter what that voice inside your head keeps screaming. Your value as a human being and your ability to have love and be loved has nothing to do with your physical body, and I know you don’t believe me when I say this, but it is true and it took me almost 20 years to finally understand this, and I wish no one to go through what I did. You don’t have to.

Yes, getting better will require you to be brave, strong, and yes even vulnerable, but you can do it and you don’t have to do it alone. Have hope and stay committed to your healing especially during the times when you feel like giving up. Asking for help and allowing others to help you is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself. Healing is a process not a destination, and it will take time. During that time immerse yourself with loving and positive people, surroundings, and images. Most importantly, you don’t need to be afraid any more. You don’t need to live in constant fear, and hide from the world because you are not alone, you are never alone if you let people in.

CF: You've been one of the best-known weight loss bloggers out there for a number of years, but now it seems you're changing directions a bit. You've launched a new food blog Noshtopia, and broadened the focus a bit on Back in Skinny Jeans. How is that going, and what do you hope to see in the future for these blogs?

The inspiration to expand Back in Skinny Jeans was born from the fact that I wanted to evolve as a person, and in order to heal and grow from my own body and weight obsessions, I would have to stop blogging about the very things I need to let go of. At some point, we as women have to stop making our body and weight our #1 priority and focus in life, and for me, I started that process by evolving my blog so I could evolve. Honestly, it’s been a bit tougher than I imagined it would because I have an attachment to the physical, part of that is the designer in me who likes to create beautiful things. Traffic wise I had a large group of readers who came daily because they just wanted weight loss tips or wanted to fixate on body related topics, and they are gone now that I don’t feed them that way anymore.

From a business perspective, it’s tough to lose customers, but in the long run, I know I will continue to grow an audience because I am being more true to who I am. And if I don’t grow traffic, then that is okay too, because I don’t want to write just to attract numbers anymore. There is only so many times I want to write about 10 ways to get bikini ready or 7 ways to look 10lbs lighter, and I’m pretty much done with that. I want to write content that has meaning to me and can help inspire others to see that they are much bigger and have way more to offer to the world than being model thin.

Noshtopia is about wellness through food and yes has some relation to weight management but only as a reference that as you clean up your eating and chow more vibrantly you can achieve optimal levels of health which include a slimmer body and better overall wellness. I found that when I stopped eating foods that had artificial and processed ingredients as well as foods that I had allergies to, my sense of well being increased exponentially.

In terms of my time, I am spending more time on Noshtopia than BISJ because I can accomplish more of my “help heal the world” goals and express more of my creative talents like photography, design, writing, recipe creation, and healing. Noshtopia is live but I’m currently re-designing it so look for the new version soon to come.

CF: And aside from blog plans, where do you see yourself headed personally in the next few years? Any goals or hopes or plans you'd like to share?

Besides help heal the world and solve the mess that is our national medical system (lofty goals which live in my head), I would like to get my blog business Thriving Media to a thriving point, get that book that stills lives in my head published and on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, and I know this is going to sound cliché, but I want to marry a wonderful man and create some lovely children with him and live in a sunny house with an island in the kitchen. The old school Filipino relatives can be rest assured that I can marry and procreate, and I can have the family I have always dreamed of. It’s win/win for everyone ;-)

CF: Thanks Stephanie!


  1. thanks so much for this interview.
    I really admire stephanie for all that she's done and shared and SO WISH I were headed to Blogher to hear her speak.

    I think what I adore the most is the fact that she can deal with the uberserious topics in a brutally honest and yet woven with some humor way.

    Id be all in to buy the book--GIT IT OUT THERE!


  2. Stephanie, I can't wait to meet you at blogher! :)

    I really admire you being so honest with us and appreciate the fact that you talk about not being cured. So many times I read about people (celebs usually) who claim they once had an ED but now they are fine and it is all behind them, etc.
    it is so refreshing to hear someone be honest about the fact that something like this always lives beneath the surface. (or in one's "life tool box" as you say. great description!)

    great interview Crabby, thank you!

  3. Excellent interview. Good for Stephanie for being so honest and forthright. It may not have been easy, but it certainly seemed to be rewarding.

  4. Thanks for the interview. I have a lot of respect for Stephanie and find her point of view very healthy. Thanks for the openness and the honesty.
    I am one of the readers she has acquired in the process of expanding her blog.
    I definitely hope she does get a book on the B&N bookshelves. Good luck Stephanie!

  5. Great interview. The part where Stephanie says that bulimia will always be a possible coping strategy hit home for me, although I always compared having an eating disorder to having an addiction: just because someone isn't drinking anymore doesn't mean that they've stopped being an alcoholic.

  6. Great questions, fascinating answers! I too wish I could hear her speak at Blogher. I know she'll do great! I remember her "coming out" posts and found them very helpful. I know many others did as well.

  7. Excellent interview...so honest and straightforward!

  8. I'm so excited to be going to BlogHer--it will be awesome to see this session in person! Steph is awesome!

  9. Stephanie, thanks for 'coming out' here for people who won't be able to make it to hear you speak live. And kick metaphorical butt at BlogHer!

  10. I haven't even read the whole thing yet but I am about to. Just have to give steph a shout-out b/c she is wonderful, truly beautiful inside and out. Anyone who has spoken with her for just a few minutes knows she is a real source of strength and wisdom.

  11. The first time I went to Stephanie's blog it just happened to be the "Coming Out" post. Talk about memorable. That whole post was so honest and beautiful.

    This was a great interview, and really cool to learn more about her. Very inspiring!

  12. wow. i don;t think that i can say much more

  13. Stepahnie's really inspirational! Great interview and it really is nice to see the human side of people and know that its okay to have relapses- its all part of life.

  14. Great interview. I love to hear about people being honest and self aware on their blogs.

  15. I think one of the big differences, especially in the media, between an ED and an addictive behavior like alcohol or drugs is how much we see the follow-up. You see a lot of tv shows and movies which have characters who were sober for years going through a difficult period or relapse. But you hardly ever hear about anyone who has relapsed with an ED (in fact, you don't hear about ED much at all on movies or tv). So it's great to hear someone sharing their story, to help all those out there who might feel alone and to help people get through it again.

  16. Wow!

    I'm impressed with the articulateness of her goals, wishes, for her life, blogs, and future book.

  17. Thank you all sooooo much for the kind words. It reminded me of why I love blogging so much, the human connection. I appreciate that you all took the time to read my story with an open heart ;-)

    And thanks again Cranky. Next time I come over I'll bring over some fabulous Nosh bites!

  18. "Circumstances do not make the person, they reveal the person to themselves!"

    You have done very well, Stephanie!

  19. This was an excellent interview, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!
    Thanks Crabby and Stephanie!

    I wish I could attend the BlogHer conference... any chance there could be an online viewing of Stephanie's BlogHer presentation? :) Ah, wishful thinking! :)

  20. Steph is the bomb. Always has been. You are big time baby...and I am so proud of you.

    Miss you!

  21. Great interview! It's wonderful that Stephanie can be open and honest about the difficulties she has faced. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Awesome, awesome interview, Stephanie. Thank you for sharing!

  23. Great interview and really good points! I love the honesty in how it's not always so easy to be cured - Many people do a good job of letting others think that recovery is easy and that all EDs are simply forgotten. Another favorite thing that she said is that we are all human beings and basically that our EDs do not define us. So very true!!

  24. Great interview! Stephanie is awesome! I was so excited that I got to meet and talk with her at the BlogHer conference last week. She's an awesome lady. :)


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