In honor of our 10th anniversary we’re re-releasing three all-time favorite episodes, selected by listeners, each with a brand new update at the end. On Saturday night, September 26 at 9pm Eastern / 6pm Pacific, join us for our 10th Anniversary Party on Instagram Live with special guests Carla Hall and Sohla El-Waylly. We're also raising money for Feeding America. Follow Dan on Instagram so you don’t miss the party.
Every December, we ask for your New Year's food resolutions, and we get so many different responses, everything from eating more gnocchi to eating more bugs.
But this one, from 2016, immediately got our attention:
Hi Dan, this is Katie from Virginia. I have been in recovery for the past seven months from restrictive eating disorder. So in the new year I would like to eat a little bit of everything. I want to eat hot dogs and ice cream. I want to have a donut. I haven't had a donut in five years. But more than that I want to be able to eat the donut and the hot dogs and the pizza without fear and without guilt. ... That's what I want to do in the new year.
At the time she sent us that resolution, Katie Hacker (top) already was working with a nutritionist, a counselor, and a trainer, as part of her recovery.
We wanted to understand what it's like to try to recover from an eating disorder, so we asked Katie to keep an audio journal throughout 2017. Today on The Sporkful, we’ll follow Katie’s journey as she attempts to fulfill her new year’s resolution. It's a rare look at what it's like to struggle with an eating disorder every day.
In her journals, Katie talks a lot about how psychological her recovery has been. She says the hardest part isn't putting food in her mouth — it's dealing with the voice in her head that tells her not to eat.
As you'll hear in the episode, Katie gave that voice a name. She calls him "Ed" — like E.D., which is short for eating disorder. (Personifying an eating disorder is a fairly common technique, popularized by the best-selling book, Life Without Ed.)
"It was easier to give him a personality," Katie tells Dan. "He's the bad boyfriend that I'm working on breaking up with because he wants to kill me."
We’ll also speak with Katie's husband Todd (above with Katie) about the role partners can play in recovery. "I can't push her away from an eating disorder. She's going to be the one that beats this thing," Todd says. "But I can be there to help her get there."
And we'll also discuss the connections between eating disorders, food media, and careers in food.
If anything this episode sounds familiar, you can get more information and help from the National Eating Disorders Association online, or by calling their helpline: 1-800-931-2237. For 24/7 crisis support, text 'NEDA' to 741741.
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Third Try" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Gravel And Dirt" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "I Still Can't Believe" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Minimaliminal" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Brain Wreck" by Bijou Basil
- "Incidentally" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "Saturn Returns" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "When You're Away" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
Photos courtesy of Katie Hacker.
Dan Pashman: Hey everyone, this week we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary by sharing your three all-time favorite episodes, each with a brand new update. And mark your calendar, we’re having an Instagram Live 10th anniversary party, with special guests Carla Hall and Sohla El-Waylly. Sohla’s going to teach me how to make a roux. I’ve gone 10 years as a food podcaster without ever making a roux. I think it’s time to learn. We’ll also be raising money at the event for Feeding America. So join us this Saturday night, September 26th, at 9 p.m. eastern. Make sure you follow me on Instagram @TheSporkful so you don’t miss it.
Dan Pashman: Now here’s today’s episode, number 2 of 3 this week. It’s called "Katie’s Year In Recovery". It followed a woman named Katie Hacker over the course of 2017. At the end we’ll have the update. Thanks.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): Hi, Dan, this is Katie from Virginia. I have been in recovery for the past seven months from restrictive eating disorder. So in the New Year, I would like to eat a little bit of everything. I want to eat hot dogs and ice cream. I want to have a donut. I haven't had a donut in five years. But more than that, I want to be able to eat the donut in the hot dogs and the pizza without fear and without guilt. I want to be able to go out with my husband and enjoy them. I want to get a pizza and a beer with him, because that's what he loves. That's what I want to do in the New Year.
Dan Pashman: I got that resolution from Katie a year ago. I asked her to start keeping an audio journal of her progress. So for the past year, Katie's been sending me updates.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): Today, was just one of those days where I looked in the mirror and all I could see was fat.
Dan Pashman: At times these messages have been hard for me to listen to. If you've struggled with an eating disorder, they'll probably be even harder for you. But I wanted to understand what it's like to wake up each morning and have to fight this battle, not only with food but more importantly, with yourself.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): Gosh, it's so overwhelming sometimes to think that I'm going to be afraid of a cupcake for the rest of my life. I'm going to be afraid of French fries for the rest of my life?
Dan Pashman: Today on The Sporkful, we're bringing you a rare look inside one person's struggle with an eating disorder. And a look at how that struggle affects relationships. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Katie Hacker lives outside Lynchburg, Virginia. She’s 36 now. And I should say, during her recovery she has gotten help both from a licensed counselor and a nutritionist. She’s also on an eating plan. But even with that support, as you’ll hear, it’s still a long, hard process. Before we get to the past year, and the audio journals, let’s go further back. How did she end up with an eating disorder in the first place?
Katie Hacker: I was always a really strong girl and I always had a ton of confidence. And when I was in high school and college, specifically, I was I was overweight. And the funny thing was, is that I had like the best self-esteem. I thought I was, like, super hot and super beautiful. And like, I just didn't care and I did what I wanted and I had a great time. And then when I was...you know, I became an adult and I was working like I just started losing weight, naturally. And I think my relationship with food became, you know, mildly disordered. Like a long time ago, I had a friend who had a baby. She was talking about losing the baby weight and she started counting her calories on an app, on her phone. And so I started doing that, too, you know, for no reason. I was completely happy with the way that I was. And so I started counting calories and I gave myself something ridiculous, like 1200 a day or something I figured that was the correct number.
Dan Pashman: To be clear, 1200 calories a day is very low. The right number for a person can change based on a variety of factors. But the 26-year-old woman, like Katie was at the time, should have been consuming about 2000 calories a day.
Katie Hacker: I would get to 1000 calories, 1100 calories a day and I would get nervous. So I would have egg whites for dinner. I don't know when I flipped it to where it it became more obsessive. I started tracking all my calories and everything. And I whittled down my diet to very few things and only things that I was comfortable eating.
Dan Pashman: So one thing I'm curious about and I would never pretend to be an expert on eating disorders at all, but I know enough to know that part of the condition involves a distorted view of how your own body looks. How sure are you that you were overweight before and that you were never visibly underweight at the worst of the condition?
Katie Hacker: That...yeah. That is a good question. I mean, I think that I know that when I was overweight, I knew I was overweight because I would go to the doctor and like, I knew how much I weighed.
Dan Pashman: Did the doctor ever say you should lose weight?
Katie Hacker: No. No, I think that was just kind of a me thing. When I was my smallest, I thought I looked great. Right? And Todd would always look at me and say, "You're so ribby." And like, the funny thing was, I would take that as a compliment, but I don't think that he meant it as a compliment. Like, I don't think that your husband ever looks at you and wants to see your ribs sticking out. Right? But I felt good about that.
Todd Hacker: One of our first dates, I invited her over for a luxurious meal of corn dogs.
Dan Pashman: This is Katie's husband, Todd.
Todd Hacker: Corndogs were just a subtext to get her over here. I want to hang out with her and I love a corn dog, so it works on two levels.
Dan Pashman: Katie and Todd first started dating when she was 28. At that point, she was obsessively counting calories, but she wasn't so far along that she couldn't eat a corn dog.
Katie Hacker: Oh, I remember everything. I even remember when I was wearing. I remember we went to the Food Lion and got the corn dogs and then it was the first shooting star I ever saw. And he brought blankets out and we laid on the deck. I knew I was gonna marry him. I think that night, it was like a month. He had me.
Dan Pashman: Soon after that date, it was Katie's turn to pick the food. She told Todd she was taking him for the best fish tacos ever. He told her if the tacos prove to be that good, he'd officially call her his girlfriend.
Todd Hacker: And they were good. So she got the job as a girlfriend.
Katie Hacker: I am officially worth fish tacos.
Todd Hacker: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Had you already decided you were going to say that before you ate the tacos, Todd?
Todd Hacker: Yeah. It was just a very good excuse to say that though. And the tacos was good. So...
Katie Hacker: He was running his first ultra marathon that Saturday. And so I made him a chocolate chip cookies and chocolate milk. So basically, our relationship was built on food.
Todd Hacker: A good portion of it is.
Dan Pashman: At various points in our conversations, I'd ask Katie or Todd. When did this happen? When did that happen? But it was hard for them to pinpoint exact moments. The changes were so gradual.
Todd Hacker: We would go out to eat. And she's always ordering a salad or, you know, she just was full and didn't want to go out to eat with everyone else. Or if it was a restaurant that didn't have a salad, we just wouldn't go. And it just kind of slowly became that there's not something Katie can eat there. We won't go. And, you know, occasionally Katie would always, after dinner, just disappear and go to the bathroom. And it's just one of those things. It just kind of bounced around in the back of my mind. And, you know, I'm like, surely, she's not going into the bathroom to throw up.
Katie Hacker: How embarrassing is it that you throw up all your food just to stay skinny? So it's one of those things that I didn't like doing, but I couldn't stop doing. And then I had to start hiding. I think that first time Todd caught me was...this is so gross. I'm sorry. The first time that I threw up in the bathroom and I flush the toilet and everything didn't disappear, it didn't go down. So he came in and asked me if I was sick. And I was like, "No, I'm not. No, why?" And he said, "Then why are you throwing up?" And it's like, "Oh, I was just way too full. And I was just uncomfortable. I ate too much at dinner." And I remember him being like, "You eat a salad." And, you know, I was like, "Oh, I just ate too much salad." And I'm lying over something that's at the time I felt like this is so silly. Like, why am I doing this? This is so silly but, you know, I couldn't stop.
Dan Pashman: So Todd was suspicious. He was asking questions but Katie was still insisting everything was fine. Until one day, she couldn't hold out any longer.
Todd Hacker: She went to the bathroom and came back and I said, "Did you just go in there and throw up?" And she was point blank said, "Yeah, I did." I said, "Why did you do that?" She kind of broke down and started crying and said, "I don't know why I did it. I think I'm not good."
Dan Pashman: Then on Katie's 34th birthday, eight years after she started the calorie counter, she hit rock bottom.
Katie Hacker: So my birthday is December 19th. And for my birthday Todd took me to Washington, D.C. to go to see the National Symphony do Handel's "Messiah". And so we went out to breakfast that morning and the place where we went to brunch wanted to bring me like a cinnamon roll with a candle in it. And I was...I turned it down. I couldn't I couldn't have it. And so they brought me a grapefruit. And I thought about that all day, how I had a grapefruit for my birthday. And then we went out to dinner at this amazing restaurant. And I remember I had dinner and then we had dessert. And my husband is like, "You have to have dessert," because I love Bananas Foster and they had it. And it was my birthday. And so we had dessert. And then went to the Kennedy Center and I went to the bathroom and I had to throw everything up. And I'm in a beautiful place with, you know, dressed up nice and lots of beautiful women in this beautiful bathroom, and I'm throwing up in the Kennedy Center because I couldn't stand the thought of that Bananas Foster sitting in my stomach. And I thought, this is crazy. Now I look back and I say, "I've thrown up in some of the nicest bathrooms in America." But like, what was I doing? And like, I was wrecking my teeth. And I was lying. And I was I was sad and I was hungry all the time.
Dan Pashman: That moment in the Kennedy Center was two years ago. Katie began her recovery soon after. She sent me that New Year's resolution one year ago, which brings us to the past year in Katie's life and the audio journals I asked you to record. They started arriving January 5th. And at first, Katie sounded like she was doing great, especially, for someone still so early in the recovery process.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): The other thing I want to talk about real quick is egg yolks. I mean, can we get an amen for egg yolks? I haven't eaten an egg yolk in probably five or six years. And now they are literally one of my favorite things.
Dan Pashman: I was excited to hear that Katie was getting so much pleasure from food. But just two weeks later, I got a very different message. Katie and Todd went to a birthday party and she had a bit of cake. One note, when Katie refers to ED behaviors, ED is like E.D., an acronym for eating disorder.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): After I ate my small sliver, I just obsessed over it and obsessed and obsessed and obsessed, until I finally was able to get away. And I actually fell back into my ED behaviors. And then I guess most disappointing is that I didn't tell my husband Todd. And then yesterday I was having, I guess, a little bit of a meltdown. And he said, "We are still okay. Did you throw up today?" I said, no. And he said, "Did you throw up yesterday?" And I had to say, yes. And he got so sad. And he said, "Why are you doing this alone?"
Dan Pashman: After hearing about that big setback, I found it hard to open Katie's next message. Her journal entries started piling up in my inbox. The ups and downs were just excruciating. As winter turned to spring, I got this.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): My husband, I had corn dogs last week and they were amazing. And I just came to this realization that the weight that I gained doesn't represent a lack of control. The weight that I gained represents the fun that I'm having.
Dan Pashman: Then just three weeks later...
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): This is so hard. I'm forcing myself to eat breakfast. It's like eleven o'clock. I literally have to force myself to swallow it. And I feel like, how did I get back here? Some days I just feel like this cycle is just never going to end. Like on Saturday, I felt great. I told my husband, you know, I feel like I finally think I look great. But then today I have...you know, my clothes don't fit. And I just want to give up but I remind myself that if I go back, I could die. I don't want to die.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, we'll continue to follow Katie's efforts to fulfill her New Year's resolution. Plus, early in her recovery, Katie switched careers and became a baker. Now, that may surprise you but it turns out people who struggle with eating disorders are often drawn to careers in food. And there's a famous experiment from the 1940s that explains why. We'll tell you about it. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. If you’re new to our show I hope that after this episode, you’ll take a minute to scroll through our feed and check out some other episodes. You can hear my conversation with Guy Fieri, who tells me what people don’t get about him.
CLIP (GUY FIERI): I think everybody thinks I live on a yacht that shoots off rockets at midnight every night.
Dan Pashman: And check out the story of Cara Nicoletti. She’s a 4th generation butcher, but the first woman in the family to do the job. She spent 10 years developing a type of sausages that none of her ancestors could have imagined. When it came time to start selling them on her own, it took a woman entrepreneur to tell her, “You’re not thinking big enough.” Now, when she and her female business partners roll into meetings…
CLIP (CARA NICOLETTI): The guys will sort of laugh at us at first and sort of be like, "Okay, whatever little girls." But then we start talking and they kind of test you and start throwing questions your way. And once you can answer them all, they respect maybe even more.
Dan Pashman: Hear Cara’s story in our recent episode, "This Butcher Wants You To Eat Less Meat." It’s up now where you got this one. And hey, by the way, whatever podcast app you use to listen, take a minute right now and subscribe or follow or favorite, whatever the thing is in your app, that way we can stay in touch and you won't miss future episodes. You can do it right now while you’re listening. Thanks. Now back to Katie Hacker...
Dan Pashman: There were two things about Katie’s story in particular that, at first, were surprising to me. One, she listens to this show. Two, she’s a baker. Not only that, but she decided to make that her career just as she was beginning her recovery. And actually I’ve heard from a lot of you who are loyal listeners, some of you even work in food, and you’ve struggled with eating disorders. Now, it could be my own ignorance but when I first heard that I thought, if you have issues with food, maybe don’t listen to food podcasts and cook food all day. As I learned when I talked with Katie though, it’s more complicated than that.
Dan Pashman: What was your relationship with food before all this started?
Katie Hacker: I mean, it was just something that you had to do. I never thought of food like I did once I got sick. Once I got sick though, that like that was when I became obsessed with food. I would I would listen to all the food podcasts. I listened to yours and like we had the Food Network. When I would get like Southern living or, you know, different magazines, I wouldn't read any of the other articles besides the recipes. And I would think, why am I reading this Southern Living magazine? It's not like I'm going to cook anything in here, but the sicker I got, the more obsessed I became with it.
Dan Pashman: What do you what do you make of that? What do you make of the fact that that became such a big part of your life?
Katie Hacker: I think I was so delusional that I convinced myself that I just love food and I loved learning about food. And I think it was just like, I was just really hungry all the time. So I was probably like trying to feed my soul so I didn't have to feed my belly. I don't know. I started baking. So now, I actually do that as a job. But before, like, I would bake and I would take it in to people at work because I think I always I liked making people happy. I told people that food was my love language, which was completely false, like I hated it. But I would never eat it and it was so funny, like, I was reading a book once and it said that like people who are anorexic will make like elaborate dishes and give them to people just so that they can feel good about themselves, that they're not eating it. And I thought, oh, my gosh, that's that's me. That's...food isn't my love language. Food is my way of controlling other people. So that was terrible.
Dan Pashman: Katie says since her recovery began, she's less obsessed with food media. But what she describes going through is pretty common.
CLIP (CLAIRE MYSKO): People who have eating disorders are often in a state of deprivation. Deprivation can lead to obsession.
Dan Pashman: This is Claire Mysko. She's the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association.
CLIP (CLAIRE MYSKO): I got into this field because I've struggled with an eating disorder myself and so I can relate to this. I used to take great pleasure in baking and making recipes that I never actually—I never eat any of the food that I was cooking. So in a like cautionary way, I would say that it's important if people are obsessed with recipes, obsessed with food media and food social media, that can be a warning sign. But if it's coming from a place of wanting to heal your relationship? So getting back to a place of connecting around food, that's a positive sign.
Dan Pashman: In the 1940s, there was this seminal study called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. A group of men were voluntarily subjected to a semi starvation diet, and over time they developed elaborate and obsessive rituals around food. One participant said, "It made food the most important thing in your life." Here's the part that really struck me. After the study ended, many of the men changed careers and got into the food industry. So even after the deprivation ended, some part of the obsession remained.
CLIP (CLAIRE MYSKO): The food industry, there are a lot of chefs, a lot of people in the food industry have talked about having unhealthy relationships with food. And I would love to see more advocacy from your industry around this.
Dan Pashman: There was a piece in BuzzFeed a couple of years ago by Christy Harrison. She was a freelance food writer, who eventually landed a job at Gourmet magazine. She says at first working in food, exacerbated her eating issues, led her to realize she had an eating disorder. But over time, because her work forced her to interact so often with food and people, it was her job that helped her overcome her eating disorder. So careers in food can be like food media. If you're getting into it because you're deprived and that's making you obsessed, that's a problem. If you're connecting with people through food, that can be therapeutic. Katie says her decision to get into baking as a career has been a crucial part of her recovery. And it was supported by her counselor, who's also struggled with an eating disorder. In Katie's old job, she wasn't treated well. Her self-esteem suffered. Now she's made new friends in town through her work, and she's good at it.
Katie Hacker: Over the weekend, I did a really cute, like rainbow drip cake and it was just like so pretty and it was all these colors. And I don't know, it just made me so happy that it turned out correctly and the colors were swirled together. And it was just, I thought, I'm artist.
Dan Pashman: What are the unique challenges of being a professional baker, while struggling with an eating disorder. I mean, just in terms of the tangible day to day of doing the job well?
Katie Hacker: Yeah, that that is really hard. I'm like...when I have a large order. I think on days when I have to taste things over and over. My stress level does go up. So that is a challenge but the benefits outweigh the cost.
Dan Pashman: Katie talks a lot about how psychological this battle is, how often the biggest struggle isn't putting food in her mouth. It's dealing with the voice in her head. And she's given that voice a name. She calls him Ed, like E.D., eating disorder.
Katie Hacker: Instead of just always saying, like, my eating disorder, it was just easier to kind of give him a personality. You know, just the bad boyfriend that I'm just working on breaking up with because he wants to kill me.
Dan Pashman: Personifying an eating disorder is fairly common. Some people call their anorexia, Anna, or their bulimia, Mia. The idea is to separate the illness from the person suffering from it. To say this thing is not who I am. To make it feel like you're fighting someone else instead of fighting yourself. Of course, no one approach is right for everyone. This technique gained popularity after a 2003 bestselling book by Jenny Schafer called Life Without Ed, which Katie read. And Katie's husband Todd has gotten pretty familiar with Ed, too.
Todd Hacker: I can see it on her face sometimes when he's in her head talking to her. You can kind of see in her eyes the fact that she's questioning her decisions. You know, if we're out somewhere and we're at a Halloween party or something and she goes to get a little miniature Twix out of the candy bowl and then put it back. That's clearly Ed.
Dan Pashman: Katie, you've described Ed as an abusive boyfriend. How does he sound when he gets especially abusive?
Katie Hacker: I mean, I guess like if I'm getting dressed today. Like Ed was especially loud today because I'm doing this. So he was saying your pants are too tight. The producer that's coming to your house is gonna look at you and think how fat you are and that you probably should be on a diet. Later, he would say people won't believe that you had an eating disorder because, you know, you were never so skinny. You're just faking it. You're kind of a fraud. Ed makes me think that people notice me and care about what I look like a lot more than people really do.
Dan Pashman: And Todd, if Ed was a real person, he was sitting in front of you right now. What would you say to him.
Todd Hacker: I would kindly ask him to leave.
Dan Pashman: As the year progressed and Katie continued to send me messages, she and Ed kept fighting it out. Katie went to brunch and she really wanted the shrimp and grits, so she told the server that’s what she’d have. Then Ed started telling her what a mistake that was. She quickly changed her order to something healthier. Katie described the incident in her audio journal.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): I just was so sad that I let Ed win again. And it was ridiculous. So anyway, she came back with our drinks and I don't know what came over me, but I said, "Hey, have you put our order in?" And she said, no. And I said, "Okay, then I want to go back to the shrimp and grits." So I know I was a complete pain in the tail but I did it, and the eggs were perfectly runny and the bacon was salty and the shrimp was amazing. And it was a culinary victory in my mouth. But even more so it was I was stronger than Ed that day.
Dan Pashman: As summer approached and the weather warmed up, Katie was able to check off some pretty big items from her New Year's resolution. They had friends over and the couple brought donuts. Katie ate half a donut. It became a regular thing, Friday donuts. Then there was this.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): There's the soft serve ice cream truck that's here in Lynchburg where we live. So now that I'm not necessarily afraid of ice cream anymore, it's been a really good time to return to that fun where on a Sunday afternoon, if the weather was beautiful, we sit in the back of the bed of the track and we'll go have ice cream for lunch. I sat there and the sun was shining on our faces. And I'm looking at this man, who I love more than anything and who takes such good care of me, and it was...I just felt this amazing sense of hope. We're getting there.
Dan Pashman: Then in the fall, another breakthrough. One year earlier, Katie and Todd had gone on a road trip. They'd picked a lot of special restaurants to stop but Katie really struggled. They went for a barbecue in Kansas City and all she could eat was a salad. She says she wishes she could do that trip over again. But this fall, they went to Cleveland. And Katie ate smoked salmon crepe, taco with fries. She and Todd took a cooking class on how to make a bento box and mochi. Then they went straight from Cleveland to Katie's parents house for Thanksgiving. When she's home, it can be stressful because everyone in the family knows about her eating disorder. So they're constantly watching to see what she eats.
Katie Hacker: Right before we had gotten there, my sister sprung it on me that my dad wanted to take pictures, like go and get our family portrait taken. And I don't know why that upset me so much that I kind of like had a little bit of a freak out and I was just like, "I can't, Kelly. I just....", like I think it was just I was at the end of the week and I had been as strong as I could be and then I was just spent. It was just one of those like, I wasn't happy looking in the mirror that day. So I didn't want that emblazoned forever, you know. On Thanksgiving, my mom was like, "Okay, well, we're gonna go get pictures tomorrow." And I said, "I really don't want to, mom. I'm just not feeling it," and she was just so insistent upon it that we just left the next day instead of staying for the whole weekend, which looking back on that, I regret and I'm sad that I let Ed take that away from me.
Dan Pashman: By this point in the year, the ratio of good days to bad days had definitely improved. But hearing about setbacks like this was still so disappointing even for me, an outsider. Imagine how it feels to be Katie or Todd?
Todd Hacker: Going through this, you certainly go through the gamut of emotions. Anger is one that comes up quite a bit from time to time, at least on my end. It sounds somewhat selfish to say that on my end, I could help you get through this, because I realized my role in this is minimal.
Katie Hacker: I don't like that he says that his role is minimal because his role is is crucial. Like, without him, I wouldn't have wanted to get better. I didn't want to get better for me. I was happy but I didn't want to die. I didn't want to leave him by himself because he would be a hermit with a giant beard in the woods.
Todd Hacker: I mean, I understand that a support system is important, but I can't push her away from an eating disorder. But I can be there to help her get there.
Dan Pashman: Todd, what's the aspect of this that makes you feel angry?
Todd Hacker: Maybe it's the monotony when it's every day, do I look fat in these jeans? No, you don't look fat in those jeans. What about these jeans? No, you don't look fat in those jeans either. The redundancy of trying to combat those negative feelings that she has and in those moments of rage, you just say, "Well, fine then, go throw up again." And it's a horrible thing to say, but it's just the emotion that you have.
Dan Pashman: Do you ever resent it?
Todd Hacker: The eating disorder?
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Todd Hacker: Yeah. I mean, to see someone that has a disorder like that that causes them to think that they're horrendously obese, there's no amount of anything I can do that can take those thoughts out of her head, as much as I want to. It's like agony watching someone go through that.
Katie Hacker: I just feel tired, like I'm just tired of fighting this constant battle with my brain. I get very nervous and very worried that it's just gonna be too much for my husband one day. Emotionally, it's getting a lot better. I just wanted to be over. I just want to be better now.
Dan Pashman: What toll do you feel that this struggle has taken on your marriage?
Katie Hacker: I think maybe it's taken away like fun things, really good burgers or different things that he wanted me to try. I don't think it will be detrimental. I think that it has made me love him so much and be so thankful for him. He knows that I'm trying so hard. So in 20 years, we'll look back at that silly time in my life where I was afraid of corn dogs and we'll probably won't laugh. But we'll be thankful that we took care of each other and that we're better people because of it.
Dan Pashman: As the year drew to a close, Katie and I talked one more time.
Dan Pashman: I want to play for you now the resolution that you sent to me a year ago.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): Hi, Dan, this is Katie from Virginia. I have been in recovery for the past seven months from restrictive eating disorder. So in the New Year, I would like to eat a little bit of everything. I want to eat hot dogs and ice cream. I want to have a donut. I haven't had a donut in five years. But more than that, I want to be able to eat the donut in the hot dogs and the pizza without fear and without guilt. I want to be able to go out with my husband and enjoy them. I want to get a pizza and a beer with him because that's what he loves. That's what I want to do in the New Year.
Dan Pashman: What are your thoughts during that now?
Katie Hacker: I think it's great. Like, I feel like I kind of ticked off most of those. Ice cream. I had the donuts. Yeah. I mean, I think I was pretty successful. I think that I'm getting to the without fear and without guilt. Right now, I think it's still...I would be lying if I said it was unencumbered, but it's definitely easier, much, much, much easier. And there's definitely much more enjoyment. Even last night with dinner, we had dinner and I had a glass of wine. So like, I could, normally I would sit there and add up like glass of wine and chicken and a baked potato, which whatever. But then, you know, it was my father-in-law's birthdays so we had to get dessert. And he ordered Bananas Foster, which to me is like it's like Jesus made that just for me. Like, I think Bananas Foster is amazing.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I'm right there with you. Bananas Foster. So good.
Katie Hacker: Yeah. So, like, it's just one of those things that I was like, calories smallories. I think it was a first-you know, this is so gross but it was the first time I'd had a Bananas Foster that I kept it in my body and it was awesome. It's just like, win. I would eat it again today if I could.
Dan Pashman: Well, and I'll remind you, Katie, that in one of our earlier conversations, I asked you when you hit rock bottom and you told me this story of throwing up Bananas Foster at the Kennedy Center in D.C.
Katie Hacker: Yes. So that's that's that's a nice little little coming home. I like that.
Dan Pashman: And what's your New Year's resolution for 2018?
Katie Hacker: Oh, I wrote down a couple. Three years ago when I was really sick. My mom got me a pasta maker attachment to go on my mixer. And it was like, does she even know me? Like I haven't eaten pasta in years. So one of my major goals for this year is to break out my pasta maker and make pasta and love it, because I'm sure it's going to be awesome. Another food resolution I have is to work harder at making sure that I'm not trying to make myself earn food. So not exercising more on like a birthday or a party or when I'm going to go out to dinner. And next summer my biggest goal is to find a really good lobster roll when I'm in Portland, Maine. That's a really important one. I wanted to be a butter one, not a mayonnaise-y.
Dan Pashman: Why?
Katie Hacker: Because mayonnaise is kind of the worst when it's too gloppy. But butter makes everything better.
Dan Pashman: So that was our original story, which came out nearly three years ago. Last month, before I connected with Katie and Todd to record an update, I asked them to make one more audio diary. This one as they re-listened to our original episode.
[sound of a beer can cracks open]
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): Oh! Todd and I think that it’s really important that we let you know that we are listening to the podcast over pizza and beer. So we’re at about 7 minutes and 45 seconds, and it was talking about going out to restaurants. And I think that that’s something that I have been really successful at. We found this great burger restaurant, near our house, I think the first time we went, we got burgers and a milkshake, and It was the first burger I had eating in a long time in on a bun.
Dan Pashman: Katie says she continues to make progress. Occasionally, she does still hear Ed—remember, that’s the name she’s given her eating disorder. That happens most often at night, when she’s tired after a long day. She still sometimes feels anxiety around the way her clothes fit. But there are a lot more good days than bad, and the bad days now are actually more like bad moments.
CLIP (TODD HACKER): You were going to say something about ruining your teeth.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): Oh, so this is super exciting. For years, ever since my recreational throwing up and ruining my teeth, I have had cavities and root canals. But this past week I went to the dentist and for the first time in years, I didn’t have a single cavity. Like that means...
CLIP (TODD HACKER): I think she called me like four times at work to tell me.
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): I did. I was so happy about not having a cavity.
Dan Pashman: Katie continues to work with a support team, a counselor and a registered dietician. They’ve helped her make a variety of positive changes.
Katie Hacker: One thing that I think was really helpful is I got rid of all my old jeans. I wasn’t trying to fit into something that I wore with my sick body.
Dan Pashman: Another change? Katie no longer refers to her old body, before she started treatment, as her skinny body. Instead, she calls it her sick body.
Dan Pashman: So Katie continues to move in the right direction. But the wounds from everything she’s gone through are still pretty raw...
CLIP (KATIE HACKER): I think it should be said we’re at minute 13:58 and we’re both sitting here crying.
Dan Pashman: Katie are you there?
Katie Hacker: Yeah. Hi!
Dan Pashman: Hey! How are ya?
Katie Hacker: Fine, how are you?
Dan Pashman: Alright.
Katie Hacker: Hey, can I ask you a question?
Dan Pashman: Please.
Katie Hacker: How did you feel when your governor made the decision about a hot dog being a sandwich?
Dan Pashman: I felt vindicated, Katie.
Dan Pashman: Katie’s referring to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement, back in July, that the state would enforce the old law that requires places that sell alcohol to also sell food. And a bag of chips doesn’t cut it. Cuomo said, “The lowest level of substantive food allowed is a sandwich," and according to the State of New York, a hot dog counts as a sandwich. Thank you very much. Anyway, back to Katie. She’s now been in recovery for four and a half years. As Todd reminds her, when she began the process, she didn’t really understand what she was in for.
Todd Hacker: I think when you first started, like way back when, and first went and met with your first counselor, you came home and were resolved that you were going to beat this thing in two months.
Todd Hacker: And then a couple years go by and you had a different counselor, and you came home and said I’m going to beat this thing in two years. In two years I’m not having an eating disorder
Katie Hacker: I still have a year, left on that.
Todd Hacker: Well...
Katie Hacker: I said I didn’t want to have this when I’m 40. I didn’t want to be a 40-year-old woman with an eating disorder, but when I am frustrated, my counselor Sandra, reminds me that the average eating disorder takes between four and seven years to get over. And so she reminds me that I’m at the very, like low end of recovery.
Dan Pashman: We did a show about eating disorders, where we interviewed the comedian Margaret Cho, who has been open about struggling with eating disorders throughout her life. And one of the things she said was it's a chronic condition, that the eating disorder can go into remission but that you're never cured. Now, I'm no expert, so trust what your counselor says over anything I say and obviously there's no one right answer, but I wonder if there's part of you that has considered that? That this is going to be something that hopefully on a small or lower level, less frequent, but something you may struggle with from time to time for the rest of your life?
Katie Hacker: Um...I personally don't believe that I'm going to have to. I think that it will be like for any person, where you have doubts of...or flashes or thoughts of body displeasure or dissatisfaction. But I don't anticipate that I'll be dealing with this for the rest of my life. I personally believe that full recovery is possible. So that's my goal.
Dan Pashman: According to the National Eating Disorders Association, while everyone has the potential to fully recover, for a wide range of reasons, not everyone will. And relapse and backsliding during the recovery period are very common. Todd’s understanding of how eating disorders work has also evolved. He says that before Katie got sick, he felt like the whole idea of eating disorders was kind of overblown.
Todd Hacker: I think I'm probably I'd say on par with what most American probably think. They're like, yeah the really really skinny people, where their bones are showing, that's an eating disorder. And besides from that, it doesn't really exist. It's not a thing that I see from time to time. But when you are living with someone that's going through that you kind of get exposed to all those nuances that wouldn't really effect you. You listen to people talk about diet, just casually, what they're doing, what they're not eating or just these little things that kind of pop up on my radar now that when you look at through the lens of an eating disorder. I could see how that could be upsetting to someone that's going through it. And it kind of gave me a lot more insight into what Katie's actually feeling and thinking. So for instance, somebody here in the town where we live got COVID and they ended up on the hospital. And as result, they ended up losing quite a bit of weight. And then we just happened to see them later talking about how they were in the hospital, they lost so much weight and they can’t believe it and they think they look great now.
Katie Hacker: And we were just like, "You almost died." That's so disordered. Oh my gosh.
Todd Hacker: When you look at that through a different framework, it's like you’re celebrating the fact that you got a contagious disease and you lost a bunch of weight.
Katie Hacker: Cause you were in the hospital.
Todd Hacker: Cause you were in the hospital.
Katie Hacker: Like I’m at the point in my eating disorder where I look at things, and I just get so angry. When people like soft dabble with disordered behavior, like things, that—especially, when my friends do it. Haven't you seen what the last four years have been like for me?
Dan Pashman: Of course, we couldn’t do this update without hearing how Katie did on her New Year’s Resolution that ended the original episode. She says she never got into pasta making, just cause she got too busy. But she does now eat and enjoy pasta. She’s also done better at not exercising to earn food. Last year, she took four months off from working out and deleted the fitness app off her smart watch. She says she used to overexert herself just to get a good score on the app. Now her exercise is more moderate. As for that lobster roll?
Katie Hacker: When we went to Maine some of your lovely listeners recommended that we go to Eventide and it was the very best thing that I have ever eaten. It was the first time that I probably ate with abandon. Like just remember being so happy that day?
Todd Hacker: It was like a scene out a movie. We got there and there's like 45 minute wait, and so...did we have oyster?
Katie Hacker: We had oysters and drinks. I had that blue cheese martini and then we had these lobster rolls and then we ordered another lobster roll. And then I told the waiter my story and I was crying. Even to this day, I think about it all the time and I—just one of these days I'm gonna order the lobster rolls off Gold Belly and have them delivered.
Dan Pashman: So Katie checked a lot of items off her list. Most importantly, she’s getting better and better at just enjoying food.
Katie Hacker: One of my favorite things that we do is we go out to this awesome brewery, called the Blue Mountain Barrel House, and we’ll get french fries and beer and sit in the sun and let our dog, Denver, roam around and interact with other dogs. And it's just...I don't know it's just normal life. It's just a lovely normal life.
Dan Pashman: Well, Katie and Todd, it's been great catching up. I’m glad to hear things continue to move in a positive direction for you and I hope that continues to be the case. And we’ll be thinking about you and pulling for you.
Katie Hacker: Well congrats on 10 years! Thank you so much.
Dan Pashman: Thank you very much Katie. Take care.
Katie Hacker: Bye.
Dan Pashman: Katie Hacker lives with her husband Todd near Lynchburg, Virginia. Katie’s baking company is called Katie’s Sweet Treats, if you’re in the area, order a cake! We’ll have a link on our website at Sporkful.com. And wherever you are you can follow Katie on Instagram, she’s @k8esSweetTreats.
Dan Pashman: Earlier in the episode we also heard from Claire Mysko from the National Eating Disorders Association. If anything in this episode sounds familiar, if you or someone close to you needs help, remember that you are not alone. There are people who can help you. Please go to neda.org. And in the past our coverage of eating disorders has focused on women, but I know that a third of people who have them are men. So if you’re a man who has dealt with an eating disorder and you’re open to talking about it, please drop us a line at email@example.com.
Dan Pashman: This Friday is the third and final special episode for our 10th anniversary, featuring chef Kwame Onwuachi. And don’t miss our Instagram Live Party on Saturday night at 9 pm eastern, with special guests Sohla El-Waylly and Carla Hall. Subscribe to or follow our show in your podcasting app and follow me on instagram so you don’t miss any of that.