Singing And Eating Disorders

Singing and Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are now epidemic. Singers and others in​ the entertainment business with its requisite media exposure are, I ​ believe, especially vulnerable to​ these debilitating secret illnesses.
No one can approach their full vocal potential while chained to​ an eating disorder. Why? Because the voice will have problems in​ these areas
• Breathing Power
• Tone Path through an open throat
• Communication Performance
Thats right with an eating disorder everything I ​ teach in​ Power, Path & Performance vocal training . . . everything necessary to​ the workings of​ your voice . . . is​ compromised and plagued with problems; some very pesky to​ diagnose and correct.
From denial to​ her longterm recovery from anorexia/bulimia, Ive been Jenni Schaefers voice teacher and friend. Jenni recovered using a​ unique therapeutic approach that involved treating her eating disorder as​ a​ relationship, rather than an illness or​ condition. Jenni actually named her anorexia/bulimia, Ed, an acronym for eating disorder. She and I ​ cowrote the song Life Without Ed which is​ also the title of​ her McGrawHill book endorsed by Dr. Phil and many others.
Testimonials tell us her story is​ powerful, so here it​ is​ from both our points of​ reference
What I ​ noticed the first time I ​ met Jenni was her strange numbness. She couldnt move out of​ the guarded stance slumped shoulders, head hung forward, eyebrows frozen, jaw clenched, spine and hips frozen, arms limp and legs locked. She was like a​ stick figure. Her voice was thin, colorless. She complained that her throat hurt when she sang. Her range was limited, and she had several breaks in​ her voice. I ​ tried to​ help her loosen up, but I ​ could barely get her to​ lift her arms from her sides to​ allow ribcage expansion. She inhaled from the upper chest in​ short gasps.
Jenni speaks. . . With Ed, I ​ was disconnected from my body. . . felt like a​ floating head. I ​ was rigid and had difficulty moving. in​ therapy sessions, I ​ was encouraged to​ ‘just move’ anything.
I also had a​ lot of​ trouble helping Jenni connect to​ her songs. When I ​ asked her to​ visualize singing Valentines Day to​ someone she loved, she couldnt think of​ anyone! Finally she began to​ connect by imagining singing to​ children in​ a​ cancer ward where she had worked. An odd thing. . . She didnt want me to​ look at​ her when she sang.
Jenni. . . I ​ was disconnected from feelings. I ​ lived in​ my head. a​ big purpose of​ my eating disorder was to​ starve and stuff feelings to​ keep me out of​ my emotions. So when I ​ was supposed to​ connect with feelings in​ a​ song, it​ was not only completely foreign to​ me, it​ was also terrifying.
Jenni was easily deflated and crushed. I ​ had to​ be very careful not to​ push her too far with exercises. She somehow needed to​ sing, but music didnt seem to​ move her. Because she didnt have the energy to​ keep her posture erect and flexible, she usually just stood still and lifeless. or​ walked like a​ zombie.
Jenni. . . I had no energy restricting, bingeing and purging requires a​ lot of​ energy physical and emotional and leaves little left for anything else.
Jenni couldnt understand why she didnt feel something. She would watch me express feelings she couldnt experience, and I ​ think that was a​ big part of​ why she reached out for help. She asked me to​ pray for her. She thought since she didnt feel something, she couldnt pray herself.
Jenni. . . Singing is​ spiritual. An eating disorder kills all spiritual connection. This was a​ huge hurdle.
Little by little, as​ Jenni got help, she got stronger. However, voice lessons became even harder. She developed a​ diaphragmatic spasm of​ some kind and a​ kind of​ fatalism took hold, making her expect the strange uncontrolled vibrato weirdness to​ happen at​ a​ certain place in​ her range. I ​ sent her to​ Vanderbilt Voice Clinic. Only when they couldnt find anything organically wrong did Jenni start to​ believe she could beat this strange vocal problem. Soon after, I ​ was able to​ coach her into the flexible rib stretch necessary to​ allow the issue to​ completely disappear.
Jenni. . . Anorexia is​ characterized by intense perfectionism. While singing, I ​ would concentrate more on being perfect than on getting a​ greater message across.
Jenni kept improving, but it​ was twosteps forward, onestep back. it​ was hard for her to​ picture singing to​ someone. She was stuck in​ selfconsciousness. She began to​ experience feelings, but with the feelings came anger at​ being critiqued, which made her feel judged. at​ one point, I ​ suggested she practice differently and she flew into a​ rage. I ​ didnt see it​ coming. I ​ didnt read the signs that said I ​ was pushing too far, and the lesson ended in​ disaster.
Jenni. . . All eating disorders are characterized by constant selfcriticism. it​ is​ difficult to​ sing when a​ negative voice is​ constantly screaming in​ your ear.
The trust and friendship Jenni and I ​ had developed made the misunderstanding shortlived. We got back to​ the business of​ vocal training and then another challenge set in. it​ was a​ long season of​ intense sadness. I ​ was afraid for her; she would cry, literally for days, and then go numb. She pushed people away, saying she had no friends. For a​ while, she stopped singing and cancelled voice lessons.
Jenni. . . Depression is​ often an underlying symptom of​ an eating disorder. When lost in​ despair and hopelessness, singing can seem too vulnerable because emotions might leak out. So Ed would often build yet another protective wall.
Jenni and I ​ began working together again, and this time every lesson seemed to​ break new ground. Her recovery was solid, her physical and emotional health much more stable. I ​ watched her persevere with great courage through those monumental battles of​ recovery. And I ​ listened to​ her find her voice at​ last.
One of​ the last pieces in​ the puzzle was put in​ place by the brilliant performance coach Diane Kimbrough. Diane told Jenni to​ stop worrying about going there every time she sang. She said this is​ way too much pressure for an artist to​ have to​ reexperience the emotional scene during every performance. Instead, Diane suggested, forget yourself and make THEM the audience feel something! it​ was a​ miracle.
Jenni stopped focusing inward and made the connection, through the song, to​ someone else. Her voice is​ now strong, controlled, confident and beautiful. She FEELS joy, frustration, anger, and love. All of​ this is​ giving her a​ voice with which to​ rock the world. She speaks and sings all over the country to​ entertain, teach and prove that recovery from an eating disorder is​ indeed possible. And oh, I ​ so love to​ hear her laugh!
For those struggling with an eating disorder, we hope you read in​ our story that its never too late to​ reach out for help, start healing and start singing your heart out!

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