Southern Smash, an organization known for its signature “scale smashing” events, is quickly becoming one of the leading eating disorder advocacy groups in the nation. The organization was founded by McCall Dempsey — an eating disorder survivor, recovery advocate, and talented blogger who battled her own eating disorder for 15 years before entering a residential treatment facility. Since then, she has made eating disorder awareness and prevention her life’s work and has gained national attention in the process. She’s been interviewed by HuffPost Live, Women’s Health, USA Today and many other news sources.
We sat down to explore with McCall her experience in treatment, her perspective on recovery, and the future for Southern Smash. Here’s what she had to say:
Title: Founder and Executive Director at Southern Smash
Years as an advocate: 3
How did you make the decision to enter residential treatment?
For 15 years I was a functioning eating disorder. Married and successful in Corporate America, I lived a functional, seemingly normal life on the outside. Sadly, behind closed doors, my life was hanging on by a thread. I was constantly tormented by my eating disorder. My energy was spent either counting calories or pretending everything was ‘just fine.’ That is not living. As much as I was in denial about the severity of my eating disorder, I knew I could not go on like that much longer. When my therapist told me I needed a higher level of care, I felt angry and disappointed in myself, but deep down I was so relieved. Finally, someone was giving me the permission to go and heal.
How do you practice self-care?
Self-care is a vital part of anyone’s recovery. It is also something unique to every individual. For me, self-care means shutting down, quieting life of noise and distractions – a feat that is impossible being a working mom with two little ones. I have to really plan self-care into my week, sometimes it is a pedicure alone, yoga, writing or a gentle walk. Sometimes self-care is as simple as sitting down and watching a movie or mindless TV! Life doesn’t always lend itself to self-care so if I need it in the moment, I lie quietly on my bed, grounding myself again in my body and practicing mindfulness.
What’s the most common question people ask you about recovery?
There are so many questions I get about recovery and its possibilities. I would say the main on is, “How did you finally recover?” And “Is full recovery possible?”
Yes!!! I finally recovered because I knew it was the only option. I knew the life I was living wasn’t really a life. I wanted LIFE, a family and everything that comes along with it. Of course, when I first started on the recovery journey, I had no idea what recovery would look like. But day by day, I continued to plug away in treatment and long after to reach a life in recovery.
People are often eager to define recovery with a distinct end date. I was one of those people. I was always so busy looking ahead to when I would leave treatment, end therapy, get off meds that I forgot to notice I was living in recovery while doing all of those things. You don’t reach recovery because you discharge or stop therapy, you reach recovery every time you choose it over ED. Every bite, every meal, every decision that supports your recovery makes you recovered. Recovery is about the really small decisions that add up to a big change. Yes, I am fully recovered from my eating disorder, but I will always be working towards recovery because that means I am also always working towards being my best self.
What would you say to an adult with an eating disorder who felt like they couldn’t put the rest of their life on hold in order to begin treatment?
I would ask that person if the life they are living is really worth the quality of life they deserve. School, jobs, and to dos will always be there. You and your health will not. I put off treatment for years saying I could not leave my job, family, etc. The truth was that I wasn’t doing the work I was supposed to do and I wasn’t the family member I was supposed to be. Everything was ruled by my eating disorder. I did not put my life on hold. I put ED’s life and its control over me on hold, ultimately kicking ED to the curb and starting MY life.
What does recovery feel like?
Freedom. It feels like I can breathe without the weight of ED on my back. My world went from black and white to vibrant and full of color. I found joy again in the little things like eating a cookie in the middle of the day just because it sounded good to going on a walk because my body felt like getting out in the sunshine. Numbers no longer ruled my life, I ruled my life.
Do you have a random fact about yourself that you’d like to share with our readers?
I played classical piano for 12 years and taught myself guitar. I was a television production assistant in my former life at Fox News in New York and PGA Tour Productions. My dog Lilly won queen in a Mardi Gras dog ball. I love crawfish and despise mayo. I could eat mexican every day. I love fashion and really discovered my sense of style through my journey of recovery.
You always have the coolest boots. Will you share your source?
BAHAHAHA – RueLaLa!!! Best online shopping!!
What’s in the future for Southern Smash?
There is no stopping Southern Smash thanks to the support of partners like Veritas Collaborative and the hundreds of Smash Ambassadors that live out our mission every day. We will continue to SMASH across the country and spread our message of self love and remind people that they are more than a number. We have plans to start piloting support groups at various colleges and develop new ways to educate communities on eating disorders.